terça-feira, 3 de abril de 2012

Auschwitz ad Infinitum: A Discussion with Heiner Heiner Müller


Auschwitz ad Infinitum (Auschwitz und kein Ende), a discussion with young French directors, edited by Holgar Teschke, first appeared in Drucksache16 (1995), the program brochure for the Berliner Ensemble's 1995 production of Bertolt Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, directed by Heiner Müller.
The title of Müller's interview, which refers to Goethe's Shakespeare study Shakespeare ad Infinitum (Shakespeare und kein Ende, 1813-16), is an indirect reference to Müller's proposal as the artistic director of the Berliner Ensemble to make his own plays and those of Brecht and Shakespeare the focal point of the theater's work. His choice to include the interview in the Arturo Ui program alongside scene 4 of Germania 3 points to his desire to address questions of German fascism with his Brecht production in the year marking the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II.
The Holocaust does not figure prominently as a subject in Müller's work. His plays do not directly deal with the genocide of European Jewry or the roots of German anti-Semitism. Müller approaches the period of German fascism from the perspective of antifascism in plays such as The Battle (1951,1974), Germania Death in Berlin (1956, 1971), and Volokolamsk Highway (1984,1987). Plays such as Philoctetes (1958, 1964) and Mauser (1970), In which Müller discusses historical violence in the context of Stalinism and communist revolution, likewise, elide the question of the relation of German fascism to anti-Semitism. These plays adhere to the claim of the GDR to be a state founded on antifascism. One has to turn to the fragmentary scenes from one of Müller's earliest attempts at writing drama, his unfinished 1952 play about Werner Seelenbinder, to find the author directly addressing the subject of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany; four scenes have been published in Explosion of a Memory: Heiner Müller DDR, Ein Arbeitsbuch (Berlin, 1988), and the scene "The Larder" (Der Gemusekeller) appears in English as "Boots Have a Memory" in Germania (New York, 1990).

The interview Auschwitz ad Infinitum, perhaps Müller's most straight-forward commentary on the Holocaust, provides an important supplement to the critique of German fascism in his plays. The interview is also an investigation into the aspects of modernity that produced the technological disaster to which we have given the name Auschwitz. By suggesting that Auschwitz, literally, has "no end," Müller deprives the Holocaust of its singularity as a historical event in order to discuss the ways in which Auschwitz represents a trauma that remains with modern society.
Müller draws in the interview upon his own texts as well as those of other authors. The reference to speed with respect to the Nazi Blitzkrieg has parallels in Paul Virilio's Speed and Politics. Müller also refers to a touring production of his play The Battle that had its premiere in 1975 in Budapest.
The reference to Heinrich von Kleist draws upon remarks in Müller's 1990 acceptance speech for the Kleist Prize, "Germany without a Place," published in Jenseits der Nation (Berlin, 1991). Karl Korsch (1886-1961) is a Marxist philosopher whose major work is the 1923 Marxism and Philosophy. Korsch's unorthodox Marxism exercised a major influence on Bertolt Brecht, and his letter to Brecht on the Blitzkrieg as "bundled-up energy from the left" is likely to have been familiar to Müller, who cites Korsch's letter in his introduction to a German translation of Italian novelist Curzio Malaparte's (1898-1957) war reportage on the Russian front in 1941 for Corriere della Sera (Die Wolga entspringt in Europa, Cologne, 1989.) Müller was fascinated by Korsch's definition of the Nazis' appropriation of the anticapitalist energies of the working class. He writes: "Malaparte describes the war in Russia, that is, its initial phase of an apparently unstoppable German advance, as a war between two armies of workers, defined by the relation of the worker to the machine, which also determines the ethic of the war: it has the precision of work, the war is a production."

