German occupation in France: committed to documenting history

Ahlrich Meyer has presented a volume of essays with texts about, among other things, German occupation policy in France. It’s suitable for standard work.

Paris, June 10, 1940: The first German troops march on Photo: Everett Collection/imago

The political scientist and historian Meyer has already made a name for himself with two other works as a recognized expert on the “German occupation in France 1940-1944” (2000), its processing after the Second World War and the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question in France” (2005).

Meyer’s new, extremely worthwhile essay collection “The Spell of Unbelievability”, which has just been published by Edition Tiamat, now contains essays on stations and events in German occupation policy between 1940 and the end of the war in France. Central to the collection, however, is a text about Hannah Arendt.

For Arendt, the decisive historical date was not 1933, but that day in 1943 when she learned what separates history from the before and the unimaginable after: Auschwitz is not a turning point, but the turning point.

Ahlrich Meyer: “The spell of unbelievability. Essays and historical studies on National Socialism”. Edition Tiamat, Berlin 2023, 280 pages, 30 euros

For them, the extermination factories there far exceeded anything that could be expected from anti-Semitism and changed the relationship between reality and truth in an unthinkably radical sense, which gave even in principle credible reports from very serious survivors of hell the “odium of implausibility”. .

Classification of Hannah Arendt

For Hannah Arendt, the decisive historical date was not 1933, but a day in 1943 Photo: United Archives International/imago

The unbearable thought that “everything that is conceivable is also possible” (the phrase comes from David Rousset and is adopted by Arendt) became unavoidable. The Nazi crime against humanity became a political and moral challenge for human existence and thinking in general.

Parallel to the Nazi crimes, Arendt dealt with the Stalinist reign of terror in the Soviet Union. She analyzed both forms of rule as an expression of totalitarian rule, without equating the two, but viewed them both as a break with the tradition of political-moral thinking.

Ahlrich Meyer’s text about Hannah Arendt is a great read. As is well known, Arendt’s text “Eichmann in Jerusalem” (1963), which she expanded into a book in several variants or steps, met with severe criticism from the start. At the center of this was her completely exaggerated thesis, from which she never backed down, that the establishment and practice of Jewish councils in the communities and ghettos was a condition for the implementation of anti-Jewish measures. Meyer shows that this claim is incompatible with the current state of research.

Theresienstadt as a “unique delusional world”

In another essay, Ahlrich Meyer deals with the now largely forgotten author and sociologist HG Adler, who was born in Prague in 1910, and his book about the Theresienstadt camp, which was designed by the Nazis as a model and model camp. Adler survived there for four years and moved to London in 1947, where the refugee Elias Canetti supported him in the search for a publisher for the book, just as unsuccessfully as Hermann Broch later did from the USA, which was only achieved in 1955 through the mediation of Theodor W. Adorno. It was published by the Tübingen publishing house Mohr Siebeck GmbH.

In 1956, Adorno invited HG Adler to give a lecture at the Loeb Lectures, but there was no ongoing cooperation between Adler and the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research. Theresienstadt described Adler as a “unique delusional world” that was dominated by all-round deception, lies and deceit.

Another essay by Meyer deals with the Russian-born French historian Léon Poliakov, who, with “Bréviaire de la haine” (“From Hate to Genocide”, German 2021), presented a documentary masterpiece on the murder of European Jewry and thus stimulated a lot of research work . After the World War, Poliakov was an expert at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg for two years and, together with Joseph Wulf, also published the first documentation of the persecution and murder of Jews in German, which is considered a pioneering achievement.

Change of methods

In another impressive text, Meyer shows how the German military administration in France moved away from initially shooting hostages after assassination attempts and moved on to deporting Jews to the East.

The decisive factor for the change of course were not humanitarian reasons, but purely tactical considerations: they did not want to disturb the peace of the population with brutal repressive measures and, above all, they did not want to endanger the integration of the French economy into the German war economy, as even Ernst Jünger wrote in his Paris diary Conversation with Otto von Stülpnagel, head of the military administration in Paris, reported.

After the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, the Wehrmacht leadership swung to the party line and pushed forward the “de-Jewification of Europe” (Werner Best, April 1941). The transition to the deportation of the Jews is the beginning of the Wehrmacht’s involvement in the “final solution to the Jewish question”.

Ahlrich Meyer’s essays provide, among other things, an excellent insight into many facets of German occupation policy in France and can be read by anyone interested in history and politics, even without specialist knowledge. The collection of essays now available sits alongside the aforementioned books by the scientist Ahlrich Meyer, which have become standard works on German occupation policy.

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