Lieven's Blog

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He's Back…Germany's Healing Process

clipboard-with-pencil_16x16 I read the book “Er ist wieder da” (He’s Back). It is an in Germany best selling satiric novel by Timur Vermes about Hitler returning to Germany in 2011. It is a book full of humor but it is not the cliché humor you normally hear about Hitler and Nazi Germany. Timur studied the subject very well and uses his in-depth knowledge of historical facts in a clever and intriguing way. By bringing Hitler back in this age, where he has access to Google and Youtube, he confronts us with the power of these wonderful new media and how it can (and already is) used by people with intentions that go against freedom and democracy. He tells a brilliant story that make you laugh but worried at the same time.

For me this book is another example of how Germany deals with its past. I respect the Germans a lot for it. Instead of neglecting what once happened (like some other European cultures still do) they have studied their past over and over, and they did not accept any taboos while doing so. They studied what business man did during the Nazi regime, what youth organizations did, the role of local governments, the role of normal citizen, the role of women organizations, the role of the democratic parties, etc. All these different angles of analyzing their Nazi past has created a larger picture that shows how a society can be mislead, and by this, how it prepares its own destruction. It was this lager picture that made me aware as a young adult why Hitler and his party came to power in a democratic way. It came as a shock to me that our democracy could be so vulnerable. In my naivety, I had thought in those days that such evil people only get to power by using violence or a political coup. Of course the reality is different.

Germany is not a perfect society, but to me it is a rare example of how a society across generations can and should deal with a traumatic past. Acknowledging what happened instead of denying it, speaking about it instead of nurturing taboos, taking responsibility instead of blaming others and studying the past instead of covering it up, are signs of a mature way of processing a trauma. Especially for a generation that did not even existed when all that destruction in Europe took place, it is important to keep the memory alive and even more important to nurture the responsibility to prevent such evil from reemerging.

One indication that a trauma is healing, is that one can talk about it in a realistic and concrete way without leaving out essential parts or without exaggerating or diminishing what happened. The story becomes then informative and a tool for future generations to better judge the times that they are living in.

For me the brilliantly made movies “Der Untergang” (Downfall) and “Dass leben der anderen” (The Lives of Others) are stories of Germany’s past that show the progress of a healing process. The book “Er is wieder da” also belongs to this category although it is a different genre. Humor is the court jester's tool to speak the truth.

Timur Vermes story goes beyond describing the past. In an entertaining and humorous way, he forces us to realize that especially in our digital and media driven age we are not immune against the influence of charismatic leaders and their propaganda. While reading the story I had to think about some politicians in my own country and about Pim Fortyn, a political leader in The Netherlands who was assassinated in 2002.

The way messages are brought to us these days has changes, the packaging might be different, the messages more subtile, and we have “like” buttons now, but as humans we will always run the risk of being misled by leaders with wrong intentions. It’s hard to predict upfront what the real intentions of a political leader are. Only after we voted for him and gave him the power, we will learn about his true intentions. It is the tricky part about power, once given, its hard to get it back.

“He’s back” is a book by Timur Vermes. Not only for Germans. I highly recommend it.

Er is wieder da (He’s Back) Satiric Novel by Timur Vermes

Der Untergang (The Downfall) about the final days of Hitler

Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) About the Stasi in the former DDR (East-Germany)

For a short interview with Timur Vermes see:

A small and funny ad you find here: