This happened quite clearly with the arts section of the Aug. 15 New York Times. One of the cover stories bore the headline, "Salzburg and Nazis: A History in Dispute." It seems there's a new documentary by British filmmaker Tony Palmer called "The Salzburg Festival: A Short History," which has miffed officials of the longtime musical gathering because it looks at the festival's "intertwined relationship with the Nazis."
Does this surprise anyone but the people running the place? One of the truisms to come out of the war has been that Austrians made far more enthusiastic Nazis than the Germans, which didn't make Hitler very happy.
I turned to Page 2, and read about the further adventures of Gunter Grass, the German novelist and left-wing scold who suddenly recalled that he'd served in the elite Nazi Waffen SS during World War II. The small item among the news briefs explained that on Aug. 14, Lech Walesa, the former president of Poland and a Nobel Peace Laureate, "was joined by the ruling party of Poland in calling upon Mr. Grass … to relinquish his honorary citizenship of his birthplace, the port city of Gdansk (formerly Danzig) in northern Poland. Mr. Walesa, also an honorary citizen of the city, where the defiantly anti-Communist Solidarity movement was born, said, 'If it had been known he was in the SS, he would never have received the honor,' Agence France-Presse reported."
The very next item talked about "a Chinese-American co-production of a film about the 1937 Japanese massacre of Chinese civilians known as the Rape of Nanking." It was noted that the film would be the "Chinese equivalent" of Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List." According to historians, more than 300,000 civilians were slain and more than 80,000 women were raped … after the Japanese captured Nanking, now Nanjing, which was the capital of the Chinese republic."
The last item reported on how Germany had decided to forgive the radical playwright Bertolt Brecht. "Fifty years after his death at 58 on Aug. 14, 1956, Bertolt Brecht was honored yesterday in Germany with productions of his works in theaters across the country, Agence France-Presse reported yesterday. The outpouring gave evidence that Germany was prepared to forgive Brecht for going to his grave a Communist and embrace him. A playwright, poet and theatrical reformer, Brecht wrote works including 'Mother Courage and Her Children,' 'The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui' and, with Kurt Weill [his Jewish collaborator], 'The Threepenny Opera.' "
This may be a new millennium, but the past century keeps nudging us in the ribs.
Ah, the afterlife of totalitarianism!