Memories in the founding documents of the EU and in The Nasty Girl

How memory is constructed and revised for different individuals and parties for World War II and the roles they have played in contemporary society is a confounding topic. In “The Past is Another Country: Myth and Memory in Postwar Europe”, Tony Judt introduced and discussed some of the most important myths that have been deepen in the mind of people in Modern Europe about the World War II. It is believed that those myths are so significant that they have an impact showed not only in the history of the founding of EU but also through mass media such as movies and TV shows to continuously affecting people’s perception until today. Thus, the aim of this paper is to discuss how Judt’s idea of myths is implied through the composition of the founding documents of the EU, from Schuman Declaration for the European Coal and Steel Community to the Treaty of Rome, as well as through the plot and characters in the film The Nasty Girl by Michael Verhoceven in 1990, one of the most influential German movie revealing the history and memories of World War II.

The Nasty Girl, 1990

As indicated by Judt, there are huge gaps between wartime reality and myths of the current times. One of the most important and well accepted myth is the question: Who is to Blame? Who is responsible for the war and all the damages caused by the war? If it is allowed to dip deeper, one could find out that the common belief that Germany is to blame is, in fact, false. With the effect of communism in Eastern Europe and the wish for economic development in Western Europe, the popular media and government as well simplifies and put all blame on Germany (Judt, 303). And consequently, a distorted memory is formed. Even from the Schuman Declaration, which is the proposal of establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), it is obvious that the entire community is used to constrain one country, and one country only — Germany. To be more specific, one sentence in the last paragraph is the best demonstration of such accusation from other countries that supposedly “suffered” from the war because of the action of Nazi Germany. It is stated, “In the exercise of its functions, the common High Authority will take account the powers conferred upon the International Ruhr Authority and the obligations of all kinds imposed upon Germany, so long as these remain in force.” (Schuman Declaration) From this specific note in the end, it could be insinuated clearly the tension Germany received from other countries because of the war. However, as Judt has suggested, as a matter of fact, people always tries to blame others to make themselves to feel better, yet war is not merely one-side’s false. Also, when looking at what is not mentioned in the Declaration, one could find out that as a matter of fact, none of the countries such as Italy or Netherlands is specifically mentioned in the statement. Are they not “important” enough? Is it because they are not the main enemy or target? One should think from another side of the perspective. Furthermore, this concept of “who is to blame” could link to the next myth where collaboration given to the Nazis is cleverly overlooked.

This resistance myth existed for almost any part of Europe, which capture the wrongful belief that people all stands and fight against the Nazis at the time of the War, even in Germany itself. Jubt demonstrated in his article that the recollection of things done by us to others during the war was lost conveniently since they are not in consistent with the political and psychological needs at later moments. This could be showed in Michael Verhoceven’s movie perfectly. As Sonja said in the speech in the University, “Pfilzing wasn’t really a Nazi town. But a center of resistance? I’m not sure. “ This directly illuminates that the there are problems behind people’s memories about truly how resistant were them. In The Nasty Girl, the crimes done by Professor Juckenack during the war was unknown to the citizens. He is believed to be the “resistance fighter” and according to Sonja’s mother, “everyone will tell you that.” However, Sonja discloses that he is the very clergyman who sued a Jews businessman deliberately. This is also the case for Father Brummel. Therefore, this kind of illusion of resistance is only constructed after the war is merely to keep the reputation in the society and the truth might very likely be that more people one could think of has this kind of statement of “resistance” but yet behave completely differentially in reality. This is also implied as people in Pfilzing trying to use the memorial statue to stop Sonja from dipping the past of more people with high social status, as they do not want Sonja to discover the whole truth.

In the beginning of the film, director Michael Verhoceven made a statement that

I am not concern with any particular German Town, but rather it is the truth about all German town,

indicating that the myths existed in this town also occurs in other area of the country, including the foundation myth. In “Myth and Memory in Postwar Europe”, Tony Judt described a myth of which people believed Western Germany has been effectively denazified and those who ought to be punished had been. As audience of the movie, we could see that the entire movie is based on uncovering the truth and finding people that are supposedly should be punished. In fact, the movie reveals that the so-called government at the time “select few a sort of symbolic and representative function as criminals and traitor, and leave the rest of the social fabric untouched” (Judt, 302) The first person Sonja tried to investigate is Father Schulte, as the protagonist kept trying to visit different officials, she discovered that as a “symbolic and representative criminal”, he has been jailed, released, then again executed due to the speech against racial laws after World War II. However, those who are being “benign collective neglected”, are getting away from judgment, such as Professor Juckenack. The movie also insinuated this fact from lines of other actors and actress. When Sonja came to Mrs. Zumtobel, the widow of the notorious mayor, she protested and said in great sadness that his husband

spent six years in a labor camp. And he died of grief. Those are the facts. Other people lived in a luxury. That’s also a fact.

