Birds from the Nazi past

Vogelschiss. Birdshit. A German politician used this word recently to describe the National Socialist regime which ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945. He was looking for a new perspective, one which would reduce the Nazi dictatorship to proportion in a thousand years of mostly successful German history. Elections were in the offing, and he may have felt that he needed attention. Because I am reluctant to give him any, he will be referred to here as Mr. Bird, leaving out the second syllable.

Lanzmann’s ‘Shoah’ and Josef Oberhauser

Claude Lanzmann’s film ‘Shoah’ is memorable. Not because of what it says. But because of its refusal to say anything at all. The theme of ‘Shoah’ is the Holocaust, in which over six million Jews were murdered by National Socialist Germany. But to state the theme in this way is to already go beyond the film. ‘Shoah’ can be classed as a documentary, in that it features interviews with real people about events to which they were eyewitnesses. But it does not document anything, or try to explain anything. If there is a message, it must be worked out by the viewer, in subjective imagination. Which puts the question to me.

Thoughts on Gomorrah

Gomorrah is the title Roberto Saviano chose for his well-known book on the Camorra, the network of criminal organisations that have dominated Naples and Italy’s Campania region for generations. A revelatory choice. Gomorrah and Camorra sound alike. And are alike. The land of the Camorra is a lost place, ruined by greed, hubris, and the vilest excesses. A Biblical place. A place of the damned.

Blessed Anton Bruckner

If there are saints of music, Anton Bruckner is surely one of them. Like Beethoven, whom he greatly admired, Bruckner was a strong-willed, undaunted composer. Dreadful abysses lurk in Bruckner’s music, but he does not get stuck in them. That Promethean defiance, that raised fist, which is Beethoven’s, is nowhere to be heard. Perhaps for this reason, Bruckner’s seemingly meandering arguments lead to a deeply satisfying destination, while Beethoven’s powerful affirmations, those clearings in the woods he beats a way to, amount to so much less than the effort made.

General Wolf fabricates the truth

Markus Wolf was the legendary head of the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HVA) the East German foreign intelligence service. The HVA was much better than its West German counterpart, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). BND operations in East Germany yielded little that could not be read in the newspapers. Small wonder. Markus Wolf had agents so well-placed in the BND that much of its activity was steered from the HVA.

Nailing the Ninety-Five Theses

It is 500 years to the day since Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral, and unleashed the Reformation. While Germany celebrates one of its most famous sons – some Germans, that is, for fast swathes of the population spend their time playing computer games or foaming at the mouth over football, and couldn’t care less – it is worth asking whether there is any truth to the legendary deed of Wednesday, October 31, 1517.

Bad Buddhists

What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West? Thus begins one of the teaching dilemmas, or koans, through which practitioners of Zen Buddhism strive for Enlightenment. If a student imagines he has the answer to the question, the master may well rise up and clout him with a stick. If the answer is a good one, he might clout the student even harder.