Germany’s culture minister: ‘Beethoven did not stop us becoming Hitler’s willing executioners’

Monika Grütters, the German minister of culture, held London’s arts leadership in thrall last week at the British Museum opening of ‘Germany: memories of a nation’ at the British Museum.

Speaking from a bi-lingual text she had clearly written herself, Professor Grütters acknowledged Germany’s responsibility for both world wars and pointedly used the term ‘Hitler’s willing executioners’ to state that many Germans were enthusiastic participants in genocide. Germany, a nation defined by culture was – she said – also defiled by it.

She went on to thank the British occupation forces for helping Germany build its democracy after 1945.

The speech, a landmark in Anglo-German relations, passed totally unnoticed by the British media – itself a landmark moment in the trivialisation of British public debate.

We have obtained a text of the speech and urge you to read. it. Professor Gruetters departed several times from this script to underline her radical and vitally constructive opinions.

BritishMuseumGrttersTour

 

 

“It might not always be very flattering to see oneself through the eyes of another, but it has great appeal. An outsider’s view can shine light on facets of one’s own identity that have fallen into obscurity. Being mirrored in the eyes of the other touches us emotionally if we sense the warm-hearted enquiry and genuine interest of a friend.

That is how I felt just now, Neil, as we were walking around the exhibition Germany: Memories of a Nation. What impressed me was not just the diversity of the exhibits, which slot together – like meticulously matching pieces of a jigsaw – to create such a broad, detailed picture of Germany. As a German, I am also impressed by the attitude that speaks through the image: the will to paint a differentiated, honest picture of German history,

in a year that has been marked – quite rightly – by remembrance of the inconceivable suffering Germany inflicted on Europe in the First and Second World Wars. I thank you for that, Neil, and also you, Sir Richard Lambert, as well as the outstanding team of curators around Barrie Cook, the generous sponsors and all the others at the British Museum who have devoted their time to Memories of a Nation.

It is an honour for me to represent the Federal Government today in opening this exhibition together with you, and to bring warm greetings, also on behalf of Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel. Allow me, please, to continue in German – taking my cue from the words of a German poet.

Eine der pointierteste Beschreibungen des Unterschieds zwischen Deutschland und anderen Nationen stammt aus dem Gedichtzyklus „Deutschland – ein Wintermärchen“ von unserem großen Dichter Heinrich Heine. Er schrieb im Jahr 1844:

„Franzosen und Russen gehört das Land,

Das Meer gehört den Briten,

Wir aber besitzen im Luftreich des Traums

Die Herrschaft unbestritten.

Hier üben wir die Hegemonie,

Hier sind wir unzerstückelt;

Die andern Völker haben sich

Auf platter Erde entwickelt.“

Es waren Künstler und Geistesgrößen, die mit so viel Neid auf erfolgreiche und selbstbewusste Völker wie England und Frankreich in ihrer nicht nur territorialen Geschlossenheit schauten. Im „Luftreich des Traumes“ dagegen stand die Wiege des deutschen Nationalstaats. Heinrich Heine spielt damit auf den deutschen Idealismus an, in dem die Einheit der deutschen Nation im Geiste – in der Philosophie und in der Kultur – beschworen wird.

Eben weil Deutschland im Gegensatz zu anderen europäischen Nationen zu dieser Zeit noch in Kleinstaaten zersplittert war, spielte die Kultur als „geistiges Band“ eine so große Rolle. Und es waren Künstler, Schriftsteller und Intellektuelle, die große gesellschaftliche Umbrüche geistig vorbereiteten – teilweise unter Einsatz ihres Lebens. So war Deutschland zuerst eine Kulturnation, bevor es eine politische Nation wurde.

