22 JANUARY 1972, Page 18

German lesson

Sir: The three pages of book reviews on the 'Problems of the Germans' (January 8) raise some interesting issues, but typically dwell on what is ' nasty ' and negative in the recent past. Auberon Waugh's sardonic humour can be enjoyable, but his treatment of Siegfried Lenz's universally praised novel The German Lesson is altogether too self-indulgent: he cannot forgive the Germans for not being English. Does it never occur to him to enjoy the fact of national divergencies? In the case of George Gale's loaded article I even had a sense of aid vu. In October 1938 A. L. Rowse wrote an article for The Spectator entitled 'What is wrong with the Germans '; its tone was similarly patronising, though there was every reason for its contents — at that time.

George Gale may genuinely wish to understand the modern Germans and their problems of national identity, but he and too many journalists in England are still writing as though Germany had not been through the trauma of 1945, as though Willi Brandt had not knelt in prayer in front of the Auschwitz memorial. It is not surprising that there have been some dubious legal cases, and covering up; vigilance is necessary. But who in this country predicted the total eclipse of the neo-Nazi parties? For more than twenty years the admirable Institute for Contemporary History in Munich has been relentlessly exposing the truth about the Hitler period through a long series of publications in the highest tradition of German scholarship. Very soon after the appearance in English of Gerald Reitlinger's classic, The Final Solution (Vallentine Mitchell, 1953), a Bundestag committee assisted its translation and distribution in the Federal Republic. The responsible press and the mass media have by no means neglected the evils of the Nazi past although more might well have been published; in fact one hears from intelligent younger Germans that they want to get beyond this fifteen-year period of

national soul-searching into something different.

The most wounding legacy of all left by Hitler was to the German people themselves — a distrust of the virtues of loyalty and patriotism, even of the merits. of German identity. As Professor Grosser says in his penetrating book, Germany in Our Time, no country today is so completely divorced from its own history. In their desire to "overcome the past" (bewaeltigen die Vergangenheit is itself an extraordinarily German phrase) they have put too many hopes in Joining the European Club.'

Just as so many Germans prefer to soak in the Mediterranean sun rather than to explore their own still unspoiled countryside, so they tend to be uncurious about the great, non-nationalist traditions of their own past. They have lost contact with the deep roots of their own culture. Perhaps the rediscovery of Germany itself is the real task that awaits the younger generation. For there can be no such thing as a European melting pot. One must hope that the Germans will become really German in the best sense of the word, up to the verge of eccentricity sometimes — even though Auberon Waugh is so