Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Care in the Community

After a long discussion with a Polish friend the other day, in which she insisted that the Germans' persecution of the Jews was a direct result of their concept of 'Pflicht', which she claims makes the events of the Second World War uniquely German - a discussion made longer and considerably more muddled by my confusion of the word 'Pflicht' with the word 'Pflege', (although, even now that I've cleared that up in my own mind, I still don't believe a word of her argument) - I was interested to come across this article on the wonderful Sign and Sight site, (although this excellent book, rather contradicts the  statement near the beginning of the article that Jews were never allowed to enter the military).

Clearly, the Germans recognised that the Jews were beating them hands down, and they didn't like it. This is a universal reaction, when one racial group sees a group of fellow citizens of another racial group, (particularly a group who are regarded as incomers), excelling at their own game. For example, at Sydney Grammar just a few years ago, when the school's selective entrance tests seemed to be resulting in a preponderance of students of Asian origin entering the school, there was a push to try to weigh things in favour of 'the all round "more stupid party"' (to quote a quotation within the Sign and Sight article).

Any nationality can feel envy; only the Germans can feel a sense of 'Pflicht'. How nice it would be to relax and think, 'What happened was just something to do with being German; it wasn't an example of the potential nastiness of the entire human race.' I'd love to be let off the hook like that, but I don't think it requires much thought to recognise that envy and resentment can rise up anywhere and, when combined with the wrong economic circumstances and leaders, (and, in that context, I liked the story someone told me the other day about Kokoschka, who, supposedly, applied to Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts at the same time as Hitler, but got in. In an interview years later, he made this comment: 'I sometimes wonder if it mightn't have been better if they'd accepted Hitler and rejected me. I know I would have run the world rather differently'), things can go horribly wrong.

*Incidentally, could one see this statement within the article - 'the intellectual superiority of the Jews was in no way eradicated by conversion to Christianity' - as one in the eye for Richard Dawkins and his ragtag band of zealots?


  1. The article appears to refer to the period of the reforms, 1800 through 1812, at which time I suppose Jews were not commissioned as officers--from Frederick the Great through the 2nd half of the 19th Century, I don't think anybody but the nobility got many commissions. I have read that the German army lacked the numbers to carry out the Schlieffen plan to the fullest because of the reluctance to commission candidates from the middle class. Certainly the casualties of 1914 on caused a rethinking of that, just as the Korean War caused the USMC to recognize the merits of integration.

    The historian Gordon Craig has some amusing remarks about "Plicht" in The Germans though he does not use the word itself. I don't know how far it goes to explain the horrors of 1939-1945.

    "Sign and Sight" is a nifty pun, and an interesting one for this particular blog.

  2. WW I - so many unintended consequences, George