Nazi expert Reitzenstein on Zapfenstreich: "It depends on the context"

The service of the soldiers in Afghanistan was honored with the great tattoo.

Image: imago images / STEFAN ZEITZ

To analyse

14.10.2021, 18:2014.10.2021, 18:23

Martin Niewendick

The big tattoo in honor of the commitment of the armed forces in Afghanistan caused outrage. Because the soldiers held a torchlight procession in front of the Reichstag building during the ritual on Wednesday evening, many felt reminded of the National Socialists’ marches. For example, when power was handed over on January 30, 1933.

This began with a gunfire and a spontaneous exclamation that went down in history.

First the gunfire: A few hours after President Paul von Hindenburg had appointed the chairman of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), Adolf Hitler, as the new Reich Chancellor, the big show was about to start. Columns of SA, SS and other Nazi supporters lit torches and began a pompous triumphal march through the Brandenburg Gate. “It’s almost a dream,” noted Joseph Goebbels in his diary.

But the technology didn’t really want to play along. It is a principle of propaganda that every production is only as good as it is perpetuated in the media. And in the case of the torchlight procession, in the end there was nothing more than a collection of blurred images that were hardly suitable for further use. Goebbels had the scene re-enacted months later.

“I can eat Janich as much as I want to throw up!”

But one thing was triggered by the torchlight procession, and that brings us to the historic exclamation: “I can eat as much as I want to throw up!”, exclaimed the Impressionist painter of the century Max Liebermann as the troops marched past his house on Pariser Platz.

The German with Jewish roots later retired to Inner Emigration: “I only live out of hatred. … I no longer look out the window of this room – I don’t want to see the new world around me, “he told a visitor.

“The Great Zapfenstreich was not invented by the Nazis,” says Julien Reitzenstein, historian at the University of Düsseldorf. “The Nazi regime adopted certain aesthetics in many fields and sometimes politicized it.”

“The ritual has not changed for decades”

He asks why the tattoo is causing outrage right now. “The ritual has not changed for decades”. Thousands of soldiers should have risked their lives on the decision of the elected MPs, says the expert on Nazi history.

The question is not whether a non-Bundeswehr member feels injured and would have preferred to see a friendly letter from the minister to each of the surviving, often seriously injured returnees.

“The question is, with what right do some critics presume to want to determine which ceremonies are used within a ‘company’ to honor deserving ’employees’?”

It is important, says Reitzenstein, that the ceremonies of a public institution are subject to democratic control and that the honorees consider them appropriate. “In addition, it is always difficult to carelessly make Nazi associations of individuals the subject of political debates.”

Jewish people like the politician Marina Weisband were also confused about the pictures. Julien Reitzenstein weighs up: Nowhere in the world should one view Nazi aesthetics as critically as in Israel. There, too, there are military ceremonies with torches and also with flag marches. “Who would attribute Nazi aesthetics to the IDF? Here, too, it always depends on the context.”

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