Controversy over book deleted from German best-seller list
Volume takes issue with Germany’s ongoing obsession with the ‘eternal Nazi’ role
The book ‘Finis Germania’ has caused uproar in Germany after Der Spiegel magazine deleted it from its bestseller list
With 104 pages wrapped in a soothing, sage green cover, Rolf Peter Sieferle’s last book looks harmless. But Finis Germania (The End of Germany) has caused uproar in Germany after Der Spiegel magazine deleted it from its bestseller list.
Editors across Germany’s mainstream media have attacked the book as an unacceptable anti-Semitic tract, weeks after it was pushed by a Spiegel journalist as his book of the month recommendation.
The volume’s most controversial essay takes issue with an ongoing obsession with – and Germans’ willing acceptance of – the “eternal Nazi” role, a burdened term given Nazi propaganda’s use of the “eternal” or “wandering Jew” myth. That is not the only use of language, argument or juxtaposition in the volume that, for many German critics, carry uncomfortable echoes.
A political scientist and historian, Mr Sieferle argues that “National Socialism, precisely Auschwitz, has become the last myth of a thoroughly rational world”. Critics have attacked the use of “myth”, an ambiguous term meaning either an event that explains a people’s world view but which can also mean “legend”. Describing Auschwitz as a “myth” or “legend” is a common starting point for Holocaust deniers.
But for Mr Sieferle, the swift action taken against anyone who propagates the “Auschwitz lie” – and questions the camp’s long-proven death camp history – betrays an “old fear” that an event loses its singularity once subjected to historical comparison.
This recalls the infamous 1980s dispute triggered by historian Paul Nolte’s suggestion there was no moral difference between Soviet Union crimes and those of Nazi Germany. But Mr Sieferle goes further, describing Auschwitz as the German people’s singular, original sin with no prospect of salvation in sight. Even Adam’s original sin was later relieved by Christian belief in the prospect of salvation through Jesus, launching into a comparison of the crucifixion and the Holocaust.
While the Jews showed “criminal obduracy”, for killing Jesus and refusing to recognise they had murdered the Messiah, he writes, Germans have embraced their responsibility over the mass murder of Jews. But Germans have not lessened their burden as a result, he argues, but created a “perpetual myth” that atonement will only be granted “when the Germans disappear completely” or are replaced by a new type of German: “an apolitical combination of contrite and kind-hearted”.
Mr Sieferle has nothing but derision for post-war Germany, describing its obsession with Nazi crimes as its state religion.
He suggests Germans’ low opinion of themselves as the “ultimate perpetrator” explains their embrace of multicultural politics and mass immigration in recent years. He sees this as part of a wider political agenda to “homogenise” peoples through immigration. But these efforts are doomed to failure, he argues, as long as the world insists on maintaining Germans and Jews as two Chosen peoples, one negative and the other positive.
For Mr Sieferle’s defenders, the controversy over the book proves his argument: that no debate is possible in Germany over the Nazi era and the singularity or otherwise of its crimes. He was no revisionist or neo-Nazi, they say, pointing to his description of the Holocaust as a “crime”.
But others have lined up to describe the book and its arguments as “obnoxious”. In Finis Germania, with its flawed Latin title, Mr Sieferle describes Jews as a people who, throughout history, “nested” themselves in the cracks of society as “profiteers and traders”. And he mocks official German warnings not to forget the “lessons of Auschwitz”.
Is the lesson of Auschwitz, he wonders, the “sheer number of victims, the ominous six million?”
Mr Sieferle didn’t live to see the controversy his book attracted: he took his own life last September.