by Art Gunther
NÜRNBERG, Germany, a beautiful city in the center of Deutschland, now more than 70 years removed from the bombing and devastation of World War II, is both typically German and Bavarian: The ethic is no-nonsense, can-do, will-do, but the people are also also cheerful. A recent visit to Nürnberg to see family made me wonder how ever there could have been such disaster here. The visit also reaffirmed the salvation of humanity in what became the judgment at Nuremberg. The visit made me think of contemporary America.
Just 110 miles from Adolf Hitler’s populist-energized beginning in Munich, Nürnberg, was the “unofficial” capital of the Holy Roman Empire, a once vital trade center and the prime site of the German Renaissance. Its history is rich in both culture, law and legislature, fitting for its role in 1945. The city went to the dark in the huge, emotional Nazi rallies, which were so well captured in Leni Riefenstahl’s brilliant but chilling 1935 propaganda film Triumph of the Will, a film I recently re-watched.
Allied carpet bombing took out much of Nürnberg in the war, including most of the medieval city. Yet the Palace of Justice, the Justizpalast, survived, and it was chosen by the Allies for the now-famous Nuremberg Trials. In 1945 and 1946, German officials accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity stood before an international tribunal. Courtroom 600 is still used, fittingly, for murder cases. It was also appropriate that the Justizpalast was chosen since Nürnberg was where the Nazi Party passed law stripping Jews of their citizenship. Today, a visit to Nürnberg brings so little of the past to mind. Much of the city has long been restored, though not all of the medieval section. There are public squares where regional produce is sold, restaurants, stories, museums, offices, homes and all that makes for a vibrant community. Life is worth living in this beautiful center, and visiting it and its fine people made me once again proud of my German heritage while also remaining cognizant of my peoples’ mistakes.
But then we came home, to an election period unlike any other I have seen. It appeared comical at first, especially with the media (and I am of the media), mining so much of the bizarre but letting the substance slide. Until now. Hope it is not too late.
Returning from Nürnberg, and re-watching Triumph of the Will, gave me a chill regarding this U.S. presidential election. The ability to rouse a mass audience using slogans and prejudice and fear, all based on very real concerns (Germany, 1930s: economic woes worsened by war reparations, unemployment; America, 2016: dwindling middle class, poor immigration policy, rich getting richer, all costs rising).
Such conditions birth demagogues — political “leaders” who rally through false claims, simple promises and argument based on emotion not reason. Of such times humanity can once again turn into the dark.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. This column was originally published at The Column Rule.