F E B R U A R Y 1 9 6 4
by Martha Gellhorn
TO CRITICIZE, to doubt, to probe the Germans is by now not only anti-German but apparently unAmerican. In eighteen years, we have turned an astonishing emotional and intellectual somersault. Have the Germans done anything of the sort? Is there a "New Germany," or is there simply another Germany? My acquaintance with Germany began in 1924 and continued until the end of the Nürnberg Trials, though from the summer of 1936 until American troops entered Germany during the war, I watched from a distance and listened to those who had escaped the fatherland. In these post-war years, while the United States has become officially more loving every minute toward its former enemy, I have been reading of this New Germany, and wondering. Last winter I returned to West Germany to try to find what must be New Germans, those who were children or newly born at the end of the Second World War, so young then as to be untouched by the poison their people fed on for twelve years.
I had one introduction, to a Hungarian journalist established in Germany after the Hungarian revolution of 1956. My plan was to visit universities; I meant to meet Germany's future rulers. Hitler was a freak in German history in the sense that he was semiliterate; Germany is normally directed by university graduates, and the academic title Doctor has always abounded in German governmental circles. From the University of Hamburg, through those of Free Berlin, Frankfurt, Bonn, and Munich, I was passed along by students, either casually met or introduced by the student self-government in each university. We were strangers, they having no ideas about me and I no ideas about them. There was nothing official in this tour. I would wander into a student government office and chat with anyone I could find, and in turn they whistled up anyone they could find with spare time and a wish to talk; though I did try to meet all kinds, ranging from socialist to nationalist to don't-know. These boys and girls were in their twenties; they had known no other form of government than "democracy." They had also grown up in an affluent society, though few of them were rich, but none was miserably poor as were the European students of my youth. I liked some of them very much, and thought some almost as detestable as their fathers had been in their brand-new brown uniforms in the pre-war universities.
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In my opinion there is no New Germany, only another Germany. Germany needs a
revolution which it has not had and shows no signs of having; not a bloody, old-fashioned
revolution, with firing squads and prisons, ending in one more dictatorship,
but an interior revolution of the mind, the conscience. Obedience is a
German sin. Possibly the greatest German sin. Cruelty and bullying are the
reverse side of this disciplined obedience. And Germans have been taught
obedience systematically, as if it were the highest virtue, for as long as they
have been taught anything. They are still so taught, beginning at
Mom's knee and continuing through the universities. Twice their victors have
imposed "democracy" on a people who never fought for it themselves. Democracy
may not be the most perfect form of government (E. M. Forster was right in
saying "Two Cheers for Democracy"), but it is the best we have yet found,
because it implies that the citizen has private duties of conscience, judgment,
and action. The citizen who says Yes to the state, no matter what, is a traitor
to his country; but citizens have to learn how to say No and why to say No.
Germans are still trained as before in their old authoritarian way; the young
are not rebels either. At their best they are deeply troubled by their state
and suspicious of it; at their worst they are indistinguishable from their
ancestors -- the interests of the state come first -- and they are potentially
The adults of Germany, who knew Nazism and in their millions cheered and adored Hitler until he started losing, have performed a nationwide act of amnesia; no one individually had a thing to do with the Hitlerian regime and its horrors. (This amnesia began as soon as the conquering Allies entered Germany; not a soul could be found who had approved Hitler or harmed a fly.) The young realize this cannot be true, yet one by one, each explains how guiltless his father was; somebody else's father must have been doing the dirty work. Santayana observed that if a man forgets his past he is condemned to relive it. Germans trained in obedience and dedicated to moral whitewashing are not a new people, nor are they reliable partners for anyone else.
There has always been a small minority of Germans who thought of themselves as members of the human race first, and Germans afterward; there still is such a minority, and they are exiles-at-home. For the sake of humanity, it is to be hoped that their numbers will grow until, for the first time, they wield power in Germany. But if what makes Germans the way they are -- the home, the churches, the schools, the universities -- does not change, Germany will continue to be itself. It is fat, rich, and happy now, and no German wants a war; life is good. What happens if life becomes less good? And no one seems to notice that peaceful Germany is, nevertheless, the one great obstacle to peace in Europe. We quarrel with Russia over the divided Germans as over a festering bone; and no one considers that the fears of our former allies, now enemies in the Soviet bloc, are not hysterical fantasies but are based on a long memory.
