Monday, 4 January 2010

New books: Nazi Germany’s allies and the question of guilt

In 2006 the Swedish journalist Henrik Arnstad published his biography of Christian Günther, the country’s wartime foreign minister who bears much of the responsibility for the country’s somewhat too friendly attitude towards Nazi Germany during the first years of World War II. This policy has come under debate in Sweden in recent decades, and in his new book, Skyldig till skuld – En europeisk resa i Nazitysklands skugga, Arnstad looks at how the countries which were Nazi Germany’s actual allies have dealt with the question of their own share in the guilt.
He argues that the Axis countries’ collective memories are often very selective and that some of them have chosen to cast themselves in the role as victims rather than facing their own crimes. The fact that Germany has taken on the guilt issue so openly that the collective sense of responsibility is ever present in that country has in Arnstad’s view contributed to making it more difficult for other countries to do so – or easier to avoid doing so.
Finland is the prime example, according to Arnstad. The national hero Marshal Mannerheim was a “war criminal – responsible for concentration camps, ethnic cleansing and mass murder”. The book offers a detailed background for these charges, and Arnstad points out that Finland in cooperation with Germany planned and carried out the attack on the Soviet Union in 1941.
Following the war Finland’s view of its own wartime history has been characterised by concerns for the nation’s honour being put above truth. Rather than taking to task their country’s crimes, the Finns prefer to remember the more glorious Winter War of 1939-1940 and have indulged in debates such as if Finland and Germany were not really allied but just happened to fight a common enemy. Arnstad dismisses such notions and concludes that Finland in reality was Germany’s most important ally.
In Rome Henrik Arnstad found the “Liberation Museum” (Museo Storico della Liberazione) symptomatic of how Italy sees its role in the war. The museum is concerned solely with the allied “liberation” of Italy in 1943 and the German atrocities committed on Italian soil during the next two years. Italy’s own alliance with Nazi Germany before that is simply ignored.
To select only one part of one’s story and thereby being able to cast oneself in the role of victim is something which has also been done in Austria, a country where the denials had to be faced when the old Nazi Kurt Waldheim was elected President in 1986. But the idea that Austria was “Hitler’s first victim” still prevails and as recently as 2008 Otto von Habsburg said that “no country in Europe has a greater right than Austria to call itself a victim”. Arnstad sees these ideas in relation with the growing right-wing extremism in both Italy and Austria.
Henrik Arnstad’s book is thought-provoking and an important contribution to the fight against historical forgetfulness. It might however have been interesting if he had also included Spain and how that country is currently trying to come to terms with its Fascist past.


  1. bonjour M. Trond Norén Isaksen.

    J'ai bien reçu votre message, mais je ne peux vous répondre car votre adresse mail est incorrecte, pouvez vous me la communiquer à l'adresse suivante


  2. I agree totally with what His Imperial and Royal Highness our "Thronfolger" Archduke Otto said, in 1934 the Austrian chancellor Dolfuss was murdered by the Nazis, his successor baron Kurt von Schuschnigg fought against the "Anschluss" to the German Reich, he was ready to call for a plebiscite in order that all Austrians will express their rejection to any union with Hitler's Reich. Those where times, when the vast majority of Austrians were favourable to the restoration of the House of Habsburg, like happened in Hungary as well. After the German invasion, thousands of members of the Austrian intelligentsia, nobility, former officers of the Imperial and Royal army, Jews, patriots were sent to concentration camps like the two sons of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Hohenberg brothers, and thousands left the country and went to exile, two of the daughters of Kaiser Karl I, Archduchess Elisabeth and Adelaide helped thousands of Austrians Jews to escape, with the support of the Apostolic Nuncio, the Spanish Ambassador and other diplomats, most were smuggled to Hungary, Franz Werfel and Stefan Zweig openly monarchists were helped by Otto’s organization inside Austria, later Werfel was his secretary when the lived in the USA. Hitler outlawed all monarchist movements and the Empress Zita and her sons were condemned to death "in absentia". What happened next was quite natural, how you can resist a totalitarian regime, many did it and they perished or were in prison.

  3. I don't find it surprising or shocking that a museum dedicated to the liberation of Italy should be about just that, the Liberation.

    As for Finland, is it realistic to suppose that the Finns could have stayed out of the war, with both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia at their doorstep? The Finns could not remain passive in this situation. I'm sure crimes were committed along the way, but fundamentally, I think it was a just, and desperate, struggle to survive. I also think the Finns were perfectly entitled to go on the offensive, at least as far as regaining the territories lost in 1940.

    As for the tragic food shortages among Russian prisoners and the interned Russians in Karelia (if that is what he is talking about when he mentions "mass murder") didn't those happen at a time when Finland as a whole was suffering from food shortages? Mannerheim's biographer J. E. O. Screen writes of how many Russians died of malnutrition, indeed, but that Mannerheim actually tried to do what he could to improve their conditions.

  4. But is it not a bit odd that the only museum in Rome dealing with WWII deals exclusively with that short period of time when Italy can be presented as a victim and entirely ignores the long period of time before that when Italy was Germany's close ally?

    As for your other points I believe they are all among the misconceptions Henrik Arnstad takes to task in his book, which I can warmly recommend reading.

  5. Well, I suppose all nations have the tendency to prefer to see themselves as victims, true enough. On the other hand, at least in the case of Italy, the fascist period and the collaboration with the Nazis is hardly a secret, in any case.

  6. Indeed, but that is also a rather interesting contrast - everyone knows of the Italian collaboration, as you say, yet another story is told publicly, where Italy is rather cast in the role of the victim of those with whom one collaborated for many years.


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