As I read more of Helena P. Schrader’s 548 page novel An Obsolete Honor I realise how complex the situation was for many who lived in Nazi Germany. One sees at once that the resistance offered by the White Rose movement was naïve. The students rebelled openly and distributed pamphlets that said that the Nazi regime was wrong. They were rounded up pretty quickly and beheaded.
Most of the characters in this novel take a more pragmatic approach. They attempt to work from within the system and appear compliant. The main character is at once a skilled military man who obeys orders and one is disgusted by the treatment some of his colleague mete out to Jews, gypsies and Russian civilians.
His father-in-law is also against the government but is intolerant of anyone else who is and makes it too obvious. A lack of subtlety will undermine any attempt at getting rid of Hitler.
The protagonist’s sister marries a dedicated Nazi who controls factories in the east and is involved with the Warsaw ghetto. His father had been unemployed for eighteen years after his business as a locksmith failed. The Nazi regime brought him employment and hope for the future.
A young woman who forges a birth certificate for a Jewish child in a desperate situation goes on to forge other documents. Her boyfriend is an SS officer.
Many people see parallels in the UK today and I have to admit to seeing these very early on when I first started this project in 2011. The proroguing of parliament reminded us of the 1933 Enabling Act. The treatment of some Windrush immigrants is highly disturbing. This is particularly so for me; many of my friends in my teenage years were first generation Windrush – and incidentally I’m not comfortable with labelling them as such. The new law on protests feels oppressive. At least, though, we’re not saluting each other in the name of Boris Johnson or Donald Trump. There aren’t pictures of our questionable leaders in classrooms.
Social media is both our enemy and our friend in this. It polarises us more but it does allow space for debate and is more effective than the Stammtisch was in 1940s’ Germany, when you couldn’t be sure who you were talking to. At least today we can find our tribe. Perhaps also because we have studied the Nazi era and recognise some of the pitfalls attempted fascism doesn’t have quite as much hold.
We need to remain vigilant, however. The present Tory government is stabbing the working class in the back at the same time as seducing the workers by making them laugh and promising more jobs than there are people in a by-election town. The opposition is cannily praising the British spirit in order to gain back working-class votes just as Hitler and co included the word “Socialist” in the name of the party to maintain the support of the workers.
We can understand why Germany felt aggrieved. After the Treaty of Versailles it was not allowed anything but a skeleton army. It had huge debts which led to hyperinflation and a worse experience than other nations of the 1930s depression. The Jew became a scape goat. Something else was going on as well, though. Something much more sinister. There was some concern about purifying the German race. It could not be polluted by non-Aryan blood or by the weaker elements in society.
Survival of the fittest? I shudder a little that a week today we are being asked to return to normal though a pandemic is still raging in the world. Is this an attempt to get rid of the frail and vulnerable?
Well, again, here is an example of how reading, and reading fiction at that, helps us to form our view of the word. I’m about one hundred pages form the end of the novel. When I reach the end, will I have hope for the future or will I have to conclude that human nature is thus and we just have to live with it?
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