Sucks to be German

May_2008_r_ij-german-soldierSo, I’ve had Indiana Jones on my mind lately. (Have I told you why Indy IV is the movie equivalent of having Bambi’s mother hacked to death and eaten before your very eyes?) My boys are Jones-obsessed, constantly watching the (old) movies, listening to the music, and playing with their Indy Lego. The 4 year-old likes to say “asps, very dangerous”; both run in glee (!) when their father starts chanting “Mola-Ram, Sula-Ram.”

Of course, I approve of such devotion given that Raiders is the best film of all time (take that, RT). There are unfortunate consequences to this devotion, however, foremost among which is their obsession with Germans and Nazis. This was always embarrassing when we lived in Vienna. I cannot count the times I had to tell them to shut-up when one or the other announced loudly in the park that he was going to play the Nazi. Just this week, the youngest bought a “German soldier” with his pocket money, the type that gets zapped by Ark-lightening at the end of Raiders. When my parents mentioned that they were off to Germany this week, Son Two proclaimed that “Germany is full of bad guys.”

Ouch. At least Germany can now bask in the Russian-hatred of Indy IV (or, better put, wallow). It sucks when you cannot escape the past, however one might try. In Last Crusade, the German officer whacks Indy about the face after saying, “Zis is how ve say goodbye in Germany.” The German language version makes a change — “Zis is how ve say goodbye in ze SS.” Too bad such subtleties do not reach English ears.


  1. Ouch indeed.

  2. What you say is true but the Indy films are actually capturing the sentiment of the time pretty well, I think, when they lump all the Nazis and Germans together. In the late 1930s and especially in the 1940s, Germany and everything about it was bad as far as Americans were concerned. Germany didn’t give the world much reason to distinguish between “German” and “Nazi”, unfortunately.

    Conflating the two today, however, is a different story entirely and inappropriate. Your embarassment at your kids’ tendency to do so in public is well founded!

  3. It’s too bad they didn’t get to saying “Germany is full of bad guys” while you were in Vienna. That would have been delightful.

    When I was, maybe, eight years old, I found out a little bit about the Berlin airlift and the wall and the rest of it — the wall came down when I was nine or ten — and was really surprised to find out that America had wanted to help (some) Germans, and that in fact a bunch of Americans lived in Germany. My entire knowledge about the Germans came from cheesy 1950s sit-coms featuring Americans in prison camps, movies like Bedknobs & Broomsticks, and so forth. Basically I had a year to get used to the idea of West Germany as a country with normal people in it (I think I had this idea that East Germany is where all the wacky prison guards lived) and then they went and became one country and I was back to being confused.

    Bearing in mind that thanks to my grandpa’s service in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, I was fantastically well-informed about those other fascists, in Spain. If you’d asked me, as a kid, Franco was probably scarier than Hitler. I’m reasonably certain I knew about Hilter much, much later — probably from watching The Last Crusade, actually. And for whatever reason, it really didn’t dawn on me that we’d ever been at war with Japan until I was in middle school. To say nothing of Italy, or of conducting wars via submarine (or marching through Africa.)

    Please insert an appropriately nuanced comment about how the Indy films are trying to recapture the era of Bogart and the rest of it, here.

  4. “It sucks when you cannot escape the past, however one might try.

    I don’t think it’s time yet for Germany to “escape” its past – not when the past still appears so clearly in the rear-view mirror. There are still former Nazis and survivors who are alive. Best thing that Germany can do is remember (however painful it is) and declare in unison with the Jewish people who are left: “Never Again.”

    Just last week I heard Abraham Foxman speak at the Yeshiva University commencement exercises. He was an infant in Germany in the 1940s and the only reason he survived is because of a nanny who took care of him and kept him alive (at risk to her own life) for four years. Hearing him talk about his experiences and the lessons he learned from life was an incredible experience.

    My grandfather served his mission in Germany until the missionaries were called out for WWII. As an old man he went back to Germany to serve a genealogy mission and died of a heart attack in the mission office there. My parents (before they married) both served their missions in Germany. I bring this up only to say that I know very well about good people in Germany, etc. So I’m not just trying to get lumps in on a popular target

    I’m just saying that Germany’s job is not to escape its past but to remember it and do everything it can to make sure nothing like the Holocaust ever happens again.

