Commentary Magazine


The Fragmented People That Is Germany
Stability, But Through Divisiveness

Fritz Stern, describing his visit this past spring and summer to Berlin where he taught as an exchange professor at the Free University, attempts here an evocation of the climate of culture, human aspiration, and morale in German society today—intangibles more difficult to describe than ideological and political trends, but perhaps as important because in the end they set the scene and establish the boundaries of Germany’s evolving postwar national life.

 

It is difficult to think of Germany dispassionately, and on my way there last spring I found that I still felt intensely what I had tried so hard to overcome. In the 30′s, when we felt the hatred of Nazism as a moral imperative, the distinction between Nazi and German often became blurred; and the strongest passions seemed feeble when, at the end of the war, we uncovered the totality of crime, and even our generals broke down and cried. But after that, the very enormity of Nazism speeded exoneration. For such crimes no people could be held responsible, and to affirm collective guilt somehow suggested Nazism in reverse. I had wrestled with these perplexities, but I could rally neither reason to sustain my rejection of Germany nor sentiment to support my conclusion that the German nation cannot be held accountable.

Ten weeks in Berlin helped me to understand afresh. At some point I became conscious that the last layer of ideology and hatred had peeled off. It was not a matter of tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner, but of recognizing intellectually and experiencing emotionally that there are no “Germans,” no “they” on whom blame can be pinned, but rather an aggregate of individuals and groups, cherishing few hopes and many hatreds and living without common traditions. And I came to understand how this divisiveness, this absence of consent and tradition, has had an immensely weakening effect on German politics. My own hatred did not survive my proximity with the Germans; I left Germany in August purged of hatred—though not disloyal to the feelings of the past, and full of forebodings about the future.

_____________

 

I was unaware how far this process of education had gone until one moment when I felt an intense humility and sorrow which cut through all earlier passions. The occasion was the memorial service for the victims of the 20th of July revolt against Hitler. Only a few cabinet members and the relatives of the dead attended the ceremony in the new American-built Auditorium Maximum of the Free University. The audience sat in silence, as at a funeral, no one applauding as Heuss and Adenauer walked down the aisle to their seats or as the last notes of the second movement of the “Eroica” died. Heuss, in his gentle Swabian accent, spoke quietly and quickly, without pathos, recalling the anguish of the men who had chosen themselves murderers of murderers and had paid for their courage in torture and death. These few men, terrified of their responsibility, gaining moral certainty only in the retribution which followed their failure, had sought to arrest and alter fate, had plotted conspiracy on a world-historical plane. As Heuss relived those memories, I struggled with my own feelings, saying to myself that their purposes had not been ours, that their sacrifice had been born of German nationalism, not atonement; but before such moral heroism my quarrels ceased. Heuss concluded, “Our debt to them has yet to be fulfilled.” The orchestra played “Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden,” but softly, transforming a battle song into a funeral elegy. And as I stood there, among sorrowing men, I sensed that more than a hymn was being transformed.

The audience slowly filed out, still silent except for some sobbing, and as I walked around in the adjoining hall and looked at these people—old, distinguished, and sadly proud, dressed in mourning, faces hardened and humbled by suffering, I felt a sense of shame for my indiscriminate hatred.

For in that audience I saw a country’s elite, perhaps rescued from its callous provincialism only by a catastrophe, but an elite nevertheless, and one which had been condemned, or self-condemned, to political passivity. These were the men who should have led their people twenty or forty years before, and neither sought to nor were sought, and even now, with few exceptions, were without public responsibility. As I walked home that day, I grasped that the once popular view of German history, as an irreversible process of failure and falseness since Luther or Bismarck, missed the true tragedy; uniform wickedness does not describe the German experience, but a succession of “might-have-beens,” of great promises never realized. A Manichean struggle, with Satan always the winner.

_____________

 

What rendered the sacrifice of the 20th of July senseless was not the accidental survival of Hitler. The conspirators had played for the soul of their people, and lost. Ten years had to pass before German officialdom formally acknowledged the heritage of that resistance, and now when acknowledgment was finally made, indifference ran too strong, and the slanderers of the movement, rejoicing over Otto John’s defection on the anniversary itself, were ready to peddle their poisonous slogan, “Once a traitor, always a traitor.”

