Published on Wednesday, 30 January 2013 12:41 Written by Simon Heffer
The wounds Hitler opened will never properly heal.
For example, a cartoon published in a British newspaper last Sunday, which appears to show the Israeli prime minister paving a wall with the blood and limbs of Palestinians, caused outrage for being ‘anti-semitic’ because it coincided with Holocaust Memorial Day, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945.
The tragedy is that Hitler’s defeat was far from total, for his legacy can be widely seen.
A man who wanted to shape the world has, unfortunately, continued to exert a loathsome influence long after his defeat and death.
Hitler’s poison continues to drip, and it is staining the lives of millions of Europeans.
Awareness of him and his crimes is perhaps sharper today than a generation ago, when many more of his direct victims were living.
This is not least because of a growth in scholarship about the Third Reich, using evidence available only since the liberation of Eastern Europe after 1989.
Scholars such as Sir Ian Kershaw and Michael Burleigh have presented immaculately researched and cogently written accounts of those times.
Countless television programmes, using eye-witnesses and archive footage, bring the horrors of Hitler’s war into our homes.
Such history is not produced solely because of intellectual curiosity. People here are determined to discover and publicise the truth about Hitler’s behaviour because Britain itself narrowly escaped Nazi rule, and we hope that a maniac such as Hitler will never rise again.
Whether the rest of Europe shares that view is less certain. For its part, Germany itself certainly does. What passes for the neo-Nazi movement there is widely reviled, and its members worse than pariahs.
The country is still haunted by Hitler’s genocide as well as by shame and guilt for the whole war. The agony of the destruction he wrought upon his own people, with much of the country reduced to rubble, millions killed and the nation cut in two between the occupying powers, will take generations to be forgotten.
Yet across the continent, in countries hobbled by the latest attempt to pursue European unity, Hitler’s ideology — and some of his methods — have new adherents.
As the strict austerity programmes being imposed (ultimately by the German government) on much poorer countries as the price for staying in the euro cause civil unrest, economic hardship is exploited by Far-Right groups with neo-Nazi ideals.
The most visible is the Golden Dawn movement in Greece.
Its badge is a variant of the swastika, leaving no doubt about its views.
Its leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, has admitted that his party is racist.
Although he doesn’t seem to like Jews much, his main target appears to be illegal Albanian immigrants.
The party’s official spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, published an article on the anniversary of Hitler’s birth two years ago in which he talked of the Jews having started World War II — (something Hitler had predicted they would do long before he started it).
He also speculated on what would have happened if Germany’s defeat had not blocked ‘the renewing route of National Socialism’.
Kasidiaris praised Hitler as a great social reformer. At the last Greek election, the Right-wing party’s slogan was: ‘So we can rid this land of filth.’ (This did not refer to a plan to improve the Athens sewerage system.)
Sadly, such unpleasant tactics work. In the 2009 election, Golden Dawn got just 0.3 per cent of the vote but last year it rose to 7 per cent, giving it 18 seats in parliament.
Golden Dawn reflects something typical of continental neo-fascist and neo-Nazi movements: they take Hitler and the Nazis as their model — proof, despite everything, of their toxic influence.
There is a long history of such veneration. Although Mussolini came to power in Italy more than a decade before Hitler, by the Thirties his fascist movement had begun to imitate much that Hitler did, and the Hitler style.
So when, on last week’s anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi defended Mussolini against his detractors, he not only showed the potency of Far-Right politics in Italy today, he also (though he denied it) indirectly paid tribute to the Hitler effect.
Berlusconi is usually dismissed as a buffoon, but this atrocious remark should make us all heed the dangers.
Meanwhile, in Hungary, the Far-Right Jobbik party has created a wave of anti-semitism in recent months.
Nazi-style policies are not confined to this lunatic fringe. One member of the ruling Fidesz party, Zsolt Bayer, wrote an article about the Roma minority that seemed to have come straight from the columns of the Nazi newspaper, the Volkischer Beobachter.
‘These Roma are animals,’ he said. ‘They are incapable of human communication. Inarticulate sounds pour out of their bestial skulls . . . These animals should not be allowed to exist . . . That needs to be solved — immediately and regardless of the method.’
Worse, perhaps, was the attempt a few months ago by a Jobbik MP to have a list drawn up of Jews in Hungary’s government and in parliament, because he claimed they presented a risk to the country’s national security.
Three months earlier, the Hungarian government had been largely silent on the disgraceful chants of ‘dirty Jews’ by the country’s football fans during a so-called friendly between Hungary and Israel.
Perhaps most alarming of all is what is perceived to be the lack of criticism in the Hungarian media of these neo-Nazi activities.
Liberals in the country claim that many of the journalists who would have spoken out against such things have been sacked, and that freedom of speech — something Hitler regarded as decadent — is under threat.
Neo-Nazi movements have been strong in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania ever since they were freed from the Soviet Union.
Nationals of those countries who fought for the Germans in World War II — even as members of the SS — are feted as heroes.
While there can be no excuse for this, historical memories are different in these countries since the Nazis once came to the rescue of their people.
In the months leading up to Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, which drove the Russians out of the Baltic states in the summer of 1941, much of the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian professional classes had been murdered or deported. The Nazis were therefore welcomed as liberators, and their memory is still sometimes cherished.
In France, anti-semitism still exists, despite all that the country and its Jewish population suffered under the Nazi occupation between 1940 and 1944. Jewish cemeteries are frequently desecrated, both by neo-Nazi groups and by Islamist extremists.
As economic growth falters (indeed, France’s employment minister this week declared the country ‘bankrupt’), Far-Right organisations will undoubtedly win more support from a public worried about the future.
Most sane people would imagine that Hitler’s place in our demonology means he would have few imitators.
However, this is far from the case and the implications should give the gravest cause for concern.
Today, on the anniversary of his coming to power, the numerous and growing groups inspired by Hitler will raise a glass to his memory, ludicrously deluding themselves that the failure of his 1,000-year Reich proves the power of the international Jewish conspiracy against which he sought to warn the world.
Such poison exists not least because Europe is, again, being manipulated in a way that is against the democratic will of many of its people.
The fact that so many are willing to forget or ignore Hitler’s evil, means that Europe should approach its future with dread.
Credit: Daily Mail