Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Individualität durch Zeit: “The political and the personal” - by Ruth Madden

In 1922 in an apostrophe by Kurt Tucholsky, the common folk of Germany were implored to reflect upon and remember WWI, in an attempt by the left-wing satirical journalist to loudly share his belief for „nie wieder Krieg“(75). In stanza four of this poem, „Drei Minuten Gehör“, the beating 4/4 rhythm produces a warning to youth, who having thus escaped orders to don the soldier’s uniform, to retain their freedom and rebuild the land as they will. Although war did in fact occur again in Germany, it is the youth to whom this last stanza was addressed, that I am interested in. I will be exploring the relationship between youth and individuality in the surrounding political and social situations evidenced in a select few literary pieces spanning from 1930’s through to the 1970’s in Germany. 

Gigli-Eine Von Uns by Irmgard Keun shows a matter-of-fact account of the then modern independent woman set against the hard labour economic times of the late 1920’s early 1930’s. Although twenty-one-years-old and not a child, Gigli represents the youth, and in particular women, who were pressing for change in the gaps opening up in society. An instance of her independence and forward-thinking is illustrated in the descriptions given of her family home and parents. Her mother inherited a picture of Washington, an American patriot (page 8-9), which in only representing the idea of nationalism in the abstract, proves the ignorance of some so-called Bieder families in the 1920’s, whose tastes were shaped by what the community perceived as quality. Juxtaposed is the ambitious and independent Gilgi who illustrates a longing for self-betterment and discovery who, not through inheritance but hard work, rents a small room; “Sie bezahlt es, und es gehört ihr” (page 21). . Her rigid morning beauty and exercise routine is evidence of her shaping her own life. She usually walks to her work as a legal secretary but on an occasion when she is late and takes the bus, she internally comments on her fellow commuters who in part due to the rising unemployment crisis are not happy with what they are doing nor who they are (page 16). The comments Gilgi makes regarding the passengers focus on what they are wearing. For example a girl who wore a nice necklace must have done so as to be called pretty (page 15). In wondering whether they have “Keine Aussicht auf Wechsel und Unterbrechung” (page 15) she concludes that everyone is concerned about “Krankheit, Abbau, Erwerbslosigkeit” yet still forges onwards. It is as if the other people are kegs in the vehicle of change whereas she is her own driving force, making decisions and fighting for happiness, which Gilgi puts down to the fact that “Sie verdient Geld” (page 15). The dependency upon political and economic stability before a person can look for change within themselves shows how easily it is to become a person who is made by others as opposed to a person who makes themselves. 

This drive and will of the individual is further shown by Hans Scholl in the novel written by his sister Inge Scholl, Die Weiße Rose, published after his and her sister Sophia’s death. Indoctrinated into the Hitler youth through the use of camps and sing-alongs popular with children, Hans initially feels a sense of community and belonging; “Wir fühlten uns beteiligt an einem Prozeß, an einer Bewegung, die aus der Masse Volk schuf” (page 15). “Heimatliebe” (page 12) for Hans is the ability to become an adult and man protecting the things he loves like the rivers and trees nearby where he lives and plays. The feelings of Kameradschaft experienced in playing the drums and marching with his peers can be likened to those experienced in the trenches in WWI as illustrated in Erich Maria Remarque’s Im Westen Nichts Neues. However an important feeling for humans it is, belonging without being able to question realities and take opposing stands on ideals is dangerous. Hans first experiences this when he is banned from singing songs he likes just because they come from foreign countries (page 17). Further entrenching his scepticism and disappointment in the Nazi regime and the Führer is when he is honoured to carry a flag at a party. Expecting that every boy would be able to develop his innermost talents, he is disappointed when they are all drilled and ordered to wear uniforms and act in certain ways; “von Treue hatte man gesprochen, bei Tag und Nacht. Was aber war denn der Grundstein aller Treue: zuerst doch die zu sich selbst...“ (page 18). The questioning and changes which take place within Hans are not punished as they would have been had he been older (page 21). “Hitler hat der Ruder gegriffen” however Hans, who represents the youth in „Drei Minuten Gehör“, takes it back and begins to make decisions for himself, for the good of everyone. From poetry to philosophy, it is through his future political action in forming the group Die Weiße Rose and distributing Blätter that he was able to bring personal changes within others. Personal changes created through the choice to change and think for oneself.