It is worth remembering that the German national anthem is, as before, "Deutschland über Alles," and that the second and third verses, deleted by the Allies as too aggressive, were restored immediately Germany became independent, and are sung with enthusiasm. There is a German problem, and it will not be solved by denying it or acting as if the problem were a geographical one; let Germany be united, and all will be dandy. The problem is moral, and only the Germans themselves can handle it. They talk ceaselessly about democracy, but "democracy" is a virtuous slogan, without meaning. Until Germans really believe that the state is the servant of the people, and each man is responsible for his acts and his conscience, and that orders are not their own justification, Germany merely changes its leaders, not its character.
THE forms of teaching in German universities are the exercise (a small study group of twelve to twenty-four students), the seminar (up to two hundred students), and the lecture in the large amphitheater (about six hundred students). The students learn by dictation from above, the unquestioned professorial word, the assigned books: they listen for thirty hours a week or more. Many students said bitterly that the only sure way to pass examinations and get the essential degree was to repeat to your professor what the professor had told you. Young Germans, throughout their schooling, are taught to memorize facts but are not guided to relate facts, experience, observation, and emotion to produce their own personal thought.
High school teachers and professors (like judges) have tenure of office; regimes may come, regimes may go, but the opportunist pedagogue or jurist can remain at his post. Denazification courts (which Adenauer objected to as early as 1949) deal only with physical brutality; there is no penalty for having misled and lied to young minds. The old boys are still around, and the young assistant professors, if they hope to advance, must be very tactful with them. German professors are hierarchical figures. It is not surprising that, up to 1957, modern German history, as taught in high schools, stopped at the end of the First World War. Now the Nazi era is rushed over lightly in the last year of high school, and a knowledge of the Nazi period is not required for a university degree; it is an optional subject. German educational methods and a lot of German educators seem to me worse than useless in preparing citizens for life in a free society.
German universities are the size of small towns: ten to twenty-two thousand students. All the young complain of the loneliness of these institutions. The universities are factories for learning by heart; it is no part of their job to provide more than teaching. Dormitories are scarce and for the lucky few. Though the students, for human and economical reasons, would love to live in dormitories, the German government is opposed to housing students as we do. Students are considered radical, and it is perilous to concentrate them together. This is an ironical joke; 60 percent of the students at Munich University voted for the ruling reactionary Bavarian party, while the Socialist Students Club has exactly forty members out of a student population of 22,000. Furthermore, the only students who always live together in houses are members of the Korps (the dueling societies) and their allied fraternities, the Bürssenschaften (nondueling societies). Roughly, these groups may be compared to American fraternities, as membership is by invitation and the houses are not supported by the state or university but by the "elders," former members. Thirty percent of all German students belong to the Korps and the Bürssenschaften and are the largest homogeneous group in the universities; these fraternities are also strongholds of traditionalism and nationalism and have been throughout their history. The German government makes a small financial contribution to any student organization which undertakes political education. Government money is given to the Korps and the Bürssenschaften, which are completely right wing, but no money is given to the tiny left-wing Socialist German Students League. Even more than in America, German governmental circles find it convenient to confuse socialism with Communism. From observation, I would say that the only people in Germany who believe wholeheartedly in the democratic process as a form of government are socialists.
The students, lost in these giant universities, and in their separate homes or solitary lodgings, join groups: some for fun (jazz, photography), some for politics (Young Christian Democrats, Young Socialists), some for study or argument (English literature, current events), some for sports. In every university they also have compulsory student government called ASTA: "compulsory" because all students must pay dues. ASTA manages the student restaurants, gets out a newspaper, arranges meetings, and discusses student problems with the academic authorities, but less than half the students vote in their own elections or bother with ASTA in any way. ASTA is immensely organized and bureaucratic. I mentioned this, seeing the mountains of mimeographed paper and the charts and the proliferating departments and officers in the headquarters of Berlin University's ASTA. "After all, we are German," said the young president, a charmer wearing a Russian-style astrakhan cap, large specs, and clearly endowed with a saving skepticism. Then there is a president of all German students, elected by the ASTA presidents of each German university. This gives you a hint of the organization-man aspect of German life.