What was thus vilified was the only movement of resistance in Germany which had at the end united diverse men from all regions and traditions: Junker officers and bourgeois bureaucrats, clergymen and labor leaders. How different the German spirit might be today if their memory had been cherished! Honoring three thousand martyred patriots could have inspired a proud unity when every other loyalty and tradition had snapped. But the German people rejected their sacrifice. In the future a few will remember, some others will keep an embarrassed silence; most will learn to disavow these men, and so exonerate themselves for their support of Hitler or their passivity.1 But as the Germans abandon this legacy, perhaps we should claim it, as a reminder that the Nazi era had its millions of spineless servants and its handful of heroes.

Nor did the Germans find any other identification with a past tradition which could have moderated the divisiveness of their society. Nothing struck me so much this summer as this thinly disguised Zerissenheit in German life. I am not thinking of the imposed division between East and West, or of the traditional divisions of class and interest, or of the new and inescapable division between Nazi and anti-Nazi. It is more than all that—it is the division between each and all, a kind of Hobbesian war without weapons.

_____________

 

On our very first day in Berlin, our landlady, Frau Geheimrat M., warned me against trusting any German. “We aren’t what we used to be,” she said. And I was to hear this theme in endless variations. Most of the Germans I met were not troubled by extermination camps or war crimes—these were either ignored or charged to the villains at the top. What troubled them was the suspicion that the Third Reich and its catastrophic end had corrupted the Germans themselves.

Each seems to have his own particular recollection of those weeks at the end of the war when millions were on the move, and each remembers how Germans robbed, looted, and betrayed fellow Germans. But I know that those same weeks also evoked noble deeds of generosity and self-sacrifice, and these seem forgotten. The contrast struck me the more since I think historically the Germans are peculiarly given to these laments of moral depravity and are correspondingly susceptible to the specious idealist who promises regeneration. Their sense of moral or aesthetic failure has often been injected into German politics, in the stab-in-the-back legend after the First World War, or Hitler’s promise to “cleanse Germany” of the “decadence” of modernity (and here the Jew became the image of modernity, as he had been to many German ideologists since 1870). That non-political, speciously moral tone of German politics is still in evidence, and in part must be attributed to the absence of a commonly accepted political tradition—such as the Western countries evolved in the process of building up their democratic states—and to the misgivings which Germans have about themselves. In short, the uncertain political idiom or allegiance is unable to restrain the powerful non-political forces of collective resentment which break into the political society. Hence the significance of this moral uncertainty which lingers from the Second World War.

The Germans’ memory of their own meanness feeds also on the trials of the first years of occupation. One story can serve as representative of many. A prominent professor of medicine was barred from his university post by our military government because, though a non-Nazi, he had in the 30′s accepted the rectorship of the university and in his inaugural address had spoken some words of perfunctory praise of the new regime. He had had one hundred copies of the speech mimeographed, distributed ninety-eight to his good friends, and kept two. After the war, he offered one of his copies to the American officer investigating him. The officer said: “Thank you, but I have already received forty-seven unsolicited copies.”

_____________

 

Prosperity brought back the amenities, but the suspicion of German against German has continued, shifting now from the individual to the group. It is group against group, with each protesting, and believing, that the other is out to kill. It is as if the Germans were locked in a continuous and particularly vicious American presidential campaign, only here everyone believes all the campaign charges and counter-charges. I talked to a bank director from Cologne, himself in exile during the Third Reich, who insisted that the labor unions were bent on destroying private property and that co-determination—foisted upon Germany, he darkly hinted, by American labor unions—was the opening wedge to disaster. Again, the director of an Evangelical Gymnasium in Berlin, a generous man doing an admirable job, warned me of the Catholic Church’s plot to establish a totalitarian regime in West Germany and of the corrosive impact of liberalism which threatens all “values.” And on my last day in Berlin a professor of a Protestant seminary, a leading participant in his church’s fight against Hitler, confessed to me that he despaired of the church’s vitality and integrity in West Germany. “If I were younger,” he said, “I’d go and fight it out in the East; as it is, I thank the Lord I don’t have to live among West Germans.”