Müller injects his discourse with references to a number of artists, artworks, and public figures. These include the Russian master of the short story Nicolay Leskov (1 831-95). His story The Iron Will begins with a statement by one of the characters that "the Germans are endowed with an iron will, which Russians lack." The character adds, "Maybe they are iron, while we are just plain, soft, raw dough—but you would do well to remember that dough, if there's enough of it, can't be chopped through even with an axe: what's more, an axe can get buried and lost." Wernher von Braun, the leading rocket scientist under the Nazis, became the head of the U.S. rocket program after the war. The Stephen King story to which Müller refers is Survivor Type, published in Different Seasons in 1982 and made into the movie Apt Pupil in 1998 by Brian Singer. Rostock and Hoyerswerda are the two East German cities that became synonymous in the early 1990s with violence against foreigners, due to racist attacks and demonstrations by former East Germans. Eberswalde is a suburb of East Berlin known for its dreary, modernist housing projects. Dostoyevsky's 1866 novel Crime and Punishment tells the story of Raskolnikov, a student who is racked by guilt after putting to the test his theory that humanitarian ends justify evil means, by murdering a pawnbroker.
Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) is the German Jewish philosopher and critic whose writings have been an important source for Müller's philosophy of history. Müller contributed the anecdote about the cat and the cricket to a festschrift for Ernst Jünger, Thrakischer Sommer in Magie der Heiterkeit: Ernst Jünger zum Hundertsten, Stuttgart, 1995.

The Roßbach brigade was one of the paramilitary organizations known as Freikorps that sprang from the demilitarized army after World War I and performed acts of right-wing terrorism. Gerhard Roßbach published a memoir, Mein Weg durch die Zeit: Erinnerungen und Bekenntnisse, and Rudolf Höß's autobiographical sketches were published posthumously as Kommandant in Auschwitz. Konrad Wolf (1925-82), a leading East German film director, created a montage of personal memories from the end of World War II in his 1967 film Ich war neunzehn (I Was Nineteen).

In Auschwitz ad Infinitum Müller discusses issues from twentieth-century history that reappear in his final play Germania 3, whose subject is World War II in Russia and its effects in East Germany. Müller often spoke in this context about his desire to become a repository for German memory, because, as he declared on occasion, "I stand in the void of the communist Utopia" (Germania, New York, 1990).

If it can be said of Müller's plays that they are an attempt to fill this void by putting it on stage, then the interview Auschwitz ad Infinitum must be read as a measure of the author's commitment to preserving the experience of the twentieth century.
Matthew Griffin



Q: Heiner Müller, you have written a lot about German history, especially about National Socialism in Germany. Is there something specifically German about this theater material?
HM: Mao Tse-tung once said that as long as National Socialism was on the attack it was unbeatable. It was an attack in a void, in empty space, a pure movement, without reserves. The moment the attack ground to a halt outside Moscow, it was over. The first stop was already the last. The battle for Stalingrad is Attila the Hun's coffin. The only national material is the saga of the Nibelungs.

Q: Isn't Auschwitz also a national material? Is it at all possible to deal with this material in the theater?
HM: It's difficult. I once risked my life in Yugoslavia during a tour of a Volksbühne production of The Battle. After the performance a discussion took place, and I remarked—somewhat off the cuff—that Hitler had been bad at geography. He did in the middle of Europe what an upstanding European would only do in Africa, Asia, or Latin America. Genocide was normal in the colonies, but in Europe it was an aberration. That's where Hitler deviated from the norm.

The other point is that German anti-Semitism was probably so virulent because it is based on an ancient trauma. From our standpoint today it seems strange that the terminology used by the Nazis was often Jewish, for example, the "thousand-year empire." Until 1933 anti-Semitism was more evident in Poland, Russia, and Eastern Europe. In Germany, in contrast to France or the USA, it was less prevalent. There is a theory for this that I find quite interesting. After the fall of Rome, the first Christian missionaries came to the Franks, who were the main Germanic tribe in France and Germany and the missionaries told the Franks, "You are the chosen people, therefore, having been chosen, you must take up the cross." And they took up the cross.
A hundred years later the Jews, another chosen people, arrived in Europe. There cannot be two chosen peoples, one has to go. It's totally irrational, but that's what the Nazis dredged up out of the national subconscious.
This also has to do with Hitler himself. There is a legend that after the annexation of Austria Hitler's first secret order was to evacuate and destroy a small village in upper Austria.
It was to be turned into a training ground for troops. This was supposedly the village in which one of Hitler's grandmothers lay buried, and the rumor had circulated that this grandmother had had a liaison with a Jew. So Hitler's energy was also a result of his fear of and hatred for the Jewish blood he believed he had in his own veins. Perhaps another aspect of this energy is that National Socialism could only be conceived of as a permanent movement. Hitler never spoke of "the Party," rather it was always "the Movement." There is a parallel in Kleist: the Germans are always trying to get away from themselves, but this movement has its limits.
The Jews were the main problem in this context, because they couldn't be assimilated. They embodied a resistance. The Jews served as an alibi as well, since to a large portion of the population, they were the capitalists, an ersatz for all the anticapitalist energies from the Left and the Right. Capitalism came to Poland and Russia by way of a monetary economy. In the Middle Ages only the Jews were permitted to collect interest, since the Bible considered it un-Christian.
So they founded banks and lending houses and became the ideal ersatz enemy. This also explains why the original energies of National Socialism were anticapitalist. There is evidence that in 1933 the SA [Sturmabteilung] consisted, to a large part, of former communists. The Nazis thus were able to appropriate a great deal of energy from the Left. When the Wehrmacht occupied Crete, Karl Korsch wrote in a letter to Bertolt Brecht, "The Blitzkrieg is bundled-up energy from the Left." National Socialism was, in fact, the greatest historical achievement of the German working class.
Q: Are you serious?

