Friday, July 30, 2010

All you fascists are bound to lose

One of the things that Germans seem to be proud of as a nation, and rightly so in my opinion, is that in the thirties and forties they weren't all Nazis. This is non-trivial. When a country becomes infested with jackbooted thugs, it's really quite difficult for people do anything about it - a point that is made succinctly in nerdy rhyming couplets by Maurice Ogden in this poem.

The majority of Germans who weren't Nazis were passive about it, as most people are passive about most things. A significant number, however, made a point of expressing their disapproval in a variety of ways. Throughout the twenties and thirties there was significant organised opposition from democrats, socialists, communists and anarcho-syndicalists, who distributed propaganda, organised escape networks, sabotaged infrastructure, and fought the Nazis in the streets. Many many people were arrested for these activities and incarcerated in concentration camps. Many of those incarcerated were tortured and murdered.

The thing to remember about a lot of these people is that if they had stopped doing the things that got them put in concentration camps (ie resisting and generally getting all up in the faces of the Nazis), there's a good chance that they wouldn't have got put in concentration camps. That's one of the reasons totalitarian regimes often use things like concentration camps against their political opponents; the threat of being arrested and tortured and murdered tends to have a chilling effect on political opposition. Many of the Germans who resisted in this period weren't the 'social undesirables' who were the specific targets of the Nazi death machine - Jews, homosexuals, mentally ill people, people classed as Gypsies - they were people who believed that the Nazis were evil and should be stopped. If they'd kept quiet, it's likely that they wouldn't have been arrested and tortured and murdered.

But! Lots of them didn't keep quiet, and they did resist, which is a pretty amazingly courageous thing to do.

This guy here is off to Spain to fight the fascists in the Civil War. A lot of German anarchists did that, understanding that despite the wide selection of domestic fascists they could have been fighting, their services were more urgently required in Catalonia. Many did both, of course, and I imagine that for a lot of people getting killed in Spain was preferable to getting killed in a concentration camp.

In the Freidrichshain Volkspark, a very pretty part of Berlin, there is a memorial to the Germans who resisted the fascists in this period. It was put up by the DDR in the 70s to commemorate communist antifascists and Polish soldiers who died in the war, but was rededicated in 1995 to commemorate all German antifascist resistance movements. These days it's a great place for people to skate, which I think is totally the best thing you could do on a memorial to antifascists.

The posters are by John Heartfield, who was a German photographer and montage artist who produced a lot of antifascist material. They're from this site:

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