We began the programme with an eyewitness account from Audrey Magee of an encounter at Dachau Concentration Camp which illustrates how Germany's Nazi atrocities still haunt descendants and bystanders alike. Audrey's essay appears below.
A Dachau Encounter
by Audrey Magee
On a hot summer’s day in 1987, the American Jewish man and I stood outside the gates of Dachau, the Nazi concentration camp on the outskirts of Munich. The gates were shut. It was Monday and the camp was closed to visitors.
The American man was upset. His relatives had died there, behind those gates, behind those walls, and he had promised his family that he would visit the camp during his tour of Europe, to pay tribute to their lives, abruptly and brutally ended. But the camp was closed and he was due to return to the United States the following day, his promise unfulfilled.
To soothe him, I suggested that we walk around the perimeter of the camp. We set off, eyes on the thick, grey concrete and electrical fence that had encased his family members. I don’t remember much conversation until we came across an older woman tending to her garden that abutted the camp wall. She stopped her work to talk, glad of the company. She had no English, he had no German, so I interpreted between the two, the conversation flowing its usual course until she mentioned that she had lived in that place all her life. The garden and the house that stood in its midst had been her only home.
The American struggled to absorb this detail. And asked me to check again. Yes, she had slept in that house while the camp was in operation. She had eaten breakfast, then lunch, then dinner while his relatives starved. While thousands were gassed and murdered. There were 32,000 documented deaths at Dachau. Thousands more unrecorded deaths. All on the other side of the wall from her home. The American man was struggling.
She shrugged her shoulders. I knew nothing, she said. He shook his head. It was not possible that she knew nothing. She had to have known. There were trucks going in and out, trains, bodies burning, people screaming. She must have known something. I knew nothing, she said. And what could I have done?
He listed the things she could have done. She shrugged her shoulders again. He became more upset. And began to shout. You should have done something, he said. You should have stopped it. What could I have done? she said, over and over, I didn’t know anything.
And so it went on, a young American Jewish man shouting at an older German woman, both of them holding fast to their positions, aware that to let go, to cede even a centimetre, was a betrayal – for him a betrayal of his family, for her a betrayal of her claim to innocence. As long as she knew nothing, she was impervious, shuttered against and safe from the opinions of the outside world. The lines were drawn, with no chance of reconciliation. It was a difficult, fraught, exhausting encounter, and impossible to forget.
He returned to the United States the following day, and I went back to Dachau, to pay tribute to his relatives. The woman was not in her garden that day.
Audrey Magee's novel, The Undertaking published by Atlantic will be available nationwide on 6 February.
As early as 1946, the German philosopher Karl Jaspers said that the Germans would have to live with the guilt for the atrocities committed but that, at some stage, it would be more important that they developed a sense of responsibility for what had been done.
German natives, Georg Grote of University College Dublin and Peter Arnds of Trinity College discussed how German society and individuals have come to terms with the atrocities of the Nazi regime.
Georg and Peter spoke about their different backgrounds and addressed areas such as:
Whether there was much discussion of the atrocities of World War II when Georg and Peter were growing up.
Society's silence in the late 1940s and 1950s.
The experience of the German Jews who survived the war.
Different views of the war and issues of collective guilt East and West of the Berlin wall?
The turning point in terms of strting a discussion in Germany about the atrocities of the Nazi regime.
The historians’ debate in the 1980s?
When it emerged amongst ordinary Germans that perhaps it was not only people on the front line who were responsible for the atrocities committed.
How the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany posed its own problems with 'working through the past.'
How literature and art came to terms with the Germany's past.
Survivors of the generation who were involved in the war are now very elderly – and time is running out to hear their stories. Have most of those stories been heard?
Is there a central archive where personal memories of the war are being stored for future generations?
Is there a view in Germany that the Holocaust was a unique event?
The legacy of this period of history in Germany.
Georg Grote is co-publisher of a book on the issue (with Anne Fuchs and Mory Cosgrove) of German Memory Contests. The Quest for Identity in German Film, Literature and Discourse since 1990. Camden House, N.Y. 2006.
Peter Arnds has worked extensively in the area of how literature has come to terms with the German past, how the Holocaust can be represented/depicted in the arts, from taboo breaking Holocaust laughter to Primo Levi's testimony, Guenter Grass and W. G. Sebald, but also in French literature.
Nobel Laureate Guenter Grass and his attempt to depict the war years, especially also Nazi euthanasia, in his famous novel 'The Tin Drum' (1959). http://www.camden-house.com/store/viewItem.asp?idProduct=11556
Peter Arnd’s Jewish-American uncle's memoir about his escape from Breslau when the Nazis occupied Poland. http://polarbearandco.com/books/my_tainted_blood/blurbs.htm
Relevant articles by Peter Arnds
Boulevard Montmartre, Matinee de Printemps painted by
Camille Pissarro 1897.