Es gehört zu den großen Verdiensten Ihrer Ausstellung, dass sie historische Eigenheiten anschaulich macht, daneben aber auch all die anderen Facetten deutscher Identität nicht zu kurz kommen lässt, darunter die lange vorherrschende Untertanenmentalität, die die beispiellosen Menschheitsverbrechen der Nationalsozialisten möglich gemacht hat. Das ist ja gerade das Unbegreifliche: Das intellektuelle und kulturelle Erbe großer Geister und schöpferischer Genies wie Goethe und Schiller, Heinrich Heine, Kant und Kafka, Bach und Beethoven konnte die Mehrheit der Deutschen nicht davor bewahren, zu „Hitlers willigen Vollstreckern“ zu werden. In diesem verstörenden Nebeneinander von menschlicher Größe und unmenschlicher Verrohung tritt das Dunkel der Jahre 1933 bis 1945 umso deutlicher zutage.

Aber: Wir haben in Deutschland aus unserer Geschichte gelernt. Aus zwei Diktaturen – der Nazi-und der DDR-Zeit – haben wir eine Lehre gezogen:
Im Artikel 5 unseres Grundgesetzes, mit einem hohen, prominenten Verfassungsrang also heißt es: „Kultur und Wissenschaft sind frei.“

 

BritishMuseumMacGregorTour2

Wir wissen, dass wir die Künstler, die Kreativen, die Vor- und Querdenker als kritisches Korrektiv unserer Gesellschaft brauchen, als Stachel im Fleisch der Demokratie. Sie sind es, die Grenzen ausloten, die provozieren, die hinterfragen und die damit verhindern, dass intellektuelle Trägheit und politische Bequemlichkeit die Demokratie einschläfern. Die Freiheit und Vielfalt der Kunst und Kultur zu sichern und so jedem neuerlichen Totalitarismus vorzubeugen, das ist deshalb oberster Grundsatz unserer Kulturpolitik.

Wie auch immer man das Verhältnis von Licht und Dunkel im Deutschlandbild der Ausstellung „Germany: Memories of a Nation“ bewerten mag, meine Damen und Herren – es wird sicherlich für lebhafte Debatten sorgen, und das kann man einer solchen Ausstellung auch nur wünschen. Denn sie trägt damit zu einer europäischen Erinnerungskultur im besten, im demokratischen Sinne bei.

Heute sieht sich Deutschland als Partner in Europa und der Welt. Unser Bekenntnis zu einem vereinten Europa verbinden wir mit der großen Hoffnung, dass auch und gerade Großbritannien in Europa weiterhin eine starke Stimme sein möge. Wir brauchen Großbritannien nicht nur als politische Kraft, meine Damen und Herren! Wir brauchen Ihr Land mit seiner langen Tradition der Demokratie und der Freiheit auch, um den Kulturraum Europa mit Leben zu erfüllen. Gerade wir Deutschen werben dafür, denn Großbritannien hat entscheidend dazu beigetragen, dass das politisch und wirtschaftlich zerstörte und auch geistig und moralisch verwüstete Deutschland nach dem 2. Weltkrieg wieder auf die Beine kam. Das werden wir Ihnen niemals vergessen!

Wie gegenwärtig dieses Geschenk Großbritanniens immer noch ist, illustriert ein bemerkenswerter Bucherfolg: Gerade jetzt steht in Deutschland ein Zeitdokument auf den Bestsellerlisten, das die britische Sicht auf die Deutschen aus der Perspektive der Besatzer vor genau 70 Jahren offenbart. „Instructions for British Servicemen in Germany 1944“, heißt das schmale Büchlein, das vom britischen Außenministerium rund fünf Monate nach der Landung der Westalliierten in der Normandie gedruckt wurde, um den Soldaten im feindlichen deutschen Gebiet Orientierung zu geben und sie auf ihre Aufgaben vorzubereiten.

There are some odd observations here, such as: “They look like us, except that there are fewer of the wiry type and more big, fleshy, fair-haired men and women (…).”

The Germans, it is claimed, cannot make a cup of tea, but they do know a thing or two about coffee; while German sentimentality is a bit of a mystery: “Even childless old couples insist on having their Christmas tree.”

