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Tony Grist

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Munich, 1938 [Aug. 27th, 2009|10:10 am]
Tony Grist
One of the books I've been reading this week is the unpublished diary of an 18 year old girl who was studying German in Munich in 1938. Ever wonder what it was like to live under the Nazis? Well I can tell you; if you were a privileged foreigner it was tea-dances, romantic friendships, amateur theatricals, 50 mile bike rides and skiing at the weekends. And once in a while it was Hitler giving three hour speeches on the radio or riding through town, very slowly in his open topped car, with a little smile on his careworn phizog because he'd just got the better of Chamberlain.

My diarist is frankly an appeaser.  The Austrians are German really and want to be absorbed, the Czechs are being beastly to the Sudeten Germans and it's family business if the Reich steps in to sort things out.  A lot of Brits thought this way- and I don't see how it was entirely ignoble to want to avoid another war.

But she does notice the new poster that's suddenly appeared in all the hotels- and it strikes her so forcibly she makes a drawing of the beastly thing with its big swastika in the middle and the words JUDEN UNERWONSCHT in a circle round it.  This is in the alpine village of Oberammergau, where they stage the world-fanous passion play.  Out dancing of an evening, she gets to meet the locals who play Jesus and Mary Magdalen and Jesus very obligingly gives her his autograph.

And then there's the page of jokes. They're not very good, but they suggest how, very cannily, the Nazis hoisted Goering up as a lightning rod for satire. Feeling a smidgeon of political diasaffection? Then it's permissible to draw attention to the Reichmarshall's love of military finery. And after all, by skewering Goering's excess you are also subtly pointing up the Fuehrer's comparative austerity, modesty, simplicity.  

So, what do you think Goering wears to go swimming? 

I've no idea; what does Goering wear to go swimming?

A bathing suit with rubber medals. 

Boom Boom. 
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: dadi
2009-08-27 11:13 am (UTC)
Not really relevant, but the place where I have just moved to is about 8 km from Oberammergau :)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-08-27 12:37 pm (UTC)
Is the town still largely populated- as it was in the 30s- by people called Lang?
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[User Picture]From: dadi
2009-08-27 03:07 pm (UTC)
oh yes. they are everywhere..in the chorus for the passion plays, in the civic counsel, in the church administration :D....
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[User Picture]From: ideealisme
2009-08-27 12:27 pm (UTC)
I read Vikram Seth's "Two Lives" about his uncle who migrated to Germany and lived there till about the mid to late Thirties I think. For a non-white (and therefore by their "logic" non-Aryan) person, he lived a reasonably ok life, compared to his Jewish fiancee.
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[User Picture]From: ideealisme
2009-08-27 12:27 pm (UTC)
When I say "reasonably ok" I mean "reasonably ok for Nazi Germany", if you know what I mean...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-08-27 12:42 pm (UTC)
I get the impression that, if your face fitted, Nazi Germany- or, at least, Munich under the Nazis- was a wonderful- and wonderfully cultured- place to live. My diarist is continually going out to concerts, plays and movies.
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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2009-08-27 12:48 pm (UTC)
You know, at about the same time Dion Fortune was writing about how teenagers are absolutely the best target for stuff about racial pride and ethnic purity because...well, I can't remember the details very clearly and that book is still packed, but she laid out a description of how British teens of that era were susceptible to Nazi ideology. It sounds as though your diarist is a case in point. What an interesting (and rather horrifying) read that must be.
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[User Picture]From: cucumberseed
2009-08-27 02:03 pm (UTC)
Interesting. Have to go look that one up.
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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2009-08-27 09:13 pm (UTC)
IIRC the long discussion is in The Problem of Purity, and she also makes passing references to it in another place too; probably one of her polarity essays or one of the polarity-themed pieces of fiction.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-08-27 07:54 pm (UTC)
The Nazis were superficially very glamorous. Interestingly, this young woman came from a socialist family. I get the impression that she's trying very hard to understand and be sympathetic to the views of her German friends. Of course, there's the fact that it would have been indiscreet and even dangerous to commit any criticisms of Hitler to paper.
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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2009-08-27 09:16 pm (UTC)
True, although contemporary diarists in some parts of Germany did just that in their private jottings.

Radicals do generally seem to have given Hitler more of a fair shake than he merited --- them and the hyper-conservatives. I'm afraid that we'll get politicians here and in your country who can also pull off that junction of opinion between far left and far right. There's a bit of that in the wind these days.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-08-28 08:35 am (UTC)
It's hard to know exactly what my diarist thinks. She talks about having political conversations with German friends, but only ever records their side of the argument.

But she's certainly impressed by Hitler- and by Goebbels because he's "witty". Showmanship is always seductive.
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[User Picture]From: ibid
2009-08-27 03:41 pm (UTC)
Have you read 'our hidden lives'? It's a selection of Mass Observation diaries from just after the war and it's really frightening how many people were anti semitic and beleived in a Jewish plot even after the holocaust. One of the authors even went so far as to say it was a good idea!

Who wrote this? I'd be interested to read it.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-08-27 08:01 pm (UTC)
The writer was the mother of a friend of mine. I don't suppose the diaries are ever likely to see print- more's the pity.

I haven't read the Mass Observation material. I must search it out.

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From: (Anonymous)
2009-08-28 12:21 am (UTC)
Edited by Simon Garfield. There are 2 other volumes dealing with the war.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-08-28 08:29 am (UTC)
Thanks. Perhaps they'll have them at the library.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2009-08-27 04:58 pm (UTC)
One of the books I've been reading this week is the unpublished diary of an 18 year old girl who was studying German in Munich in 1938.

Did she then come home from Munich in 1938, or did she spend the war in Germany?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-08-27 08:14 pm (UTC)
She came home in September '38 (when war seemed imminent) but went back to Germany a few days later. The diary then comes to a ragged end, with her enjoying a jaunt across the border into Italy. I gather she stayed on into 1939.

I don't know much about her later life, except that she married an Englishman and had a daughter (who lent me her diaries) and was fairly well known (though not well enough to show up in a Google search) as a painter of military subjects.
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[User Picture]From: ibid
2009-08-28 12:22 am (UTC)
Did she meet Unity Mitford?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-08-28 08:28 am (UTC)
Sadly not.

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[User Picture]From: methodius
2009-08-28 07:13 pm (UTC)
I recently read a joint biography of the Mitford girls -- blogged about it here Notes from underground: Recent reading: The Mitford girls -- and found some similar attitudes in the two of them who were fans of Hitler.

PS glad to see you back.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-08-30 07:55 am (UTC)
The 20s and 30s were an age of strong ideology. You had three choices- Communism, Fascism or Roman Catholicism.
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