Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Nazi Love

Heinrich Himmler
According to a recent Times story (“Himmler Papers Shed Light On Personal Life of a Nazi,” NYT, 1/26/14), Mr. and Mrs. Himmler lived a life that was no different than the average American couple then or now. Evan S. Connell wrote the Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge novels. Here we have Herr und Frau Himmler. The Times quotes Mrs. Himmler as writing, “There is a can of caviar in the ice box. Take it.” Okay for most of us it’s Spam, but here we have Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” all over again. The Times quotes another letter from Heinrich to his wife Margarete, “I am off to Auschwitz. Kisses. Your Heim.” Of course, the syntax of this last note to Margarete, or Marga, who the Times describes as previously divorced and seven years older gives pause. If one were to do a computerized analysis of all the times that the word kisses has appeared next to the word Auschwitz, the examples would undoubtedly be scarce and yet there isn’t an inkling from Herr Himmler that this little phrase, “Auschwitz. Kisses” may be one of the most outrageously horrific oxymorons in the history of language. What’s particularly interesting is that the German language is full of compound words. For instance, Vergangenheitbewaltegung means “the burden of the past.” Kisses may have skidded into Auschwitz, like a car on a slippery road, but one would think that even a murderer might have somehow moved one out of the way of the other before sending off a missive to his beloved wife. In her filmic portrait of Hannah Arendt, Margarethe von Trotta portrayed the controversial philosopher as arguing that Adolf Eichmann's pathology resulted from a failure of thinking. There’s something purgative about screaming at a killer, provided he or she is not in a position to strike back, but as a form of preventative medicine, it’s always useful to get an insight into the killer’s thought process—or in these cases, failure thereof. Which is something that these love letters enable us to do.

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