German Character and History
by THEODOR HEUSS
President of the Federal Republic of Germany
IN THE fall of 1946 an American commission consisting of government officials, educators, and scientists toured Germany. (I have a particularly vivid memory of the striking personality of Reinhold Niebuhr, the theologian, who was a member of the group.) The object of these men and women was to survey the German intellectual scene in general, and the status of educational institutions in particular. They hoped to learn what these institutions had been in the past, what Nazism had done to them, and what lasting effects had resulted from the stern or benevolent attempts of U .S. education officers to instill new vitality into German pedagogy. I took part in the candid conversations between the Americans and their German opposite numbers, and thought that the talks had certainly served a useful purpose. For the oversimplifications of political propaganda had created on both sides misunderstandings which could be at least partly cleared up by personal meetings.
Several weeks later the detailed report appeared, and copies of it were made available to German educators I was at that time Minister of Education for Baden-Württemberg. In the introduction I came across a sentence which stated in cflect: “After the Greeks and Romans, the Germans historically have ‘lavished’ [this was the very expression used] their talents most liberally for the benefit of the intellectual life of other nations.” It struck me as an extremely generous comment — for we must remember when this was written, what diabolical horrors had taken place in the recent past, and what “psychological warfare” had done to people’s minds.
At the time I was rather moved by this statement. Not that I was pluming myself on its justice; but I was gladdened by the handsome impartiality of the members of the American commission, who were after all addressing their own countrymen. Yet I also wondered how true it was, and how my people would take it. I could imagine them saying: “You see, even the Americans appreciate us now. Another consideration added to my uneasiness: that praise of others might stimulate the natural vanity which is by no means peculiar to the Germans. How often the Germans have quoted the epithet coined by young Lord Bulwer who was so impressed by German classical literature and German idealistic philosophy that he called the Germans “the people of poets and thinkers.” Even bad poets and lame thinkers have taken this judgment as sanction for their efforts.
Why do I cite these comments by way of preface to a consideration of the “German mentality ? They are intended to mark limits beyond which it is not possible to go in defining the German mentality as a perennial historical phenomenon, or in interpreting its contemporary expressions. In such matters no valid formulas exist. To be sure, history recognizes a few cases of nations which manifest themselves as intellectual and spiritual unities. But few who really know America, for example, are satisfied with attempts to portray a definitive type of “the American,” in spite of the more consistent rhythm that may be observed in that country as the result of 450 years of opening up a continent, settling it, and developing it at a tremendous pace. The situation is inevitably the same for the Germans. Those same Germans who were once epitomized as “poets and thinkers” (the phrase dates from 1837) were noted a few decades later as chemists and physicists whose scientific achievements quickly brought practical benefits (Liebig, Bunsen, Siemens, Röntgen, etc.). In 1864, 1866, and 1870-71 the same people won several wars with speed and éclat, and promptly became fascinated with military glory as nations are so apt to do. In the minds of the rest of the world the Germans became the bellicose nation—a reputation formerly, in the ages of Louis XIV and Napoleon I, accorded to the French.
“The German,” assuming for the present that he exists, appears more complex and inexplicable to himself and to other nations because his history is more complicated than that of other nations. This is especially true of its political aspects. The complexities do not so much lie in differences among the various “stocks,” which in spite of different dialects have had to develop a sense of linguistic and political unity. However, the various regional and tribal traditions could be preserved and, if they appeared threatened, could be cherished. Similar situations exist in other European nation-states: in England we have the Scotsman and Kentish man, in France the Breton and Provencal, in Italy the Piedmontese and Sicilian, in Spain the Basque and the Catalán, each with his own special atmosphere. Of course the same is true when we say: the Saxon and the Bavarian, the Pomeranian and the Swabian, But in Germany there is another element : the internal territorial divisions have lingered longer than anywhere else.
