The 18th-century French bishop and politician Charles Maurice de Talleyrand once observed that “treason is a matter of dates.”
The same applies to good taste and propriety. In an epoch where celebrity vulgarity has become the arbiter of what is fashionable and acceptable, auctioning and collecting Hitler’s socks and Goering’s silk culottes, with an enthusiasm comparable to Medicis’ quest for assembling one of the greatest collections of early Renaissance paintings in Florence, speaks eloquently to the age of the Kardashians.
At a recent Nazi memorabilia auction, held at the Herman Historica International auction house in Munich, a collection was sold for more than $860,000 to an anonymous buyer from Argentina. Among the lots was Goering’s monogrammed loincloth, which sold for over $4,300, and Hitler’s socks, which fetched an undisclosed price. The unnamed buyer, according to Newsweek, took away over 50 items, purchasing for $400,000 a “finely woven field-grey cloth” jacket worn by Hitler, one of the most expensive pieces of apparel up for sale. The top bidder said he bought the items for a museum, but refused to say more, reported German newspaper Bild.
Dare we imagine the “museum”? On a gigantic, imperial purple-velvet-covered wall, we would have the silk culottes of Goering, delicately placed in a premium dark cherry wood, slightly distressed frame, inlaid with mother of pearl motifs ensconced in silver streams, displaying its beautiful vintage and classical provenance to provide the “masterwork” with the proper historical aura and richly deserved dignity. Nothing less would do for the used drawers of the most prolific art thief of modern times.
Insensitivity to Jewish suffering is no longer taboo. Spanish students can now play a video game that allows them “to experience Auschwitz as a Jew.” The same goes for Sebastian Majewski’s play about shoes made from the skin of Jews murdered in camps, initially worn by Magda Goebbels, wife of the Nazi propaganda minister. The play was briefly performed in Los Angeles before it was cancelled.
How about staging Wagner’s opera Tannhauser in a Nazi concentration camp with gas chambers, crematoria, self-immolation and torture? The Dusseldorf-based opera company Deutsche Oper am Rhein admitted the controversial production “has caused such physical and psychological stress that some audience members have had to receive medical treatment.” We now go to the opera not to experience a spiritual apotheosis, but to be taken to the emergency ward on a stretcher. “Music to die for” assumes a different meaning.
But even more disconcerting is what happened during the marketing of the German film Look who is Back (“Er Ist Wieder Da”) based on an adaptation of a satirical novel by Timur Vermes, which has been on the bestseller list for a very long time. The plot centres on Hitler waking up in modern times, becoming a celebrity and entering politics again.
The satire got out of hand, quite unintentionally, when the German actor, Oliver Masucci, dressed up as Adolf Hitler and travelled through the country for four weeks, chatting with smiling voters, stroking their pets and kissing their babies, as a publicity ploy for the film. He later said that he was dismayed by the warm welcome he received. He had expected an entirely different reaction.
Vermes said, according to Reuters, that he wrote the book to lambaste what he calls Germans’ complacency about the Nazis and to highlight his belief that Hitler would have a chance to succeed today, even though the modern German state is constructed to ensure that Nazi tyranny can never return. “How can it be that so many people react positively to Hitler, accept him?” director David Wnendt asked Germany’s ARD television.
It would be absurd to infer from this episode that the Fourth Reich is just around the corner in Germany. But the growing clash of cultures, if not civilizations, throughout Europe, due primarily to the reaction to mass immigration from the Middle East and beyond, as well as the resurgence of anti-Semitism on the continent, may well be awakening long dormant demons.
Hitler, did after all predict it when he wrote, “My spirit will rise from the grave. One day people will see that I was right.”