His feelings were typical of Berlin, where everyone seems to cherish a lusty hatred of the West Germans, considering them smug and heartless. And indeed my two weeks in West Germany taught me that the Bavarians, Swabians, and Rhinelanders do resent the troublesome claims of the Berliners, even as they resent the East Germans who stand as a muted reproach to their enjoyment of prosperity. Weak indeed is the national sense of a people that could so rapidly move so far apart. Even at the height of the uprising of June 17, 1953, the East Germans who risked their lives condemning their Quisling government and its continued injustices made only feeble gestures in the direction of reunification. As a Prussian conservative wrote in the 1840′s, Germany’s national characteristic is its divisiveness.

_____________

 

To read such judgments, even to understand that historically the Germans are for all their occasional outbursts of chauvinism a peculiarly non-nationalistic people, is much different from discovering this for oneself in immediate, spontaneous words and gestures. This I did while serving as an examiner on a Fulbright screening committee in Berlin; here I could drop pleasantry and the polite silence about fundamental questions which I had to show towards my own students. We interviewed some forty students from the various faculties of the Free University—bright, well-educated people who were articulate and informed about everything but their own past. Hardly any of them had tried to analyze the terrible problems of Germany’s last decades. With the significant exception of some young theologians, they neither accepted their past as a part of themselves, nor had come to grips with it in any other way. What they carried was a faint, blurred picture of the last one hundred years, or of the fatality of the last twenty, with no more sense of personal involvement than an American might feel in talking about a rigged convention. The divorce between German intellect and politics, the continuing absence of a live, pervasive political society which I had so often postulated in the abstract, was here on exhibit, as it were.

Quite a few of the students protested their anti-Nazism by assuring me, “But . . . we lost everything at the end of the war.” Asked how it happened, they cited Versailles, the inflation, or the depression as responsible for Hitler, and Yalta for everything after Hitler. These were the automatic answers that reflected their unwillingness to penetrate the past and sort out the good from the bad. Certainly the past, whether remote or recent, is no source of pride to them; it is not even a part of their experience. I remember asking a particularly engaging young fellow, a Junker scion as it happened, to mention one German political figure of the last two hundred years whose picture he might put on his desk. “None,” was his reply, and I thought to myself: who, after all, who? But I also remembered Burke’s injunction to the French: “. . . respecting your forefathers, you would have been taught to respect yourselves.” What of a people that neither celebrates nor distorts its history, but ignores it?

This escape from the past reinforces the German propensity to blame others for their misfortunes. Collective guilt is, as I have said, a harsh and perhaps even a meaningless concept; and yet I had expected to find that the conscience of the Germans would have been tried. Except to a few, the mote in the Allied eye seems already much bigger than the beam in their own. At every level, even among the most detached and conscious anti-Nazis, I found this emphasis upon Allied “mistakes,” expressing the general resentment over Allied unity against the Germans. Why unconditional surrender? Why after D-Day did not the Western powers join us in a crusade against the Soviets? And, again and again: why the “sell-out” at Yalta? And when I suggested—more often than I wished to—that it had been Germany’s aggression which had in the end brought the Soviets to the Elbe, that we had been compelled to fight with the Soviets against the immediate evil, there would be silence or grudging assent, with a glance at the bookshelf where W. H. Chamberlin’s America’s Second Crusade or books of that sort—all diligently translated—bore witness that this new stab-in-the-back legend can be substantiated by the utterances of many Americans.2 And so, with what Germans like to think is America’s blessing, the belief grows stronger that the European collapse began in 1945—with the victory of the Allies.

_____________

 

Anyone looking for German contrition will have to be content with their boundless self-pity. Each German his own horror-story and each city its peculiar tragedy. And why deny them? When I first saw the center of Berlin—for blocks nothing but rubble and silence, or the bombed-out shell of the Anhalter Bahnhof with signs warning of rat-poison—I too was overawed. I tried not to think of this terrifying wasteland as retribution, but later it occurred to me that this may be how many Germans—quite unconsciously—regard it. Why would the West Berliners now collect funds not to restore or demolish the Gedächtnisskirche but to preserve it as a ruin? Could it be to remind themselves that punishment has been received, that the debt is paid? Why be contrite about war crimes and genocide, which a few Germans may have been guilty of, when Germans indiscriminately were bombed, starved, and harried?