But most of all – and that’s what makes it so moving to read – in the face of all the atrocities for which Germany was to blame, this pamphlet appeals for a democratic, civilised response, for fairness and humanity. I quote:

“It is good for the Germans (…) to see that soldiers of the British democracy are self-controlled and self-respecting, that in dealing with a conquered nation they can be firm, fair and decent. The Germans will have to become fair and decent themselves, if we are to live with them in peace later on.”

Nowadays, remembrance and a systematic reappraisal of our past form an essential part of our cultural policy and of the way we understand ourselves as a nation. “Culture”, in my understanding, includes an ethical component, because culture is not simply a location factor, but an expression of humanity.

We in Germany have learned to prize and to love liberty and democracy, ladies and gentlemen. Britain has done all in its power to help us with that.

As a consequence, our nations have drawn closer again.

Today we are able to note with pleasure that this superb exhibition at the British Museum addresses German history and culture in all its rich facets, and contemplates Germany from the perspective of a friend.

How fortunate we are!”

 

share this

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on google
  • Thought provoking speech which inspires me to visit the exhibition and listen to the Radio 4 series. However, Beethoven died more than 40years before the creation of Germany. Maybe Brahms or Wagner would’ve been better examples.

    • Beethoven’s lifelong espousal of freedom and human rights set an example which neither Brahms nor Wagner were able to follow. Professor Grütters really got it right with Beethoven.

      Sadly the Government in which she serves – notably Frau Merkel, and her extremist rightwing whackjob Foreign Minister, Herr Steinmeier – espouses utterly different policies, and maintains cordial relations with fascist factions in Poland and Hungary. In Ukraine, Germany is morally and financially supporting a government that has murdered 3000+ of its own citizens – in an ethnic cleansing program run by supporters of the Third Reich’s Ukrainian puppet, Bandera.

      Germany has mastered the art of “talking the talk” on regret for its actions 1933-1945 – whilst having no real desire to change those policies today.

      • Dear Neil, it is not only painful, but outright sad to read your comment after having read the German Culture Minister’s exceptional speech. To be confronted with your narrow minded attitude, replete with assumptions and prejudices, is like being thrown from bright illuminating light into the darkness of utter shallowness and base ignorance. The shame is yours, not the Germans’.

        • Politicians on all sides have had the courage to see through Merkel and Steinmeier’s lies.

          Here is a report by the pro-Right Bruges Group on the EU’s failed Ukraine policies – which have been spearheaded by Angela Merkel and her neo-Nazi Steinmeier. The report includes contributions from people like Norman Tebbit. I would hardly call him a pinko sympathiser?

          3000+ civilians have been massacred. New mass graves, of people who have been shot in the back of the head, are being uncovered in E Ukraine every day. The OSCE is considering a war crimes investigation, based on what has been found so far.

          It is your head, Brenninkmeyer, which needs to sink in shame. Although I realise that neocons have no shame, and no care for human life whatsoever.

          I prescribe Beethoven. Try FIDELIO? It’s about how people are imprisoned and murdered when an evil regime comes to power.

          • McGowan, the sentiments expressed in your comment are yours, not mine. Your comment is even further below those made by the German Culture Minister. Go and see the exhibit, if you are capable at all to intellectually grasp what it aims to achieve, which might be extremely difficult with a brain shrunk to a size smaller than a pea’s.

          • Merci 🙂

            Beyond the 3000+ civilian dead, tens of thousands more have been made homeless – while Angela Merkel acts as cheerleader.

            Your “like” goes out to all the homeless people of Lugansk, Kramatorsk and Donetsk, who are cowering in basements, without heating, and awaiting the next rocket attack.

            I’m sure Frau Merkel approves of the fiscal probity of shelling civilians with munitions paid for out of their own taxes.

  • Just a small note: She said Great Britain played a decisive role in helping Germany back on its feet — not the “British occupying forces.” For me it is an important distinction. It was country to country help, and not something done by an occupying military force. Here is the quote:

    “Gerade wir Deutschen werben dafür, denn Großbritannien hat entscheidend dazu beigetragen, dass das politisch und wirtschaftlich zerstörte und auch geistig und moralisch verwüstete Deutschland nach dem 2. Weltkrieg wieder auf die Beine kam. Das werden wir Ihnen niemals vergessen!”

