Resisting tyranny

By Greg Spearritt

In 1943 siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl were part of a small group resisting the Nazi regime by handing out anti-Hitler pamphlets. They were caught and executed by guillotine, refusing to the last to name their fellow group members, though these were subsequently discovered and executed as well.

Anna Funder, author of Stasiland, points out that immediately after the war Hans and Sophie’s parents were ostracised as traitors. It took 20 years for Germans to recognise the decency and bravery of the Scholls and to celebrate them with street names and plaques.

As evil as the Nazis, albeit on a smaller scale, was the East German regime. Through relentless surveillance, persecution, jailing, the spreading of lies, removal of children and more, many lives were destroyed.

In a recent article, Funder reflects on the fact that those brave enough to resist the former East German regime have never been adequately recognised, if at all. Indeed, their persecutors by and large have done well in the new Germany. Snitching and betrayal were the tickets to education and opportunity in the East, meaning they were the ones to develop the skills, denied to those they persecuted, that proved useful to law, business and media in capitalist German society after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Stasiland was not well-received in Germany, in part because former Stasi informants and officials had a strong interest, that many of them were in a position to act on, in minimising or denying the evil acts of the East German regime. More than that, however, Funder observes that discussing the truth makes people uncomfortable. If the ‘ordinary heroes’ she featured in Stasiland stood up, at great personal cost, why didn’t others? We don’t like such people to show us up.

The truth about our own history of European contact with First Nations people is another issue that sorely needs addressing. The fantasy version we were served up when I was at school will no longer do. As Funder says:

The brave habit of mind is to try to understand the past in such a way as to take it to heart, to leave oneself open to taking responsibility.

Resisting tyranny is a dangerous practice. Exposing it, in the case of Australian history, also risks us seeing our own complicity.

Disclaimer: views represented in SOFiA blog posts are entirely the view of the respective authors and in no way represent an official SOFiA position. They are intended to stimulate thought, rather than present a final word on any topic.

Photo by Lidia Stawinska on Unsplash