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The right wing freakout over the discovery that American history has some problematic chapters


Continues apace:

(This is real in case you’re pondering).

It would be even better not to actually be a racist, but let’s not go nuts.

Speaking of historical reckonings, I recently saw two films about the Wannsee Conference, Conspiracy, and Die Wannseekonferenz. The latter is in German, which I don’t know, so I relied on subtitles, which I realize is not very satisfactory in terms of evaluating the cinematic interpretation of historical event (Every time I see a Spanish language film or TV show that’s subtitled into English, I’m struck by how much is necessarily lost via this mode of translation).

My friend Mike argues in regard to Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste, which he says is great on American history, that the book is weaker when it takes on a comparative perspective, since it apparently treats the exceptionally candid and self-critical perspective that contemporary Germany has taken toward the Holocaust as something other than extremely unusual. The attitude of the Japanese or the Turks to the disgraceful aspects of their national histories is, he points out, much more common.

This made me wonder about something, which is when did the in many ways exemplary German attitude toward facing up to the Holocaust become prevalent in that culture? My understanding is that in the first decades after the war the attitude was much more denialist and repressive (I just learned that the pioneering Holocaust historian Joseph Wulf committed suicide in 1974 because he was despondent over the refusal of the West German government to convert the villa where the conference was held into a memorial museum. This has subsequently happened.)

A related point is that, at least on my admittedly very amateurish interpretation, the significance of the Wannsee Conference seems to have been somewhat exaggerated in popular culture, simply because the survival of the –heavily edited by Eichmann and Heydrich to take out the more explicit language — minutes of the meeting have made it a convenient frame for the very difficult but critically important task of of producing a mimetic representation of what Arendt called “the banality of evil” in the context the Holocaust: that is, the essentially bloodless bureaucratic process by which well-dressed men with clipped fingernails meeting in clean, well-lighted rooms decided to murder millions of people, in the same way one might decide where to place a highway bypass or a bridge.

After all, none of the very top Nazis were at Wannsee: the meeting seemed more like a logistical exercise by Heydrich, to make sure the various ministries went along with a decision that had already been taken at a higher level, rather than the moment at which the decision to undertake the Final Solution was made, which Conspiracy strongly suggests was the case, and the German film at least implies. (Commenter grumpy convinces me that I’m conflating my reaction to the popular framing of the meaning of the conference with how it’s presented in the films).

But both are very much worth viewing.

. . . This is special:

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