  • I am struck by her use of the term “Hitler’s willing executioners.” Daniel Goldhagan broke important, if extremely unpleasant ground with his book, and yet he faced enormous opposition in American academia. The book is flawed, as most books are, but the rejection seemed out of proportion, and is made all the more ironic by Professor Grütters’ apparent acceptance of the phrase.

    Anyway, I think the truly landmark turn of events is that the British Museum’s exhibition marks a significant turning point in British Germanophobia — especially at a time when Germany is facing a good deal of resentment in Europe. I think that also accounts for Professor Grütters’ exceptionally conciliatory remarks.

    • Considering most of the criticism directed at Goldhagan originated in the United States, the acceptance of Professor Grütters’ use of the phrase might have something to do with the fact that she is German. It seems that when we (be it Germans, Americans, Britons, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, etc.) criticize our own history or culture, people are more willing to accept a given opinion, whereas when the exact same opinion is made by an “outsider”, objection often ensues.

  • Over the past decade or so,David Mellor and Chris Smith are perhaps the only culture ministers in the UK who seem vaguely comparable to this level of engagement.

    • Vaguely is right. Both had an interest in culture, but neither was anywhere near this level of cultural discourse.

      • Unfortunately the traditional British approach is to appoint ministers who know little or nothing about their subject, whether it be culture, health, defence etc. Other countries surely regard this as odd.

  • The real headline here is not what the German minister said, which is truly thought-provoking; but that no one in modern Britain seems to care — such is legacy of Tony, and Dave.

    • How true. Had it not been for SD I’d never have known this exceptional speech took place. It is always a joy to read good sense from educated people.

    • Dear Alexander Hall, thank you for your comment. McGowan clearly does not know what he is talking about. See the exchange between him and me above. I wonder whether he musters the curiosity to actually see the exhibit (which I can’t, because I am not able to travel to the UK at this time). He would encounter a Germany vastly different from his assumptions and prejudices. But even then, McGowan is ALWAYS right (like in the East German Communist Party song: “Die Partei, die Partei, sie hat immer recht”). [redacted]

      • Sorry, this comment is supposed to be a reply to your comment below in which you say McGowan does not know what he is talking about.

      • Lieber Herr Brenninkmeyer, es ist erstaunlich, welche Hirngespinste manche produzieren, aber wie lautet der schöne Spruch? Gegen Dummheit kämpfen selbst die Götter vergeblich. Man wünscht sich bei einigen selbsternannten Kommentatoren der deutschen Politik etwas mehr Kenntnisse der deutschen Sprache, und das sage ich als Nicht-Muttersprachler!

    • Change the dictionary. Her intended reference was to Goldhagen’s inflammatory book Hitler’s Willing executioners.

      • The title of Mr. Goldhagan’s book and Professor Grütters’ reference to it aside, ‘executor’ is a perfectly proper translation for ‘Vollstrecker’.

    • It can mean both, depending on the context. The verb “vollstrecken” basically means to execute something, typically a task or an order, not necessarily *somebody*.
      For instance, “Testament” means “last will”, and “Testamentsvollstrecker” means the legal *executor* of that document.
      But – if someone is the executor of a death sentence, he is also a “Vollstrecker”, the “executor” of the sentence which leads to execution, in this case in the sense of the English word “executioner”.
      In all contexts, it means that someone follows and order or request, that he is acting on somebody else’s behalf and order or request.

      So the title of Goldhagen’s book is correctly translated by using the term “Vollstrecker” in the intended context.

  • McGowan clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s a pity that people who do not have close-hand knowledge of German politics feel compelled to sound off and show their ignorance. The present German foreign minster is by no means right-wing; he has been a respected member of the SPD for decades and served in this capacity once before (2005-2009). Read his speeches and look at his actions on the international stage to get a truer picture of his political orientation.

    • Steinmeier is an enthusiastic supporter of Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) in Ukraine.

      This really says it all about him. Your trolling deserves no further response.

