One of the key themes in Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind is that Germany won the war against America — no, not the Nazis, but the Weimar Republic, and the German intellectuals of the late 19th and 20th century such as Nietzsche, Freud, Einstein and Heidegger (who also courted post-Weimar Germany, IYKWIMAITYD), whose ideas flourished in that 1920s hothouse atmosphere. Add to that Otto von Bismarck as the father of the modern welfare state, plus Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, who imported Bauhaus architecture to the US, and Wernher von Braun who created the American space program, not to mention the Frankfurt School putzes. The result, as Bloom wrote, was a surprisingly Germanic intellectual culture in the US after the war, even if it was rarely acknowledged as such. Earlier this year, Thomas Friedman famously asked in the New York Times, “Can Greeks Become Germans.” Bloom posited a quarter century ago that in effect, well, we did, didn’t we?
But what of post-war Germany today? On the PJM homepage, Bruce Bawer has a fascinating review of I Sleep in Hitler’s Room: An American Jew Visits Germany by Tuvia Tenenbom, a book that the author describes as “a psychological and literary travelogue of Germany and Europe.” Here’s a key highlight from Bawer’s review:
All too many Germans, Tenenbom suggests, “want to erase the shame of being the Jew killers of yesterday by uniting with the Jew haters of today. … Peace and Love, they say, a thousand times a day, and it’s a thousand times empty. They flash two fingers, front and back, for Peace and for Love, but their hearts sing Sieg Heil.” The German media not only don’t expose the Jew-hate, moreover; they strive to hide it. “Eighty-two million Germans,” he notes wryly, and they “have nothing better to do than be obsessed with 106,000 Jews living among them.” Why? One of his interviewees, a businessman, has this to say: “There are basically no Jews in this country, just a very few. The relationship the people here have to the Jews is theoretical, not real.” As for Tenenbom himself, he has these reflections to offer:
“The Germans, and sorry for generalizing, will do everything and anything to look good, to appear beautiful, to sound smart. But who are they, really? They are the most narcissistic nation on the planet. They think the world of themselves, and they want everyone to agree with them. … More than any other nation in the world, the Germans concentrate deeply on visual beauty – and they get results. But they don’t stop there. Subconsciously the Germans think that if they occupy themselves with the Palestinians of Gaza they will erase from memory the Brown Bears of Buchenwald – and will look beautiful in the eyes of the world.
Tenenbom’s conversation with the young man at Buchenwald is far from the only arresting exchange recorded in these pages. Visiting the concentration camp at Dachau, Tenenbom meets an “average” couple who live in the town and is invited to lunch at their home. He devotes four pages to a stunning account of his unrelenting questioning of them. (It is in such passages that one is reminded that he is a playwright.) He asks them about Dachau’s past. At first they profess indifference. But eventually he breaks them down. The man weeps and confesses that he doesn’t want to look into the past because it would be like looking into a mirror. He is the Nazis; the Nazis are him.
Then there is the fatuous “peace activist”—an ethnic German woman who thinks she is furthering the cause of intercultural harmony by planting a rose garden on the grounds of a mosque. “In other words,” Tenenbom explains to us, “this is a p.r. tool for promoting an image of the mosque and of Islam as being full of friendliness and love.” He grills her like a first-rate prosecutor. “You will achieve world peace, love between the three religions, because of a rose?” he asks. “Why will those who hate the Muslims come to your garden?” And how, while we’re at it, can a feminist support Islam? When she tells him that Islam means peace, he corrects her; this woman who has been working on a pro-Islam project for years has apparently never heard that Islam actually means submission to Allah. “Nobody,” Tenenbom realizes, “has ever challenged her before, and now she feels like a total idiot.”
Read the whole thing — it’s fascinating, if disturbing stuff.