HM: It can also be reformulated: the Blitzkrieg, or the war of speed, was— after the failed revolution in 1848—the transformation of the German working class from the status of the exploited to that of the hunter. By going to war, they became hunters. One hears this over and over in every neighborhood bar. The memory of war is the greatest experience of freedom. War was an ersatz for revolution, just as the present-day violence against foreigners is once again an ersatz for a revolution that wasn't carried out fully. The Jews became ersatz enemies because the real capitalists were needed, in effect, to finance the war. They stood behind Hitler, which is also why no one could get at them.
Q: But Jewish capitalists were also disenfranchised and killed in the camps.
HM: Yes, but the industries important to the war, essentially the heavy industries, were in German hands—Flick, Krupp, Thyssen. German industry has always dreamed about what is now happening in the East. They tried it first with Hitler, but it didn't work. Now they've got what they've always wanted. Eastern Europe is spread out at their feet, both as a marketplace and as a labor pool. As early as 1943 secret conferences took place in Madrid and London between German, British, and American industrialists who were worried about the division of the market in the East after the war, since they already knew that it wasn't going to work out with Hitler. They miscalculated then and are bound to miscalculate again. They have never understood Russia. There is a nice story by Leskov about Russia at the time of Napoleon. Leskov writes that Russia is like a dough ball, one can pound it with a fist, kick it with a boot, hack at it with an axe, but when one removes the boot or the axe, the dough expands, rises and is just the same as ever.
Q: How do you explain the aggressiveness of the Germans?
HM: There is perhaps a historical-economic explanation for this: the Germans always came too late, especially when it came to dividing the world. While Frederick the Great was waging his regional wars, the French and the English were divvying up the world, which is why the Germans didn't get any colonies. It also made German capitalism, which was possessed by a spirit of invention and an incredible capacity for production, the most dynamic in Europe. This is a historical-economic explanation for the later invention of technologized mass murder.

Colonies make it easier for a nation to disperse its aggressive energies around the globe. In Germany these forces remained concentrated.
There are a few other events in German history that have also formed the national character. Germany is in the center of Europe, so all wars inevitably took place in Germany. The Germans have never been able to imagine a war that isn't also a war with two fronts. The English or the French could send their criminals to Australia or Algeria where they could carry out their massacres, but in Germany the criminals stayed home and so did the criminal energy—this naturally includes the criminal energy of capital.

There was, however, a discrepancy between the ideology of the Nazis and the interests of German industry. German industry saw the war as a war for the forces of labor, The Nazis, as a result of Hitler's racial theories, understood the war to be about the annihilation of labor. The West German economic miracle is a result of Auschwitz. All the major German corporations used workers in Auschwitz and other camps in alliance with American and British industry.

Q: Is there actual proof of this?
HM: There are documents in Washington which show that the Americans knew about the camps early on from aerial surveillance photos. Churchill knew about their existence as early as 1941. This knowledge was kept secret, because IG Farben, Krupp, and Thyssen had close ties to American firms. Actually, the only real interest for the Americans was the destruction of the Soviet Union.

