Philosophical Theatre – Interview with Norman Ohler

We are still obsessed with the Nazis because they formed a very strong narrative that touched upon each person in Europe, and almost each person on the globe: World War II. It is a narrative that - in a most terrible way - unites us all. Every family was touched by it. And fact is that most people who physically experienced this tragedy are dead by now. The oldest eye-witnesses will soon be gone. So soon there are no more people alive telling us about it, and we must rely on books, and movies. That’s why these „cultural witnesses“ have a great role in our understanding of what fascism and Nazism means. It is - I think - important to keep in mind what happened in order to fully understand it, in order to combat right-wing populism these days.

- Two years since it was published, your book has been translated into thirty languages. Is there a difference in the way the book is received in Germany, and the way it is received in the countries of the WW2 allies?

No difference. Except in India, where people still love Hitler, and were shocked to read my deconstruction of him.

- You have written a book which almost completely excludes fictional narration, moving it into historical science. That is a slippery ground of social responsibility for the facts that suggest that German people was irresponsible in terms of history and ethics because it was drugged with chemical substances, and not by the great Fuhrer who raised the destroyed and defeated Weimar Germany, turning it into a great force which bedazzled with is destructive power. Do you think that you have written a book which is socially and historically dangerous, as some relevant world media, for e.g. The Guardian and the Financial Times claim in their reviews?

I think these reviews are narrow-minded, and wrong. No reader of my book has so far reacted with a feeling of „Well the Nazis were not really responsible. “ The answer to your question really lies in the book. I have discussed the question of responsibility extensively, and my answer is No. Drug taking does not excuse anything, just like the usage of certain weapons do not excuse the person pulling the trigger.

- We can see that the right wing is getting stronger in the former DDR, for e.g. Pegida, centred in Dresden - the town which suffered a total destruction, a non-nuclear Hiroshima, by the allies. How do you explain that? A decade-long poverty, or the dictatorship under the Soviet occupation? Does it tell us that east Germans are not entirely de-nazified because they had a pro-Soviet dictatorship, and went from the Nazi terror to the communist Soviet occupation?

Pockets of East German population feel like they are on the „loser-side“ of history, due to the Socialist dictatorship, and their little economic success today in united Germany. Unfortunately humans in general are not entirely de-nazified, just look at the American President. There are right-wing positions everywhere in the world. They arise out of fear (of the other), out of weakness - this is not only an East German phenomenon.

- The criminal law recognizes the principle Actiones Libere in Cause, which differentiates between the crime committed involuntarily and the one committed with a hidden intent, where the guilt is not mitigated but taken as a means which lets the criminal commit the crime more easily. Simply put, it means that a criminal deliberately, though intoxication, brings himself into a state of uncountability. It is taken as a burden of proof that the crime was premeditated. In my opinion, the fierce debate about your book stems from this dilemma. Have you justified them as accountable or you accused them of being cowards who were incapable of committing horrendous crimes without the aid of strong drugs?

For me every murderer is accountable, including soldiers who „just pull the trigger“. Resistance against fascist leadership, and fascist orders is always possible. It might be difficult, but it is possible. There is no excuse to kill another human being, and it doesn’t matter to me whether you are drunk doing it, or wide awake on methamphetaminе.