Musings of Evil and Good
Karin Finell -- April 12, 2007
An essay from Karin Finell, who grew up in World War II Berlin, and whose recently published memoir, Good-bye to the Mermaids, A Childhood Lost in Hitler's Berlin has been getting great reviews.
My chief editor once told me, when I asked why she published so many books about the Nazi era of Germany, that she had always wondered how so much evil grew so quickly in Germany, in a country known to be rational and literate and educated. Racism then, how did it all start? How did the idea of Hitler's Super-race, the Übermensch, and all of those ideas take hold of a logical people?
I'm reading a lot about this time, as I grapple with feelings that have only recently surfaced. I search for answers to questions I am asked at my readings, my talks at book signings. I am trying to understand, but still not coming close to understanding. The Evil is too overwhelming. At this moment I am reading Norman Mailer's new book, The Castle in the Forrest. A fascinating book. When I heard him recently on C-Span, he said that Stalin killed many more millions and so did Mao Tse-Tung. But Hitler was more evil because he killed using a metaphor. Only a writer would find that difference. I wonder what Pablo Neruda would think, who exclaimed, "Oho! Il metofero!" How did the Evil One then use this "metaphor?" He exhorted the German people to annihilate certain races. The Jews, the Slavs, the Gypsies. They were vermin, he had to clean the land of them. Ugly and evil as these sayings are, they are all metaphors. Whereas Stalin eliminated those he felt were a threat to him in a power struggle, quietly, by sending them to the Gulag where millions died, Hitler used theatrical rhetoric, metamorphosed the German people into an audience, while they sat mesmerized hearing the macabre theater of his speeches recited in his gravelly voice on the radio. Stalin killed for power by banishing and also executions, whereas Hitler built a refined machinery to do the killing: Hitler the first mass murderer using the metaphor and modern "technical" innovations.
I am trying to understand that period of my history and get answer to some of those questions. The Castle in the Forrest is a novel about Hitler. About Good and Evil. Mailer is taking quite a leap when he tells the story of Hitler and his incestuous, "having been begotten" through the p.o.v. of one of the lesser devils hovering around the denseness of the atmosphere at his birth. Sort of the opposite to the angels who watched over the birth of Christ. My having grown up with a mother interested in Theosophy and reincarnation, I accept this particular interpretation of Hitler's origins. Then I came to the pages where his father, Alois, in his sixties, retired and keeping bees, explains the living and mating habits of bees to the six-year-old Adolf. "They are not a Christian society," the father explains, "There is no brotherly love, if one of them cannot work and support the community, he gets killed. The drone who is the most perfect specimen is able to fly the highest and it is he who mates with the queen. The others wait for another chance, at another flight, however, there is no room for bees that are not productive. Once the drones have done their part in fertilizing the queen, they get killed or get thrown out of the hive."
These sentiments do not deal with racism, but certainly with the formation of Adolf's ideals of the Übermensch, and the slogan: "One for All." The Christian sentiment of brotherly loved is extinguished early on in the child, Adolf. Alois Hitler put into the young boy's mind ideas that led to the establishing programs of euthanasia of the infirm, the mentally handicapped, and of cripples. Wow! And all this from a lecture about bees.
The book is fascinating in part because it is so well written. His ideas about reincarnation, his belief in Evil versus Good, in an almost Manicheistic way surprised me, since Norman Mailer grew up Jewish. The Cathars in 13th century Languedoc, France have held a special fascination for me, for they too believed in a Manicheistic universe. I still plan to write a novel about their dualistic religion. Now I find similar ideas expressed by Mailer writing in the 21st century about the greatest Evil in the 20th, in a novel about Hitler.