I attended various seminars and lectures and found them more than depressing. Here is an example: a session of the Advanced English Seminar at Frankfurt University. One hundred and thirty students sat in tiers in a fine modern lecture room while their instructor talked to them about the works of John Steinbeck. The course was an analysis of the "characterization, structure, plot and language" of Tortilla Flat, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and Of Mice and Men. This two-hour session was taken up with a discussion of the difference between "plot" and "story." Eager students raised their hands and, speaking excellent English, babbled on about this matter, which seemed pointless to me, both as a writer and reader. No one mentioned the meaning of Steinbeck's novels. No one was concerned with Steinbeck's picture of the human condition, with understanding and sharing experience. No one commented on the furious moral indignation which drove Steinbeck to write his earlier books. At the end of the term, the students would know the names of all Steinbeck's characters and every detail of his plots and stories better than Steinbeck does, and that is all. The instructor looked like an American, with bow tie, crew cut, horn-rims; he behaved like an actor playing the part of a young American teacher. After class I asked him where he had learned to speak American. "I learned in Germany," he said. "All I needed was the accent. So I went to the University of Chicago for a year and I got it."
It was not my impression that the majority of students resented this intellectual sterility and doubted the value of their education. In any case, they cannot afford to dissent; a university degree is not a status symbol in Germany; it is essential to middle-class getting ahead. A postgraduate degree, which allows the lifelong title of Doctor, is better still. Observe that the Chancellor of Germany is called Doctor, and so is the manager of the Kempinski Hotel in Berlin. Young Germans want to get ahead. Power, nowadays, is wealth. A pretentious and patriotic young woman, rising fast in a Frankfurt publishing house, put it neatly: "We must work hard, for ourselves and for Germany." The university degree is a big step up on the ladder of success. In the universities, only 5 percent of the students come from working-class homes: perhaps the working class is fortunate not to have its young shaped for so long in such old, tight, unhealthy molds.
THE cities were all different in atmosphere. Hamburg, the most different of all, is a port, and the outside world is somewhere near. The government of Hamburg is socialist, and so is the government of the province; perhaps because of this Hamburg is the home of that Time-like weekly, Der Spiegel, which for long has been the only effective opposition in Germany. It is odd that a weekly magazine, patterned on the gadfly side of Time, should take over the role of a political opposition.
By accident I met three students in Hamburg who fascinated me; they seemed like symbolic characters in a morality play. Johann was studying medicine, Hans was studying political science, and Trudi was studying law. Johann was very good looking, fair-haired, blue-eyed, dressed in an English duffle coat and speaking slightly cockney English. He was so gay, outspoken, and unlike a German that I could not decipher him until he explained that his mother was Jewish, had fled Germany after a short prison term in the early Hitler days, and he had therefore been brought up in England until the age of twelve. We agreed, he and I, as the days passed, that the very best thing that could happen to Germans would be an early transplanting into some less authoritarian country, so that they got their first ideas in an open climate. Hans was a giant, looking rather like a Teutonic boy Abe Lincoln. He was also an oddball; he could not endure his father for good personal reasons and extended this dislike to the entire older generation, which severed his connection with traditional Germany and with traditional obedience. Moreover, he had had an enlightened history teacher in high school, and had thus really studied the Nazi era, ending by going to Belsen with some thousands of other young Germans, who went, he thought, largely out of curiosity, though some made the journey as an act of mourning. Hans was deeply impressed by what he had studied and by Belsen itself; he had learned to be a liberal on his own and meant to become a journalist when he finished his studies "to tell people the truth so it can never happen again."
Trudi, the law student, was a natural Hitler maiden.
We drank bad coffee in a cheap café in the redlight district. Horse steak was advertised on the wall, a jukebox played, the other customers occasionally erupted into drunken shouting. The boys and I found the place funny; Trudi thought it disgusting. The boys felt little esteem for the Adenauer government and all its works, and said so in detail. Trudi objected angrily; she did not consider it right to run down Germany, especially in front of a foreigner. Her reaction was typically German. I heard it often and could not understand it until a bright young journalist in Munich explained: Germans identify their government with their country; therefore any attack on the established political authority is unpatriotic. I believe this, and I think it weird and deadly. When Republicans used to foam at the mouth, if speaking of Franklin D. Roosevelt, neither they nor anybody else thought them traitors to America; they were recognized as Republicans.
Johann dismissed the girl's burst of nationalism by saying, "She's old-fashioned." He concluded all our remarks on Germany: "In comparison with other democracies, Germany is still learning to crawl."
Trudi fidgeted so much that we decided to move on. The boys suggested an espresso bar where we could get decent Cappuccino coffee. Trudi did not want to go, saying, "I hate to see German girls catching those oily Italians."
"Would it be all right if they were catching Germans?"
"That is different," said she.
To humor her, we stopped at the only student cafe in Hamburg, but there was no room to sit, and most of the benches were crowded with dark skinned students, Arabs, Orientals, Africans. Trudi wrinkled her nose and said, "You see, it is not a very nice place."
WEST BERLIN was a stunning surprise. I had not seen the city since the first winter after the war, when Berlin was a wilderness of jagged gray stone. From my reading, I imagined something like a fortified medieval town, cramped, crowded, stoical, hemmed in by the Wall. West Berlin has three airports and is a displeasingly spread-out city, ruinous in taxi fares. It is as garish as if the people had just struck oil, jammed with expensive cars and expensive shops, and the Berliners are not heroes of the front line: they love their hometown, make good money, like being newsworthy and important; and so they stay. There are material inducements as well: an automatic reduction of 5 percent in income tax, a "welcome gift" of $75 for moving to the city, a marriage grant of $750, repayable in ten years, with 25 percent off for every child born in Berlin. And young men in Berlin are exempt from military conscription. These are all perfectly sound reasons for living in West Berlin, and it is high time we stopped being sentimental about the place. For political reasons it may be expedient or vital to keep free Berlin ticking busily, but to act as if it were the stronghold of our faith and the new Jerusalem is absolute rot. We should also stop calling it, in our idiotic slogan, "the showroom of the West." The West, whatever it is, is a lot better than this overdramatized city.
Germans should not be so outraged by the Wall; they built similar walls everywhere in Europe not too long ago. It is a concentration-camp wall with thugs in guard towers ready to shoot their own people as they used to shoot others. The bus hostess, who was either declaiming on the brutality of the Communist East Germans or selling us postcards and color slides, neglected to point out that for nearly seventeen years East Germans could escape quite easily to West Germany, and did so in millions. They had to come without portable possessions, but they did not arrive in a foreign land where they were unwanted and lonely. They emerged from the West Berlin underground into the arms of their compatriots and within a short time were better off, materially, than they had ever been before. West Germany needs so many workers that it imports labor; refugees from East Germany get special consideration. They are not refugees, in the tragic meaning of that word; they are German citizens at home in another part of their country.
You see plenty of uniforms about the place: Russian soldiers in East Berlin, American soldiers in West Berlin; French and English troops are inconspicuous. We think the East Germans are puppets of Russia. They think the West Germans are puppets of America. What if the two German regimes are puppet masters themselves, and shrewdly run their own separate shows, profiting from the cold war and from two opposed gigantic sugar daddies?
Those West German young who do not regard Germany as the center of the universe take a pretty detached view of the Wall and East Germany. They don't see how Germany can be reunited without war, and they do not want war. There has been one splendid change of heart in Germany. The great majority of the younger generation abhors militarism, armies, and uniforms. A pretentious young woman in Frankfurt amazed me by saying, "Losing the war means losing East Germany and East Berlin. It is terrible. This is something our elders did without asking us. But we must accept. And make here fine." It would have been a nobler sentiment if she had said "starting the war," but one should be grateful for small favors, such as a recognition of cause and effect. A young sociologist at Frankfurt University who had studied in America on a Fulbright grant was blessed with the clearest mind I met. He was just and penetrating about America and used the same eyes on his own country. "Ulbricht and Adenauer are the ones who prevent a solution. They need this quarrel to stay in power. We must recognize East Germany and the Polish frontier; you'll have to guarantee West Berlin. Eighteen years is long enough for a dangerous tug-of-war."