In a sermon for the 20th of July, delivered before President Heuss and broadcast to the nation, the Bishop of Berlin praised God’s mercifulness, declaring that even in the most horrible days of German suffering His mercy had remained. During this painful recital of German suffering there was not even an allusion to the sufferings of others. In despair at what I thought a culpable omission I wrote to him, humbly suggesting that his authority and the uniqueness of the occasion might have made it appropriate at least to acknowledge the tragic fate of the victims of German deeds. I mailed the letter quickly, before second thoughts could restrain me, but his answer, swift and untroubled, reassured me: “When I was talking of German suffering I was also thinking of those who died at German hands.” How nice, I thought at first, and then it dawned on me that the link between German suffering and German cruelty may indeed have been there in his silent thought, and that self-pity is a form—and the only important form in Germany today—of unappeased conscience.

_____________

 

II

It is not as if I spent the summer as a human Geiger counter, attuned to radiations of repentance. The pace was too quick for that. But so many of the chance remarks and political events acquired deeper meaning in the light of how Germans regarded the past. For overtly their life during the past nine years seems to have been routine and unreflective, and the “poets and thinkers” more divorced from the life of the people than ever. And I plunged into their workaday life as fully as possible.

I still remember that first night on the military train between Frankfort and Berlin, when we pulled into the Soviet Zone at the break of dawn and I saw the first Soviet soldier. He appeared at the end of a tunnel, out of nowhere, in the middle of nowhere, a solitary soldier in high boots, with a tommy gun slung across his back, like a dull picture in a magazine, but here he was in reality and in the heart of Europe. In time, it is true, the sight of Russian soldiers became usual, but it was left to an acquaintance of mine to tell me that the presence of the GI from Texas or Nebraska was truly more startling than the Russian, who had, after all, traversed Europe before. True enough perhaps, but the American soldier was a friend, and I had never known how much such unknown friends could mean.

I had been told in New York that Berlin was the most “exciting” place in Europe, what with the Russians at the other end of the subway line and a kind of competition in culture between the worlds. I was looking forward to at least a miniature version of David Riesman’s delightfully profound fantasy of the Nylon War, but while Berlin is the most significant place of co-existence, and while America successfully exploits this fact, the city does not really sustain the importance attributed to it.

There is, in fact, a deceptive normality to Berlin, especially if one is thrown at once into the academic life at the Free University. Ruins and Russians become an accepted part of life, and the well-appointed stores (to say nothing of the countless Konditoreien, dripping with whipped cream) add a bizarre note to this city which at times celebrates itself as the outpost of freedom. West Berlin is almost a dull place, at least in the summer, and even the tough humor of the Berliners cannot dissipate the fear that the city will degenerate into utter provincialism. Imagine Washington with the Federal government moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, the museums rifled, the Library of Congress emptied, and the roads blocked. What sustains Berlin is the struggle between Americans and Russians, and the magnificent determination of the Americans to win that struggle. The airlift constituted the most dramatic instance of that resolve, but America’s assistance in the establishment of the Free University may well prove to be the most enduring monument to the deeper meaning of our role.

_____________

 

In a country where success stories are less common than with us, and where universities are judged as much by age and tradition as by performance, the success of the Free University is truly remarkable, and justifies the pride which its faculty and students exude. The Free University is six years old (Heidelberg is nearly six hundred years old), has ten thousand students, from East Berlin and the Soviet Zone as well as from West Berlin and West Germany, and a faculty which can hold its own among faculties throughout Germany. Even the older German universities, so aloof and incredulous six years ago, are beginning to accept the Berlin upstart as a permanent achievement of those students and few teachers who in 1947-48 rebelled against the ideological pressure of the Communists at the old university in East Berlin.

The unique origins of the Free University molded its character. Unlike most West German universities, the Free University draws its students from every walk of life. It has a system of student participation in university administration, unique in Germany, which surpasses, I believe, similar experiments in America. Student delegates sit in each faculty as well as in the University Senate and, in theory at least, “co-determine” policy.3 But even in Berlin the old vices of German academic life are partially reappearing. As in West Germany, only on a less alarming scale, the old Korporationen, with their compulsory dueling and voluntary anti-Semitism, seek to regain their place. Dueling and drunkenness, however, have little appeal to students who are dependent on odd jobs and financial help for their existence.

