Thursday, 23 July 2020

'Good Germans' and the danger of othering

This post was first published on the New Weather blog...

Rupprecht Gerngross is not a household name, even among historians of World War II, though he led what may have been the only successful internal coup against Hitler's regime.

In the final weeks of the war, he led his small band of military translators to take control of Munich, the revered birthplace of Nazism. By doing so, he seems to have prevented the destruction of the city, and saved thousands of lives, including many thousands of Dachau prisoners who were to be killed by their Nazi captors.

He was an unlikely hero, a London-educated solicitor, brought up in China. But it was important to him that Germans should build the new Europe themselves by doing their part to liberate their own city.

Why isn't he well-known? Because after the war ended, few people believed or remembered what had happened there - and the story remains controversial in some circles. The BBC man sent to interview him was sacked shortly afterwards and his story was spiked by The Times on the advice of the Foreign Office that it would not be 'helpful' to circulate stories about 'good Germans'.

The amazing story is finally published in a new book, compellingly researched and thrillingly written by my friend Lesley Yarranton (Saving Munich 1945 - fuller transparency: my name is also on the cover urging people to read it!).

But it has made me think about how simple it is to 'other' your political opponents, and how unfair. How easy it would be if every wartime German had been a Nazi, if every demonstrator was a revolutionary (as Trump suggests) or every Briton born before 1830 had been an irresponsible slave-owner. But life is never quite as simple as that - nor is it possible to see the world accurately through those kind of paint-by-numbers, cliche eyeglasses.


We seem to be moving into a new world, which is a good deal more sensitive to people's needs and feelings. That has to be a good thing, as long as we remember that very few people will fit neatly into the new categories of good and evil - and not many more than they ever have.

Let me give the final thought to the Rev Eli Jenkins from Under Milk Wood:

"We are not wholly bad nor good,
We who live beneath Milk Wood..."

If we can remember that, it might steer us away from the puritanism that so often afflicts new elements of morality.

You can also find Saving Munich 1945 in paperback from Amazon and on kindle.

Get a free copy of my medieval Brexit thriller on pdf when you sign up for the newsletter of The Real Press.

4 comments:

Penelope Newsome said...

David, I am very disappointed in you .

You mention in this blog of yours "The BBC man sent to interview him was sacked shortly afterwards and his story was spiked by The Times on the advice of the Foreign Office that it would not be 'helpful' to circulate stories about 'good Germans'.

You know perfectly well that this "BBC man" was my father Noel Newsome, who was then working at SHAEF for the USA. He was not" a man sent from the BBC ". He went there because he himself wanted to see what was happening in Germany. Noel Newsome, who as you well know had been Director of the European Service at the BBC until the end of 1944, and subsequently became the Director of radio at ShAEF.

Your Real Press has published his Autobiography , vol.1 , which covers this whole period. So you know perfectly well that he wrote a whole chapter about working with " a certain Captain Gerngross ", Ch 28 of Giant at Bush House , titled Behind Enemy Lines", Newsome went to Munich because he wanted to report on the revolt of anti Nazis there because he knew that would really help SHAEF's campaign "to stir the German people into action against their crazy rulers".

After a really horrific visit to the Dachau concentration camp on the way, Newsome found Gerngross in Munich, got permission from the American authorities to release him from arrest and for him to leave Munich and was able to get transport and documents so that he Newsome and Gerngross could travel into the mountains to find Gerngross's wife and little daughter who he had sent into the mountains in case of the failure of his revolt against the Nazis. After an exciting trip together and the rescue of Gerngross's wife and daughter, it was frpm Gerngross's house that Newsome heard the news of VE Day and he broadcasted from there " We lent over and shook eachother's hands and thought for a moment" . He had told the story in the broadcast of the Gerngross revolt, which had included the siezure of the radio station, and of their trip together. The boadcast ends: " We were together and we trusted each other , and I will say as I end this recording that if there are enough people of that kind , then there will be a great peaceful progressive and civilised Germany again in Europe."

Newsome then recounts how his account for The Times of the story of Gerngross and the Free Bavarian Movement was vetoed by the Foreign Office "as it was not thought desirable to suggest that there were "good Germans".

I have not of course read the book you have published and which you are advertising here . I sincerely hope the author has given more credit to Newsome for this story than you appear to be doing.

This would have seemed to me a great opportunity for you to be advertising the Real Press's publication Noel Newsome, Giant at Bush House,At the Heart of the Radio War, rather than your own book on Munich that does not seem quite relevant here.

As I said I am disappointed , David,

As I said, I am disappointed in you , David

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