THE comparison has often been drawn between the unifications of Italy and Germany. Both became programs of action and were carried to success in the period between 1848 and 1871; both transformed the face of Europe. But despite the superficial parallels, their results differed in the extreme. “Nationalism.” a concept invented during the French Revolution’s defensive struggles, and swiftly perverted into an ideological camouflage for “imperialism,” took profound hold upon the minds of the Italian people. This was all the more so since some of the petty states had little reason for being, and some were under foreign rule. In the course of German history, too, some of the smaller sovereign states were absorbed by Prussia, thereby assuring Prussian hegemony. But Cavour had found in Garibaldi (troublesome as this popular military hero and romantic spirit was to him at times) the man who could make unification an exploit to stir the imagination. Bismarck had no such symbolic figure, and if a German Garibaldi had knocked at his door, he would probably have had him arrested.
The outcome was that the German Reich founded in 1870-71 was set up as a league of sovereign princes, supplemented by several long-established republican city-states. In Italy, on the other hand, the House of Piedmont-Savoy won dominion over a unified state, and all the other ruling families or sovereign political units (like the onetime Papal States) withered away.
We may consider this retention of local autonomies in Germany, some quite large and sonic very small, as of secondary importance. For the tremendous internal migration resulting from rapid industrialization threw together the peoples of different origins and regions. But the dynasties remained, with their peculiar sets of emotional values. They had their courts which carried on certain established traditions (to this day the stability and decentralization of Germany’s musical and theatrical life derives from this heritage). Differences in tone persisted in the various bureaucracies, in the municipal governments.
But of greater significance was the total diversity of the fundamental political structure, as reflected in the various electoral laws. In planning for the Reich he was building, Bismarck in 1866-67 had followed the example of Napoleon III in introducing or permitting universal, equal, secret, and direct suffrage. This was conceived as a weapon against the multinational Hapsburg Monarchy, which necessarily viewed democratic suffrage as a threat to the feudal order and an invitation to nationalistic separatist movements. But the Prussian State legislature, the Landtag, was still elected under a suffrage law imposed by decree of 1849. Who had the right to vote was determined on the basis of taxation, and the vote was both public and indirect. The masses of the people and the lower middle class had no representation. These state legislatures, moreover, were dominant in the spheres of finance, police power, justice, and education. During the years 1917 and 1918, when the government had already recognized the signs of the times, the Prussian agrarian conservatives and some shortsighted and selfish industrialists fought passionately, like ghosts out of the past, against the democratization of political institutions. By so doing they only fed the fires of the revolutionary temper antagonistic to the state.
These intricacies are not easy to grasp. The idea that the “German Emperor” was also “King of Prussia" could not but be confusing. If the foreign observer looked to the German political theorists for enlightenment, he would find himself unable to decide what aspects of their own state they themselves preferred to stress. Did they favor the rational efficiency of administration which characterized the “spirit of the Prussian State”? Or did they believe in the “idea of the German Empire,”which contained a fine congeries of notions: the rather antiquated medieval romanticism of the “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”; a dose of the liberal-democratic principles of the bourgeoisie; and, with the growth of prosperity and population density, a yearning for “imperialist” expansion?
Both these elements played their part in political discussion. A good many Germans, especially some worthy professors, tended to attach too high a significance to the undeniable excellence of Germany’s well-trained civil service. They saw chiefly the technical functioning of the apparatus as an end in itself, and overlooked the people’s psychological reaction to it — did the people approve this apparatus, did they merely endure it, or did they resent it? History has since taught us that rigid perfectionism of unerring bureaucratic government can become a force for disintegration when the psychological basis for it has given way from overstrain.
