NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 18 Issue 3 - Fall 2018 - Page 126

“Today, I’d like to talk about Werner Finck.” Finck was one of the stars of the Berlin cabaret scene in the 1930’s. Cabarets provided the main social political satire of the period; imagine Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and Jon Stewart on the stage. Finck, I later learned, told a joke in 1931 about Nazi parades. If they were “hindered by rain, hail, or snow, all Jews in the vicinity would be shot.” A few years later jokes were more fragile for the teller. Speer had published his plans for urban renewal of Berlin. The grandiose scheme quickly became a target for the cabaret comedians. That statement, I said, was no different than claiming you had a Jewish friend as proof of your attitude on anti-Semitism. “Why were you not offended by the fact he was thrown into a camp?” Speer was a tall, handsome man with a direct and open gaze; his demeanor, as compared to his co-defendants, helped his favorable Nuremberg treatment. His face hardened when I finished my question. He also understood I had a list of other questions about why he was not offended by the cascade of events he witnessed, all of which were noted in his book. He was right. But I never had a chance to raise them, since he walked out of his neat and paperless office. I wanted to know if he was offended when Goebbels closed cabarets and independent media. I wanted to know if he was offended by Goebbels’ habit of blackmailing actresses into having sex with him. I wanted to know if he was offended after Kristallnacht as he strolled around the streets and saw the broken glass and broken lives in 1938. Was he offended when he accompanied Hitler on his victory lap in Paris and encountered worn-looking refuges transporting their worldly goods in baby carriages on the side of the road, while “the self-assured German troops” marched in the center? When Hitler impulsively suggested he had considered the destruction of Paris to better insure the reputation of Berlin, was Speer remorseful that his main reaction was anticipation “for the prospects of soon resuming work on my building projects”? Was he offended during his many visits with Hitler in the company of Goebbels or Himmler or Bormann to discuss the removal of Jews from their homes in Berlin? And so on. If I had failed to extract a reaction from Speer, I did learn something about the nature of the enablers. He provided a devastating description of the inner circle. In describing their interaction with Hitler, their constant flattering to insure their ambitious hold on power, their attempts to discern his needs from his long and repetitive table talk monologues in order to carry out his wishes, spoken or implied, we derive a portrait that is universal. Orders were unnecessary as his entourage, vying for influence would absorb by osmosis what had to be done. After all, Speer insisted, “Hitler scarcely ever said anything about the Jews, about his domestic opponents, let alone the necessity of setting up concentration camps.” Recall that this was at a moment when few books had been written dissecting Speer and the myth he was trying to construct. Most reviews conveniently viewed him as a non-political technocrat. Indeed, The New York Times praised Speer’s candor, labeling him “as decent as he was intelligent” and concluding that his “self-flagellation… [was] an earnest attempt …to atone for his mistakes.” Eventually, Lord Acton’s historians: Martin Kitchen, Mathias Schmidt, Richard Evans and others, provided the moral judgment, as they made clear Speer’s direct contribution to the Nazi years. I can’t help but wonder what “small” events would offend members of Trump’s entourage, those non-political technocrats, or his silent supporters, whether family members or not. Would it be the sexual harassment and payoffs? Or the disparagement of minorities or African nations? Would the failure to acknowledge Russian killings and their efforts to undermine our institutions rise to the level of offense? Or Trump’s direct attacks? With their fixation on Trump, neither the media nor the Democratic Party leadership have tried, other than with sporadic forays, to impose responsibility on those who have entered the complicity of silence. These voices have disappeared in the quicksand of his mind. In a recent article by Elizabeth Drew in the New Republic, she referred to criticism of Gary Cohn for not abandoning the ship earlier as being “off the mark.” “As head of the National Economic Council,” she wrote, “Cohn didn’t have responsibility for Trump’s social positions, and he wouldn’t have to defend them publicly.” Under normal circumstances disagreements between a President and his advisor is not unusual and is even healthy. But this is not a normal period and cannot be treated as such. This is an edited version of Stanley Cohen’s essay which first appeared June 3, 2018 in Amor Mundi, the Hannah Arendt Center‘s Sunday AM newsletter. The leadership of the Democratic Party no longer acts as a Greek chorus; rather than comment on tragedy unfolding in real time, rather than enlighten and inform, they have been struck mute in hopes that their participation in silence will be rewarded by a share of power. Whether President Trump is charged with high crimes and misdemeanors in some forum still unknown remains uncertain. He may only be accountable to history rather than in a legal manner. We are lacking an #UsToo movement. Historic responsibility may be the only means to likewise inflict a judgment on those who remain mute while listening to repetitive table talk monologues in the Oval Office. We should not excuse them. n On the same page that he offered his moral failure, he acknowledged hearing Hitler talk about subjugating France and other nations, but it was only at the Trial, or in prison, did he seem to learn of the extent of the death and destruction wrought by Germany. None of this made sense to me. His close collaboration with the Fuehrer, with Himmler, with Goebbels and the others, had to have enlightened him in all the gory detail as to what was happening. With that in mind, I decided to raise with him only certain events he clearly acknowledged in his memoir. I read to Speer what he had written: “Werner Fink (sic) made fun of these projects [and] was sent off to a concentration camp….His arrest took place, incidentally, just the day before I meant to attend his show as proof I was not offended.” Speer had written that “his friend Karl Hanke warned him never to visit the camps.” He did not ask why; neither did he ever question Himmler or Hitler on that matter. Nevertheless, his “deliberate blindness,” his closing of his eyes, made him responsible merely by being “an important member of the leadership.”