East German refugee students, who get scholarships and are favored sons, have emotional reasons for following the Christian Democrat party line. In West Berlin, the pink-checked president of the local chapter of Refugee Students from East Germany didn't want an H-bomb war to reunify Germany. They realized this would be no use to them. But he foresaw a swap with Poland -- give back East Poland and get back East Germany. He hadn't figured out why the Russians would part with their slice of Poland.
He wanted Germany to be proud, "like America." After the war, America (few speak of the Allies) held the Nürnberg Trials and created democracy here; "they treated the Germans like children." I heard this often, in various terms from a variety of students. We should apparently have shot the war criminals but not embarrassed the Germans with recorded trials. As for democracy, we ought somehow to have imposed it and not have imposed it. There must be a German democracy, he said, made by Germans and honoring German ways, traditions, and customs. German democracy is the battle cry of the serious fascists. Only crackpots paint swastikas on synagogues or meet in noisy Nazi style.
In Munich, the Prussian-born president of another student refugee organization said that "a young German looks behind and sees fifty years of mistakes and atrocities. Better forget it and become a European. But De Gaulle says it will be a Europe of nations, so I have to remain a German. This isn't Germany -- the other part is gone. We must get it back to be whole." He is pro-military, Prussian still. He wants the H-bomb given to NATO, where German officers hold high rank. He believes that the government should have emergency powers to dismiss parliament and rule by decree. "All our symbols were discredited by Hitler -- our flag and our country. What is there for us to do? Most young people think of work and their own careers. The Hitler regime had a spiritual safe; people were actively engaged. Now there is apathy. No one knows what democracy means; no one knows what Germany means."
It is safe to generalize here: the conservative, the traditionalist, the authoritarian young want Germany to be reunited and powerful. The socialists, the democratically minded want to accept the present frontiers for the sake of peace on earth. That leaves the usual bulk of the uncommitted, the young who care about living their own lives quietly. The Federal Republic is the only homeland they know; they are not "hurting for anything," as American G.I.'s used to say. The unification of Germany is not a subject that torments them.
FRANKFURT IS hideous, rebuilt, prosperous, and more bearable than Berlin. It is not pretending to be other than it is: business is better than usual, and a socialist regime is in power. I liked this city only because of a tiny seed, planted long ago by an inspired officer in the U.S. Military Government. This seed is called "Seminar fur Politik," and as far as I can see, it is the best legacy we left to Germany. The Germans copy all our materialism; here in a small clean building we left behind something of what we ought to mean. The seminar is free, in every way. Young people, most of whom earn their living by day, come here from six to eight o'clock in the evening and are encouraged, led, lured into thinking for themselves and asking the basic question of free men: Why? A woman who is wise, loving, and intellectually honest runs this school; she is a Catholic and a socialist, an interesting combination in Germany, where the government has been dominated by clerical reactionaries.
After listening to the young and their young teacher argue, question, learn about Nietzsche and determinism, we went off to a café, where I tried to get at something that puzzles me: the role of German women. There were six girls and two boys who invited themselves; it was a mistake to let the boys join us. Even these girls reacted largely in the traditional German way; they secede before the male. I suggested to them that there was something very wrong about German women, who, in my opinion, are the Arab women of the West. Since they bring up the children and manage the home, they must fatally instill into their offspring their own unquestioning respect for authority, beginning with father and going on inexorably to a ruler. How can there be hope for the inquiring mind and the free spirit if the women are such abject intellectual and moral slaves? The girls did not get too far with this question, disappointingly. The boys suggested it was fine for women to study and work until they had children; after that, their place was in the home. But one boy, on leave from military service, finally said, "The worst thing for the young women is their old mothers" -- their old mothers who forever teach blind obedience, handing on this sin from generation to generation.
A bit of that evening's conversation is revealing and worth reporting; and it must be emphasized that these young people were as near to our sort of free-wheeling young as one can find in Germany.
I asked, because I wanted to know, whether Germans had ever fought foreign or domestic tyrants for their own freedom. Or did they only fight non-Germans, on orders from above?
The second boy, an open-faced shipping clerk, explained. "Germans think carefully before revolting. What is on this side, what is on that side? So they do not."
"Do they think carefully before following a dictator?"