A further psychological complication for the Germans was the moralizing tone that the world took toward German “imperialism” — that is to say, Germany’s sudden appearance at places outside her Central European territory. In the eighties and nineties of the last century Germans raised their flag in Africa, in the Pacific, finally in Tsingtao. Today we realize that it was an extremely belated historical experiment, as well as being out of line with the underlying aims of Bismarckian policy. But was it, from the viewpoint of past centuries, such a sin? Except for Scandinavia and the Hapsburg Monarchy, all the countries of Europe, including Russia, had established settlements or made more or less lasting conquests on distant; continents. The Germans, who had hitherto paid little attention to “global” policy, were now branded as upstarts, outsiders, disturbers of the peace, irrespective of the skill or clumsiness with which they undertook their economic, cultural, or religious missions. As individuals they might profit by breathing a cosmopolitan atmosphere and assuming broader responsibilities. And objectively speaking, their colonizing activity was about as good as that of nations which boasted long experience in these matters. But they had the bad luck to provide the rest of the world with rather welcome evidence of a “German peril,”not so much by their actions as by their inept public relations. For like people everywhere in the world, they covered up their sense of insecurity and weakness by loud words. The “Pan-German League” was never anything more than a small, bad-tempered, and strident group; but both before and after 1014 its idiocies supplied the rest of the world with reasons for being on guard against Germany.
The disharmonies in German historical development have led a French writer to speak of incertitudes allemandes as a constitutional element in the German character. One source of these disharmonies may be found in the depth of the religious controversies that racked Germany, and which shaped her political destinies for a long time. England and France also suffered from such conflicts, but in each case they were terminated by an unequivocal military solution (Cromwell, Richelieu). For thirty years — 1618 to 1648 — Germany was the battleground for a virtually all-European war. During the struggle, the original religious causes of the war gradually lost their significance. At the end, Germany emerged exhausted and politically unbalanced. From her ruins a patchwork of separate states that were divided spiritually as well as legally sprang up. In the politically most important sections patriotic loyalty to the Reich shrank into fidelity to princes and particularistic principalities. Thereafter, an emotional consciousness of Germany as a whole reappeared only on rare occasions — when Vienna was threatened by the Turks and toward the end of the Napoleonic era.
HISTORY, then, had denied the Germans the opportunity to shape their own political destiny democratically. This was not due to any basic trait in the “German nature.” The Germans, too, “fought for freedom” — in the peasant wars of the Reformation and in the civic uprisings of 1848, to name the most prominent examples. But theirs was a history of defeats which did not lend themselves to legends of glory. After the military collapse of 1918 and the abdication of all the dynastic sovereigns, a, democratic constitution was set up as the sole possible basis for a legitimate government. But this democracy was not a prize won in hard struggle; it was simply seized upon in desperation. There was no glamor in it, and a sentimental monarchism lingered on. Then came the “licensed” democracy after 1945 — differently interpreted by the four Occupation Powers and quickly perverted by the Russians into a red instead of a brown police state.
It would be absurd to go into the polemics which were played as accompaniment to two world wars. Their oversimplifications are notorious. Hegel‘s alleged deification of the state, Nietzsche’s cult of power, product of a brilliant mind weakened by neurasthenia, Spengler’s skeptical distrust of his own age— all these were “exposed" as specifically German modes of thought. On the other hand, the hard spiritual and moral core of men like Lessing, Kant, Schiller, and Stein was overlooked. Equally overlooked were the Latin or Anglo-Saxon counterparts of the German theoreticians of power, such as Machiavelli or Hobbes. It is time to discontinue the practice of considering individuals as necessarily representative of national character. The Germans would love to say simply: “Our Goethe!” But they might hear, from a good many quarters, a responding echo: “Your Hitler!”
We cannot bow that man Hitler out of the German consciousness. We must not even want to. For his memory remains for the Germans a warning of the excesses which follow if amorality, immorality, becomes established as the law of the land. Only it is unfair to proclaim him an exponent of t he German character. In the technique of power Hitler was a disciple of Mussolini, as Mussolini was a follower of Lenin. The differences, it seems to me, derive from the fact that Mussolini was content with a political legend, that of the Roman imperium, and strained its hypnotic force to the limit in shaping his state; whereas Lenin clothed his revolutionary will to power in the trappings of “historical materialism.” Hitler, however, with the abominable consistency of the half-educated, chose as his guiding principle a form of biological naturalism—the annihilation of the Jew.