Nor did I find any evidence of resurgent nationalism or any other extremism. The students treated my—to them—unusual interpretations of German history with sympathetic seriousness, and I came to share the belief of many democrats that this may be the first generation of German students not poisoned by chauvinism or militarism. The Free University, by force of circumstance, has bridged that gap between the political and academic life which was, and in West Germany still is, so characteristic of German universities. The Communists “forced these students to be free,” and American generosity (continuing in the form of substantial Ford Foundation grants) provided the material basis for their freedom.

The spirit of the Free University, however, is all its own. It is a mixture of pride, humility, and seriousness, and sufficient good humor to overcome the persistent difficulties of inadequate facilities. While the hoarier forms of extracurricular life may be creeping back and the relative informality of its early years may be receding before revived pomposity, I think the university will for a long time to come justify the affection of its own students, as well as of the Fulbright students from America whose loyalty is almost alarming.

As for Berlin’s more general pretensions to cultural vitality, I am afraid I remain unconvinced. True, I came towards the end of the season, but saw enough not to be inconsolable that I could see no more. In the magnificent new Schiller-Theater I saw the old Hauptmann von Köpenick, a crude play crudely produced and received. The audience, passive, even inattentive through most of the evening, responded only to the vulgarity in word and posture of a man waiting his turn to go to the toilet. In the East, the programs were superior, but the productions seemed threadbare and unimaginative. I remember wandering into one of Gorky’s last plays, Ssomow und andere, which in the first act probes the mind and mood of counter-revolutionaries in a hostile but not stereotyped manner, and the brave activists in the audience were somewhat at a loss how to respond to this criticism of the regime. I also saw Don Carlos, with its dramatic plea “Sire, geben Sie Gedankenfreiheit,” for which the play had been banned under the Nazis. The passage received hesitant applause, but the Communists made up for it by giving the villainous Grand Inquisitor in the tragic finale a deathlike face that made him resemble Adenauer. Contrary to Western opinion, however, the Eastern theater seemed all in all no better than the Western, though in fairness I should add that I missed Brecht’s Mutter Courage which is generally acclaimed as the greatest contemporary play and production. The drama in the East, however, was not in the “social realism” of the stage, but in the sordid realism outside.

_____________

 

From this side of the Atlantic, I had looked forward to East Berlin as a kind of forbidden experience. The first time I went there alone, I almost wished it were forbidden. I stayed only ten minutes, long enough to feel the terrible anguish of helplessness and the fear of arbitrariness. I remember arriving at the Eastern subway station, finding my way to the street amidst slogans and posters, and recoiling from the sight of the first Volkspolizist, that dreadful combination of Nazi face and Soviet uniform. I left again, thinking that those who scoff at “bourgeois values” or sham liberties ought to come here; one does not ordinarily notice the air one breathes, but tamper with it, and you choke.

It was a different sensation on a U. S. military bus, where the trip to the East was cheerfully depressing. The Eastern sector seemed like a different world, deserted, downtrodden, and destroyed, as against the buzzing, elegant, and dynamic West—just the contrast one always reads about. On that tour, a regular army service authorized in the remote days of active co-existence, I went to the gigantic Soviet War Memorial in their half of Berlin, part of which was built from the tiles of Hitler’s Chancellery. It is a formal garden, with bas-reliefs depicting scenes from the war, and on a hill at the end, a towering statue—World’s Fair style—of a Soviet soldier clutching a Russian child in one hand and a sword slaying the swastika in the other. Inside the memorial chapel is the coffin of the unknown soldier, and above it a German and Russian inscription recalling the struggle against the “fascist hordes.” The ideological cliché, even in the presence of death, jolted me back to the present. For it is an impressive sight, a monument not only to the Russian dead, but to the death of so many hopes and illusions.

_____________

 

It took me weeks to get up enough nerve to return to East Berlin alone. When I did, each excursion seemed like an adventure into past and future: so much reminded me of the Nazi past and so much had the flavor of a terrifying future. On almost every remaining wall a picture of “Big Brother”—in various guises—and on the street the police do watch you. The future is previewed in the celebrated showpiece known as Stalinallee: a magnificently wide boulevard, on either side of which are apartment houses built of cream-colored stone and tile, decorated in the Oriental manner with mosaic pattern and paintings. In a city so wrecked as East Berlin, Stalinallee cannot help but impress, and depress too. Is this pretentious ugliness, this fancy slum, really the ultimate fulfillment of the Communist society? And can the Communists be unaware that this showpiece of the entire “proletarian” world embodies the cruel inegalitarianism of their society which provides only for the few even as it promises to the many?

