Julie Mayhew is ‘the girl least likely to write a book about Nazis’. But she did. In her series for Standard Issue, she shares what she discovered along the way…
To be honest, I’ve always been a little suspicious of people who watch too many. Does their obsessive historical interest in Hitler mask a secret admiration?
Yet here I am, with a Sky Planner knocking 90 per cent because of all the Nazi documentaries viewed and saved. Friends will email saying, “Saw this thing about Nazis and thought of you.”
Last week, I called through the house, “Anyone seen the book I’m reading at the moment?” And my nine-year-old’s casual reply was: “What, the one about Nazis?”
I feel compelled to read every book on the subject, fact and fiction, to watch every documentary, see every film – predominantly so I can sound authoritative in post-publication interviews and articles like this one.
But still, what have I become?
Last month, my local cinema showed 13 Minutes, a new German film about Georg Elser, a lone outsider who decided enough was enough and tried to blow up Hitler, mistiming his attack by the 13 minutes of the film’s title. Of course, I had to see it.
It was powerful and traumatic, celebrating the rebel who is willing to act, and it did not recoil from showing the torture Elser suffered after his arrest. I flinched in my seat with every blow, and eventually, though I know I shouldn’t, I had to look away. Enough was enough.
“The late Alan Coren famously and ironically put a swastika on the cover of one of his collections of comic writings, knowing this would guarantee sales.”
Why do we keep revisiting this evil? was the question I found myself asking. Do we learn anything from replaying the horrors? Shouldn’t we end this fascination with a despicable regime?
Ultimately I had to ask: why on earth have I written my book?
I understand that the revisiting of a terrible history is essential to ensuring that it is not repeated. Though Germany is leading the way in its humane response to Syria’s refugee crisis, it is also a country that has the need for a collective called Kein Bock Auf Nazis (No time for Nazis), supported by famous rock bands, to give young people a voice against neo-Nazism.
But why the need to keep going back over Nazi crimes in the UK? Or indeed the hunger for it? The late Alan Coren famously and ironically put a swastika on the cover of one of his collections of comic writings, knowing this would guarantee sales.
Do Nazi books and films enable us to revel in our finest victory, to revisit a Britain that was strung in bunting and united in Blitz spirit? I worry that they enable us to dismiss our own present-day shortcomings, reducing them to small change.
So that, I suppose, is the reason why I wrote my Nazi book.
Though The Big Lie paints a picture of how unbearable things were for young girls under a Nazi regime, the bolder message, I hope, is that the way we treat girls, here, right now, is not always something to celebrate.
And with that, I must go and clear some space on my Sky planner…2815 Views
Julie Mayhew writes radio dramas about love and novels devoid of romance, most recently Nazi alt-history The Big Lie.