These horrors do not characterize “the nature of the Germans,” but their historical situation: military defeat whose imminence the leading generals concealed as they probably do everywhere; the shattering of social traditions, especially by the inflation, which destroyed the moral fiber of the middle classes; the tentativeness and uncertainty of a new parliamentary democracy which lacked a native tradition and was caught in the middle between meeting the conditions imposed by the victorious Allies and the rising expectations of the populace. (Not one of the statesmen and ministers of the Weimar Republic had ever reckoned on the possibility of facing such tasks.) Finally, a number of writers resurrected a variety of literary romanticism opposed to the apparently simple formulas for a decent democratic political and social order. Men like Moeller van den Bruck, Spengler, Jünger, and Stapel called for a type of society based on something they held to be a specifically German, or at any rate contemporary, ideology. Armed with considerable literary gifts, these men exerted a strong influence, especially on academic circles. A number of them certainly prepared the soil for National Socialism; afterward they were aghast at the mischief their brand of poetic political philosophy had wrought. They had failed to realize that the age demanded restraint and sobriety in the exercise of both patriotic fervor and humanitarian sentiments.
The Germans are still in the stage of evolving their political life. Because in the past century and a half they have witnessed both at home and abroad — or endured — such varied conditions of power and have been offered such heterogeneous political and social ideologies, they have been inclined to overrate the importance of theory. In the political sphere, consequently, they have long tended to be “doctrinaires.” But since this epithet once served as the actual title of a parliamentary group in the France of Louis Philippe, it is evident that doctrinairism is not a psychological monopoly of the Germans. The reason for it is relatively simple: namely, the weakness of representative government in Germany. After the Congress of Vienna legislatures became, at different times and with widely varying powers, participants in the governments of the various German states. In the era of Bismarck representative government was extended to the Reich as a whole. But these elected bodies had only limited legislative powers. They had nothing to say in the selection of cabinet ministers or in the decisions of the monarch, or monarchs. In other words, they lingered in the vestibule of power; they lacked training in direct responsibility, could not test their theories in practice. As a result, they developed an ideological dogmatism far more rigid than that of political groups in other countries. A significant example is the big Social Democratic Party which from 1847 (the date of the Communist Manifesto) to 1914 could not free itself from Karl Marx’s supposedly “scientific” prophecies about the inevitable course of history. At last, under pressure of the necessity for making decisions, it broke out of this strait jacket and after 1918, having undergone a process of “reorientation,” courageously faced the realities of practical government.
IT MAY be thought that an element of pedantry underlies this rigid adherence to dogma, no matter whether it springs from naïve personal credulity or from the conviction that power accrues from an unbending stand. Foreigners tend to see such dogmatism as peculiarly German in contrast to Latin, Anglo-Saxon, and Slavic attitudes. Even Germans take this view — some irritably maintaining that doctrinairism expresses the humorlessness of underlings, others pridefully reminding us that, after all, Germany is a land where “order reigns” — even in party politics. This widely credited legend of the German sense of order or “talent for organization” reflects the simple fact that the average German is hard-working because traditionally he had to be; there has been no other way for him to earn his living in a country so restricted in area. And yet, the historical complexities of German public life show what an empty slogan this is. Organizational perfectionism in matters of detail may sometimes have smothered creative initiative. But over-organization seems often to accompany deep changes in social structure.
While, on the one hand, the German is supposed to be a pedant obsessed with accuracy, on the other hand he is pictured as a wildly imaginative romantic, in both philosophy and politics, allegedly more given to shattering patterns than to shaping or consolidating them. Naturally such a type does exist among the Germans (as, incidentally, from Germany’s point of view, both types occur in foreign nations). Much depends on the moment we select from which to observe the flow of a nation s history.
The Germans of this generation labor under a burden of ill fate: proclaiming that they were the bringers of salvation, they have actually brought a curse upon the world. In the enormities that were committed, the “demonism” of power-madness was combined with personal brutality and the pedantry of the totalitarian. They have no right to excuse themselves by crying their own woes or pointing to the injustice of “others.” But it is permissible to recall that world-wide condemnation, such as the Germans have now brought upon themselves, was applied 150 years ago to the French people. They were then charged with being eternal troublemakers. And, historically, the “imperialism” of the Spaniards, the British, the French, the Russians, and even the Swedes was actually of a greater order of magnitude, in terms of territory. Here again, then, we are not dealing with a peculiar feature of the German constitution. Rather, such excesses are judged more harshly today because the extension of international law and the codification of civil liberties have rendered man’s conscience more sensitive.
