The Story of Europe Remembrance and the Circle of European Friends who resisted Hitler

Presentation in Haidari, January 2014

Being here is a matter with mixed feelings – for different reasons:

  • If it would be only about the commemoration of the values, not about the outrages, it would be simple to say: I am glad to be here, commemorating the cradle of democracy
  • If it would be only about being ‘somewhere’ in Europe to stand up as one of those who resisted, and not in Greece, a country that is currently under severe pressure by self-acclaimed savours, it would be easier to say: I am glad to be here, commemorating together freedom and rights as fundamental values
  • If it would be only about coming together, knowing about the uncontested fundamental acceptance of some basic rules, it would be obvious, that I could say without any hesitation: I am glad being here, standing on the firm foundation of rights –here in the place that is widely accepted as cradle of Western democracy

I had been asked to give a short presentation from an academic perspective. But how can I do that?

  • Originally from Germany – now probably cross-national
  • Academic but brought up, and actually brought into academia not least after having been socialised in the anti-fa and anti-war movement
  • Being confronted with results of academic/scientific analysis that are obviously politically contestations and finally
  • Seeing academic work as being obliged to be politically biased.

Be it as it is, the following questions will be guiding me through this short intervention:

  1. What are the values actually about – and in which way are they general and timeless (if they are so at all)?
  2. What happened – here in Haidari, there in Germany and around that time here on the planet? And had it been simply a matter of violation of those values and rights?
  3. Where are we standing now – limiting the question here to the institutionalised Europe we are living in and the position of Greece?
  4. Can we find a common and fundamentally shared way forward?


Especially under today’s crisis-permeated conditions we can frequently hear the call for a kind of Renaissance: the good old values of past times – or should we say: the values of the good old times? – are called for and both, the values and the times are easily glorified. It is true that anything we may celebrate today politically and in terms of socio-economic progress – goes far back and finds its roots in particular here at the cradle of Europe: Greece and its capital Athens as source of freedom and democracy.

Nevertheless, Europe is more – or we also may say: it has also a less glorious root. And we have to take it as double-headed hydra. Claiming the glamorous charm, it had been also asking for a high price: the abduction of Europa by Zeus had been a story about violence and conquest, also standing at the cradle of Europe.

According to the Greek myth, Zeus, the Thunder-God residing on the Olympus, in the shape of a bull abducted Europa, the daughter of the Phoenician king Agenor and carried her over the sea to Crete. Agenor sent his sons out to search for their sister. One of them, Kadmos, landed in Greece and was told by the oracle of Delphi that he should wander around, armed with his spear till he reached the cowherd Pelagon in the land of Phokis. He should kill Pelagon – the man of earth, “born to die” – and choose the cow with the sign of the moon on both her flanks and follow her, till she would lie down, with her horns on the ground. On this hill he should kill and sacrifice her to the earth Goddess and then found a big city on this spot, Thebes.

Kadmos followed the oracle and became the founder of Thebes. He married Harmonia, the daughter of Ares, the War God, and Aphrodite (…). It is not clear from the myths whether he killed the moon-cow, obviously his sister Europa, or not. In any case, one does not hear of her again. She, the raped and abducted woman was only the means to lead the warrior and new culture hero into the foreign land and to his greatness.

(Maria Mies: Europe in the Global Economy or the Need to De-Colonize Europe; in: Peter Herrmann (Ed.): Challenges for a Global Welfare System: Commack, New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.; 1999: 153-171; here: 160 f.)

Both, sociology and historiography – and actually to a large extent also economics – had been nearly obsessed by the idea of the process of civilisation. In very broad terms it had been seen as process of increasing ‘inner control’ and ‘rationalisation’. But this had been a double-edged sword, asking on the one hand for an instrumental reason, and striving on the other hand for humanism, the freedom of the fully developed individual.

But why call it mere game, when we consider that in every condition of humanity it is precisely play, and play alone, that makes man complete and displays at once is twofold nature? What you call limitation, according to your conception of the matter, I call extension according to mine …

(Schiller, Friedrich, 1794: On the Aesthetic Education of Man In a Series of Letters. Translated and with an Introduction by Reinald Snell; New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1965: 79)

As much as European thinking is caught in the frame of trinities – from dialectics to the Christian thought of holiness – as much it is justified to see European history also as such trinity:

  • a – somewhat –integrated system, allowing integrity to develop
  • the emergence of expansionism
  • and an increasing individualism.

Taken together, this merges to a somewhat unstable system: unstable over time, unstable in regard of space and unstable with respect of social classes, contradictorily unstable in its values. And mind: all these different aspects go hand in hand with each other, are overlapping, complementing each other and in some ways allowing to establish some balance or equilibrium. And taken together also means we can in no way claim that we are dealing with a linear process of ‘civilisation’. It may even be that the perspective is harsher: instead of interrupting such process of civilising progress and partial regression , these ‘negativities’, these atrocities have to be interpreted as integral part of the very same process.

If we take – as commonly accepted – barbarisation as antonym of civilisation, we should reconsider it: it is inherent part of the Western way of civilisation so far. Finally, the meaning of barbarian is not much more as the outsider, the stranger the personification of the one who does not belong to “us”. And as such, the Western culture – with the one leg of conquest – always entailed this dimension: be with us or be condemned. But it also meant in the extreme: the barbarisation of self in the sense of positioning oneself outside of humane existence.


Of course, there is some simplification in the following – but at the same time it may grasp the situation better than any political blame games:

On the one hand we find a major shift on the international agenda: Behind the political scene – which surely played a decisive role – there are the crucially relevant trends:

  • the first one is a power struggle between different fractions of capital – namely between heavy- and light industries (as they had been called at the time)
  • the second had been a struggle between the mode of production in the understanding of the forms and degrees of ‘socialisation’ – of course the utmost impression of this had been the confrontation between capitalism and socialism.

Together, they formed a major battlefield for re-establishing new hegemonies on the global arena. And this battlefield is the background for fascism – the extremist form being its German version, extremist in terms of the extent of violence and warmongering; and the less extreme form as found for instance in Italy; but also the forms of a ‘voluntary subordination’ under fascist invaders as seen in Austria.

We all know the history – and probably nobody of us can grasp the real story. I mentioned earlier that I had been brought up in the anti-fa movement. Actually I had been too young – fascism had been in some way history for my generation. And for many in Western Germany, where I had been brought up, it had been a hushed up history; for myself I experienced it in a mediated, but very close way:

  • as member of the VVN-BdA – the association of those who had been prosecuted by the NAZI-regime, union of antifascists;
  • having friends who ‘survived’ the holocaust, visibly marked by the vestiges of unimaginable violence, and further flouted when they claimed there rights
  • this had been much more important for founding consciousness and determination to study these issues in depth than what we learned at school about German fascism but also about fascism in other countries as amongst others Greece
  • and finally the general silence and repression in that part of Germany had been another moment asking for assertiveness: It had been about getting aware of what the great writer – novelist and poet Bert Brecht meant:

The womb he crawled from is still going strong.

(Brecht: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui)

And having said earlier that we know history, but at most very little of the story of the people concerned, means that we have to look carefully and in a somewhat ‘balanced’ way at what exactly happened. The two sides to it are as follows:

(a) bestial creatures, acting in a way that we cannot imagine – made even more difficult to understand by the fact that these people acted consciously, at least in that way that they had been well aware of what they actually had been doing, looking into the faces of people they tortured and killed, facing the immediate negative effects on others. And there had been the another side, difficult to understand and that we may call ‘supra-natural powers and energies’: comrades of the resistance, going through pain and into death – for something they knew as superior value.

Both cases have, we may say, something in common: these had been people acting against something we usually call instinct. But there is a fundamental difference: the one group – fascists and their followers – acting against other people; on the other side people acting against themselves: their instinctive interest to survive.

Can we understand this? I do not mean intellectually but emotionally, by way of empathy? And how can we deal with it today, by way of the conclusions to be drawn.

(b) The second layer of confrontation is of analytical kind, concerned with grasping the structural dimension of what actually happened. As relevant as individual actors had been in this respect, as crucial is the fact that they could only step on the stage because of the ‘historical constellation’ – this had been briefly outlined by pointing on the two fundamental dimensions of the international power relations and the structural shifts in the economy.

