they didn't see what was going on

Sound familiar? The English-born Christabel Bielenberg and her German husband Peter were eventually to become part of the German resistance, but although both were intelligent, priviledged, educated and hailed from politically-involved families with international contacts, like so many others in all societies who hope to ignore "politics" they did not see what was happening until too late.

"But it's true that we didn't protest soon enough about Hitler," she told an interviewer during the filming of "Christabel." "We just didn't know what had hit us. You read about horrors in the newspapers, but you don't really wake up to them until they touch you personally."
The Guardian places the couple within the larger context of a sophisticated but fatally-flawed society which might have prevented disaster.
They shared upper-class manipulative skills and assumptions of privilege, as well as a "distaste" (her word) for the excesses of the Nazis, especially their petty-bourgeois obsession with "respectability".

Inevitably, they joined the small minority of aristocratic, professional and intellectual dissidents whose opposition to Nazism was aesthetic and moral rather than political and practical - until Germany's impending defeat was obvious.

Peter Bielenberg's disastrous early take on Hitler makes me think of my own original dismissal, in a succession sometimes blessedly interrupted, of Nixon, Reagan, and both George Bushes.
Neither Bielenberg nor his girlfriend had much interest in politics, and when they attended an open-air Nazi rally, he led her away as Hitler rose to speak. "You may think that Germans are political idiots," he confided, "but I can assure you that they won't be so stupid as to fall for that clown."
The rest is history, for Germany. Today the consequences of an overestimation of a people's intelligence are still in the future, for the U.S. In both cases, the mistake would be paid for by the entire world.

About this Entry

Published on November 6, 2003 4:21 PM.

previous entry: oh, Canada!

next entry: greenmarket (late radishes)