Germany wrestles with Third Reich legacy again

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An EXHIBITION chronicling the Nazi party’s rise to power draws tens of thousands of visitors.

Millions of television viewers tune in to watch a drama about the Third Reich. A satirical novel in which Adolf Hitler pops up in modern Berlin becomes an overnight bestseller.

Germans’ interest in the darkest chapter of their history seems stronger than it has ever been as the country marks several key anniversaries this year linked to the Nazi era.

On TV talk shows, in newspapers and online, people endlessly debate the Nazi era.

Next month, Germans will also be painfully reminded that the Nazis can still pose a threat today, when a young woman allegedly inspired by Hitler’s ideology goes on trial over a spate of racist murders committed since 2000.

“The interest [in the Nazis] is especially visible just now because of the anniversaries,” said historian Arnd Bauerkaemper.

January this year marked the 80th anniversary of Hitler’s rise to the German chancellorship; November is the 75th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom against German Jews.

Adding urgency to the commemorations is the realisation that the wartime generation is dying off and young people interested in what happened often have to seek information from other sources.

“Like the undead, the demons keep coming back to life from the darkness of abstract history,” said the Spiegel weekly in one of its numerous recent articles on the Nazi era.

“It’s never over”, was the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s headline on an interview with Nico Hofmann, producer of a three-part TV drama about five young Germans in 1941-45, Unsere Muetter, Unsere Vaeter (Our Mothers, Our Fathers).

The film drew more than seven million viewers when it aired in March.

Mr Hofmann said he produced the series partly for his own father, who volunteered to join Hitler’s army aged 18.

The focus on individual stories is typical of the current interest in the 1930s and 1940s, said Mr Bauerkaemper.

“This personalised drama really struck a chord, especially among young people who asked themselves how they would have coped if they had been alive at that terrible time,” he added.

With his novel Er ist wieder da (He is Back), Timur Vermes taps into the perennial fascination with the personality of Hitler – it has sold more than 400,000 copies.

In the novel, Hitler wakes up in 2011 to become a celebrity on German-Turkish TV and launch a career campaigning against speeding and dog fouling.

“I want to show that Hitler would have a chance to succeed today just as he did back then but in another way,” Mr Vermes said, lambasting what he called German complacency about the Nazis.