Arnon Grunberg



On alternative realities – Richard J. Evans in NYRB:

‘Richard J. Evans’s The Hitler Conspiracies is a suite of investigations into conspiracy theories relating to Hitler and the Third Reich—whether they paved the way for the Nazi regime and its policies, served propaganda purposes either for or against the Nazis, or provided fodder in the postwar era for what has become a deliriously unfettered global traffic in “alternative facts.” Having recounted the history of the Third Reich in a series of magisterial volumes and engaged closely and combatively with postwar revisionists (In Hitler’s Shadow) and Holocaust deniers (Lying About Hitler), Evans now confronts history that is not simply distorted or evaded but replaced altogether by a fantastic parallel version. The result, far from being a narrowly specialized study, could not be wider and more timely in its implications.’


‘Beginning in the aftermath of the French Revolution—a crucial juncture for the formation of modern-style conspiracy theories centering around libertine philosophers, Illuminati, Freemasons, and Jews—the book moves inexorably toward our present moment: “Nowhere has the spread of conspiracy theories and ‘alternative facts’ become more obvious than in revisionist accounts of the history of the Third Reich.”’


‘As recently as late August, for instance, the Republican National Convention scrubbed at the last minute a video presentation on stricter immigration policies when the scheduled speaker, Mary Ann Mendoza, promoted on Twitter a long thread asserting, among other claims, that “‘The Protocols Of The Elders of Zion’ Is Not A Fabrication. And, It Certainly Is Not Anti-Semetic [sic] To Point Out This Fact.”’


‘Time and again Evans comes up against the same wall: for the truly committed, “ultimately facts did not matter.” He elucidates, for instance, how the belief that at the end of World War I the German army was “stabbed in the back”—by Social Democrats, Communists, profiteers, and slackers of all sorts—merged with the conviction that German Jews had systematically evaded combat duty.
When the War Ministry in 1916 ordered a census to establish the truth of this, the results showed that “80 per cent of Jewish soldiers were serving at the front,” but this information was withheld from the public, and anti-Semitic activists remained free to brandish their imaginary statistics on the subject. When the census became available after the war, it made little difference. Evans cites the argument of the right-wing ideologue Hans Blüher in 1922: It’s no use today for the Jewish press to try and refute the “myth of the stab-in-the-back.” You can prove and refute anything…. In this instance no “proofs” for and against are of any use, even if a hundred thousand Jews had fallen for the Fatherland.
In the case of the Protocols, Evans goes so far as to propose that relatively few of those inclined to cite it as a reliable source—including Hitler—had read much or any of it. For most it was enough to believe that there existed copious documentary evidence of a conspiracy to create a worldwide Jewish dictatorship, and to scan the lurid running heads provided by helpful editors (“Reign of Terror…The Poison of Liberalism…The Spreading of Epidemics…Gentiles are Sheep”); it was not necessary to wade through the many garbled and contradictory pages whose details reflected the political preoccupations of an earlier era.’


‘A quick scan of the Internet gives a more muted impression of current consensus regarding responsibility, with a range of websites rendering such final judgments as “almost impossible to know” (Smithsonian Magazine) and “a topic of debate and research” (Wikipedia, whose entry does however allot much space to arguments favoring Nazi guilt). Evans finds no such ambiguity, declaring that “the argument for van der Lubbe’s sole culpability for the Reichstag Fire is overwhelming”—the same conclusion reached by an initial report of the Berlin police and reaffirmed in what Evans considers highly convincing detail by the German writer Fritz Tobias in his book The Reichstag Fire: Legend and Reality (1962).
The Reichstag fire presents itself as a very different sort of matter from the Protocols. The latter conjured up an ancient conspiracy of global dimensions and forecast the future crimes that would arise from it, on the basis of no evidence other than the imaginary testimony of imaginary witnesses. The fire did actually occur; an investigation and a trial took place; material evidence was produced. One might imagine that many decades later it would be possible to converge on a plausible explanation.’


‘Early in The Hitler Conspiracies, Evans quotes the British historian John Gwyer commenting in the year of the Munich Conference on the appeal of the Protocols: “One is reluctant to think that the average intelligence of mankind is really so low that it cannot distinguish between plain truth and fantastic falsehood.” Since 1938 it has not become any easier to think otherwise. More books on Hitler in Argentina have been published in the first two decades of this century than in the previous fifty-five years. In Argentina, it is said, Eva gave birth to daughters, one of whom may well be Angela Merkel. Then again, Hitler seems to have ended up in Indonesia, where he converted to Islam. Or was he buried in Antarctica among the secret Nazi bases housing anti-gravity rockets? Meanwhile, Jerome Corsi (remembered for having helped orchestrate the smear attack on John Kerry’s war record in 2004) has recounted in Hunting Hitler (2014) how Allen Dulles and the CIA helped Hitler make it to Argentina; in later writings he discerns Hitler’s ideological legacy in free trade agreements and the Affordable Care Act.
Evans gets as much humor as he can from all this, with the implicit irritation of the historian forced to spend so much time and energy demolishing theories that required so little effort to construct in the first place—knowing all the while the hardy persistence of the groundless and the certainty that his own scholarship will be vilified as the inherently compromised “official” cover-up. Hitler may have died in the bunker, but narratives asserting that he did not will endure as long as there is anyone on the planet who cares enough to perpetuate them. Such narratives exist in a timeless zone outside history, ready to be recalled to life at any moment.’

Read the article here.

For the truly committed ultimately facts don’t matter.

The ‘modern’ conspiracy theory might have started after the French revolution, the widespread idea in Europe in (for example) the 16th century that you needed to burn heretics in order to save their souls is nothing but a conspiracy authority endorsed by the authorities in that time.

And remember Voltaire in ‘Candide’ about the earth quake in Lisbon?

For some the best of all possible worlds start with the realization that ‘dark powers’ are secretly behind their own and other people’s misery. Another attempt to assign meaning to misery.

The conspiracy theorists might be seen as proof of Dostoevsky’s Great-Inquisitor that the people are not ready for freedom. We must take the Great-Inquisitor seriously, without giving in to the temptation of burning contemporary heretics.

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