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Friday, 28 February 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Pervy: Nazis then and Now

From East Germany back to the Second World War and Nein Onkel, the Archive of Modern Conflict's collection of images of German soldiers from 1938-1945. It was published in 2007, but what the heck, it all connects so I'll write about it now.

These pictures go in a sunrise to sunset formation, and feature German soldiers (Luftwaffe, Panzer troops, Afrika Corps and Flak regiments all figure) having fun most of the time.

These are not conflict photographs then. When we see them riding a donkey or standing in a field full of flowers, it's more Dad's Army or the Sound of Music than Come and See or Saving Private Ryan. Except for the guy who's pictured passed out with a bowl full of spew in front of him. Captain Von Trapp it is not.

The stereotype of Germans in films has often been analysed (and no better than here). There's the Man of Culture German (he's not really a Nazi), the Shouty German (Definitely a Nazi), the Pervy German (definitely a Nazi - also see Herr Lipp) and the organised German (can go both ways).

Nein Onkel adds a couple more categories to this list - the Fun Guy, the Family Man and the Farming German are three additions you could have. And even though there a few Swastikas in there, the Nazi side of things is underplayed - there are, quite deliberately I would guess, no SS or Gestapo because, even if they did run sack races or get dressed in ladies' frocks, there's really no getting away from the fact that they did terrible things. We've all seen too many films to know that is not the case.

Which of course ties into the postwar division of Germans into the Evil Nazis and the Germans who Didn't Know Anything soldiers. The idea was unlikely but promoted so that things could be swept under the carpet and Germany be allowed to flourish safe in the knowledge that it was only a few people who were responsible for the atrocities.

Well of course that wasn't the case, but by showing these Germans doing things we (or I, here in the UK) are more accustomed to seeing British or American soldiers doing, the book raises the question that if the Germans look like the Americans or Brits and we know that beneath that sack-racing veneer the Germans did terrible things, what terrible things did our side do?

Buy the book here.

Read another review of the book here. 

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