On my last visit to Franconia, my father let me take two boxes home. They had been sitting inside the bottom drawer of my grandmother's bedroom dresser. He says, he never looked at them, has never been interested to go through "her" things. My grandmother died in 1995.
In her fine handwriting, they are labelled "history of the family in letters", and one is subtitled "the war letters".
At a rough guess there are about 400 letters, maybe more.
I take my time reading them, there is a lot of tedious stuff, like going through your mother's texts on your cell phone (where is your laundry? did you lock the door? I wish you wouldn't wear this. etc.)
There are revealing (to me) insights into family life that I will treat with care and discretion.
And there's fascism and then the war. Or rather, there isn't.
The war never really happened in rural Franconia and its towns, no fighting, no bomb raids.
From what I've read so far, the war mostly meant rations, petrol vouchers, the search for a bicycle tube, a decent winter coat.They lived secluded in the family cocoon, helping out and looking after themselves.
Fascism and its atrocities did happen. There and everywhere, discreetly and openly. My grandmother developed her own set of schemes to keep her children out of the compulsory hitler youth organisations, there are various medical notes claiming hay fever and chronic indigestion and there are her begging letters to friends in high places. My father's accounts confirm this but that's for another day.
My grandfather knew and everybody knew that my grandfather knew because he was once almost arrested when a visitor noticed his radio was set to the BBC. That story is now one of the family legends. But my grandfather's story is for another day, too.
What strikes me most is the continuation of a seemingly normal life over many years. (I am well aware that this has been discussed by others in much detail.) Simply because at the time, my father's family was on the "right" side of things with sufficient resources, well connected and trying to remain unconcerned, looking after themselves.
What should they care.
Fintan O'Toole writes today in The Irish Times:
Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.
One of the basic tools of fascism is (. . .) the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities. Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too. And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.
But (. . .) there is a crucial next step, usually the trickiest of all. You have to undermine moral boundaries, inure people to the acceptance of acts of extreme cruelty. Like hounds, people have to be blooded. They have to be given the taste for savagery. Fascism does this by building up the sense of threat from a despised out-group. This allows the members of that group to be dehumanised. Once that has been achieved, you can gradually up the ante, working through the stages from breaking windows to extermination.
It is this next step that is being test-marketed now. It is being done in Italy by the far-right leader and minister for the interior Matteo Salvini. How would it go down if we turn away boatloads of refugees? Let’s do a screening of the rough-cut of registering all the Roma and see what buttons the audience will press. And it has been trialled by Trump: let’s see how my fans feel about crying babies in cages.
This morning, we looked at each other over breakfast and decided, it's time to get ready.