Annual Letter 1961

Göttingen-Geismar
Sandersbeek 15
Germany
November 1961

 

Dear friends:

Please forgive us for resorting again to this impersonal form of a mimeographed letter to communicate with you at this time of the year.

As you see from our address, we are still in Europe. A grant from the Rockefeller Foundation enabled me to continue my work here for another year.

We left Le Mée sur Seine in May for Goettingen. As Jews and refugees from Nazism, returning to Germany was not without emotional overtones for Wilma and me, even if we had left Europe at an early age. Although we did not expect to experience any anti—Semitism (and have not) and we do not harbor any prejudice against Germans as such as some refugees do, we did to our own surprise feel increasingly uneasy as the time grew nearer to go to Germany. Our first impression of Germany, however, was quite positive. The break with the past is very evident in almost all aspects of life. Germany's peculiar romanticism seems to be dead.

And while some desirable aspects of the past have been lost, the new much more matter of fact orientation of particularly the younger ge- neration seems much preferable to those German traditions which in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries became so closely intertwined with Germany's peculiar nationalism. Germany today must be much more sober and sane than in the days of the Weimar Republic, but also a good deal duller. The break with the Romantic past is very conscious and manifests itself even in such things as the fact that few Germans hike today, once a favorite pasttime, that the folksong add even interest in music as such have declined, and that pigtails have disappeared almost completely. Emigration and twelve years of Nazism have also loosened the ties with other intellectual and cultural traditions; thus, with the Wirtschaftswunder (the miracle of economic recovery) the TV, which incidentally maintains a very high level of programs, has replaced the bookcase. The students we talk to for the most part are democratic and European in orientation, much more pronouncedly so than their elders; They are serious and hardworking but extremely career-conscious with few interests outside their areas of specialization. The attitudes in the schools are much more humane and understanding, even in the Gymnasium Jeremy is attending, than they were in Wilma or my days. In the Volksschule to which Danny goes and in Jonathan's kindergarten, the teachers are much more aware of the emotional needs of the children without going to the extremes of many American educationists. The universities have been affected least by the reforms of the schools, but the atmosphere has changed, too.

After a few months, the links with the past which had been blurred by our first impressions of radical change become more apparent. This is true of political life too. Although totalitarianism has probably been more thoroughly discredited here than in some other Western countries (the extreme right wing groups which have mushroomed in the US would be unthinkable here today), one wonders how deep the democratization of German life really is. There is remarkably little discussion of political questions. Too many Germans burned their fingers and feel today that politics should be left to the politicians. In talking to some older Germans during the Eichman trial, we had the feeling that the trial confirmed their conviction that the crimes of the Second World War were almost wholly the responsibility of a small group of sadists, Hitler, Himmler, Eichmann, etc. They often fail to under— stand the relationship between the gas chambers and the total pattern of developments under the Third Reich. Therefore public opinion reacts less strongly than might be expected against the relatively large number of former Nazi officials who again (or still) occupy important positions in government, army, justice or economic life. Particularly depressing is the newspaper situation. There is no press censorship here, as there is in France, but very much in contrast to France one is struck by the virtual absence of controversy on all major issues.

The degree of unanimity on questions of foreign policy is frightening.

News coverage is highly emotionalized, even more so than in the United States, and particularly since August 13 there has been a lot of appeal to nationalist sentiment, effective because of the failure of many Germans to understand what brought about the division of Germany and the loss of the Eastern provinces. There is no Humphrey Fulbright or Walter Lippmann, to offer an alternative. Only the weekly Der Spiegel, or occasionally the weekly Die Zeit, bring a note of dissent.

On the other hand, the TV, operated by the regional govennments but quite independent in programming, has done a remarkable job of demo- cratic, political eduation, both in critically examining the German past and in maintaining discussion of present day problems, On the whole the outlook does not appear discouraging despite some disturbing signs.

Life for us has been quite pleasant here. Although we know quite a number of people socially, we have encountered fewer congenial souls than in France. The children's adjustment in school here is in reverse to what it was in France. While Jeremy left there as the best in his class, he finds it difficult here in Gymnasium to have all his things in order, his homework done, and chiefly just to swim as one among many. He has some friends, but still dreams of the golden past of Le Mée.

Danny had a fairly good report card, has lots of nice friends, and does his best to be nasty to the girls in his class with whom he seems quite popular. Jonathan, who was thrown out of three kindergartens in France, is extremely happy in the one in Geismar. They all speak German quite fluently, though with mistakes, Wilma is kept busy – worn out is more accurate – supervising the homework of the two big ones. In France they came home at 6 p.m. with their homework done; here they come home at noon, and after lunch the all-afternoon session starts. Wilma is taking a seminar and attending lectures, as far as time permits. For my own work, the library here is very adequate and the atmosphere much less bureaucratic than in France. We are sailing on the Statendam the middle of August and after some family visits expect to be back in New Orleans in early September.

With best wishes for the holiday season and the New Year, Georg, Wilma, Jeremy, Danny and Jonathan Iggers