    Anti-semitism is still alive and well throughout the world and thanks to Iran’s Ahmedinajad, Holocaust-denial is on the front-page of newspapers around the world.

    Probably the real problem with the Indy movies is that they turn Nazis into a cartoon version of what they actually and really were.

    [But yes, I think Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great show.]

  5. I’ll never forget the line Abraham Foxman used to begin his speech: “I was born in the wrong place and the wrong time.”

  6. Interesting Sarah.

    I believe my first awareness of Germany also came in the context of the Berlin wall. I was 7 or 8 and my best friend’s older brother, who was just one year older, told me about this country where the communists built this wall around the whole country to keep people from escaping and they would shoot anyone who tried to get across. He also said that the government there told everyone what job they had to do and no one could choose what to be when they grew up. It literally terrified me. My 7 or 8-year-old mind devoted a disproportionate number of brain cells to figuring out how to avoid accidentally finding myself there or how I would escape if I did end up there. (Ironically, I did eventually accidentally find myself there — with no hope of escape — as I was called to the Berlin mission 11 years later and spent 11 straight months tracting in the Stalinist housing projects of East Berlin.)

    It was only a couple of years later when I was 9 or 10 that I first saw Raiders, which was my second exposure to information about Germany.

    So my first awareness of Germany was dominated by Communists who built a wall around an entire country and killed anyone who tried to escape and Nazis who tortured people and tried to find mystical Jewish artifacts.

    Around the same time, my uncle was serving a mission to Germany, so I also became aware that Germany had really cool looking beer steins from admiring the one he brought home for my grandma when he returned from Hamburg.

    Since then, I’ve never quite left Germany alone. Some of my deepest interests remain there.

  7. Last Lemming says:

    I was unimpressed with Raiders and have not watched an Indiana Jones movie since. Now I can pretend that my reaction is a manifestation of my solidarity with the Germans I taught on my mission. Thanks.

    But the former SS dude from whom we rented a room would have fit right into the movies. (Actual quote following a frequent bathroom inspection: “Sie sollen meine Toilette sehen! Sie sieht prima aus!”)

  8. Naismith says:

    Wonder if Spain will suffer a similar bad image following Prince Caspian?

  9. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a good movie.

    Hollywood filmmakers are surely to blame for demonizing most non-white-American nationalities in one genre or another of film. I think Quentin Tarantino should make a film which is a battle royale among blood-thirsty Indian raiders, Pancho Villa’s bandits, the Nazis, the Soviets, the Yellow Peril Chinese, “Japs”, African headhunters, 1776-era Redcoats, etc.

  10. JNS,
    You make a good point. Hollywood has great power to shape our view of people. You only have to watch a film where the tables are turned — say, Grave of the Fireflies, where Allied bombing comes across as the war crime it was — to see how uncomfortable it makes you feel. I know Mel Gibson’s The Patriot made me feel horrible. It’s a horrible film anyway, but it’s monochrome portrayal of the British is not something I’m used to. Having said that, most bad guys in American films have English accents, so I should be used to some stereotyping.

  11. A great example of a film exploring this dynamic is Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima. The American soldiers in that film certainly aren’t presented as villains, just as threats to the survival of the film’s protagonist. And yet even depicting a Nipponese soldier as someone whose survival we might hope for is so unusual as to feel revolutionary.

  12. sister blah 2 says:

    #9, Grave of the Fireflies. Ooh I just got the chills just thinking about it. Best Movie Ever. Seriously, if any man hear my voice (or woman), and hasn’t seen that movie, go add it to your Netflix queue, stat!

  13. Yeah, I’ve had similar feelings teaching a history class on the wars of the twentieth century at an international school with every nationality of the aforementioned wars represented in my class. I have a lot to say about it, and I’ll get my own post together.

  14. “Having said that, most bad guys in American films have English accents, so I should be used to some stereotyping.”

    It’s just to counteract all those James Bond movies that give the unfortunate impression that Brits can be good guys.

    I take it “the Battle of New Orleans” isn’t a household favorite at your place?

  15. I wonder how much other countries now demonize the US for the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the Iraq war?

    As to the pop culture aspects, we all love our cartoon villains, easy to identify and easily dispatched. I am now horrified by watching some of the movies I remember from my childhood, and their depictions of native Americans, or of Japanese and Germans.

