Thursday, 24 May 2012
Could it happen again?
I have just spent a week in Guernsey. I have been there a couple of times before and it never ceases to amaze me the extent of fortifications and other works which the occupying forces in WWII performed on this small island.
This time I visited the underground hospital - the largest construction of its type in Europe. The extent of the tunnels is staggering. It seems to go on forever. On the way out I spent some time looking at wartime newspapers and chatting to a man on the desk who lived through the occupation as a young man.
Last night, I watched a programme called "Hitler's children" on the BBC and found it to be a profound and moving account by the descendants of the leaders of the Third Reich. Whether this fascination was partly due to my recent experiences on Guernsey I couldn't say for sure, but it almost certainly contributed to my interest.
I watched the grandson of Rudolph Hoest, commandant of Auschwitz return to the camp. He was shown round the luxury villa where his father played as a young boy - right next to the gas chambers. He was incredulous. As he walked away he commented "Kisses my grandmother on the check and says 'Just going out now to kill a few thousand people. See you at dinner time.' Insanity...total insanity..."
Then he bravely faced a group of Jewish students. One girl broke down as she explained that his grandfather exterminated her family. Then a survivor of the camp asked if he could shake his hand. They embraced. He told him "It's not your fault. You weren't there."
The program moved on to Bettina Goering who now lives in a remote region of California, isolated from the world. To deal with the guilt, she and her brother both had themselves sterilised so that there could be no more Goerings bought into the world.
But the most disturbing piece of the program to my view was Niklas Frank, descendant of Hans Frank the Nazi governor of Poland. He now embraces his family's terrible past and travels giving talks about it trying to increase awareness of what happened. At one stage he asks "Could it happen again?
If the economic situation got worse, would we again turn to a strong leader. Perhaps we could clear out a few ethnic minorities. Drive out a few foreigners. After all, that would be good for us because we would have the jobs for our own people. And it would strengthen the bloodline..."
Could it happen again? Let's hope not, but at least let's keep asking the question if only to make it less likely...