“Daddy, What’s a Nazi?”
She asked. He answered. And then her mother hit the roof. A true story.
He begins to answer but her mother interrupts, “How could you tell her that the Nazis were a socialist and nationalist party? Are you crazy?”she screeches.
He’s confused. “Well, they were,” he says. “That’s what the name of their party stands for.”
“Yeah but that’s irrelevant. That’s their narrative! That’s what they chose to call themselves! It’s not actually what they were!”
Their six year old daughter is listening. She’s used to her mother’s passionate political interventions.
Her father has been looking at one of those mellow programmes about Nazis. You know, the ones on ‘History’ cable channels that explore the extraordinary infrastructure (secret, underground passage ways connecting castles and hideouts) and lingering legends (did Hitler really kill himself or did he escape?) as if the horrors of Nazi fascism were done and dusted a thousand years ago, as there aren’t growing communities of Neo-nazis and fans of both Hitler and white supremacy anywhere in the world. As if anti-Semitism is as dead as the dinosaurs themselves and even less likely to be resurrected.
In these programmes, which she would hesitate to call ‘documentaries’, the suffering of those incarcerated, tortured, starved and gassed for being Jews, not-heterosexual, Communist, disabled, other minorities or merely resistant to Nazism, feels like a footnote. Quite possibly these programmes promote anti-Semitism insidiously, promoting the glorification of the science and technology of Nazi Germany, while playing down fascist ideology and its human impact.
Anyway, back to our little girl’s story. Her mum was furious. How could her father begin in a casual tone, much like the ones the narrators of those awful pseudo-documentary cable programmes use, to introduce the Nazis as nationalists and socialists? Could he imagine his daughter raising her hand in a British classroom to say the Nazis were nationalists and socialists?
‘Nationalism’ is a broad term, which as Israeli historian and professor Yuval Harari points out, is neither good nor bad.
Yuval Harari, clarifying the difference between nationalism and fascism:
Fascist nationalism is bad because fascism is bad. Isolationist nationalism is dangerous because in the 21st century our problems are so interwoven that the synergy of co-operation and collaboration is essential. And the separatist nationalism of the Kurdish and Scottish peoples seems entirely reasonable: their argument is that they’ve been shafted for generations by their absorption into a bigger whole that leaves them neglected and abused on the periphery of national life and they’d be netter off as separate, independent nations.
Like nationalism, ‘socialist’ and ‘socialism’ are broad terms too. The prosperous, idealised world of Scandinavia embraced social democracy a long time ago. Some people call it socialist. Bernie Sanders would like to shift America’s ultra-capitalist neoliberal dominant economy to a more democratically socialist one, so the wealth of the broader economy could improve the quality of life of more Americans. People call him a socialist too.
‘Socialising’ refers to sharing costs across society rather than having every individual pay their way, sink or swim. The Nazis were about eliminating people from society whom they deemed liabilities. They were about refusing to share the economy with those deemed liabilities. Socialising is humanising and lifts people up. Nazi fascism was de-humanising and refused to recognise human life as an intrinsic value. They determined the conditions to be met before life could have value.
The Enduring Power of Anne Frank’s Diary
So once she’d put her husband to rights, here’s what she said to her daughter:
“The Nazis were the one’s who killed Anne Frank.”
She turned to her little girl’s father, triumphantly. “That’s all you had to say.”
You see her mum knows that their little girl knows Anne Frank’s story because there are two pages about it in Kate Pankhurst’s Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World.
When her mum first discovered that Anne Frank’s story was in that book along with Rosa Park’s, Frida Kahlo’s, Marie Curie, Mary Seacole’s and others, she was uneasy. Her mother didn’t think her little girl needed to know just yet about the fascism of the Nazis or the racism of white America that Rosa Parks faced down. She herself wasn’t introduced to the horrors of the holocaust till she was about 13, through the well worn pages of her school’s copy of The Diary of Anne Frank.
But she couldn’t hide a page that her daughter, already learning to read anyway, was asking about. And so her daughter came to know that the people who killed Anne Frank were bad people.
And for now, that’s all she needs to understand about the Nazis.