On Hitler’s Mountain

Since 1999 I’ve developed very close ties to German filk fandom and lost count of the number of times I’ve visited the country. It’s been hard for me to reconcile what I’ve seen with its Nazi past; few Germans give the impression of the kind of people who’d support a brutal dictatorship. This weekend I’ve read Irmgard A. Hunt’s On Hitler’s Mountain, an account of the author’s growing up under the Third Reich, and it provides a number of clues.
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Kurt Masur

Kurt MasurToday I learned that conductor Kurt Masur has died. It always saddens me to learn about the loss of a major musician, but I’ll admit I’m not a connoisseur of conductors. Unless a performance is really out of the ordinary or noticeably sloppy, I don’t notice the difference, except for a few bits of interpretation which I’m fussy about. On that point, Masur doesn’t pass my Beethoven’s Ninth test (the passage at measure 513, as Toscanini knew, is a juggernaut, not a funeral march!). But no matter; in reading about him, I learned something much more important.
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Here are pictures from my excursion to Quedlinburg, about 20 kilometers from Wernigerode. Many of them are from a guided tour through Hell that I went on (conducted in German, and I was able to follow along! Yay!!). King Heinrich I was crowned here, so Quedlinburg claims to be the first capital of Germany. Other places do too.
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Pictures from Wernigerode

Here are a few pictures I took in Wernigerode, Germany, in late September and early October of 2015. Click on the pictures for a larger view.
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Holocaust Memorial in Nashua

Today while riding on my bike I came by the Holocaust Memorial on Main Street in Nashua, across from Shaw’s. I’d known it was there but somehow never noticed it. It’s simply and powerfully designed.
Holocaust Memorial, shot from distance
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Hitler’s Children

This morning I watched a movie on Netflix called Hitler’s Children. It consists of interviews with and presentations of descendants of some of the highest-ranking Nazis. None are literally Hitler’s descendants, of course, but they include descendants or close relatives of Himmler, Goering, and Höss, mostly two generations removed.

I wanted to find something to bridge the huge difference between the Germany that I know and the Germany of the Nazis, and I found something of that. It was hard to watch. All of the people presented had repudiated and spoken against their Nazi forbears, but they mentioned having relatives who just wanted to forget the whole thing, or in some cases who still supported the Nazis. I’m sure there were many more people who wanted no part in the documentary than agreed to be in it.

What did I learn from it? One thing was that the distance between ordinary daily life and monstrous actions can be very small. The family of a concentration camp commander lived right outside it and lived a normal life, paying little attention to it. Some people had the truth concealed from them; one woman’s mother told her that her father governed a “work camp,” not a death camp, and she learned the truth only years later from a survivor of the camp.

I saw that these were Germans not very different from ones I know, closely connected without choice to people who’d done horrible things and having to deal with it. That’s not quite right; they had the choice to deal with it or ignore it, and others in their families had chosen to turn their backs on it. By speaking about it, they showed that blood isn’t destiny (one of them explicitly made that point) and helped me to understand what Germans have to bear.

Usually I go through a bunch of edits on my posts, but I’m going to put this up in one shot, then go off and see if I can stop shaking.

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DFDF 2014

DFDF, Das Frühlingsfest der Filksmusik, is a very small but energetic filk convention in northern Germany. Usually I prefer to go to FilkContinental, the fall convention, because more of my German friends go there, but I also wanted to visit Vienna, which is much nicer in May than late September. DFDF has its own features; it’s in a hotel which is much more comfortable, if not as atmospheric, as the medieval castle in which FilkContinental used to be hosted, and the town it’s in is very nice. (FilkContinental will be in a new location this year.)

The guests of honor were Pavlov’s Duck (Peredar and Thesilée), who provided lots of fun with bells and duck calls as well as good music.

I arrived from Vienna on Thursday so I’d have time to settle in, and a few others arrived that day. I offered to help out but never quite managed to be there when there was stuff to be done.

Pavlov's Duck at DFDFA lot of my favorite people were at the con: Alexa, Sib, Franklin, Volker, Steve, Katy, Eva, Rafael, and others. I was sad that Ju and Crystal couldn’t make it. Programming was relatively light. One of the most unusual features was the “Aquapella” singing session at the pool, complete with laminated lyric sheets. We sang some rounds, including one with lyrics improvised on the spot, and attempted a bit of barbershop harmony.

Franklin Gunkelman and Steve Macdonald, DFDF auctionThe auction, which helps support the convention, raised an impressive 1,334 euros, an average of more than 30 euros per person. I didn’t bid on anything, since I didn’t want to have more stuff in my luggage coming home, but I donated some New Hampshire maple sugar candy. The committee arranged with the hotel to let people pre-order a buffet dinner on any or all of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. This worked out very well, since it let us get back to the convention faster than ordering from the menu would have allowed.

My concert set on Sunday included “Con Chair’s Song,” “The Hare and the Hedgehog,” “Der Besenmacher,” “Paperless,” Kari Maaren’s “Kids These Days,” and “Jalapeño.” I discovered how enthusiastic this crowd was when I was asked, for the first time in my life, to do an encore.

Not everything scales down for a small convention. You still have to negotiate the hotel contract, make arrangements with the guest of honor, assemble a program, get people registered, and make sure everything happens smoothly at the convention. Highest thanks to the committee for all their work, as well as to Volker for running sound.

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The cycle of revenge

The “largest forced population transfer in human history” is one which not many people remember. I learned about it only recently, and I found more details about it in R. M. Douglas’s Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War. According to Douglas, between 12 and 14 million people designated as ethnic Germans were compelled to leave Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia, sometimes under deadly conditions. The Allied powers encouraged and directed much of this relocation.

One reason this event isn’t often mentioned may be that it’s a story with no good guys. The expulsions were an act of ethnic revenge, an attack on people simply for their ancestry or language. Nonetheless, many of the ethnic Germans in eastern Europe, probably most, did support the Nazi government to varying degrees.

Another reason which Douglas mentions is the reluctance of historians to sound as if they agree with Holocaust revisionists on anything. There are people who claim that the expulsion of Germans was the full moral equivalent of the mass slaughter of Jews. Criticizing the expulsions doesn’t mean forgetting that the German government did far worse, but some scholars may be afraid of getting praise from disreputable quarters.

The events after World War II illustrate how injustice leads to revenge, revenge to injustice, and so on to cycles of retaliation. It’s worst when revenge allows serious fanatics to grab power, as Hitler did campaigning against the perceived injustices of the Versailles Treaty. When whole ethnic groups are blamed, the innocent aren’t separated from the guilty. We can see that today in some people’s reactions to the 9/11 attacks.

One of the things I find most disturbing about people is the way they’ll adopt a new position en masse without any compelling argument for it. It makes me wonder whether I can really know anything about them. Persuading them that they have a common enemy is one of the most effective ways to make them turn around that way.

Justice requires recognizing that individuals are responsible for their actions and that others don’t share the blame just because of their language, appearance, or national origin. Many people, though, are less interested in justice than in finding someone to strike out against.

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