Journal of Interdisciplinary History 32.2 (2001) 307-308
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The Gestapo, Jews, and Ordinary Germans
Munich and Memory:
Architecture, Monuments, and the Legacy of the Third Reich
Nazi Terror: The Gestapo, Jews, and Ordinary Germans. By Eric A. Johnson (New York, Basic Books, 2000) 636pp. $35.00
Munich and Memory: Architecture, Monuments, and the Legacy of the Third Reich. By Gavriel D. Rosenfeld (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2000) 433pp. $45.00
Both of these books illuminate important aspects of German National Socialism, though from very different methodological angles. Johnson examines the nature of Nazi terror with an analysis of how the Gestapo functioned in three Rhineland communities. Rosenfeld examines the aftermath of this terror through the lens of German memory, as reflected in the architectural reconstruction of Munich. Johnson's study is set in the Rhineland communities of Cologne, Krefeld, and nearby Bergheim. It is based upon exhaustive archival research in local Gestapo files and case records of the Cologne Special Court, one of many special courts that the Nazis established to try political opponents. Rosenfeld's examination of the conflicts within Munich society about the postwar rebuilding of the city represents a pioneering examination of the connection between architecture and historical memory.
Johnson's findings about the functioning of the Gestapo in the Rhineland cast doubt upon recent suggestions that the Gestapo's terroristic reach has been overstated. He questions those scholars who argue that the Gestapo was too understaffed to live up to its traditional image as the ultra-efficient totalitarian terror machine. Instead, these scholars have argued, Gestapo agents, however brutal, were heavily dependent upon denunciations from the general public for identifying political enemies. Johnson accepts that Gestapo branches were often understaffed, including those he studied, but he rejects the idea that they relied on local leads, most of which he finds that they ignored. His claim is that the Gestapo functioned differently in dealing with different groups. For Jews, communists, and Jehovah's Witnesses, its terror was omnipresent; for clergymen, the religious faithful, and malcontents, it was partial and intermittent; for a large proportion of the population, however, it was almost nonexistent. Of special interest to students of the Holocaust will be Johnson's discussion of what he calls the "mini-Eichmanns," [End Page 307] the Gestapo's local "Jewish Experts" in Cologne and Krefeld.
Rosenfeld's study of the conflicts within Munich's governing circles about the postwar rebuilding of the city represents a groundbreaking examination of the connection between architecture and historical memory. Informing the author's analysis is Mitscherlichs' classic book on the inability of postwar Germans to mourn, a work that posits a psychological disposition to avoid direct confrontation with a traumatic past. 1 Before the war, Munich had been a treasure trove of nineteenth-century architecture. During the early years of their movement, the Nazis assigned the city the title "Capital of the Movement," adding their own stamp to its architectural profile. One need think only of the House of German Art, the Fuhrerbau, or their remodeling of the Konigsplatz to be reminded of the Nazi heritage In 1945, much, though not all, of the city's architectural legacy lay in ruin. How was the city to be rebuilt? What was to be restored? What was to be razed? What was to be done with the Nazi buildings that survived? What style would be appropriate for the new German democracy?
These questions generated bitter dissension among Munich's governing circles and civic leaders. Proponents of architectural modernism demanded a "new beginning," rejecting both the Nazi architectural legacy and the conservative architectural traditions of the previous century, which, they argued, had given rise to Nazism. Conservatives, on the other hand, rejected the modernists and tossed responsibility for Nazism, like a hot potato, back into their laps. The roots of Nazism lay not in their conservative tradition, they retorted, but in the shattering of its values through the technological focus and urban rootlessness...