Wolf Biermann, songwriter and dissident in the former Communist regime in East Germany, doesn’t think too highly of left-leaning West Germans who pretend not to know how they would have reacted had they lived in the East:
There are increasing numbers of West people in Germany who dilettantishly play the role of the noble procrastinator. In an argument about the involvement of East people in the crimes of the GDR regime they prefer to opt for the worldly-wise option of holding their tongues. This sort of eloquent silence always sets a twisted Hamlet soliloquy ringing in my ears: "…To be or not to be. … No…to get involved or better not … that is the question. Whether t’is nobler in the mind to keep stubbornly quiet about the Stasi troubles of the Ossis, or to dive headlong into a sea of slanging matches…. No! I’m a Wessi. Who has never had to suffer that sort of repression and who has never lived under the weight of a dictatorship. So I won’t take an inflated moral stand, I prefer to confess modestly to being one of the little people, with fears and weaknesses. Whether I would have been courageous in the GDR or cowardly, whether I would have gone along with everything or at least cautiously refused, or whether I might even have dared oppose the regime – I cannot say. And this is why I’d rather not judge these things, not to mention judging the people who – who knows – only swam with the tide, or in good faith that they were doing the right thing collaborated with the secret police or simply in ignorance or fear, and with great sadness in their hearts, inflicted misery on others. I’ll keep out of all this. I thank providence that I was never forced to denounce, inform on or torture anybody, and I’m very thankful that I never had to find out. Luckily it’s all over, its all in the past."
A "bogus declaration of bankruptcy," Biermann calls such thinking. [Translation courtesy of Sign and Sight, original version here.]
This is Biermann’s introduction to a review of a film called "The Life of Others." The film, which deals with Stasi spying in East Germany, was directed by by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who not only grew up in West Germany but also bears a title of nobility.
Biermann, who was stripped of his East German citizenship in 1976, is pleasantly surprised; Von Donnersmarck has created an "unbelievably realistic genre study."
I will be sure to see the movie and post any comments soon. First, though, must get rid of a nagging Parisian cold…