Page 154. " through the Alsatian villages "

Andlau Bas-Rhin, Alsace
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeAndlau Bas-Rhin, Alsace - Credit: Rolf Krahl (Rotkraut)
Alsace is a region in eastern France, bordering Germany and Switzerland.  Its largest city is the important political centre of Strasbourg.  The area became subject to Nazi administration in 1940, but this was reversed four years later.  The area has its own local language, Alsatian, which is often taught as an optional subject in schools. 

 

 

Page 155. " He wore short trousers and had a wooden leg "

This description suggests a war injury, so consequently it is likely that the man in question would have fought for the Nazis.  Michael’s initial compassion for the man, followed by confusion when he appears to be in on the joke, is a clever reflection of his conflicting emotions regarding Hanna. 

Page 166. " the summer of the student upheavals "
Student protesters making a banner.
Creative Commons AttributionStudent protesters making a banner. - Credit: Holger.Ellgaard

1968 marked the culmination of student protests that had been building for some time.  This was true in other countries too, but in Germany’s case the students had their own particular reasons.  A significant number of former Nazis held positions of responsibility as their professors and politicians and this angered the younger generation.  They were also appalled by the US intervention in Vietnam, seeing it as an Imperialistic strategy which was uncomfortably close to the recent past.  In May, a demonstration of 80,000 people marched in Bonn against planned emergency legislation that would severely restrict civil liberties.  Despite failing in their specific goals, the student protest movement had later beneficial effects for the country, and a number of activists did go on to become government ministers later in their lives. 

Page 167. " the Vietcong and the Americans "
The Vietnam War started in 1955 and lasted for twenty years, resulting in the deaths of over six million people.  The Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army were Communist; they fought the Southern Vietnamese who became allied with the Americans.  The USA’s reason for entering the war were complex, but can be generally understood to be part of their policy of Containment (as instigated in the Truman Doctrine of 1947); a key element of the Cold War, this meant a wish to halt the spread of Communism.  The war was the first involving the USA in which the media played a huge part in public perception of the ongoing events, with graphic images and reports being shown nightly on the television news.  It also sparked an enormous protest movement, as so many people became opposed to the US intervention and loss of life.  The US involvement ended in April 1975, when all personnel were evacuated from the falling city of Saigon by helicopter leaving many desperate Vietnamese allies to await their fate at the hands of the approaching Viet Cong and NVA.  The US troops returning home – many of whom were extremely young and had been drafted – did not receive the warm welcome that the previous generation of soldiers had experienced at the end of WW2.  There was a perception that they were to blame for the loss of the war, and they also received criticism from the peace movement.  Many veterans still suffer from PTSD as a result of inadequate support upon their homecoming.   

'Platoon' is one of many powerful films to have been made about the conflict.

 

Page 167. " the concept of collective guilt "

At the end of World War 2, the Allied victors made a great effort to expose the German people to the real effects of Nazism.  This was partly due to the Denazification process agreed at the Potsdam Conference, but it was also driven by a deliberate desire to provoke feelings of guilt, shame and responsibility in the population.  It was common for Allied troops to force German civilians to walk around concentration camps and view the dead bodies of prisoners, and in some cases exhume or bury them. 

With the German media still under Allied control, newspapers, posters and films graphically showed the population what they were being held responsible for.  It is not difficult to see how for the ‘second generation’, born during or just after the war, this notion of collective guilt was so easily passed down.  As WW2 – with the Holocaust – was the first international conflict to be so well documented in photography, film and press, there was no way to deny or forget what had taken place.  

Page 168. " Jewish gravestones were being defaced with swastikas "

It is illegal in Germany to produce any pro-Nazi literature, display the swastika (unless for educational purposes) or deny the Holocaust.  These offences can result in heavy fines or several years imprisonment.  Despite this, there have been fluctuating levels of Neo-Nazi and Anti-Semitic activity, especially since the 1960s.  The anger of the vast majority of Germans at this behaviour is demonstrated in this clip.

 

 

 

Page 168. " many old Nazis had made careers in the courts "
Kurt Georg Kiesinger
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeKurt Georg Kiesinger - Credit: Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive)

The high profile nature of the Nuremberg Trials has led to an assumption that all Nazis were punished after the war.  The truth is that many people who worked to implement the policies of the Third Reich successfully rebuilt their careers in the years and decades that followed.  Some important figures in West Germany were known to have been former members of the party; these included Kurt Georg Kiesinger, Chancellor from 1966 to 1969, and President Heinrich Lübke, who was in power from 1959 to 1969.  Both of these men were in post at the time of the student protests.

Written in 1963, this article discusses the way former Nazis held high positions within the judiciary. 

Many high-ranking Nazis were never tried after the war.  Declassified documents have revealed that many were recruited by the USA; for example, around 1800 Nazi scientific staff were utilised in ‘Operation Paperclip’, and given false backgrounds which allowed them to work in the USA.  There was also the Gehlan Organisation, established in June 1946, which employed hundreds of former Nazi personnel, largely from the SS and Gestapo, for intelligence purposes against the Soviet Union.  This practice continued for many years in close collaboration with the CIA, which was established in 1947.  For the USA, the new enemy was Soviet Communism.  Consequently, and despite Allied agreements at the Potsdam Conference, the process of Denazification was somewhat compromised by the Cold War.

There is also evidence that in East Germany the Stasi employed former Nazis for intelligence and administrative purposes. 

Page 168. " the Federal Republic had not recognised the State of Israel "

West Germany did not establish diplomatic relations with Israel until 1965.  Prior to this, a reparations agreement between the two countries had commenced in 1953 whereby the Federal Republic agreed (not without controversy) to pay compensation to Israel for the forced slave labour, persecution and seizure of property from Jews under the Third Reich.  Since the sixties, Germany and Israel have established a significant number of alliances in terms of trade, science, culture and the military.