Monday, April 23, 2007

Whitewashing the Nazi past 

They won't allow history to be rewritten

By Leonie Schultens
Mon., April 23, 2007 Iyyar 5, 5767

How do you turn a former Nazi prosecutor into an opponent of Hitler's regime? It seems that Gunther Oettinger, the minister president of the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, thought the death of former German politician Hans Filbinger at age 93 justified such historical revisionism. In a eulogy honoring Filbinger's life, Oettinger said: "Hans Filbinger was no National Socialist. On the contrary, he was an opponent of the Nazi regime. However, he was unable to evade the regime's tight control, as were millions of others."

Hans Filbinger, it should be recalled, enjoyed a very prosperous postwar career in the ranks of Germany's Christian Democratic Party (CDU) of current Chancellor Angela Merkel. Filbinger led Baden-Wuerttemberg from 1966 until he was forced to resign in 1978 after the media uncovered his activity as a naval judge in Hitler's Germany.

In his graveside speech, Oettinger claimed that contrary to popular belief, no verdict issued by Filbinger ever led to the death of German soldiers. As it happened, many Germans, and especially the German media, disagreed with his evaluation, especially in light of the fact that the sister of one of Filbinger's victims expressed her outrage at the eulogy. In 1945 Filbinger oversaw the execution of 22-year-old Walter Groeger for intending to desert to Scandinavia.

The amount of pressure German politicians and the media exerted on Oettinger after his speech was remarkable. The "Filbinger Affair" remained front-page news a whole week, prompting calls for Oettingers resignation and even the establishment of a fact-finding committee to investigate Filbinger's role in Nazi Germanys naval courts.

The head of the opposition Social Democrats in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Ute Vogt, called for Oettinger's resignation. "It is one thing that Filbinger was unable to recognize his injustice, quite another that Oettinger is also unable to differentiate," she said. Chancellor Merkel also publicly criticized her fellow party member, saying that while Filbinger's achievements should be honored, his eulogy should have raised several critical questions with regard to Germanys Nazi past.

The German historian Hans Mommsen accused Oettinger of "national blasphemy," a fitting description for the minister president's eulogy which turned Filbinger from a spineless Nazi follower - and implementer, as the judgment against Groeger shows all too clearly - into someone who was opposed to the Nazi regime.

While Oettinger could have very distastefully claimed that during the Nazi era Filbinger was forced to act in certain ways - and even this would have been a poor argument - it is impossible to turn the former marine judge into an opponent of the Nazi era. Because the war was nearly over, Filbinger did not need to issue a death sentence on Groeger, and he certainly did not have to be present to witness the execution.

It is encouraging to see Germans of all political convictions rally together to oppose the rewriting of history. Oettinger tried to justify his speech by saying that cultural norms hold that when eulogizing someone, the positive aspects of the person's life should be highlighted. While this may be true for people outside the public limelight, it is not applicable to public figures, and it is certainly not permissible for politicians to whitewash or even erase the dark spots in a person's biography - even more so if these are marked by swastikas.
While it is regrettable that ministers of Oettinger's standing consider it "permissible" to make such statements today, viewing the past as water under the bridge, what should be remembered about this episode is not the view of one individual, but the great extent of public pressure brought to bear on him.

True, the German political establishment cannot make an example of every individual who wishes to forget about or even glorify the Nazi past. To some, this may be a serious shortcoming, but one which, sadly, is difficult to rectify, especially considering that public discourse and education have for years condemned Nazi horrors. But by not allowing Oettinger to get away with his statements, the German government is showing that such attitudes are neither tolerated nor condoned.

Oettinger, in the end, had to issue a public apology for his remarks. He has not likely heard the last about his sympathetic speech honoring Filbinger's death. For one, the union for the victims of Nazi military justice has announced that it will file a petition against him for insulting and defaming Nazi victims. And when, one day, people will write Oettinger's eulogy, they will be sure to mention the short, but intense, debate that turned a conservative German politician into a historical revisionist.

Labels: , , ,

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Add things to your sidebar here. Use the format:
  • Link Text
  • +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ -->