6 SEPTEMBER 1946, Page 8


• because of their Nazi education, they probably will in fact draw this By MICHAEL ,LEE THE recent amnesty for all Germans up to the age of 27 against whom there is no specific evidence of ..misdoing will greatly ease the position of thousands of young Germans. Yet when it was known that the proposal was under consideration, I noticed that quite a number of young Germans resented, even while they welcomed, it. This may seem surprising unless their point of view is understood. To them the proposal savoured of a "forgiveness of sins," and they did not feel guilty. They had deplored many aspects of the Nazi regime and they had kept themselves as clear of such aspects as they could. Holding, as they did, the traditional German attitude to the State and to the overriding nature of its authority, the idea of overt resistance was one which they were scarcely capable of com- prehending, certainly not when their country was engaged in a war of whose origins they had only heard the Nazi version.

All the same, many of these young Germans had kept their contacts with the Nazi regime to a minimum For instance, when a member of the Deutsche jungvolk reached the age at which he would normally graduate into the Hitler Youth, he might contrive to remain as a leader of the 7ungvalk and thus avoid the intensive political education which the Hitler Youth underwent. With the fall of the Nazis he found that his "position of responsibility" within the Nazi youth organisations counted against him, and he resented it. Such young people passionately deny that they are guilty, or even that they should be treated as those who, through no fault of their own, are politically untrustworthy. They maintain that they did their best according to their lights and that they ought neither to be blamed nor to suffer political disability in consequence.

An antipathy to political parties is perhaps a by-product of this frame of mind. The attitude of many young Germans may be summed up as follows : "I used to be a member of the Socialist Youth and when the Nazis came I suffered for it. I joined the Hitler Youth and now the Nazis have gone I'm suffering for it.

Nobody knows what may happen in the future, so it's safest to have nothing to do with politics." They also dislike the antagonisms between the various parties ; one of them said rather wistfully, "Wouldn't it be possible to have a party above politics?" They are patriotic but, as another observed, "If you show your patriotism they call you a Fascist "—and this is, in fact, what the political parties are all too ready to call_ young Germans who reject the advances of all of them.

How far are these accusations of Fascism true? My experience is too limited to allow of confident generalisation, but my impression is this : if by Fascism is meant a desire to return to a Nazi or similar regime, and a belief in those doctrines which are recognisably Fascist, they are not true. But if Fascism means a desire for unity, for purposeful activity free from the bickerings of sectional interests and parties, coupled with an unthinking acceptance of certain views (e.g. "a party above politics ") in harmony with the Nazi Weltan- schauung but not bearing a recognisable Nazi label, then the name may fit.

If in this sense German youth is Fascist, it iS because it has had little opportunity to be anything else. The willingness of young Germans to try to think and discuss objectively is as impressive as their obvious lack of practice in doing so. But if they are to do so with foreigners or with older, democratic Germans, it would seem essential that these should be unsentimentally and uncensoriously friendly. Any hint of antagonism reduces discussion to mere argument in the form of unreasoning and diversionary counter-attack, but attempts at logical and dispassionate reasoning are well received. On one occasion British relief workers were challenged with the declaration : "The British are soft. If they had been bombed as the Germans were bombed, they would have surrendered far more quickly than the Germans did." The answer given was that there seemed no particular reason to suppose that the capacities for endurance of the British and Germans were substantially different, but that, since the British had not been bombed as heavily as the Germans, the truth of the statement could neither be proved nor disproved. This point of view was accepted as reason- able and general discussion continued amicably and On fairly objective lines.

It would no doubt be an exaggeration to liken the minds of these young Germans to "rooms swept and garnished," but it seems evident that they have an emptiness of mind born of disillusionment in the past and hopelessness for the future. During the past few Months Germans have been heard to say, " Goebbels promised us that if the Nazis went things would be worse than ever, and it's the only promise he ever kept." The inference is obvious, and there are many ex-Party members who would be glad to sec young Germans draw it. If these men continue to feel that they bear a stigma inference. One German girl said: "We weren't Nazis, but the English are making us Nazis." In that particular case she was probably speaking for effect, but her words may well contain- an uncomfortable germ of truth. So long as they feel they bear a stigma, young Germans will resist any attempts at re-education by professing democrats, whether British or German, by whom they feel they have been stigmatised. The removal of the stigma is the condition precedent of re-education.

To remove it may well require a policy on the part of the authorities which goes beyond any measures so far announced and which may seem dangerously lenient. The dangers of the amnesty have already been commented on in the daily Press. Such dangers are real, and some convinced young Nazis might reach positions where they ought not to be. But, as Lord Beveridge has pointed out in his recent articles in The Times*. ". . . the view that no manhas influence unless he belongs to an approved party or holds some public position, so that he can be made harmless by dismissal" is not a democratic view. Nazism cannot be rooted out merely by suppressing Nazis. German democrats, especially young ones, are needed. And so long as young Germans feel that they are considered politically unreliable

be by their democratic masters, their interest in democracy will small. A " lenient " policy may be dangerous, but there is some evidence that a " safe " policy may be more so.

*29th August, last paragraph.