Nearly three quarters of a century after his death, Hitler’s shadow continues to fall across Europe. Any dissent from any modern orthodoxy, no matter how silly, soon meets with the argumentum ad Hitlerum, to the effect that something or other is the beginning of the slippery slope to Auschwitz. Guilt by association is now the highest form of refutation—other than outright abuse, of course.
There was a good example of this in the Observer newspaper last Sunday. An article titled “A dubious history in the remaking?” recounted, among other things, the reconstruction of part of Frankfurt am Main exactly as it was before its destruction in the war.
Frankfurt was beautiful before its destruction, as were many German cities. Germany, in fact, had one of the greatest urban heritages in the world, whose destruction no civilized person can fail to lament. The attempt to recapture some small part of it is therefore to be welcomed, albeit that however accurately the destroyed original is copied, only the passage of time will lend to the replica the charm of immemorial usage. The fact is, however, that no period of time will ever be sufficient to lend charm to what the locals call Mainhattan, the tower blocks of modern Frankfurt, which might as well be in Bangkok, Dubai, or Omaha, Nebraska, as in Germany. Ship of Fools: How a S... Check Amazon for Pricing.
The article managed to smear the attempt at restoration by making it sound almost like a neo-Nazi project. The underlying argument, by implication, was as follows: Hitler and Nazism being the teleological end of German history, the crescendo to which all previous German history was inevitably leading, any fondness for anything German pre-1945 is at least a subliminal expression of Nazi sympathies. Much better, then, to stick with Mainhattan, which is beyond all political suspicion. If a German city has nothing whatever German about it, who can suspect it of bad politics?
“An added attraction of many reconstruction projects [in Germany],” says the author of the article, quoting a German professor, “is that the damage being repaired was inflicted by Allied bombing, which reinforces the far-right narrative that Nazi Germany was as much a victim as a perpetrator of war crimes.” I have no special insight into the mentality of the German far-right, but surely the main impulse behind the reconstruction is an understanding of the beauty of what has been lost and the ugliness of what has been gained. My mother was a refugee from Nazi Germany, but I am all for the restoration of whatever can be salvaged in Germany because I prefer beauty to ugliness wherever it might be.