The Banality of Ethnomasochism

The enlightened guardians of public order will usually tell you that the criminals are not to be punished as vengeance, but in order to rehabilitate and/or prevent future crime, by removing the offenders from the public and deterring others from taking similar action. These categories are by no means mutually exclusive, and some can be molded into stepping-stones to others. German writer Anna Sauerbrey, ever mindful of the enormity of her people, seems to have combined all three. In an op-ed column for today’s New York Times, “Why Old Nazis Are Still Useful,” she proudly and frankly mourns the passing of the Nazi generation. Her reasoning is that Germany must always have a deep sense of shame in her past, and the spectacle of a real-life Nazi, even a 93-year-old one, is the best blunt instrument for accomplishing this.

I am not sure whether she is working under the premise that the ends justify the means—perhaps she does not see anything particularly distasteful about her methods, but, to me, everything about the essay’s approach is strikingly ugly. Sauerbrey writes:

Survivors of the Holocaust still regularly speak in classrooms in Germany. Everyone reads the “Diary of Anne Frank,” over and over. I have read it knowing that my grandparents had at least tolerated the regime that murdered her — and that both my grandfathers served in the war. We have all grown up with the vague feeling of inherited guilt.
But while reading Frank’s diary or hearing Ms. Pusztai-Fahidi (a plaintiff in the trail against the aforementioned 93-year-old ex-Nazi) speak is moving, it is the perpetrators that really make you dizzy. In a way they are even more important to the German narrative than the victims.

Sure, it makes sense that German guilt is more important to Germany’s historical narrative than is the sufferings of Germany’s victims, but the writer’s purpose here is to appeal to a very extreme example of “the politics of fear.” In this especially odious case, the aim is for the Germans to be afraid of themselves. Because after all:

It is not enough to teach good liberal values. All that Humboldt and Kant failed to inoculate Germany from the virus of Nazism. Why should it now? Nor is history sufficient, by itself. The numbers of those killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau are horrifying, but abstract.

For many Medieval Christians, all Jews were forever guilty for the murder of Christ; for Sauerbrey, all Germans are forever guilty of the Nazi Holocaust. And they can never be trusted again. The strong implication is that the German problem requires a final solution, and perhaps partially with this in mind, Sauerbrey recommends that Germans dedicate themselves to welcoming refugees to their land. She is German, so absolute spirit and all that, I guess.

Now this is a revolting sentiment to me, but it has become such old-hat that it alone did not really surprise me. What I really found jarring about this article was how confident and straight-forward she is in her self-hatred, and in her desire for the rest of Germany to feel the same. Nowhere does she express any regret that it has come to this, nowhere does she qualify her position at all. Her tone is not polemical, or at all angry. Why should it be? To her, the idea that Germans are uniquely and forever guilty is not at all controversial. She takes it for granted, and assumes that everyone else does too.

Ryan Andrews is the author of The Birth of Prudence, which was published by VDare last year.