I’m half Danish, half German. I grew up in Denmark (before flitting to Scotland when I was 30), but of course I still identify as German, too.
My German grandparents were born in 1899 and 1900, so of course they remembered both World Wars equally well, and they obviously had vivid memories of raising their kids between and during the wars (they had thirteen weans, born between 1927 and 1944, and ten survived till adulthood).
They weren’t Nazis. They voted against Hitler at every opportunity, but given the number of kids they had, there was a limit to what they could do. Nevertheless, I believe they always felt guilty not to have done more.
While they were still alive, their memories of the interwar period seemed somewhat irrelevant to me, like it was ancient history without relevance to the modern world.
And yet, today I’m sitting here wishing for a time machine so that I could speak to them. The Tories’ hideous conference is making me want to discuss Hitler’s ascent to power with somebody who lived through those years. How certain have you got to be that what you’re seeing is beyond the pale before you act? What should you be looking out for? What would they have done differently with hindsight?
My great-grandparents lost their entire fortune during the German hyperinflation. My great-grandfather was a lad-o-pairts who had moved to Stuttgart as a teenager, got an apprenticeship as a baker and ended up owning one of Stuttgart’s largest and most central bakeries with lots of employees, but he and and my great-grandmother lost everything during the 1920s, and they had to move in with my grandparents. My dad remembers them as grumpy and disillusioned.
Given the way the pound is falling like a stone, I wouldn’t mind using my time machine to have a wee chat with them too about what to do when you live in an economic basket-case country.
Sadly, however, there are no time machines, and we have to use history books and our gut feelings to navigate these troubled waters. I guess that’s why history keeps repeating itself.