There remains the difficult question of whether a peculiar faculty for abstraction inheres in the German character as such, expressed in realms other than political and social history, To my mind, romanticism is no evidence for it. To be sure, romanticism had its German precursor in Herder, whose publication of the Voices of the Peoples in Song constituted discovery of the independent realm of folklore, remote from raison d’état and existing apart from the universalist literature of the educated classes. But romanticism as an attitude and profession of faith was born in England. Compared to Byron and Shelley, almost all the German romanticists (except such figures as E. T. A. Hoffmann and Clemens Brentano) were good sober citizens. And the anti-revolutionary Whig Edmund Burke in all probability did more to stamp his character on the age than the romanticist litterateurs who surrounded Metternieh.
But now we confront the peculiar dichotomy of the century from 1750 to 1850 —these dates being intended merely as rough limits. It was the age of classical poetry, of the great thinkers (Lessing, Kant, Schiller, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling, Schopenhauer), and of a tremendous wave of great music. (The German art of this period has given pleasure to the Germans of various regions, but has never attracted much interest in the outside world.)
Oddly enough, the thinkers of that period who are considered representative of the “German spirit�� and the writers who liberated literature from provinciality were either Protestants by religion or came from Protestant localities. The musicians, on the other hand, and the creators of the magnificent German baroque architecture sprang from Catholic areas (with very few, though important, exceptions) or depended upon Catholic patrons, such as the Dresden court. We must not carry this idea too far; great musicians like Heinrich Schulz, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Handel had also emerged from the Protestant sphere. But except for Handel, they had been virtually forgotten. 1 he question is whether Lutheranism (not. Luther himself, who as we know was a man of earthy sensibility) has caused the development of intellectual abstraction, which subsequently expanded into svstem-building speculation. But let us not labor 1 he point. For if we add another century, any such thesis could easily be proved by some examples, disproved by others. The question is nevertheless worth considering, it seems to me, in order for us to grasp the alleged peculiarities of some of the domestic and foreign influences of German thought.
LET me venture to couple the names of two Germans who in themselves are certainly not comparable, but whose like are not to be found in the intellectual history of other nations, rich as such nations may be in powerful original thinkers and men of action. They are Martin Luther and Karl Marx. Each operated in a different sphere, that of the one being religious transcendence and the other materialist immanence; yet they had this in common: that their highly personal and individual power of abstraction affected world history. I say this without attempting to “evaluate” the work of either man. Each of them represents a spiritual force, flowing from pure thought, which reshaped the souls of men, a force which possessed a profounder power than, say, Rousseaus optimistic constructs of a Social Contract based upon natural law. No matter what view we take of Luther’s theology, or of his importance to ecclesiastical history and his responsibility for the rise of many denominations, no matter whether we think of him as a revolutionary, or as a reformer concerned with the purity of the church—his appearance on the stage of history, with all its bright and dark consequences, was a tremendous act of liberation. That may not have been what he wished, but that was his effect. Marx’s vision of science and reality belongs wholly to the era of early industrialism. Both its intellectual basis and its elementary fact utility have been disproved by the course of events. Nevertheless, it has retained its virulence because it contained, along with flounderings toward the certitude of philosophical logic, a dynamic element of extremely earthbound agitation for the coming of the millennial kingdom. History, to be sure, has corrupted Marx’s doctrine of salvation into a brutal and banal system of rule by force, and his mode of thought into a branch of political tactics.
Perhaps the German has a special talent for “ideological” thinking; perhaps he is peculiarly susceptible to its appeal. At times this gift may seem to surround him with a handsome aureole; at other times it produces general distrust, and he is seen as a decidedly equivocal fellow, whose intellectual and spiritual life cannot be plumbed. Some Germans are aware of the disadvantages of being so unpredictable — other peoples with a history full of vicissitudes are also familiar with this problem. When the German takes refuge in self-praise — sometimes a manifestation of a sense of weakness — he speaks of his “profundity.”