Following WWII authoritative education and upbringing was prevalent as echoes of Nazi and fascist ideologies remained in place. Regarding children during the early 1970’s Anja Röhl in her novel Die Frau Meines Vaters writes that “Die Erwachsenen finden sie zu laut, zu frech, zu wild…Falsch ist alles, was sie machen” (page 69). The novel is a biography written in the third person marking out the different growth stages of the character, Anja. This is effective because it impersonalises the author and creates a social template for the reader to transpose any child growing up in Germany during this time to the experiences of the child. It shows that these events were not isolated. Tante Anneliese, a particularly cruel woman at the health home, inflicted humiliating treatment upon the eight-year-old child, referring to it as a baby for vomiting on arrival to the facility, even ordering it clean up its own mess. Also back-talking is reacted to with stern punishment. At one point the child even has its mouth taped shut with no reason as to why given. The use of the toilets was strictly regulated through a red light system and the child was not allowed to write letters to its mother because Tante Anneliese declares “…Babys nicht schreiben können” (page 55). The prevailing authoritative ideals of adults who did not show concern for worries or thoughts of the child are contrasted with the child’s interactions with Ulrike Meinhof, a left-wing political activist. Ulrike listens to and asks questions of the child emphasising that “Durch Erklären kann man lernen. Wenn man lernt, kann man es besser machen” (page 70). An example of the treatment of the child is shown through the different explanations offered by Ulrike and the child’s mother as to what an atom bomb is. Ulrike offers an in depth explanation involving the politics between Germany and America whereas the mother simply says “dass sei etwas sehr Schlimmes” (page 71) before handing her a dictionary. Ulrike emphasises to the child the importance the creation of one’s own opinions are as opposed to the passive adoption of someone else’s (particularly someone with power), even if it meant that the child would disagree on some topics with Ulrike herself. This is similar to Gilgi-Eine Von Uns in expressing the importance of running your own life and making informed decisions because the politics of the time you live in affects you in both ostentatious and unnoticed ways. Ulrike Meinhof acted on her beliefs and principles and these are subsequently viewed within the political sphere and dominant beliefs held at that time. She acted outside the law and was thusly imprisoned. America was pressuring Germany to take part in the Vietnam War. Nowadays however America does not hold the same power over Germany and conversely, neither does fascism, therefore the education system, for example, is more anti-authoritarian than it was when Anja Röhl was a child. We individuals are all products of the history in which we live. 

We see this finally in the 1990 film Das Schreckliche Mädchen by director Michael Verhöven through the character of Sonja in her attempt to uncover the truth of her hometown during the Third Reich. Based on the real life of Anna Rosmus, Sonja is portrayed as a modern hero, fighting for truth despite its unpopularity and the danger it brings. From childhood through to adulthood, Sonja is unafraid to ask the difficult questions in order to uncover the truth of her town, which was painted as a town which resisted Nazi ideology. Relatively inconsequential events portray the reality that inconveniences and awkwardness are swept under the rug illustrating that it is best to follow along and trust the party line. For example Sonja’s mother is forcibly resigned from her job as a religious education teacher because of her pregnancy, although she is married, in order to prevent the awkward possibility that the children she taught might have rude thoughts. Instead of risking having to deal with the consequences, it was thought best to shift the problem away. Furthermore ironically at the end of the film in an attempt to “silence” Sonja, the town Pflizing places her on a literal pedestal through the creation of a bust and congratulates her for uncovering the truth. Sonja views this as an attempt to silence her and hide even the fact that many had actively prevented her from accessing information. In Nazi times, in asking too many questions and expressing resistance, Sonja would have been disappeared. Both situations, though different, have the effect of cutting off the individual in order to distract people the truth in order to forget or not notice crimes occurring, so that ramifications are avoided. 

Ulrike Meinhof in a 1970 interview states that “privacy is political, children education is political, human relations are political, because they show if the people are oppressed or free, if they can act thoughtful or not, if they can act in anyway or not”. Personal life is concurrent with political life and the balance of powers is reflected in all areas of life. Even if one says they do not follow politics, nor do they have a political opinion, yet continue to live by the status quo operating in the background whilst never suffering ramifications for their actions, then they in fact agree with the majority politics of the country they live in. The texts I briefly analysed show that even children and young people are affected by and affect change on a macro level though their interactions in everyday ‘non-political’ life. It is the individual’s responsibility to reflect upon their society and the systems in place to decide whether the political is working for them or not. 

Works Cited

Roehl, Anja. Die Frau Meines Vaters. Nautlius: Hamburg. 2013. Print.

Keun, Irmgard. Gilgi-Eines Von Uns. 1931. GERM242 Otago University Course Materials (2013). 

Scholl, Inge. Die Weisse Rose. 1955. GERM242 Otago University Course Materials (2013).

Tucholsky, Kurt. “Drei Minuten Gehoer!”. Gesammelte Werke. Rowohlt. 1922. Print. GERM242 Otago University Course Materials (2013).

Verhoeven, Michael. Das Schreckliche Maedchen. 1990. DVD. 

Ulrike Meinhof interviewed in 1970. 15/09/2013

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