Q: Why do you think the Left still has trouble dealing with the Jewish question?
HM: In 1962 I wrote a text for a documentary film about the concentration camp Buchenwald. We had material showing that Wernher von Braun had been a frequent visitor to the outlying camp Dora, where parts for the V-1 and V-2 rockets were being assembled. Naturally, we wanted to use this footage in our film, but we were forbidden with the argument that in the concentration camp Oranienburg, where the V-2 had also been built, Manfred von Ardenne, our head physicist, had also had work done, research that would later form the basis for space travel and space medicine. Ardenne later went to work for the Russians. You also can't forget the massive Nazi propoganda machine, which succeeded in suggesting to the general population that the Jews were vermin.

The majority of people didn't know exactly what was going on in the camps, because the Western powers withheld their information in the hope that Hitler would crush the Soviet Union. Hitler was the German shepherd who had been given a long leash so that he could snap at the communists, but when he went wild he had to be put down.
Q: But isn't it dangerous to reduce National Socialism to the phenomenon of Hitler?
HM: A distinction must be made here. The gas for the gas chambers was not manufactured by the same people who later used it. German industry supplied it. The industrialists knew how it would be used. These people are either retired today or still hold high-ranking positions in German industry. People talk mostly about the animals in SS uniforms but forget the animals seated on the board of directors. I'm not arguing that the SS or the army is innocent, but one has to understand the connections. The concentration camps were big business for German industry. Technology was developed and tested in the camps. The technologies for killing were always state of the art, and torture is one of the oldest services in the history of mankind. The British strapped Indians to the barrels of their canons—they hadn't come up with anything better. Churchill was in Egypt when the machine gun was first tested. The English used their new military technology on the Africans.

New technologies have always been tested and implemented against minorities, that is, against the threat of their becoming majorities. All modern technologies for killing will one day be implemented. The dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan was totally pointless and unnecessary from a military perspective, but it was a signal directed towards the Soviet Union. The problem is that Auschwitz has lowered our inhibitions.

Q: This brings us back to one of our first questions: Is Auschwitz a material for the theater?
HM: I once read a good story by Stephen King about a thirteen-year-old boy in California. The boy has a hobby: he collects documents, photos, whatever he can get his hands on about concentration camps. His interest is that "they just did those things." They did what one always dreams about. One day, while waiting for his school bus, he sees an old man who looks familiar. He searches through his collection, and then he finds the man in SS uniform in one picture. The next day at the bus stop he follows the man home to a small house on the edge of the city. The boy rings the doorbell and shows the man the picture. The old man trembles, he can't lie, it's him. He thinks the boy wants to report him, but the boy says, "No, I want you to tell me how you did those things. How did you shove the Jews in the ovens? How did you torture them?" The old man doesn't want to tell, but the boy threatens to go to the authorities. So the old man is forced to divulge every detail. After a while the boy says, "Now I want to see it done." The old man has an oven and one day the boy brings a dog. The boy says, "Take the dog and shove it in the oven. Show me how someone can do that." They set up a "Murder Inc.," a murder corporation. First, they take dogs, then later indigents, and they shove them into the oven one after the other.
That's the youth growing up today. The most horrifying thing about the violence in Rostock and Hoyerswerda is that it is a part of this society—it isn't just some barbarous excrescence—and by the same token fascism is a product of a market economy. In the U.S. this form of violence is by now customary, but here it's something new. There is, for example, a term used among German youth bands called Bordsteinclashing (street-curb bashing).

After they've beaten the foreigner and he's lying on the ground, they take his head and lay it on the street curb, then they jump on it with their Springer boots. The skinheads did that to an African in Eberswalde. They talk about it as if it were totally natural, "His head was lying there on the ground, and I think to myself, why not jump on it?" The young man who said that on television is nineteen, a locksmith, he has a job, and speaks about it matter-of-factly, without a trace of emotion.
Q: I'd like to return one more time to the subject of Auschwitz. For me the concept of "la grace," is an essential element in my life. When I hear you trying to explain Auschwitz, I have to ask myself how one can still call upon Grace and retain a transcendental hope in a world in which such a thing is possible?
HM: That's a good question. Auschwitz is the model for this century and for its principle of selection. Not everyone can survive. So selection takes place. Whenever I try to understand what heroism means, I think of a little story. On one of the last ships out of Germany there was a heavy-set Jewish sportswriter from Berlin. The ship was torpedoed and began to sink. Naturally, there wasn't enough room in the lifeboats for everyone, but the portly Jewish sportswriter had found a spot. Suddenly a mother with her child appeared at the railing, but the lifeboats were all full. The fat little Jew let himself fall overboard into the Atlantic, and then there was room for the woman. That is the only answer.