Nowadays he has little time for such attitudes. He must try once more to get a grip on the world from which he was shut off for so long, and which was presented to him only in distorted fashion just as his own image had changed in the eyes of the world: a fact, he was naïvely astonished to learn. He has come to realize (except for those who like to cultivate a sense of grievance) that such misconceptions must be cleared up.
THE German has never been aloof from the world, To the extent that he is “provincial,” he is no more so than other peoples. To be sure, Germans did not participate during the centuries in which old Europe was opening up the New World; they did not become colonial masters or settlers. They did not, like the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French, and the English, stamp their language, their culture,
their own peculiar coloration, upon distant territories, but as individuals Germans have been impelled to wander over the wide world. Groups of Germans, including a good many religious sects, established tight-knit communities abroad. For a long time they cultivated their native heritage, even where they had meanwhile become loyal citizens of their host country.
Innumerable ordinary Germans had relatives or friends on all continents — and this was so before the forced emigrations that followed Hitler’s accession to power. But there is another fact of even greater importance: that Germany, if I am not mistaken, was and still is, or is once again, the country producing the greatest number of translations. And this applies not only to the “great” works of literature, which sooner or later find their way into all major languages; literary and scientific works of even average quality have always found a market in Germany. A good many powerful writers in the languages of small nations have begun their triumphal march into world literature by way of Germany, as, for instance, Ibsen and Knut Hamsun. There are fools in Germany who have criticized this receptiveness toward foreign writers as a sign of wavering patriotism (whereas foreigners are always charging the Germans with excessive nationalism). In fact, it is a sign of active curiosity about the world and of a desire for intellectual enrichment.
The present situation is by no means clarified. It exhibits a number of paradoxical features. Right after the end of the war in 1945 the Germans were showered with the films and literary productions of the Western world, while heaps of their own books, stocked up in publishing houses, became so much waste paper, discredited by their very “timeliness.” The Germans were slow to find their tongues again, and there still remains an undecided question: Should the writer come to grips with recent political, social, and moral history; should he attempt, to represent and master it in art, as far as that is possible— an effort in which some have succeeded? Or should he, will he, can he escape (“enough of these horrors!”) into a world of detachment, of idylls, of romanticism, of frivolity?
In the visual arts we find similar paradoxical features. The Germans have always felt somewhat aggrieved that “the world” has paid less attention to their modern painting, drawing, and sculpture than they thought it deserved. After all, they themselves had so many good English, French, and Italian eighteenth and nineteenth century works in their galleries, in addition to sizable collections of the early Italians and Dutch. They were disappointed to find scarcely any German graphic or plastic art in London or Paris — German music, of course, could be heard everywhere.
In this respect, Hitler’s low-grade barbarism introduced a change. In the first place he drove out into the world men whose erudition and deepest interests were intimately bound up with the development of modern German art; naturally these men, though in new lands, continued to pursue the things they loved dearly. In the second place, this frustrated art student banned exhibition of works he did not like; galleries were cleared of “degenerate” art and these works were thrown onto the international market. The result of his evil intentions was a curious good: he opened the world’s doors to modern German art. Not that foreign collectors suddenly decided that certain works were beautiful because Hitler thought them bad. But their attention was attracted, and the result was that the near monopoly of Paris was broken. The reputation of French art was not impaired, but it came to be recognized that to the epoch-making artistic symphony of the past fifty or sixty years German art had contributed a clear, strong note of its own. Modern German painting is now much more fully represented in foreign museums than ever before. And judging by the interest aroused by various retrospective shows in the United States and England, it seems to me that curiosity about Germany’s special achievements in this field, and a readiness to be moved by them, is beginning to extend to works of the past.
