"The Waffen-SS is widely seen as one of the main perpetrators of the Holocaust..."
"Widely seen" by whom? Certainly not by anyone who actually has even a passing knowledge of the role of the Waffen-SS!
German Magazine Accused Over Historical Views
The Waffen-SS is widely seen as one of the main perpetrators of the Holocaust, but not in the pages of Der Landser, a weekly German pulp magazine.
In one recent issue, members of the feared World War II military unit were portrayed as just a bunch of good-natured soldiers doing their jobs and, between battles, sharing rounds of local plonk with Greek villagers grateful to have been invaded. “We conquered them, and they’re still a friendly folk,” remarked one member of the squad, which belonged to Hitler’s personal bodyguard.
That jarring view of history, in a magazine published by one of Germany’s largest news media companies and available for download on Amazon and Apple iTunes, has come under fire from a prominent American Jewish group. Acting on what it said were several recent complaints, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles invoked German laws against Nazi propaganda and Holocaust denials in asking Berlin last week to shut down Der Landser.
German Interior Ministry officials said they took the Wiesenthal Center complaint “very seriously” and would investigate. But in the meantime, companies that publish and distribute Der Landser said they would continue doing so, noting that previous legal challenges had failed to find fault with the editorial stance of the magazine, whose relatively small circulation belies its lightning-rod role in Germany.
The new focus on Der Landser is the latest incarnation of a debate — one that has lasted decades — over the balance between free speech and efforts in Germany to eradicate the neo-Nazi movement and tamp down anti-Semitism. And in an era when any publication, no matter how obscure, can be disseminated far and wide via the Internet, the controversy sharpens the focus on the question of whether companies like Amazon and Apple are responsible for scrutinizing what is being sold through their digital channels.
The magazine, which advertises that it is based on true events but also clearly includes fictional elements, studiously avoids mentioning the word “Nazi” and does not overtly propagate anti-Semitism. But critics say Der Landser, with its failure to acknowledge atrocities and displaying little sense of regret for the deaths of tens of millions of people, is stuck in a World War II time warp that ignores efforts by broader German society to come to terms with Nazi crimes.
Even if Der Landser technically stays within legal bounds, critics contend, it nourishes a violence-prone, far-right subculture that is particularly strong in eastern Germany, where a rightist party has seats in the state Parliament of Saxony. The law enforcement authorities in Dresden, the capital of Saxony, said they often found copies of Der Landser when they raided homes of those suspected of being neo-Nazis.
“The way they interpret it, everyone in the Wehrmacht was just like in the American Army or the Canadian Army or the British Army,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Wiesenthal Center, using the term for the German armed forces at that time. “They forget the most important point. People in this army were thugs and murderers who almost brought down Western civilization.”
He called Amazon’s refusal to stop selling the magazine “preposterous.”
Der Landser, named for a term describing common soldiers in World War II and founded by a German Luftwaffe veteran in 1957, has already survived numerous frontal assaults by critics over the years. It has been the subject of several critical academic studies and reports in the German news media, and individual issues of the magazine have been sanctioned by a government office that vets news media content that could harm young people.
But even some experts skeptical of its pseudo-historical tales of military heroics and camaraderie among German forces question whether the magazine violates the prohibition against glorifying Nazism or denying the Holocaust.
“Legally, there is not much to grab on to,” said Peter Conrady, a retired professor of literature at the University of Dortmund who has studied Der Landser. Mr. Conrady said the magazine subtly promotes nationalism by portraying German soldiers, even from the S.S., as sympathetic everymen who were morally superior to their enemies.
Mr. Conrady said a ban of the magazine would simply drive such material underground. It would be more useful to promote public knowledge of the issues raised by the magazine’s portrayal of history, he said.
“It’s important for the public to be aware of this phenomenon,” he said.
The magazine is now produced by an editor young enough to be a grandchild of the war veterans, who waves off assertions that Der Landser plays to contemporary extreme rightist sentiments. In a brief telephone interview, Guntram Schulze-Wegener, the editor in chief of Der Landser, as well as several other magazines about military history, said the content was nonpolitical. Mr. Schulze-Wegener, who is in his late 40s, declined to comment further, saying he had to first consult with his superiors.
