Got this in an email thought I'd share it.
THE ETERNAL NAZI:
A GERMAN AUDIENCE VIEWS ROMAN POLANSKI'S 'THE PIANIST'
by William Grim
Iconoclast Contributing Editor
There's an old joke that inside every German there's a Nazi yearning to
get out. While a gross overstatement, there is, I'm unhappy to report,
more than a little truth to that old chestnut. But more about that
Last week I had the opportunity in Munich to attend a screening of Roman
Polanski's new film The Pianist, a film that will not premiere in the
United States for another month. This film is based on the true story of
the Polish Jewish piano virtuoso Wladyslaw Szpilman, who survived the
entire Nazi occupation of Warsaw hiding in the Ghetto and at times being
hidden right under the noses of the Nazis in safe houses maintained by
the Polish Resistance. Simply put, POLANSKI'S film is a masterpiece. It
is considerably better than Schindler's List and is undoubtedly the
greatest Holocaust movie of all time. The Pianist has already won the
Palm d'Or at Cannes. It deserves to win the Oscar.
What is remarkable about the film is its brutal and unflinching honesty.
It avoids the cheap sentimentality that marred the otherwise exemplary
Schindler's List. The film also avoids stereotypes as much as possible.
Not all of the Jews behave nobly, and one Nazi officer at the end of the
film is shown to have at least one spark of humanity left in his
otherwise accursed soul. Adrien Brody delivers a stunning performance as
Wladyslaw Szpilman, an incredibly demanding role as he is in virtually
every scene. The cinematography is brilliant, and even when we are not
seeing the title character in action, the events occurring on film are
from the point of view of the protagonist, as though we are watching
along with him as he peeks out of his hiding places to see Germans
murdering Jews just for the sheer sport of it, and later on, Germans
getting a taste of their own medicine when the Warsaw Uprising begins.
In addition to exposing the full range of Germanic horrors that made up
the Holocaust -- I don't want to give too much of the movie away, but
there is one scene in which the Germans summarily execute an entire
family of Jews that is so shocking in its brutality that you'll want go
home and break every piece of Dresden china in the cupboard and take a
sledgehammer to every yuppie scum's Beamer in the parking lot -- The
Pianist is a testament to the indefatigable spirit of life that refuses
"to go gentle into the night." In particular, the humanizing influence
of art, of the will to create, is expertly juxtaposed by Polanski to the
German will to destroy, indeed, to the Germanic tendency to embrace all
of the negative energy of the universe. In the battle between artistic
matter and Germanic anti-matter, it is art that ultimately triumphs.
The execrable German Marxist philosopher Theodor W. Adorno (who is best
known today as the model for the character Wendall Kretzschmar, one of
the manifestations of the Devil in Thomas Mann's novel Doktor Faustus),
once famously remarked that "after Auschwitz there can be no art."
Although Adorno was no Nazi (indeed, he spent World War II in exile in
Hollywood where he devoted his time to denouncing America and ridiculing
American culture, especially "Negro jazz"), his willingness to deny art
to those who had been brutalized by his fellow countrymen reveals an
arrogance so profound that it is simply beyond the capacity to analyze.
It also is a clear demonstration of how easily all Germans (whether of
the left or the right) fall into the risible delusion that they somehow
constitute a "master race." For what Adorno is really saying is that
since German culture has been found wanting no one else may be permitted
to seek meaning and solace from art.
There can be only one response to Adorno, and it is found in the final
scene of The Pianist. The War is over and life has returned to Warsaw.
Wladyslaw Szpilman is performing a concerto accompanied by a full
orchestra. No words are spoken, and the scene continues as the credits
are rolling. But the message is clear. It is the raised middle finger,
proudly held aloft, and it points towards Germany, the remnants of the
Nazi Party and Theodor W. Adorno.
Now, back to the Germans yearning to rediscover their inner Nazis. I
have to admit that it is a strange experience to watch a Holocaust film
in Germany. It's even stranger when you're the only American in the
midst of about 200 Germans. But perhaps the strangest thing of all is to
watch the reactions of the Germans as the events of the movie unfold.