As well, Mrs. Guggenwieser, the women who denouncing the Father Schulte also mentioned that “The judge who sentenced Father Schulte to death.. Nothing happened to them… Or the others.” These small details all indicate that countless people never pay the price of their action for the past and other than the Mayor. And if the protagonist never discover the truth, the Professor, used to be “Brown Heinrich”, would also not be disclosed to the public. Therefore, the statement that Germany was denazified is simply untrue and a large portion of people remains unpunished. In fact, in the history, universities as well as the legal profession were the least affected by denazification, “despite their notorious sympathy for Hitler’s regime.” (Coates) The documents of the EU also provided a clue of this sense of handing over the past as the war became a “distant” past. In the Schuman Declaration (1950), five years after the war, there was specific note about Germany; however, as times passes by, in the Treaty of Rome (1957), there was no evidence of any particular countries other than the general statement of “ever-closer union” and “peace and liberty”. This all indicates that even government is neglecting the past in some way. Nonetheless, the question of incongruity and dissonance still remains among them although they are trying to take the truth to their graves.

It is clear in the movie that, people from that generation actually know some of the truth but rather conceit themselves in order to move on to their new life and only young generation like Sonja would be keep asking the questions and keep trying to find out what really happened. However, this last myth arises in the circumstances:

the many unpleasant truths about that part of the world replaced by a single beautiful lie

the taboos (Judt, 314). People are afraid of talking about what happened in the beginning; thus the resistance myth, the foundation myth etc. and it has become more and more prominent to just stop talking about the subject matter. Uncle Franz form the Nasty Girl said: “In boarding school we did not hear much of the Nazis”; in the town of Pfilzing, every government official is trying to cover the past and coming up with different strategies to elongate Sonja from seeing those files. All most all the parties are acting against her, the professor “can’t remember anything at all” and even her mother would said to the protagonist to “just write positive things” when Sonja decided her topic as My hometown in the Third Reich. This is not only the case in the movie. In reality, this kind of taboo sometimes is even more extreme: “We have the strength to forget!” “Forget as soon as possible!” According to Coates that was the headline in the daily newspaper of the Christian Democrat Party of Italy on the day of Hilter’s death. It is ironic since Sonja decided her topic for the essay competition is how her town resisted Nazism and in the end revealing that people are putting cover up to cover their dirty work in the past. And since the movie is based on the true story of Anna Rosmus, one could realize that this is not fiction but rather a real experience twenty years before. In fact, in an interview in 2000, Anna Rosmus said that she hoped to finish her fight in several years, but yet twenty years earlier, she would also have told that it was just an essay competition and she would be “finished in a few months, it’s done.”

As a result of the collective neglect of memories and past and the influence of media, the effects of the economic growth of the post-war Europe, especially for Western Germany at that period of time, is undeniable important to the social and economic improvement in the continent. Yet showed both from the documents of EU and the film, those myths are still a part of conceptions of the Europeans. The significance of the true Europeans’ memories of the war should be highlighted to provided to the public as a reminder to never overlook the influences of such distorted memories.

Reference

  1. Tony Judt, “The Past is Another Country: Myth and Memory in Postwar Europe,” The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Its Aftermath. Ed. by István Deák, Jan T. Gross, and Tony Judt. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000. 293–323.
  2. Schumann Declaration (1950)
  3. Preamble and Article 1 of the European Coal and Steel Community (Paris Treaty, 1951)
  4. Preamble and Principles of the European Economic Community (Treaty of Rome, 1957)
  5. CBS News.com staff, “Nasty Girl Still At Work”. Last Access: Tue 17th 2014. URL: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/nasty-girl-still-at-work/
  6. Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Selective Amnesia of Postwar Europe”. Last Access: Tue 17th 2014. URL: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/10/the-selective-amnesia-of-postwar-europe/280789/