Hans Kundnani

Utopia or Auschwitz

Germany's 1968 Generation and the Holocaust

Columbia University Press 2010

New Books in European StudiesNew Books in Genocide StudiesNew Books in German StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network March 13, 2011 Marshall Poe

It’s pretty common in American political discourse to call someone a “fascist.” Everyone knows, however, that this is just name-calling: supposed fascists are never...

It’s pretty common in American political discourse to call someone a “fascist.” Everyone knows, however, that this is just name-calling: supposed fascists are never really fascists–they are just people you don’t like very much. Not so in post-War West Germany. There, too, it was common to call people “fascists. But in the Federal Republic they may well have been fascists, that is, Nazis. Despite the efforts of the most thorough-going de-Nazifiers, post-war West German government, business and society was shot through with ex-Nazis. Young people, and especially university students in the BRD, were keenly aware of this fact, and they wondered how it could be that the so-called “Auschwitz generation” could have changed their tune so quickly. Under the influence of some rather clever left-leaning philosophers (those of the Frankfurt School), some of them came to the conclusion that they hadn’t and that, therefore, Germany was still a fascist state. This conclusion (erroneous as it was) gave them striking moral clarity: there was only one thing to do when faced with fascism–resist it by any means necessary. And that is what they did.

In his enlightening Utopia or Auschwitz: Germany’s 1968 Generation and the Holocaust (Columbia UP, 2010), veteran journalist and policy analyst Hans Kundnani tells their story. It’s somewhere between a farce and a tragedy, at least in my reading. On the one hand, to think that West Germany was a fascist state, to classify Zionism as a kind of Nazism, and to believe that the leftist students were persecuted “new Jews” is of course absurd. At least some of the West German radicals were so out of touch with reality that it defies understanding. On the other hand, they were in fact surrounded by ex-fascists, keenly aware that Israel was (to put it delicately) “asserting itself” in the middle east, and constantly on the run from Federal authorities. In such a situation I might lose touch with reality too. For the terrorists, who never regained their senses, it all ended badly. But for those whose heads cleared (Joschka Fisher, for example), it ended in power, though a different power than they had imagined in 1968.

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