"But then they cannot protest for they would be killed."
"They're killed fighting others, too."
"There was 1848," the clerk said hopefully. They all trot out 1848, hopefully. It is pitiful the way they cling to the most inept, inadequate, spineless, and brief revolution in Europe as their passport into democratic society. "And at the time of the Peasants' Revolt, Martin Luther told them not. So they could not because the Catholic Church was against them."
"If you mean," said the girl medical student, with large spectacles and dimples, "Can it happen again in Germany, obeying the bad orders, then the answer is Yes."
"But what is so wrong with us?" the clerk asked. "Ten years after the war, we were already best friends with England and America. But if we want to be more left and freer, America will not like it."
THE university in Bonn is housed in a baroque palace, and the town is pretty, snug, and old between the hills and the Rhine. All travelers know the desperate feeling that one must quickly get out of a place, a country, and the irrational fear that one won't. Many people have this reaction to Germany; in Bonn, the capital of a great power, the sensation of being closed away became very strong. Yet Germans have an enviable free currency, and they journey in hordes all over Europe. Foreign newspapers arrive. Still the Germans, more than any other people I know, seem isolated in their country and in their Germanness. During Nazism, this was actually true; the claustrophobia persists.
Everywhere in Germany I had been asking the young about Jews; how did German students feel now, how did their elders feel? Few of them knew any Jews (there are some 25,000 left in Germany); and the subject is delicate: it becomes at once an attack on their nation and their parents. As for the elders, none would admit to having ever approved the murderous Nazi anti-Semitism, and practically everyone claimed to have helped Jews to escape to Brazil. A professor in Berlin said that there was no racial feeling whatsoever in Germany; on the contrary, the Germans fell over backward to avoid all discrimination. He himself had just passed a Pakistani when he would have failed a German. "But I said to myself, oh well, he is going back to his own country."
Anti-Semitism has gone underground; it is an illegal emotion. Anything that is disliked can be safely called Communist; Jewish, as a term of abuse, is reserved for private conversation or letters to the newspapers. Yet if you pry too hard, you get sharp reactions from Germans. The treatment of Negroes in the United States is cited to prove that we are no better than they were. And once I was told an instructive story by a Berlin editor; a group of hand-picked, simon-pure, democratic young Germans were sent on a trip to the United States. On every Greyhound bus, in every train, they heard anti-Semitic talk. They returned scandalized. Such talk can be answered by pointing out that the United States is not an ideal democracy, but there are plenty of unsleeping people who will never give up trying to improve it.
I held a private seminar in my hotel room in Bonn -- four young people who talked all day. They were the editor of the Christian Democrat student newspaper; a medical student, son of a Lutheran pastor who had been jailed by the Nazis; a girl member of the Liberal Club; and the girl secretary of the German-Israel Club, which has branches in every university. The German combination of excessive factual knowledge and illogic was never more wondrously displayed, but they were nice young people, muddled in heart and mind.
The medical student said, "If you protest against authority here they say you are a fool or a Communist. My parents don't like it that I am so mixed in politics in the university because they have bad experiences of politics."
This appears to be a universal rule: all the young are warned by their parents not to think or act politically -- in short, to be sheep as their elders were, though of a different passive nature. "We were punished once," the elders say.
"We must discuss with Russia," the medical student went on. "We cannot keep this cold war up forever. But we have a problem here. Any boy who is Catholic must vote for the Christian Democrat party because the priest tells him to. We cannot have a democracy if priests tell people how to vote."
This did not go down well with the editor, a member of that party. The argument meandered off into another one about birth control, which is against the law in Germany, the editor being in favor of forbidding birth-control information and the girl liberal protesting against this interference by the state in private life.
Most interesting was their talk of anti-Semitism. The medical student was impressed by the girl secretary of the German-Israel club. "It is wonderful for a German to be doing this work," he said, while the girl stiffened. He could not quite believe it though, and finally asked her if she had Jewish ancestors, which she did not; she is studying theology, to enter the Lutheran Church as a pastor. She said that she had noticed an increase in anti-Semitism among the older generation, though young people were pro-Israel or indifferent. However, a few weeks ago in the student restaurant, anti-Semitic tracts were distributed on all the tables; the culprits had not been found. She had visited Israel twice, before and after the Eichmann trial; she was studying Hebrew for her theology degree. "We reach out the hand of friendship to the young Israelis but there is difficulty that they take it. The Herut party, which is anti-German, called us Germans enemies of humanity. And also one Israeli has one mind; you talk to another and he has another mind. It is very difficult if there is no general way."
