As I work on my novel, a time-travel story mostly set in Nazi Germany, I have to do a lot of research. Just when I think I’m getting most of it done, I find some new book or website to read. And before I’m done, I MUST slog through the massive Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
(I first heard of that book in college, while I was still rewriting the first incarnation of my story; one of my suitemates was using it for a junior-year class. I wanted to read it as research for my story, but then I set the story aside. Hubby has the book, and now I finally have a reason to pick it up and get to it.)
There’s just so much out there, so much to read, even when you’re narrowed on one place and time during that period. I have to get into the heads of my characters, after all, and understand why they behave the way they do.
And one disturbing thing I’ve discovered: I’ve long known neo-Nazis are still out there, but there are a LOT of them on the Net, especially in Youtube comments. 😛 And that means being careful which websites you read and which comments to take seriously in Youtube threads. I’ve even found them in comments to music videos which reference Nazis or war.
Much of the information I’ve come across has been substantiated in other places, which are NOT Nazi sources in any way, shape or form. Yes, the Allies did indeed carry out a terrible bombing campaign, not just against Hiroshima/Nagasaki but against Germany, which took many civilian lives. And yes, the Soviets did indeed terrorize Germany when they invaded it.
Heck, I even saw a Sophia Loren movie a couple years ago which showed her running from Allied terror fliers.
But I think the difference is in approach. I already knew a bit about the Allies bombing Germany, since we covered this decades ago in German class. I didn’t know so many civilians died, however. I also didn’t know about the horrors of the Soviet invasion. It’s been 20 years since I studied WWII in high school and college, so I forget what all I knew back then.
But unlike the neo-Nazis I find on the Net, I did NOT start lamenting the poor, misunderstood Nazis or hang a picture of Hitler on my wall. No, I took it as something to learn from, something to push our leaders to avoid in future wars. Meanwhile, I find that 70 years later, this is still a controversial subject, people arguing over whether or not the bombing raids were justified and necessary to end the war.
This discussion must be had, must be continued, because if we don’t learn from history, etc. etc. Despite the establishing of the United Nations to end all wars, wars just continue; al-Qaeda gets overshadowed by an even worse enemy, ISIS.
To me, learning about the human cost of the raids is on the same plane as learning about the internment camps to which Japanese-Americans were sent during WWII. Do we hear about this, including from George Takei, and begin to say the emperor was the good guy and Churchill/Eisenhower/Patton the villains? Heck, no! Instead, we take it as yet another atrocity which our country has done, which ends the innocence, but we can learn from it, resolve never to do such a thing again.
I learn from all this that no country–no matter how justified the war or how righteous the cause–is free of blame during a war.
Neo-Nazis, on the other hand, take these things as evidence that Hitler was the good guy and that those of us who believe otherwise are sheeple who need to wake up. Last night, while searching Youtube for documentaries on life during the war, I found terms in the comments such as “Holohoax” and claims that, with POWs, Germans were nice guys who followed the Geneva Convention to a T.
So, all those thousands of people who actually lived during that time, who were in the camps, or in Germany, or in occupied countries, they were just making it all up?
So Anne Frank is going to turn up sometime and say, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t die in the concentration camp. The Germans were great to me. I’ve just been hanging out in Croydon” ?
So my high school German teacher, who lived in Poland during the Occupation, was just making up those stories of life under the Nazis?
So all those people with tattoos and PTSD and many dead parents/relatives/friends were just making it up?
So all those men in the worst of the POW camps who died from disease, starvation, or a guard’s bullet, they didn’t really die? Or the Polish or Russian POWs who were deliberately starved to death–they didn’t really die at the hands of genocidal guards?
I’ve read two books on life in POW camps run by Germans; their adherence to the Geneva Convention was attempted, yes, but dubious at best. They didn’t want the many German prisoners in Allied hands to be mistreated.
There were nice guys among the German guards, yes. They were human, too, and not all Nazis. But there were trigger-happy guards, and guards who liked to throw their weight around. Guards who would scream at kriegies and throw them in the cooler for failing to salute.
While officers and airmen were usually treated fairly well, and sometimes the Kommandants were honorable and not Nazis, still, they were under enormous pressure from the government and the civilians to not “coddle” the kriegies (prisoners).
The Kommandant at Stalag Luft III (the “Great Escape” camp) was under pressure from the Gestapo to push a button which would destroy the whole camp, but he refused to do it. The Gestapo did not like this, so things went very badly for him after the Great Escape.
The Luftwaffe didn’t much care for the Gestapo, and ran their own camps for airman POWs. But when the Gestapo was in charge (such as the concentration camps), that’s where the horrors happened.
But POWs in other camps weren’t quite so fortunate as the airman officers. Enlisted men were forced to work; food was scarce for everyone, and if the Red Cross packages failed to arrive, everybody starved; medical care was practically nonexistent. Living conditions were deplorable. Even the airman officers suffered from substandard conditions, even though it wasn’t as bad for them.
Some guards were sympathetic, and some were amused by kriegies who tried to escape. But some would shoot first, ask questions later, if they saw you by the wire or outside during an air raid–or even inside by a window! Some took personally the killing of their families in bombing raids, and took it out on kriegies.
But all of this was just made up? Is that what the Holocaust deniers are saying? Is that the meaning of the people who say that Hitler wasn’t such a bad guy and was defending Europe from the Bolsheviks?
Bullcrap. There is far too much evidence to the contrary, not just from our high school history books but from the memories of the still-living members of that generation.
My novel started out as a rewrite of a simple high school story of a girl stopping a time-traveling Nazi. But this is getting much larger in my mind, as it takes on the psychology of a hypnotized country and the philosophical questions of war. Now she falls in love with that Nazi, and starts to go under Germany’s mass hypnosis herself, as an escaped kriegie tries to break her out of it.
And it turns out this is not just a period piece, but deals with questions and actions which still go on today in this era of totalitarian governments and constant mechanized war.