I confess Stalinallee did have a lure for me that I could not resist: the Karl Marx Buchhandlung. If there has to be a lure, books may be preferable to food, and I did not make it a practice, as many West Berliners and Americans do, of devouring the delicacies of the “people’s restaurants,” with caviar less than fifty cents a portion. But the bookstore, larger than Scribner’s and Brentano’s put together, was different, and I must have gone there six or seven times. There were thousands of books in all languages, though the “peoples’ democracies” were most heavily represented; and there was a secondhand division where “bourgeois” editions of old classics could be had for next to nothing. In my search I discovered and bought a set of Herder’s works, and noticed later that it carried the official stamp: “From the Jewish ghetto in Theresienstadt.” The salesmen treated me with excessive politeness though I had from the first insisted upon my nationality, and I acquired a sense of security there which I felt nowhere else in East Berlin. This was dispelled quickly enough when one day from the upstairs window of the store I saw a car full of policemen parked outside, waiting for someone or something. The next half hour, until the car departed as mysteriously as it had come, was uncomfortable, and I was reminded of the protagonists of 1984 who had felt so safe in the antique store—and who were finally caught precisely in this mausoleum of the past. Much shaken, I took a taxi to the subway station closest to West Berlin and resolved that this was to be my last visit. That night I remarked to an American colleague who was grumbling about West Berlin that its justification was East Berlin, and that that was enough for me.

_____________

 

III

Our conversation that night turned to the political future, and to the question of whether the West could maintain its prosperous stability and attendant superiority over the East. That question needs to be asked, for this past summer marked a turning point in the development of postwar Germany. Between 1948 and the spring of 1954, Adenauer’s Germany achieved a spectacular economic recovery and a degree of political stability which probably has no parallel in modern German history. That period, however, seems to have come to an end: formally with the promise of sovereignty, but more significantly in a fluidity in German life which may ultimately crystallize in a pattern less satisfactory to us than that of the recent past. Put differently, between 1945 and 1954 Germany had no live political option. She is freer now, at home and abroad, and the stability that was partly imposed from without will be severely shaken.

Let me say at once that I do not belong to those spiteful pessimists who see Nazis in every nook and cranny. Our newspapers regularly report the rise of neo-Nazism, the triumphant return from prison of some notorious SS leader, or the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. Such desecrations may well have happened, though not as daily occurrences as one recent observer claims; but for all their human meanness, these acts would assume political significance only if a neo-Nazi movement did in fact exist. As far as I could see, it does not. Our reporters too often confuse neo-Nazis with ex-Nazis, who, undoubtedly, are making a disheartening comeback. But there is a difference, if not necessarily an edifying one, between the former Nazi who has not recanted but does not seek to restore, and the new Nazi who, like a 19th-century Bonapartist, yearns to do it all over again. Of the many Nazis who have made their way back I know of none who openly advocates the restoration of totalitarianism or any of its characteristic features. My guess is that there are very few “Bonapartists” in Germany today, if only because Hitler was no Napoleon.

_____________

 

The danger to West Germany does not come from the extreme right, or from the extreme left, which is virtually nonexistent. It comes from the removal of external restraints and the other successes which Adenauer has achieved. And it manifests itself in a weakening of Adenauer’s hold and an incipient splintering of the middle. West Germany has suffered from “too much and too soon,” and the adage that nothing succeeds like success is not here applicable.

In his sincere efforts to attach West Germany to Europe, Adenauer has had the support of the United States, the fanatic following of a few German youths who had become obsessed by the “European idea,” and the acquiescence of the large majority of West Germans who could not think of a better policy. While the European idea as a mystique is dead, the achievements of his rule remain and are to be crowned shortly by the ratification of the Paris treaties. But these successes make him all the more vulnerable. He has accomplished all that he could, things that only he could have achieved, and now he can be criticized and attacked with impunity.

