Lion Feuchtwanger and Joseph Goebbels

Among the many things that I think are wrong with the world is the undoubted fact that more people remember Joseph Goebbels than Lion Feuchtwanger. If you don’t remember either of them, Goebbels was Hitler’s propaganda minister who looked like a character actor specializing in horror movie corpses. A creep’s creep. Feuchtwanger was a German-Jewish writer who wrote a novel about the rise and fall of the Nazi party in 1930, his timing being admittedly off even if his heart was in the right place. That book is called Success, and I’ve written a review of it.

Among the many things that I think is wrong with the world is the undoubted fact that more people remember Joseph Goebbels than Lion Feuchtwanger. If you don’t remember either of them, Goebbels was Hitler’s propaganda minister who looked like a character actor specializing in horror movie corpses. A creep’s creep. Feuchtwanger was a German-Jewish writer who wrote a novel about the rise and fall of the Nazi party in 1930, his timing being admittedly off even if his heart was in the right place. That book is called Success, and I’ve written a review of it.

Among the many things that I think is wrong with the world is the undoubted fact that more people remember Joseph Goebbels than Lion Feuchtwanger. If you don’t remember either of them, Goebbels was Hitler’s propaganda minister who looked like a character actor specializing in horror movie corpses. A creep’s creep. Feuchtwanger was a German-Jewish writer who wrote a novel about the rise and fall of the Nazi party in 1930, his timing being admittedly off even if his heart was in the right place. That book is called Success, and I’ve written a review of it.

So what do those two guys have in common? Feuchtwanger also wrote a book called Jew Suss, which I haven’t yet read but I understand is the story of human weakness, pride, and ambition. (No lack of material there.)

Feuchtwanger moved to America out of what appear in hindsight to be realistic concerns about how he might be treated if he went home. He might have been clued in by the fact that the French threw him in jail for being a German, and after Germany defeated France the Vichy government kept him there because the Germans wanted him. He lived in a time when if you weren’t paranoid, you probably weren’t paying attention. (Remind you of any other eras?)

 While Feuchtwanger was in the US being advised to stay there, Goebbels and Hitler were sitting around between bulldozing quaint villages and shooting innocent people, and they essentially redefined truth to mean whatever they wanted it to mean. (Again, remind you of anyone in politics today? Everyone in politics today?) They also decided, being a couple of fun guys, to make some movies. As you might imagine, they weren’t thinking along the lines of Mary Poppins or the Love Bug. And Goebbels seemed to hit on the idea of Jew Suss.

 It’s easy to think of the Nazis as homicidal, lunatic, sexual deviants and wonder what planet they dropped off of. Easy because for the most part, that’s an accurate characterization. But they also had fits of evil genius, and Jew Suss was one of these. What could be better than taking a novel by a Jewish writer and turning it into an anti-Semitic diatribe of a movie? Twisting history or the truth into unrecognizable shapes seems commonplace now, but at the time it was pretty original. On top of it, they actually used decent writers, actors, and directors so that the actual movie was supposedly pretty well made and popular. (I haven’t seen it, not having the stomach for that sort of thing.)

 So what’s the moral of all this? Is there a moral to all this? I think so. People remember Goebbels (or given the state of education today they at least remember Hitler). In fact, you still see the swastika today. (Evidently a Sanskrit word meaning good feeling, although that comes from the Internet so I’m open to it being incorrect.) What is certain is that the swastika was around for centuries and used by cultures all over the world before the far right in Germany adopted it and Hitler decided it’d be something catchy for his flag. (Again, these guys’ originality was in twisting things for their own purposes, not making up new things.)

You still see the swastika tattooed into shaved heads and other places of interest. Madison Avenue must be in awe of Goebbels and the Nazis. What other product has ever brought down an entire country and almost a continent into flaming inferno and remained a viable marketing tool 70 years later? And it’s not just the swastika. The Nazi propaganda methodology, pioneered by Hitler and perfected by Goebbels, which was to twist the truth into a shape its mother wouldn’t recognize and then scream it like a lunatic it at everyone who hints at a different opinion, is alive and well. If you don’t think so, watch a little television. (I don’t watch much, again not having the stomach for it.)

 So the question, if not the moral, is what kind of a society remembers people like Hitler but seems to have completely forgotten not only his victims, but those who actually tried to fight back in some way that? And what is the future of a society that reserves its most admiration for people who knock down and destroy things rather than those who build, grow, and create things?

George Santayana (I know you don’t remember him.) said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I used to know a guy who said something similar, “If I had to do it all over again, I probably would.” Whether you like the academic standards of the week being pushed, it would be nice if more people came out of school knowing about Lion Feuchtwanger.

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