'The Downfall' Offers Germans a Way to Get Off the Hook
Shalem Center scholar and historian Michael B. Oren writes in The New Republic (www.tnr.com) June 23 that a new film absolves the German people for the Third Reich:
"Israelis are still lining up to see Oliver Hirschbiegel's tenebrous docudrama about the Third Reich's closing days, 'Der Untergang – The Downfall.' The film, which has won several German awards and has been nominated for an Oscar, triggered nervous debate in Europe over its depiction of Hitler not as a one-dimensional monster, but as a flesh-and-blood person. In Israel, where it is officially a crime to call a Jew a Nazi, the portrayal of the ultimate Nazi as anything less than demonic is bound to arouse controversy.
But Israeli audiences have responded exuberantly. Interviewed on Israeli television on Holocaust Memorial Day, Moshe Zimmermann – a historian who was once sued for comparing settler children to Hitler Youth – posited that this new, human Hitler served to demythologize Nazism, and show how even normal people might be seduced by evil.
"But Zimmermann thoroughly missed the point of the movie – as did most Israelis who saw the film. 'The Downfall' is not about Hitler, human or otherwise, not about Nazism and evil. It is about letting Germany off the hook.
"The film opens in 1942, when the 22-year-old Traudl Junge is chosen by Hitler to be his personal secretary. The Führer is here seen as an affable man, crinkly-eyed and patient, even when Traudl fails at typing his dictation. Fast-forward to late April 1945. And beside him throughout stands Traudl, who, though bereft of hope, refuses to abandon her Führer.
" 'The Downfall' … is concerned with exoneration, not penance, and realizes it through manipulation and deceit. Take, for example, Traudl. She is the perfect ingenue: modest, demure, incapable of uttering an unkind or scatological word. The real Traudl Junge, however, joined the Nazi League of German Girls at age 15. Other Nazis are similarly rehabilitated by the film.
"Clearly, 'The Downfall' is distinguishing between bad Germans (a small band of Nazis) and good (everyone else). [It] wants to demonstrate how the German people, too, were victimized by Nazism. If guilty at all, it is only of overwrought nationalism, of misplaced loyalty, or of just plain naivété – anything but evil. Not even the Nazis are truly evil, only sick. By reducing the Third Reich to a limited dementia, 'The Downfall' absolves the German people of any moral culpability for perpetrating World War II and destroying European Jewry. On the contrary, it casts them as heroic, even martyr-like."
An Old and Tired Europe Plays the Game of Democratization
Italian journalist Fiamma Nirenstein writes in the New York Sun (www.nysun.com) on June 24 that 'old Europe' needs to defer to the United States:
"Last Saturday, Mahmoud Zahar, the current leader of the terrorist group Hamas, said he had just met 'a very important adviser of the German government.' The Hamas spokesman, Mushir Al-Masri, clarified: 'Every 10 days, we receive visits of European envoys from all countries. We explain to them that our resistance is legitimate and should not be interpreted as terrorism,' and that 'Hamas has no intention of changing this course.' The course intended is the destruction of Israel, terrorism, bombings in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, and the replacement of Mahmoud Abbas with a radical Islamist leadership.
"On June 15, the European Union acknowledged that it has been maintaining 'low-level' contacts with Hamas. 'Appease' is the same old correct word to describe the Munich-like European behavior that looks all the time for new ways of expressing itself. In the time of 'democratization of the Middle East,' the new vehicle of this policy is the terrorist organizations.
"Europe finds itself in the darkest and narrowest corner in its historic efforts to manage a powerful Middle Eastern policy in opposition to the American one. Clearly, Europe cannot decently refuse the great American novelty, democratization. So, in order to play a relevant role, now it embraces the disturbers, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc., in the name of its beloved eternal strategic choice: stability. But stability does not exist anymore. A great revolution under the flag of freedom is taking place, and America is the magnet of this revolution.
"The role of Europe in all of this is null and void. The wind of change blows from an American policy that aims at putting an end to terrorism through democratization. Europe wants to remain a player in the great Middle Eastern revolution. But it is extremely harmful to legitimize totalitarian and terrorist forces such as Hamas and the Hezbollah. This danger will hit Europe, too, because terrorism is a very contagious disease. Even a child would understand this, but Europe cannot. Europe is old and tired."
What Flag Will Fly From Those Red-Roofed, Middle-Class Homes?
Journalist and think-tank scholar Clifford D. May writes on www.Townhall.com June 24 about the high cost of Gaza housing:
"Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced this week that Israeli and Palestinian officials had agreed to demolish more than a thousand Israeli settlers' homes in Gaza. A key concern for Israelis … is that in the wake of their 'disengagement' from Gaza, news broadcasts around the world would show Palestinians flying the flags of terrorist organizations from those red, middle-class roofs.
"Such a display would lend credence to the claim that the Israelis had been forced to leave Gaza – as they earlier had been driven out of Lebanon. This week, Hamas pledged yet again that 'the jihad' against 'the Zionist entity' would 'continue until victory or martyrdom' – i.e., until they wipe the Jewish state off the map or die trying.
"In addition to concern about encouraging dreams of conquest and genocide, Israeli officials also must have worried about the psychological impact that images of Arabs taking over Jewish homes would have had on their own citizens – particularly those who come from Arab lands.
"It is often forgotten that half of all Israeli Jews trace their roots to such places as Baghdad, Cairo and Tripoli. In all, close to 900,000 Jews are estimated to have fled Arab-majority countries, leaving behind houses, schools, synagogues, cemeteries and, in many cases, ancient cultures and traditions.
"In this same period, an estimated 650,000 Arabs left Israel.
"Also often forgotten: The Palestinian Arabs who remained in Israel were granted citizenship. Today, they have more rights than Jews in Arab countries had in the past; indeed, they have more rights than Arabs in most Arab countries have in the present."