This falling away from Adenauer’s policy began even before the death of EDC. The appearance of adventurers this spring—Dr. Brüning and Herr Pfleiderer—was a mere straw in an easterly wind. Dr. John’s defection and the subsequent pilgrimage of Adenauer’s party colleague Schmidt-Wittmack to East Germany suggest more dangerous squalls and incidentally, for the first time since the division in 1948, gave the East a temporary propagandistic edge. Then came the rejection of EDC, for which Bonn was apparently no better prepared than we were. In a series of anxious improvisations the United States sought to strengthen Adenauer, seemingly unaware that our unqualified help may easily weaken his position. For when our Secretary of State demonstrates to the German public that he finds the road to Bonn faster and more pleasant than, say, the road to Paris, the Germans conclude that Adenauer is no longer indispensable, that with the certainty of American support a bolder policy can now be embarked upon. By giving Adenauer too much we have encouraged his people to give him too little, and the immediate result may be seen in the intense agitation over the Saar, which some months back would have been unthinkable.

_____________

 

But even granting the eagerness of some Germans to break away from Adenauer’s sober policies, they will sooner or later come up against the ultimate limitations on their freedom of action. The East-West conflict has enabled Germany to regain its sovereignty and strength, but from this time on will impose ineluctable restraints. Germany—whether unified or not—has at last been dwarfed by the very powers she herself brought to Europe by her aggression and whose continued presence in Central Europe is now guaranteed by their mutual fear. Thus West Germany’s potential for good on our side outweighs her conceivable capacity for mischief. And since I do not believe that the West Germans will join the Soviets—if only because the continued presence of Allied troops would make this most difficult—or that the Soviets will voluntarily abandon East Germany, it is unlikely that reunification will become a live possibility, though it will probably emerge as the center of constant political manipulation which will give it the appearance of a serious question.

There is, at present, no strong irredentist feeling in West Germany, least of all among those social groups that are sharing in her prosperity. Unification, they know, would pose dangerous problems and impose heavy economic burdens on the West. The Soviets have expropriated the large land-owning class in Prussia and nationalized most sectors of the economy, and the West would either have to accept this settlement or try to put Humpty Dumpty together again. Potentially this is a most explosive issue, since the Socialists could not accept restitution or the centrists the fait accompli. It is probable, therefore, that the present tendency to pay lip service to reunification and to concentrate on one’s own business will continue. Most East Germans, one might add, hate their Communist regime, but after twelve years of Nazi propaganda and nine of Soviet, it is unlikely that Bonn’s parliamentary democracy attracts them enthusiastically. And so one arrives at the pedestrian conclusion that Germany will continue to live as a divided nation—which would, of course, constitute no great reversal of its historic traditions.

_____________

 

In domestic politics it is the same story of the self-defeating quality of Adenauer’s success. He has been the most successful statesman, and among the successful the most admirable, of modern Germany. He is also a great man, not unaware of his exceptional stature, and he has become impatient with smaller men, lesser minds, and ultimately with opposition itself. His leadership and the imposed restraints from abroad held his party and coalition together, but the signs of political discontent are multiplying. He may patch up the cracks as they appear, but the coalition will not survive him, and given the sorry state of the opposition, one realizes that his mantle will not automatically fall on another: neither an Attlee nor an Eden is waiting in the wings, but at best a well-meaning Caprivi. And at such a time, the political power of certain groups, notably big business and the bureaucracy, which Adenauer has kept in check, may emerge in alarming strength.

When I first came to Germany I doubted that the Germans could really develop a democracy. The summer months taught me that I was wrong, but I left Germany with the fear that a promising beginning is being severely threatened. Franz Neumann, whose tragic death this summer deprived us of one of the most penetrating observers of modern Germany, wrote four years ago, “The West has so far won the battle for Germany.” This was still true six months ago, but new dangers will arise when the present coalition disintegrates, probably at the same time that American influence will at least be weakened by the establishment of the new German army, a force that historically has never tended to sustain democratic or even civilian government.