These refined intellectual matters may seem beside the point to those who are troubled by far more immediate concerns, such as: Will peace last. Will humanity grasp the opportunities offered to it, by the rapid progress of civilizing technology, to raise the standard of living of all mankind? Or will this great potentiality he thrown away by men who desire to cling to a historical position, or to gain new power; will it be sacrificed on the altar of an ”ideology” —whether a devout or an evil one — to make that ideology victorious in shaping the world? We shall not go into this matter more deeply here — indeed we can scarcely do so, for these are times in which the morning’s surprises rob last night‘s certainties of their meaning.
In this precarious situation the reshaping of the German national consciousness, of the Germans’ intellectual and political attitudes, is taking place, must take place. Economic recovery, it seems, has been accomplished with remarkable speed. There were two prerequisites. The first was the realization that many of the edicts and instructions conceived by the Allies in an atmosphere of wartime passions were foolish in practice, and had to be scrapped step by step. The stringency of these decrees inflicted painful wounds upon individuals, and nasty personal scars still remain. The second was the Marshall Plan which resulted from Herbert Hoover’s mission of inspection in February 1947. As I have told a good many American visitors, this was Germany’s salvation because it provided the hard-working Germans with an opportunity to be meaningfully hard-working. The phrase German Miracle,” which was coined to explain the appearance of decent German goods on the world markets, the rise of new factories, and the reconstruction of endless rows of wrecked buildings, is a phrase distinctly off-key. For there was no miracle. And the visiting travelers who were justifiably amazed at such enormous productivity after such a disaster overlooked one vital factor: misery, especially the distress of the heart, cannot be put on display.
Most people in the world have not visualized what it has meant to some ten million human beings to be forced to leave their homelands on short notice, or on the other hand what it meant to a smashed country to provide food, housing, and work for these displaced members of their own nation. In practice such an imposed historical task can only be met imperfectly; emotionally, no solution to it is ever possible. (We never conceal the fact that Hitler provided the model for such mass deportations and for robbing people of their homelands; hut his ruthlessness ought not to be regarded as an example or a justification.) Moreover, when, with Germany plainly on the verge of total defeat, the Allies met at Teheran and Yalta and set up four zones of occupation, they did so under the pretext of establishing a democratic order. The military governments were intended both to command and to help the Germans, to meet distress, chaos, and possibly resistance. In practice everything turned out quite differently. Germany became a deployment area for contending political and socio-economic ideologies. These ideologies had seemed of little importance so long as it was necessary to win the war that Hitler’s criminal recklessness had unleashed. Hut now they operated to separate the eastern part of Germany, the Soviet zone, from the western part. And this was done not only in a physical sense, for the Russians also attempted to set up a spiritual partition. Basically, this cannot succeed, for a nation’s life proceeds out of its own spiritual heritage, though with varied colorations. Here, however, we find the root cause for the tension that keeps Europe on edge. Querelles allemandes? More is at stake. We are aware that the world grows weary of being reminded of the mistakes of Yalta and Potsdam — the word “coexistence was coined as an expression of this weariness. The word implies that differences in both political and socio-economic systems are of minor importance. Faced with the problem of elementary human rights, however, even the believers in “coexistentialism” feel uneasy. The question remains: Can the arguments for the coexistence of two radically different systems make any sense when a single nation is involved? And can any just claim be made for such coexistence when its starting point was a state of total defeat and total collapse?
These are the underlying questions which affect the minds and souls as well as the politics of the Germans. A strange and still obscure process of psychological change is going forward in Germany. It remains to be seen whether and how new characteristic altitudes and a new intellectual style will develop. There are now communities and districts in Germany which contain up to forty per cent of “new citizens” from territories long settled by Germans in the East and Southeast. In some cases friendships and mixed marriages are formed, in other cases discontents and hostilities arise because traditions are being upset. Even while spiritual and economic fusion is taking place in certain areas, we can also see all manner of efforts to preserve and cherish the values which are, especially for the rural and small-town populace, bound up with the native soil in which their forefathers rest. Heimweh, that almost untranslatable word, expresses “homesickness” in a way peculiar to the German language.
Such are some of the questions Germans have in mind when they look to the future, questions of a people’s rebirth and destiny.
Translated by Richard and Clara Winston