Tag Archives: Peter Fritzsche

Out of Ashes


Out Of Ashes –
A New History of Europe in the Twentieth Century
By Konrad H. Jarausch
Princeton University Press – £32.95

     Hitler’s dictatorship rested not only on repression but also on popular gratitude for the economic recovery, for which he claimed credit. Economists still dispute which of the policies actually worked, but it is undeniable that full employment returned fairly rapidly. In grapeshot fashion, the Nazis launched numerous measures, ranging from the public works such as building the high-speed Autobahnen to subsidies for regular construction and reviving industrial investment. Wages initially remained frozen, but the return to work raised the living standards of households that had barely survived the depression and made the Fuhrer popular.

                                                                                   (‘Hitler’s Volksgemeinschaft’)

The above quote from chapter ten of this all persuasive and penetrating book, renders any uninitiated reader of twentieth century German history at something of a surprising loss; especially with regards Adolf Hitler’s euphoric rise to penultimate power.

For it would seem in order to gain a country’s trust (and vote), one need only put food on the table and be seen to openly rebuild a country’s infrastructure. But were one to fast forward to 2017, it would seem such essentially simplistic thinking has been seductively replaced by rampant ambivalence, nationalism, xenophobia, greed and political swashbuckling. The sort of which hasn’t been seen since, well; Hitler’s actual rise to power itself.

What with Donald Trump in the US, Theresa May in the UK and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela – not to mention the many serried ranks of delusional crack-pots that perhaps not so patiently wait amid the wings of seething world domination and destruction – Out Of Ashes – A New History of Europe in the Twentieth Century, ought to be made compulsive reading throughout many of the world’s prime corridors of intrinsic power.

That it won’t, is further testament to how utterly insane the world in the early part of the twenty-first century appears to have unfortunately (d)evolved.

Indeed, rather than coming together and building bridges, Trump, May, and the rise of the Far-Right throughout many parts of Europe, appear utterly determined in the full-on promotion of division and the building of walls. An unquestionable folly, upon which Konrad H. Jarausch shines a more than humanistic light – throughout many parts of this most readable and excellent of books.

In relation to the immediate above for instance, one need only traverse the second paragraph of chapter nineteen’s ‘Economic Integration,’ to ascertain where common sense has gone so horribly wrong. Quite possibly, politically diluted beyond the point of all and any reason – let alone return: ”The founding of the Common Market was a concerted attempt to prevent a repetition of the disasters of the first half of the twentieth century. Its central purpose of laying ”the foundations of an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe” intended to achieve multiple aims: By linking the economies of France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, the treaty sought to to make future war impossible by eliminating ”the barriers which divide Europe.” At the same time the agreement tried to ban the spectre of another depression by striving for ”the constant improvement of the living and working conditions” of European citizens.”

These 788 pages (excluding Preface, Acknowledgements, Notes and Index) are literally littered with such grounded commons sense as that exemplified above.

As the author Peter Fritzsche (whose Life and Death in the Third Reich I also reviewed upon publication) has since said: Out of Ashes is an extremely well-conceived and highly ambitious book. What Jarausch has pulled off is a fully balanced, elegantly integrated history of a long twentieth century in which the pre-1914 era and post-1989 years are vital parts of the interpretation.”

To be sure, Out of Ashes penetrates all the wayward and distorted untruths of current day, blame-game-ideology; by simply laying bare what needs to be told. And perhaps re-told.

David Marx


The Turbulent World of Franz Göll – An Ordinary Berliner Writes the Twentieth Century

The Turbulent World of Franz Göll
– An Ordinary Berliner Writes the Twentieth Century
By Peter Fritzsche
Harvard University Press – £19.95

The truth makes for a poor companion,’’ wrote the German diarist Franz Göll – a curious and rather brave dictum that speaks and screams volumes. Far more so than most of us would ever care to hear or admit. Let alone embrace. It’s the sort of homegrown truth of an assertion that might circumnavigate Bob Dylan’s world.

The prime and only difference being, the latter might acknowledge as such in song, whereas the ever grappling Göll traversed way beyond any realm of mere acknowledgement. He confronted much of the loneliness that the truth brings, by way of struggling with the absolutist theories of Freud, Einstein and Darwin; theories that are herein, captured in all their seemingly blatant, isolationist glory.

The above opening line – taken from the second chapter of The Turbulent World of Franz Goll – An Ordinary Berliner Writes the Twentieth Century – punctuates the here and now with as much probable force as the day it was written. Perhaps in the big scheme of things, even more so; as it is preceded with just as much thought provoking and sociological, self-introspection with regards the truth, in the first chapter.

Thus making for a quintessentially dense, and occasionally contentious read.

Writing in ‘The Case of Franz Göll, Graphomaniac,’ Peter Fritzsche (whose excellent, previous book Life and Death in the Third Reich I have also reviewed), will no doubt trigger a certain amount of debate by quoting: ‘’‘’Even when you have graduated from the schools of life, sampled the most diverse circumstances, and suppose that you know yourself,’’ Göll asked, ‘’is that really so? Already the grown man finds that his childhood is actually quite strange to him; he has long grown out of it. The truth about a person is not a formation fixed for all time, but transforms itself over time and is really only fastened in outline. Franz considered knowledge dynamic and contingent, as two aphorisms – his own – confirm. ‘’The more you know,’’ Göll asserted as a twenty-one-year-old in 1920, ‘’the more often you will let what you know be contradicted by what you come to know.’’

Many might consider the non-sanguine honesty of the latter (‘’the more you know, the more often you will let what you know be contradicted by what you come to know’’) as being contingent upon one’s own truth. Or at least as much truth as one is able to convey and live with. For in all honesty, who, amid the stoic parameters of the economically dependent – and thus, out-of-control – free world, would actually admit to the above? Former US Presidents George Bush Senior and Junior? Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher? Current Libyan leader and murderer, Colonel Gaddafi?

Just as it sometimes takes genius to recognise genius, so too, might the same apply to the truth: ‘’[…] near the end of his life, in 1974, in the middle of his critical enquiries into the origins of Christianity, he concluded: ‘’For the philosopher, nothing is self-evident.’’’’

If this doesn’t set one’s mind to thinking, I’m hard pressed to think of something that will.

By depicting a deeply inspired portrait of a self-educated Berliner, wrought with an effervescent desire to record the trials and tribulations of what he has gleaned in life, author and professor (of History at the University of Illinois) Fritzsche has almost managed to forego the fact that history repeats itself.

What happened in the city of Berlin throughout so much of the last century is truly monumental in terms of history, tragedy and artistry. By delving into another man’s thoughts who lived in the infamous working-class district of Rote Insel his entire life, we are a little more able to understand, for better or for worse, the world in which we live today.

David Marx