In the ensuing struggle it will be difficult to find another broad union, and as so often in German politics, the opposition to the existing regime is divided and unprepared. The Socialist party remains the most sincerely democratic group but lacks personalities, program, and power. It still seems to be torn between its imaginary revolutionary tradition and its real, conservative attachment to democracy; at the S.P.D. Parteitag, which I attended, the leader of the party demanded “the erection of a new society, not the restoration of the old,” and, a few paragraphs later, denounced Adenauer for scuttling a local coalition between his party and the Socialists. Does he really suppose that the German conservatives will legislate a socialist program, as English Tories upon occasion do? Or does he think that because the S.P.D. now wants to be like the British Labor party, its political opponents will obligingly turn into a Conservative party, ready to share power and responsibility equally? Lastly, the trade unions, by accepting political neutrality as the price of unity, have agreed, at least formally, to their own political impotence and thus deprived the Bonn Republic of one of the pillars of Weimar. If Bonn nevertheless remains stronger today than Weimar ever was, it is primarily because its enemies are weaker and not because its defenders are stronger. And still I fear that the day will come when we will discover that political instability, a monopoly of which we have angrily attributed to the French, could take a far more dangerous form in Germany.

_____________

 

All this, however, is still in the future. Set against the vicious tone and violent action of the Weimar period, the tone of present-day German politics is polite, perhaps even dull—as H. Stuart Hughes has noted in COMMENTARY (November 1954). That fewer cries of “traitor” and “swine” have been bandied about in the Bundestag than in the old Reichstag may attest an improvement in manners, and it certainly bespeaks the powerful though indirect restraint which our occupation represents. In the recent debate over Dr. John, Adenauer’s Minister of the Interior Schroeder promised that once “the shackles [of occupation] are removed” one would be able to talk more freely. These shackles have in fact protected the Republic, and their removal may unleash the more violent political passions which so far have been suppressed. Then it is likely that the deeper divisions in German society, which I have already mentioned, will show up in political life as well, and that the ugly tone of negation and resentment, which I sensed running strong underneath the surface, may erupt and poison the new society.

_____________

 

If and when that happens, the lack of young leaders will intensify the crisis of the new German democracy. The best Germans have always disdained politics, and during the Weimar Republic men of the stature of Heuss and Adenauer were hardly known—or quickly assassinated. In the Bonn Republic, politics seem no more attractive, and today’s youth, so far as I could tell, is not likely to seek active political responsibility. Among the older generation, the most promising men were exiled, or killed in the 20th of July movement, and the silent sympathizers of that movement find it repugnant to work alongside ex-Nazis. And here we do share some responsibility with the Germans: not that we failed in “de-Nazification”—the task, it will be remembered, was quickly and properly turned over to the Germans, who botched it—but that we too readily retreated from our moral condemnation of those who publicly benefited and only “inwardly” suffered from the Nazi regime. We thus may have helped, unwittingly to be sure, to alienate those Germans who refused all advancement under the Nazis and who in the postwar years could have been encouraged to enter positions of power. (Only a few weeks ago, a resolutely anti-Nazi professor, visiting this country, complained to me that a prominent ex-Nazi had been invited to attend an important festivity at an American university: “I felt as if I had been slapped in the face.”) As it is, when the present septuagenarians retire, their places will be taken by default, and the decline of political life in Germany will have commenced.

The last person I talked to in Germany was a Scandinavian priest, imprisoned and tortured by the Gestapo, liberated at the end of the war by the British, and since then the head of an international students’ house in a small German university town. For nine years he had tried to reform his former enemies, and he was proud of his past successes. His words of parting I repeat sadly—and in that sadness perhaps lies my own best gain from the summer: “I am leaving Germany. The atmosphere is becoming unbearable.”


Footnotes

1 One of the best-known German historians, now retired, spoke to me of a Socialist participant of the 20th of July attempt, whom I know, as an “opportunist.” I objected that to have risked one’s life and endured torture for nearly a year did not strike me as typical opportunism. His answer: “We couldn’t all get entrance tickets for the concentration camps.”

2 Germans often see us either as dupes of our idealism or as victims of traitors. Alger Hiss is well known in Germany and in the Bundestag debate over Dr. John, Adenauer’s Minister of the Interior referred knowingly to Hiss, as if to suggest that such things, after all, happen in the best of families. In this connection it is interesting that during my stay in Berlin I did not hear a critical remark about Senator McCarthy, while many students praised him as America’s “leading anti-Communist.”

3 Illustrative perhaps of many current efforts to conciliate antagonisms by “co-determination” was the unintentionally humorous remark by a high University official, praising student participation since “they are so responsible that they hardly ever speak up or give us any trouble.”

_____________

About the Author




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.