In History on August 19, 2016 at 09:00
The historian Ernst Nolte who passed away this week aged 93 was one of Germany’s most prominent historians. Aged 40 he published research comparing Italian Fascism, Russian Stalinism and German National Socialism. He not only instigated research into Germany’s recent troubled past but also opened the path for comparative history. This was ground breaking in the 1960s and fitting for the decade that saw Germany leaving the post war period and commencing a debate about the period between 1933 and 1945.
Ernst Nolte came to fame again in the 1980s when he postulated that the German Holocaust was nothing but a reaction to the Russian Gulag system. While there were similarities: the Gulag and the concentration camps were camps in which conditions certainly were not human. Yet the Holocaust is an entirely different matter. People died under the harsh conditions but more importantly people were murdered following a murderous plan executed in industrial fashion. It needed a sophisticated plan to organise genocide on such a scale.
By arguing that the German Holocaust was only a reaction to the Russian Gulag system, Nolte started a debate in Germany that has become known as the Historikerstreit, the historians controversy.
While the 1960s were a decade in which Germany faced its own history, the 70s were a decade of unrest and the 80s a decade of restoration. The argument about the Holocaust came a year after Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker made it clear that the end of the war was a liberation for Germany and Germans. When Nolte published his synthesis in 1986 he immediately saw himself in the centre of a debate about Germany’s history. Once again it was a vital debate. Despite his point of view, we have to be thankful for Nolte that he initiated the historians controversy. That will be his legacy.
In History on August 6, 2016 at 05:00
The darkness crumbles away –
It is the same old druid Time as ever.
Only a live thing leaps my hand –
A queer sardonic rat –
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
(And God knows what antipathies).
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German –
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through the still heavens?
What quaver – what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in men’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe,
Just a little white with the dust.
Isaac Rosenberg was a British poet who unlike most of his contemporaries did not consider war as a patriotic sacrifice. In a personal letter he made his opinion clear about war:
I never joined the army for patriotic reasons. Nothing can justify war. I suppose we must all fight to get the trouble over.
When the Germans launched their final attack in late March 1918 on the Western Front, Rosenberg was killed in battle on April 1 near Arras and is burried at Bailleul Road East Cemetery, Plot V, Saint-Laurent-Blangy, Pas de Calais, France.
The poem was found in Peter Vansittart’s collection Voices from the Great War; additional info via Wikipedia.
In History on July 15, 2016 at 07:00
Mute figures with bowed head
They travel along the road:
Old women, incredibly old
and a hand-cart of chattels.
They do not weep:
their eyes are too raw for tears.
Past them have hastened
processions of retreating Tibetans
baggage-wagons and swift horsemen.
Now they struggle along.
with the rearguard of a broken army.
We shall hold the enemy towards nightfall
and they will move
surely into the dark behind us,
only the creaking cart
disturbing their sorrowful serenity.
Herbert Read (1893 – 1968) was an English art historian, poet and literary critic. During the Great War he served with the Green Howards in France.