Note to readers: I’m going to do the Holocaust bit first, if that’s OK with you.
So today – when I could have been doing productive work! – I instead visited the Imperial War Museum with my grandparents. Oddly – and I say oddly because I would have perhaps expected the reverse – they went off to see the James Bond exhibition whilst I instead spent my hour studying the Holocaust. What surprised me about the exhibition – and it’s a tribute to how well it was put together – was that I was totally engrossed, despite the fact that Nazi Germany always threatens to be so over-studied and revisited (UKTV History anyone?) that it becomes too familiar and stale. Well, this wasn’t, and it was fascinating. Not so much the actual Holocaust itself – for the stories of concentration camps and gas chambers are dark horror but also intensely alien and unfamiliar – but the years leading up to it, with video footage of Jewish shops being guarded by the SS, memories of children suddenly being bullied at school and the steady build-up of Nazi power. You could picture elder Germans, unimpressed by impressionable youth marching in uniform, musing over meals and drinks that this was bound to be a phase – a short bout of nationalistic fervour led by a charismatic orator whose star would surely soon fade – and then realising one by one that things weren’t going to snap back to normal.
And in a way it’s unfortunate that we look back at this happening in Germany, with the slight reassurance of distance that it didn’t happen here. Because although most people would readily accept that the phenomenon wasn’t intrinsically ‘German’, that it ‘could have happened here too’ (or perhaps, a tad over-confidentially, argue that it has or is) the fact is that there’s still a too easy association to make between Germany and the Nazis, as if it didn’t happen in our own civilisation, our own way of living with cities and bureaucracy and respectable modernity. I’m thinking especially of the postcard comment at the end of the exhibition which was divided between the ‘good guys’ (British, Americans – and then, added a touch hesitantly, Jews) against the ‘bad guys’ (Germans). I really hope that was ironic.
Anyway, before I ramble on disconnectedly, let me finally add that I had forgotten that my Grandpa left Germany for Britain at the age of 8 in 1936. 1936! That’s cutting it a bit fine, surely? I’m feeling rather lucky that Britain has always been a bit rubbish at actually getting around to stopping those bloody foreigners coming over here and
expanding the pool of goods and services to be bought and sold taking our jobs…
Sorry if I’ve depressed anyone Here’s a photo or two from Tuesday night!