Germany's Place in Post-Postwar Europe

Book Review
Published: 1995-01-01

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In Europe's Name: Germany and the Divided Continent, by Timothy Garton Ash. New York: Random House, 1993. 680 pages. $27.50. ISBN 0394-55711-5.

"Ende gut, alles gut" ("All's well that end's well"). What more can one say of the tortuous decades that led to German unification. A lot, of course, and Timothy Garton Ash says it well. The British, it is often alleged, are born with a good prose style, best exemplified in this instance by a lightness of tone in just those moments when ponderousness might be expected. Here he is describing the effect of the conciliatory gestures made by Chancellor Kohl toward the Honecker regime during the mid-1980s:

Flattered and reassured, Honecker did not, as intended, relax his grip on his subjects in the GDR. In fact, he tightened it, but he did relax his grip on reality. West German illusions about East Germany reinforced his own, thus contributing to hubris, followed by nemesis. Hence our ultimate paradox of West German policy towards the GDR: they got it right because they got it wrong!

But this is an establishment book, funded by the Ford Foundation, fostered by the Woodrow Wilson International Center, vetted by the likes of Fritz Stern, and sponsored by the author's Oxford Colleague, Ralf Dahrendorf. It thus boils down to a defense of the existing Oder-Neisse line as Germany's eastern border. The difficulty is that this really cannot be done except by resort to enormous and persistent lies. For one thing, Mr. Ash, like most of his cohorts, simply cannot bring himself to consider the expulsion of Germans from East Prussia, Pomerania, Silesia, and the Sudetenland as a crime. No, these territories are to be considered as having been "gambled away." This is the establishment view, and enforced by propaganda of much less subtle nature than this scholarly book provides. That this expulsion of millions represented in historical fact the most massive crime in the annals of the Second World War and its aftermath is what the establishment cannot face, and of course it needs the Holocaust mythology all the more desperately to sustain the self-delusion.

Thus there is a reciprocal relationship between the persecution of revisionists in Germany (and elsewhere) and the insistence that no atonement is owed to the victims (and their assigns) of the expulsion. Can this viewpoint be defended in perpetuity, as Mr. Ash so devoutly wishes? The merest glance at a map of reunified Germany suggests the improbability of such mass historical hypnosis continuing to prevail. After all, Stettin (Szczecin) is virtually next door to Berlin, and the Oder river traffic, if it is to be restored at all, will be largely German or German-controlled. (In 1914 Stettin handled more than four million tons of barge cargo traffic, nearly all of it German.) In 1945 it was evidently thought Stettin would become a significant outlet for the imports and exports of the Upper Silesian industrial complex. Under Polish aegis, this complex today can scarcely produce a bedpan, let alone any merchandise competitive on world markets.

Yet typically, Mr. Ash ends his book with a plea to Germans to be reasonable and to acquire "the new habit of not fully exerting the power they had." Of course he doesn't dream of appealing to the Poles or anyone else to be similarly reasonable.

This is not a good time to be in the business of publishing maps and atlases. Perhaps if this could be done in loose-leaf form it would be less risky. Mr. Ash signifies his awareness of these vagaries by appending a series of six maps to his book, among which the current one already promises to be the most evanescent. But he ventures no predictions. The establishment experts have been taught a lesson.

Political language – and with variations this is true of all polotical parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder acceptable, and to give an appearance of solidarity to pure wind.
—George Orwell

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Andrew Gray
Title: Germany's Place in Post-Postwar Europe, Book Review
Sources: The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 15, no. 1 (January/February 1995), p. 45
Published: 1995-01-01
First posted on CODOH: Dec. 14, 2012, 6 p.m.
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