The editor had gone to Israel to report the Eichmann trial for his student magazine. He had "a very interesting discussion with an Israeli girl. She suggested that Germany had become a ghetto for Germans."
None of them knew how to take that, and they were startled by my laughter.
The girl theologian said, "Ben Gurion told that he made the Eichmann trial to educate the young Israelis. They were different after it."
"You mean they learned to be pro-German?" the medical student asked.
Probably the reason for the sensation of claustrophobia in Germany derives from just this: the incurable egocentricity of German thinking. Their inability to put themselves in the place of others, even briefly, is like being blind and deaf. It really is Deutschland über Alles; everything returns to them. There was a peculiar lack of curiosity among these young about other people outside Germany. And yet they talked to me with righteous indignation about bad treatment they had received in foreign countries: in a shop in Finland a woman had refused to serve one of them, in Denmark a waiter had been hostile, on and on. It was useless to explain that these countries had suffered abominably at the hands of Germans; these small slights were a trifling penalty for the history of their country. "But we did nothing," they would cry. "We are innocent." True, and yet, where is the imagination? This same line of reasoning applies to postwar Germany; what Germany endured during two years after the war was terrible. They never remind themselves of what others endured not only for two years after the war but during six and a half years of war. The very notion that a large part of the world has unhealed and unhealable wounds inflicted by Germany, and that there must be some punishment for crime, is an outrage to them. "What have we to pay?" asked a budding young politician, president of the Munich Students Christian Democrat League. "We are innocent."
All Germany looks rebuilt and spotless, but much of this no doubt comfortable new construction is ugly; Munich is restored and lovely. You do find yourself observing that the best architecture seems to derive from the genius of others: pseudo-Greek, pseudo-French; the overall effect is prosperity and charm. Most Germans are overweight and dressed against the cold; in Munich they are more affable than in the other German cities.
Here I met a group of happy students, happy because they lived in a dormitory, boys and girls together, which they managed themselves. It was a tangible proof that the dormitory system is good; the students were not only pleased with their living conditions, but they had a chance to develop normal human relations and did not, as do almost all German students, solemnly call each other Herr and Fraulein, or treat each other with the caution that marked communal talk among other young people. These laughed freely, were frankly critical of their university and government, were not afraid to think and to speak, and had the habit of doing both. They are not taken in by the whitewashing of the past, but they are not interested in the past; the present concerns them. As one of them said, "The only safe, approved subject for discussion now, in Germany, is anti-Communism." They said that any dissent, any hostility to the powers that be was immediately branded as Communism; a German form of McCarthyism is growing, if not already here. They fear this, as a limit on their ability to make a really free country and be responsible citizens. Some students had predicted, with despair, that a Salazar-type dictatorship would be the next step in German history. These Munich students did not believe Germany would have an official dictator but do believe that their state is moving more and more to the right, with less liberty for the individual and increased censorship of the mind. They pointed out that America is envied for its wealth and power, nothing more.
Germany has certainly gobbled up the forms of our materialism, but our two most valuable articles of export -- the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights . are unknown. Perhaps we no longer know much about them ourselves. In Bonn, the student editor had said, "The young need somebody to show the way. There is no one. We have no elders." That is a genuine cry of distress. Few German elders are fit to answer it. The new generation needs a New Germany; they can hardly expect the older generation to build democracy for them. But have they themselves the imagination and guts required to do the job?
Martha Gellhorn is an American novelist and short-story writer who feels happiest when working abroad. She wrote her first novel in Paris at the age of twenty-three. As a foreign correspondent she covered the Civil War in Spain; Munich; Czechoslovakia; Finland; and the war in China before Pearl Harbor. London was most frequently her headquarters during the Second World War.
Copyright © 1964 by Martha Gellhorn. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; February 1964; "Is There a New Germany?"; Volume 213, No. 2; pages 69 - 76.