The above painting is among the artworks looted by the Nazis during the Third Reich regime. It was originally owned by Max Milerberg, a German Jewish Industrialist who had one of the most impressive art collections in pre-war Germany. He died in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. It will be auctioned by Sotheby's on 5 February with an estimated price of €12 million.
Between the 1930s and the early forties, Hitler masterminded the biggest theft of fine art in history when countless works belonging to museums and private Jewish collections were looted by the Nazis.
Historian, Lisa Marie Griffith who has been tracing the story of the stolen art joined Myles on the programme.
Examples of some paintings looted by Nazis
Extract from Sotheby's Catalogue note on Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps
Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps comes from the collection of Max Silberberg (1878-1942), an industrialist based in Breslau and the owner of one of the finest pre-war collections of 19th and 20th Century art in Germany. Alongside magnificent examples of classic French Impressionism by Manet, Monet, Renoir and Sisley.
Silberberg also collected masterpieces of Realism and Post-Impressionism including several works by Delacroix and Courbet together with paintings by Cézanne and van Gogh.
A prominent member of the business community and a generous patron of Jewish causes, by 1935 Silberberg was forced to relinquish his public roles, his company was Aryanised and sold, and his house was occupied by the SS. The collector was forced by the Nazi authorities to consign most of his wonderful collection, including the present work, to a series of auctions at Paul Graupe’s auction house in Berlin in 1935 and 1936. Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps was subsequently acquired by John and Frances L. Loeb, passionate supporters of Jewish and cultural charitable organisations. In 1985, the Loebs promised the painting to The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, in honour of its founder Teddy Kollek and on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, and bequeathed it to The Israel Museum in 1997 through the American Friends of The Israel Museum. In 2000 the museum returned the present work to the heir of Max Silberberg, who – as a gesture of appreciation for the museum’s exemplary efforts on her behalf - allowed the work to remain on public display in Jerusalem until her death in 2013.
The film, The Monuments Men starring George Clooney which tells the story of the unit who were sent by the Allies to Germany to recover stolen art opens on the 14th of February.
Article on the Monuments Men from the Smithsonian Institute
National Holocaust Memorial Day (26 January) is an opportunity to remember the genocide of over six million Jews during World War II.
Philip Bialowitz is one of eight living survivors of the Nazi death camp in Sobibór, Poland, where an estimated 250,000 people perished between 1942 and 1943. There, the sixteen year old Philip joined a small group of Jewish prisoners who overpowered their captors and freed approximately 200 of the camp’s 600 slave labourers. Liam Geraghty met with him, to hear his story.
Philip Bialowitz's book 'A Promise at Sobibor: A Jewish Boy's Story of Revolt and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland' is available from Amazon.
A Century On – Remembering World War One in Europe, 1914-2014
National Museum of Ireland –
Decorative Arts and History,
Saturday 1 February 10am – 1pm
How has Europe remembered and commemorated the First World War in the last one hundred years? Join historians Prof John Horne, Dr Judith Devlin, and others at the National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts and History as we discuss Irish and European perspectives on the conflict as well as centenary projects currently underway in Ireland and the UK.
Admission is free but advancebooking is required: firstname.lastname@example.org
Is Countess de Markievicz an overrated icon of Irish history?
A century after the first issue of the Irish Volunteer newspaper, we assess its impact.
40 years on, we ask was the Kenny Report an opportunity missed to control the price of housing?
Our February Book Club choice is:
Napolean and Josephine - An improbable marriage
by Evangeline Bruce
As Valentine's Day approaches, our February Book Club focuses on one of the most famous love stories in history.
Carefully researched by an authority on French history, a dual portrait of these two intriguing, flamboyant figures illuminates their personal lives, the social and cultural context in which they lived, and the reversal of roles in their marriage.
We will be discussing this book on our 9 February programme
Bringing the past to life! Discover how our world was shaped as Myles Dungan and guests explore events ranging from medieval times to the recent past.
We want to help explain ourselves to ourselves. We will search out fresh angles on familiar topics, seek out the unfamiliar and will not shy away from bizarre or controversial issues. Our ultimate goal is to make The History Show the primary port of call for those with an intense or even a modest interest in the subject. We want to entice the casual and the curious to join us in celebrating the past.
Our aim is to create informative, reflective, stimulating and above all, entertaining radio.
So do join us on Sundays from 6.05pm for The History Show with Myles Dungan on RTÉ Radio 1.