Der Landser’s publisher, Bauer Media Group, cited previous rulings by German officials that the magazine did not violate any laws. Its own review of the magazine has concluded that the magazine “neither glorifies National Socialism nor downplays Nazi crimes,” Bauer saidin a statement. Bauer would not disclose the circulation of the magazine, widely distributed on newsstands and online, but about a decade ago it was estimated at 60,000, not counting special issues.
Amazon said Friday that it would continue to sell the magazine after determining it had previously passed muster with German officials who scrutinize the news media available to children.
Apple, which offers Der Landser on iTunes, did not respond to e-mails and telephone messages last week asking whether it was aware of the content of the magazine. The Wiesenthal Center said it planned to complain to Apple but had not done so as of Friday.
If anything, the recent criticism from the Wiesenthal Center seems likely to bring new, unflattering attention to Bauer, which is based in Hamburg. The center was named for Simon Wiesenthal, the famed Nazi hunter who helped the authorities locate war criminals like Adolf Eichmann. Bauer is a privately owned publishing giant with extensive business in the United States and other markets outside Europe.
Bauer’s U.S. titles include In Touch, the celebrity magazine, and also several soap opera fan magazines, including ABC Soaps in Depth. It also publishes the German edition of Cosmopolitan and Australian editions of Rolling Stone and a girl’s magazine called Disney Princess, according to the company’s Web site.
Rabbi Hier said the Wiesenthal Center decided to complain to Bauer, Amazon and the German authorities after receiving several complaints and reviewing a study conducted for the center by Stefan Klemp, a German journalist and historian. Mr. Klemp compiled evidence that numerous officers profiled reverentially in Der Landser belonged to units that had committed atrocities, even if they were never themselves convicted of war crimes.
One recent issue, for example, described the exploits of August Zingel, a member of a so-called SS-Totenkopf, or “Death’s Head,” unit. Members of the Totenkopf units were notorious for their role running concentration camps, including Auschwitz, though that fact was not mentioned by Der Landser. According to the magazine, Mr. Zingel survived the war and died in 2000 at the age of 79.
Far from being a mark of guilt, the silver skull insignia of the Totenkopf unit is portrayed in the story as a badge of honor.
“On the day that he was accepted into the SS-Totenkopf unit,” the text says of one soldier, “he stepped out of the shadow of his older brother. He had made it.” The story tells how the soldier was then able to marry his dream wife, Edeltraud, who bore him two healthy children.
Critics say the magazine provides fodder for the far right’s fascination with World War II military awards and medals. The magazine features profiles of officers who were awarded the Knight’s Cross, a version of the Iron Cross, which predated the rise of the Nazis but was appropriated by them.
Der Landser is seen as part of a far-right subculture that evades bans on swastikas and blatant Nazi propaganda with an elaborate system of codes and cultural markers they use to identify themselves. A tattoo of the numbers “88” stands for “HH” or “Heil Hitler.” (H is the eighth letter in the alphabet.) Clothing with the Thor Steinar brand has become so closely associated with neo-Nazism that some soccer clubs refuse to allow people wearing the label into stadiums. The Iron Cross belongs to the catalog of favored neo-Nazi symbols. Der Landser also provides this subculture a body of literature they can call their own, critics say.
Even outside far-right circles, though, there remains a debate in Germany about how much blame the regular German Army of World War II bears for war crimes.
In April, a huge television audience tuned in for a three-part fictional mini-series, “Unser Mütter, unsere Väter” (“Our Mothers, Our Fathers”), which dealt with how World War II distorted the moral outlook of five young German friends. The film depicted Wehrmacht soldiers murdering civilians, including children. Though the series generally won praise, a few critics argued that it ignored the large number of soldiers who were neither war criminals nor resisters, but were just trying to survive.
Many Germans still regard the regular army as largely guilt-free. Joachim Wolf, who operates several anti-Nazi Web sites, said that Der Landser perpetuated the myth that atrocities were the work of a few fanatics and that most German soldiers remained “pure.”
“The crimes are completely ignored,” Mr. Wolf said. “That plays into the hands of the right-wingers.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/29/world ... =all&_r=1&