22 May 2016

You Don't Have to Be a Denier to Be in Denial

We're taking our time watching a difficult and eye-opening movie called Labyrinth of Lies. Based on the life of Fritz Bauer, Frankfurt's attorney general, and three prosecutors who were instrumental in bringing Auschwitz Nazis to trial in 1963, this film is a story that exposes the conspiracy of prominent German institutions and government branches to cover up the crimes of Nazis during World War II. 

I had no idea that many, many Germans in the post-war era didn't acknowledge, accept or even know about the atrocities committed in Nazi concentration camps during the war. (I knew about Ernst Zündel and his Holocaust denial but didn't realize he'd immigrated to Canada in 1958 from a zeitgeist of denial in Germany.) After the camps were liberated by the Allies (April 1945), "German civilians [were] forced by American troops to bear witness to Nazi atrocities at Buchenwald concentration camp, mere miles from their own homes." (See Forgotten Alfred Hitchcock Holocaust Documentary Gets New Life.)
When Auschwitz and several other camps, like Bergen-Belsen, were liberated, the British army sent along a film unit. Under the aegis of Sidney Bernstein, and with the help of supervising director Alfred Hitchcock, the grisly and shocking footage was meant for a documentary called German Concentration Camps Factual Survey. However, as the war came to a close, the governments that had once supported exposing German crimes had a new interest in reconciliation. So plans for the film were scrapped, and most of the footage was archived at Britain’s Imperial War Museum until the 1980s.
That footage is now included in a new documentary, Night Will Fall, which "tells the story of how the footage came to be, and what happened to it."
Margaret Bourke-White, Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
In an Independent article (Germany finally pays tribute to first Nazi hunter Fritz Bauer), I learned that "only six of the [22] accused ["Nazi SS henchmen"] were given life sentences. Twelve others were given terms of up to 14 years. The trials nevertheless obliged a reluctant German public to face up to the horrors of the Holocaust and accept that the perpetrators lived in their midst." The article says that "surviving film footage reveals how controversial the trial was. Inside the court the police saluted the accused as former 'comrades.'"

I'll bet you can see where I'm going to go with this. I probably don't even have to say it. The terrifying metaphor revealed itself as we watched Labyrinth of Lies. Many German people weren't deniers -- but they were certainly in denial. Their ignorance. Their apathy. Their disbelief. (Some of the Germans who did see the footage believed it was propaganda staged by the Americans.) Their hubris. The fact that many were still benefiting from their Nazi connections. Their society-wide unwillingness to look at what had happened, to see that "many Third Reich values were still admired," to feel shame and deep remorse, to take some responsibility. (There's a scene in the movie where the stenographer taking down witnesses' testimony runs from the room and breaks down in sobs. No longer in denial, her character is becoming someone who helps in the fight to bring justice.)

I don't know what I would have done if I had -- by luck and timing of birth -- been there. I'm not saying I'm better than any one of those German civilians. But I'm alive today, and I'm not going to let the climate chaos holocaust carry on without vociferously protesting it. And why wouldn't I protest it? There is no SS threatening to track me down and lock me up because I oppose the globalized Western economy's biosphere-devastating, life-murdering business-as-usual fossil fuel status quo. 

I can go about my daily life and speak up about the climate change crisis online or in person, with family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and strangers. I can keep my job and send faxes and emails about emergency climate change mitigation to my elected representatives and leaders. I can live free of fear in my country and attend protests, make presentations and give workshops about climate justice. (Confession: I can't do all these things and keep my house tidy. So I've chosen life over tidiness.)

Fritz Bauer received death threats nearly every day once he began his campaign to see justice done (he was responsible for the capture of Adolf Eichmann). What's keeping you from speaking up on behalf of those most vulnerable to the ravages of climate change impacts ... on behalf of all those who are already losing their lives and their livelihoods, their food security and water sources, their homes and entire homelands? 

Our very own "Global Reich" -- fossil fuel companies, the big money that bankrolls them and the governments sitting comfortably in their pockets -- is killing about 5 million people per year, and that number is rising as 2016 continues to knock out temperature records and see record CO2 levels. We see increasing evidence everywhere we look. So where is our outrage? 


1 comment:

  1. Elizabeth WoodworthFebruary 26, 2017 at 3:27 PM

    This is indeed a thought-provoking post. The phenomenon of denial is present in both cases: the documented Nazi crime of the appalling and unconscionable holocaust, and the present crime of negligence and denial in failing to name and address the global climate emergency that will make life unlivable in the future, and will sacrifice the great cultural achievements of the past. The current crime, though less repugnant, is by orders magnitude the greater of the two.

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?