Q: I'm not sure I understand.
HM: It's not meant to be understood. It's Dostoyevsky's problem, the Raskolnikov question. Dostoyevsky, too, can only find one answer in the end and that is Grace. Assuming that Auschwitz is the model for selection, then there is no political answer. There is probably only a religious answer. The problem with this civilization is that it does not have an alternative to Auschwitz.

Q: Now I understand.
HM: The same topic comes up again and again in Walter Benjamin. Socialism, communism, or whatever other Utopia stands no chance, if it doesn't also offer a theological dimension. This is also a fundamental problem today. I have another story that relates to this. Once I took LSD in Bulgaria. In the house where we were staying there was a sort of cellar, a washroom, and there was a large cricket on the door. The radio was playing Turkish or Arabic music, desert music with a very strange undercurrent, a flat sort of music.
There was also a cat that lived in the house, and this cat suddenly came in through the door. I showed the cat the cricket and I knew what would happen next. After five or ten minutes the cat had somehow managed to get the cricket down and had begun to chase it up the steps, biting, then letting go, then biting again. The cricket began to limp. Meanwhile the Arabic music was playing. I observed it all very intently, the drug warping my perception of ti me. I enjoyed it, but at the same ti me I was repulsed because I was enjoying it. I will never forget the self-repulsion I felt at my pleasure in watching in slow motion. What distinguishes the cat from the SS soldier is that the cat needs such food now and again to keep the stomach juices in order. It's a biological necessity. Man doesn't need it by necessity, that's what distinguishes him from the cat. Every time killing is made more abstract, inhibitions drop. I can't imagine stabbing an¬other human being. But I can imagine shooting one, and that's the way it works. It only takes the push of a button and the people who have just been killed also disappear. The news coverage of the Gulf War was the height of abstraction, an entirely abstract war.
Q: Is this a phenomenon which first became apparent in Germany after World War II?
HM: NO. I read something interesting in the memoires of Roßbach, a well-known leader of the Freikorps after World War I. One episode relates how a member of the Roßbach brigade has, on assignment from the Freikorps, killed someone—it's a contract killing. After the man has finished the job, he meets with Roßbach and tells him, "I feel terrible. I don't know how I can go on living. How could I kilj another man the way I did, not in war, man against man, but from behind and for hire? I will never kill another man again, and I will never again pick up another weapon." The man who said this to Roßbach was Rudolf Höß, later the commander of Buchenwald and Auschwitz.
And I have another story. At the concentration camp Oranienburg there was an extremely brutal SS soldier. After the war the Russians went to his wife and told her about the things her husband had done in the camp. The wife didn't understand. He had only done his job, and he had always been a good father to his children, always very loving. The Russians persisted, asking whether nothing at all had seemed odd to her? She considered, then said, "Now and then he would come home with bloody boots." When she asked him where the blood came from, he would say, "We killed a pig today." All those years, the woman never knew. She killed her children, set fire to the house, went mad, and ran screaming across the moor. In the concentration camps the low-ranking members of the SS were often farmers' sons, so they were accustomed to killing animals. All that had to be done was to supply them with the ideology that the prisoners were not humans but animals.

Q. But didn't these low-ranking SS soldiers have the choice to refuse to follow orders, say, for example, when women and children were selected for the gas chamber?

HM: Of course, they had a choice. There is an answer to your question in a film by Konrad Wolf. One scene shows a former prisoner of a concentration camp who survived because he had the job of shoving the corpses in the ovens. This job was always done by prisoners in the camps. Each day these prisoners were faced with the decision: "Either do it or die." What do you do in such a situation? That's the real question, even today. The only answer to this question is that each of us is alone with ourselves and our decision.



In: A Heiner Müller reader: plays, poetry, prose. Edited by Carl Weber and translated by Matthew Griffin. PAJ-Book: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984, p. 142-153.

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