So, Liverpool begin a new era today with a crucial game against Everton at Goodison Park. Both clubs are close to the bottom of the Premier League – a situation that was inconceivable even a few weeks ago. I find it hard to understand how everything fell apart so quickly – how the great tradition of a great club could be so easily rubbished and the fans of the club so humiliated.
Be patient with me. I grew up with only one question each spring: which trophy or trophies would the team be parading through Liverpool on an open-topped bus this year? We had thirty years of stunning success before it all began to sink. My memories are offended by reality and I am embarrassed to admit that I took success for granted. It’s hard to face today’s reality.
Which takes me on to a parallel line of thought that seems at first glance to be unrelated. There is a fuss in Germany about an exhibition entitled Hitler und die Deutschen (Hitler and the German People) at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin. This is the first time a major exhibition at a major museum has focussed on Hitler himself and some people are not happy about it. Their fear is that it will be exploited by neo-Nazis. (Although, as the director of the Museum Hans Ottomeyer tartly says, “They don’t read books and they don’t go to exhibitions”.)
On the surface there is little to fear in putting Hitler centre stage and trying to come to terms with how this pathetic little man came to wield such destructive power. As I have remarked before, Joachim Fest attempted a psychological analysis of the main Nazi protagonists in his 1968 book, The Face of the Third Reich. Horrific and offensive as it might be, you have to give the ‘monsters‘ a face if they are to be understood and if we are to come to terms with our own complicity in their manipulations.
The problem for Germans is that very soon ‘memory’ will become ‘history‘. The generation of those involved in Germany up to 1945 will begin to die out. That is why it is so important to capture their voices and preserve the memory from becoming ideological weapons in arguments about history (which can then be used to justify present or future action). In my book Finding Faith I briefly describe Sir Jonathan Sacks‘s view – that we must be cautious about memory becoming history and thereby losing our roots – and the opposite caution of Miroslav Volf – that memory can be held onto as an ideological weapon for justifying the violence or particularism of future generations who have nurtured a grievance. (Think of Northern Ireland and the Battle of the Boyne, for instance, or the ‘tribal’ violence of the Balkans after the division of Yugoslavia.)
I might be wrong, but it seems to many of us outside Germany that the Germans need to stare Hitler in the face and disempower him. As can be seen from this weekend’s debate about the death of German multiculturalism and the problems of German immigration, it is almost impossible to address some issues without the spectre of Hitler hanging over. Which gives Hitler a sort of ongoing victory – the power of the terrorist to scare the ‘free’ into restricting the freedom that was supposed to define them in the first place.
The Germans cannot wait until the 1945 generation is dead before getting to grips with this stuff. Then it will be too late. For the memory will be partial (recorded) and the history will be an object for discussion or appropriation by those who will use it to justify their latest ideologies, self-justifications and violences.
I just wish I could be in Berlin to visit the exhibition.