Führer Furor

3 06 2008

There was once a time in Germany where its leaders forbade the mere act of thinking certain things, where censorship reigned for fear of the influence of new ideas. No I don’t mean 1938, it is happening now, in 2008. More than sixty years since the fall of Third Reich, Germany appears to be wrestling with its Nazi guilt as Madame Tussauds announced its new wax museum will showcase a figurine of Adolf Hitler.

Hitler waxing poetic?

Many in Germany are outraged that Tussauds would dare include Hitler in an exhibit of world leaders in the Berlin Wax Museum set to open in July. Johannes Tuchel, editor of Gedenkstaette Deutscher Widerstand, a memorial for opponents of the Nazi regime stated the sentiment clearly, “It’s tasteless…A waxworks museum is meant to entertain and to amuse. It’s not appropriate to have a Hitler figure there.” He further elaborated his feelings, ““It’s embarassing that this part of German history should be exhibited like this. There’s also the danger that young people could try to take pictures with Hitler.”

Upon reading this morsel I was shocked. I had heard that Germans share a guilt over the Nazi era. I figured most felt no such feelings. I harbor no feelings of the so-called “White” guilt for sins of my great, great, great, great grandfathers. Should African descendants feel guilty for the sins of some tribes who sold other tribes into slavery? Its hard to say yes, isn’t it? The Nazi-guilt has made it illegal to use swastikas for any use unless explicitly shown in an attempt to satirize or distance one’s self from the National socialism movement of the 1930s and 40s. This is the case despite the fact the Nazi’s hold no rights over the image. They co-opted the symbol, just as Rome did with pagan imagery in their rise to power, in order to acquire authenticity through the use of historical symbolism. You can find references to it use many uses here. Buddhism, a philosophical religious tradition that focuses on self improvement through meditation, embraced the inherited symbol. Depending on its orientation, it means either universal harmony, the balance of opposites, or love and mercy. For the Hindus, the symbol can mean anything from the universe to a compass or even represents the god Surya.

How many young students in Germany will ever know this? As embarrassed generations take the paint brush to the mural of history, other important historical elements are white washed along with Nazism. History must be retold to avoid the mistakes of our fore bearers. Madame Tussauds will depictv Hitler in a diminutive manner where he “will be hunched over a desk in a dimly lit bunker,” according to a museum spokesman. Perhaps this is a concession to the German people, an attempt to avoid hostilities. It didn’t work.

In fairness, Berlin’s Mayor Klaus Wowereit did request via letter that the display include historical facts abouts the crimes Hitler committed. The JTA said, “An unscientific, interactive survey in the Berlin Tagesspiegel daily newspaper showed that 57 percent of about 1,400 readers agree that ‘Hitler is an historical figure, thus belongs in the show,’ while 43 percent said ‘Hitler should stay where he belongs – in history books.'” There are indeed signs of a loosening on anti-Hitler policies and opinions across Deutschland, although it is still illegal to show artwork glorifying him.

Madame Tussauds’ forthcoming exhibit will do a great service to Germany and humanity at large. Forcing later generations to confront the sins of their fathers for education’s sake will hopefully insure us from ourselves later. This is not the case yet, ahem, for Darfur. Stephan Kramer, general secretary of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, said, “Trying to erase Hitler from history doesn’t work and is counterproductive,” and he went on to point out seeing Hitler hunched over may help “demystify” Hitler. Finally, the Madame Tussauds in a statement provided the most obvious point:

[Hitler’s rule] stands for an important, though also appalling, turning point in the development of modern Europe…To ignore Hitler’s role in this era would allow a strange gap to develop in the German and Berlin history that we show from [19th century chancellor Otto von] Bismarck to the present day.

Politicians, historians, radicals, moderates and ignorant citizens please put down the white out and embrace the past we may better our future.