As true as it is that history does not repeat itself, as true is that we are repeatedly confronted with some fundamental questions that we may see as ‘secular’: fundamental in the sense of coming up again and again, asking to be solved in different contexts and against different backgrounds.

This means not least that we do not only have to fear the uprising of such brutal animalistic individuals who had been carrying the fascist regime. We have to look at the very same time at the scaffolding that provides the hold for the stages.


Two dimensions – at the end questions of the fundamentally underlying economic relationship – have to be linked to the political dimensions. Leaving the more complex questions aside – the role played by values – there is in any case the important aspect that these power dimensions determine and require specific approaches to the values that we are commemorating: democracy, freedom and human rights. True, we tend to see them for good reasons as universal values – universal meaning eternally true and globally valid. But we should not overlook another aspect: the true meaning is depending on real places, real relations, real people and real political processes and structures.

The real place with which we are concerned is Europe, to be more precise: EUrope. It is a place that itself is torn between two extremes in history and today. On the one hand we find it being part of this one world, characterised by globalisation (the international arena of competition and power struggles) and mondialisation (the truly integrated and integral one-world-system); however, at the same time we find on the other hand the ‘demands’ of regional, national and sub-national entities. The one Europe is what appears to all non-Europeans: American, Japanese, African, Chinese people ‘go to Europe’ and feel that they are coming to this one, seemingly homogenous area. If we as Europeans ‘go to Europe’, we frequently mean going to Brussels, dealing with institutional EU-business. Besides this, the EU is for us full of heterogeneity, actually tensions and competitions. Indeed, the crisis – since 2007 – is not least just a culmination of the serious failure of establishing a sound and durable democracy: freedom cannot be reduced on the freedom of goods, capital, services and workers. And the same is true for the Human Rights: they have to go far and fundamentally beyond the civil, political and social rights of the members of the bourgeois society.


And there, I think, we have to appreciate the EU as important force: claiming in the preamble of the original Treaty that the signatories are

RESOLVED to ensure the economic and social progress of their countries by common action to eliminate the barriers which divide Europe,

AFFIRMING as the essential objective of their efforts the constant improvement of the living and working conditions of their peoples,

ANXIOUS to strengthen the unity of their economies and to ensure their harmonious development by reducing the differences existing between the various regions and the backwardness of the less favoured regions,

RESOLVED by thus pooling their resources to preserve and strengthen peace and liberty, and calling upon the other peoples of Europe who share their ideal to join in their efforts

But at the same time we have to criticise openly – openly in substantial terms and in terms of the publicity of the statement – current policies. In a more fundamental way we have to criticise not only what happens in connection with austerity policies: these have to be condemned because of the threat on the lives of people but also because of the illegitimate denial of a people to decide on their own policies. What we see is, however, only a consequence of the strategic plan of prioritising the Europe of a Single Market. In particular in Lisbon in 2000 the priorities had been redefined in a decisive way. The Lisbon strategy shaped negatively the inner relationships and the role of the EU in the world – not withstanding the arguments frequently brought forward against the claim of making the EU the most competitive economy of the world:

The Union has today set itself a new strategic goal for the next decade: to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.

This gathering here brings people from different ways of life together; people with different experiences and also different visions. Fascism has for all of us a different meaning: being a matter of personal experience, of aquired knowledge or of confrontation with neo-fascism. One ultimate thing should unite us: Openness. It is the readiness to be open in what we say, and it is the readiness to be open to what is said by others.

This can easily be seen as something that provides a different orientation for future development. Instead of aiming on being the most competitive region, Europe should claim to be the region with the highest social quality, allowing people to have control over how they produce and reproduce themselves in thorough togetherness with others, instead of competing as isolated individuals against each other.

We see that the tension I mentioned earlier as the root of today’s Europe: the tension between the Europe of the values of respect – founding democracy, freedom and rights – and the Europe of conquest, is also the tension that we have to face today and with which we have to deal

  • as individuals, accepting responsibility •
  • as groups and communities and states, living solidarity •
  • and as citizens, politicians, administrators and academics •

And in this way, coming back to the beginning, I am indeed glad being here as part of the commemoration and as one who can contribute to speaking out the reminder:



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