You hear a lot about how Germans are so ashamed today of the behavior of
their countrymen during the Nazi period and about how much they've done
to atone for their past sins. Don't buy that bill of goods. If the
audience of the screening I attended is any indication of German
attitudes in general, it doesn't augur well for the future. Remember,
this wasn't an audience composed of skinheads from the neo-Nazi enclaves
in Karlsruhe and the former DDR. This was a group of Germany's best and
brightest: educated, middle class, sophisticated denizens of a major
One scene in particular is seared into my consciousness. It happens
about halfway into the film. The Jews of Warsaw have been herded into
the Ghetto. A street used by the Germans bisects the Ghetto. While a
group of Jews is waiting to cross to the other side of the street,
several Nazi thugs force some elderly Jews to dance at an increasingly
faster tempo. Weakened by malnutrition, hobbling on crutches, riddled
with heart and lung infirmities, many of the Jews fall to the ground in
sheer agony. It's a sickening scene. It's the kind of scene that makes
you ashamed that your last name is Grim. Hell, it's the kind of scene
that makes you ashamed that you listen to Beethoven. If an American
soldier had done the same to a German or Jap POW he would have been
thrown into the brig for life or cashiered out of the service on a
Section 8. But there they were, today's educated, freedom-loving,
let's-all-hold-hands-and-love-one-another Germans, laughing at torture.
If there is a more sickening spectacle than Germans finding humor in
what their fathers and grandfathers did to the Jews, if there is a more
perfect example of the utter lack if humanity at the core of the German
nation, I am unaware of it. There is something terribly wrong with
Germany and the German Volk. The German soul is a deep abyss, a fetid,
stinking morass that befouls the community of nations. But wait, there's
Another scene from the movie that stands out is when an SS guard
announces to a half-starving Jewish work detail that they will be
receiving an additional portion of bread with their rations, one that
they can sell to other Jews, because "everybody knows how clever the
Jews are at selling things." This time the audience fairly rolled with
I was tempted to call in an airstrike on the theater, or at the very
least to bitch slap a couple of hundred Germans, but I managed to hold
my fire knowing that ultimately any World War II movie ends badly for
the Germans. Normally I don't talk back to the screen at the movies, but
I do have to admit that I did yell out " U S A" and pumped my fist in
the air when the Szpilman family listened to the announcement on the
radio that the United States had declared war on Germany. And I also do
have to admit that it felt mighty fine to yell out "Shoot those damn
Nazis!" when the film showed the Jews starting to fight back during the
It's funny how quiet the theater became when near the film's end a group
of SS goons were shown in a holding camp awaiting transportation to a
deserved harsh fate in the Russian gulag. And then it became clear as a
bell. German shame for World War II does not result from a moral
awareness of the innumerable crimes and atrocities committed by the
Germans. No, the Germans are ashamed because they got their rear ends
handed back to them by a bunch of Yanks, Russkies and Brits who they
considered -- and still consider -- to be members of inferior races.
After the movie was over, I strolled along Schellingstrasse in the
Schwabing district of Munich. By chance I happened to pass the site of
the original headquarters of the Nazi Party. It's an interior decorating
company now. How appropriate. On the surface Germany may be a changed
nation, far removed from the heyday of its Nazi period. But it's all a
faÃ§ade. The wallpaper and carpeting may be new, the portraits of Hitler
may have been replaced by African objets d'art, but the foundation of
the structure is Nazi through and through.
And as the German economy plunges further into a recession that is
largely of its own making, as even German economists begin to notice the
disturbing parallels between the economies of 2002 and 1932, the
question remains as to how long it will be before the Germans let their
inner Nazis manifest themselves in public. The Eternal Nazi, I'm afraid,
will be with us as long as there is a German nation. The Pianist is a
great film and an even greater cautionary tale, because history has an
unfortunate way of repeating itself.
Iconoclast contributing editor William E. Grim is a writer who lives in
Germany and is a native of Columbus, Ohio. He may be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. This essay originally appeared on the 'ZC Portal'
Web site <http://www.zcportal.com/> under the title, "The Eternal Nazi:
Watching Roman Polanski's The Pianist in Germany