    • read his speeches and look at his actions

      Happily! Here:

      http://youtu.be/VIrQaU8hCzQ

      is Steinmeier in Ukraine, settling down for a fireside chat with Mr Turchynov. Turchynov is the principle architect of the war against the civilian population of E Ukraine, and he supports the bombing of civilian targets (on the grounds of “collective thought crime”). Turchynov was acting as Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament recently, when a female MP made an impassioned speech (on Teacher’s Day) to stop the bombing of schools in Eastern Ukraine. Turchynov’s response – he cut the microphone before she finished, accused her of “insulting our glorious troops”, claimed she was a ‘traitor”, and tried to have her thrown out of the Parliament. Subsequently he has mounted a hate campaign against the lady, with threats of physical intimidation if she does not stand down as an MP.

      Those are your dear Steinmeier’s allies.

      A true Pizarro, as Beethoven painted him.

  • “The speech, a landmark in Anglo-German relations, passed totally unnoticed by the British media – itself a landmark moment in the trivialisation of British public debate.”

    Couldn’t agree more. Still, we have Russell Brand.

  • OBLIGED FREEDOM

    Indeed a beautiful speech & representative of the German thinking class, of which still much is left.

    But! Only one point of criticism.

    Talking about the supposed freedom of culture, it is immediately annexed:

    ‘Im Artikel 5 unseres Grundgesetzes, mit einem hohen, prominenten Verfassungsrang also heißt es: „Kultur und Wissenschaft sind frei.“ Wir wissen, dass wir die Künstler, die Kreativen, die Vor- und Querdenker als kritisches Korrektiv unserer Gesellschaft brauchen, als Stachel im Fleisch der Demokratie. Sie sind es, die Grenzen ausloten, die provozieren, die hinterfragen und die damit verhindern, dass intellektuelle Trägheit und politische Bequemlichkeit die Demokratie einschläfern. Die Freiheit und Vielfalt der Kunst und Kultur zu sichern und so jedem neuerlichen Totalitarismus vorzubeugen, das ist deshalb oberster Grundsatz unserer Kulturpolitik.’

    This reads as a political programme for artists: ‘… correction of society… sting in the flesh of democracy…. feeling-out of the boundaries… provoking…. questioning and keeping democracy vigilant…. safe-guarding freedom and diversity to prevent all new totalitarianism….’ What has this to do with freedom? Hasn’t art its own sphere of exploration of the human condition? Why should that be tied to political and social functions? Was that not exactly the slavery of totalitarian regimes?

    This can only mean, paradoxically, that modernism – the postwar obligatory destruction of cultural traditions – is institutionalized, and that has indeed happened, not only in Germany (‘a modernist German is a good German’) but everywhere else on the continent. In music, it meant the transformation of classical music into a museum culture, and the separation of new music into its own state-supported sphere where the ‘freedom’ of postwar nihilism (under the guise of Adornian, quasi-leftwing ‘criticism’) carefully protected taboos on aesthetics (‘Thou shalt be free in the way as thou art told’). Hence ‘Regietheater’ in opera, the cultivation of a distorted 20C music history and state-supported, but morally-acceptable celebration of abberations that can only be gravely offensive to any intelligent and / or culturally-developed European citizen:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3kpvIXG1Qc

    http://www.nmz.de/media/video/donaueschinger-musiktage-2014-videoblog-sonntag

    The people in these videos are the heirs of Mr Van Beethoven, whose 9th symphony adorned the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

    If Benjamin Britten had been a German, he would have been locked-up in the name of freedom.

    Fortunately, in Germany the central performance culture where the classical tradition is still practised, has been kept intact and can be considered – as a territory of cultural praxis – as the best in the world. It is THERE where German cultural identity is celebrated, and typically its creators are all dead.

  • Germany didn’t cause World War I… Nor were German people willing to participate in genocide. That’s historically incorrect and over-exaggerated.

  • Nor was Germany built by “British occupying forces”. What kind biased propaganda is that. British and American bombers demolished German city of Dresden with Aerial bombardment killing thousands of innocent children and women.

  • >