    On the other hand, perhaps because I had German ancestry, it was easier for me to recognize that the depictions were often one dimensional. After just seeing the last Indiana Jones movie, I am reminded that even the best of the bunch, Raiders, was also a cartoon, albeit an amazingly enjoyable and thrilling one. Temple of Doom, however, sucked. It left me with an irrational xenophobic view of Kate Capshaw.

  16. kevin,
    Raiders-as-cartoon I can accept. Just don’t call it “goofy.”

    I have a rather good book on said battle. Having lived near Fort McHenry for four years, I don’t have the stomach for more anti-British 1812 propaganda. Now, a movie about the burning of the White House, the escape of American slaves to British lines, and the British support of native Americans against evil white settlers — I’d enjoy that!

  17. Ronan, can you please accept that my usage of “goofy” was really intended to be the same as kevin’s usage of “cartoon”? Then we can move on and restore fellowship in the Quorum…

  18. Our very own Treaty of Ghent, JNS.

  19. Steve Evans says:

    I reject both “goofy” and “cartoon” as anathema. Raiders is a pastiche of old-time adventure serials.

  20. Steve, even I am not old enough to remember the original showings of those serials to which you refer. And you are right, but “cartoon” seemed to fit in the context of “please leave your sense of reality at the door”.

    That said, however, it is light years ahead of the one serial I remember from Saturday TV (reruns), Buster Crabbe and Flash Gordon.

  21. Veritas says:

    This is an interesting conversation for me as I am moving to Berlin in 2 weeks. Its an amazing city, maybe my favortite in Europe.

    Also, Temple of Doom is a WAY better film than Raiders of the Lost Ark. ((ducks))

  22. Veritas,

    Kate Capshaw vs Karen Allen? Who do you think would win that Celebrity Deathmatch? ((throws))

  23. Kevinf, while Marion is a far better character and leading lady than Willie Scott, Kate Capshaw is a better actress than Karen Allen. Capshaw’s subsequent films are not that bad.

  24. I’m jealous that you’re moving to Berlin — I’d love to live there again, this time with my family!

  25. Steve, you may have seen more than I have. I can only recall Dreamscape, Black Rain, and Space Camp, of which only Black Rain was memorable, and not for Capshaw. But she did marry well.

  26. “But she did marry well.”

    You think?

  27. Kate Capshaw is a better actress than Karen Allen. Capshaw’s subsequent films are not that bad.

    Steve, that’s kind of unfair because after Raiders, Karen Allen pulled back from the limelight and didn’t do any more films for awhile. For me, Kate Capshaw is what makes that movie so insufferable, what with her yelling “INDY”!! every 2 minutes and her constant screeching. I was secretly hoping the high priest of Kali would drop her into that lava pit..

    Let’s all quit beating around the bush and and just say it — Steven Spielberg is a huge Germanophobe!

  28. MattG — a Jewish Germanophobe? Whodathunkit.

  29. Steve,

    I’m just sayin! Although to his credit, at least he thinks Oskar Schindler is a good German.

  30. Veritas says:

    I just want to know if Indy was hanging on to the outside of the sub that whole time in Raiders or if he is just a really fast swimmer. He just magically appeared climbing out of the water at the island.

    Temple of Doom is all about ShortRound. He is the star of the show in my opinion. And the scene where they eat the meal with chilled monkey brains for dessert was like the most memorable moment of my childhood. Plus, Marion is supposed to be the love of his life but the sexual tension and chemistry was sooo much better with Wille. Also, there was no German villians in Temple of Doom :)

  31. Veritas,

    I can’t believe that A) I am letting myself get hijacked by this topic, or B) such a nerd that I actually know some really trivial things, but since we’re having fun, and you’re moving to Berlin soon, here goes.

    Pre-nuclear powered subs only ran on batteries when submerged, and required a long time on the surface running on their diesel engines to recharge the batteries. Plus these old diesel subs were much faster on the surface than submerged. In the pre-WWII world of Raiders, and with speed being a requirement, the sub would have no need of running submerged, and thus would run on the surface all the way to the island.

    On the other hand, if they were really running on the surface, they would have had several people on the conning tower as lookouts and to issue commands to the helmsman. That blows my theory, as it were, out of the water. Which all goes to show that all of it is fantasy, and not to be taken seriously.

    However, I still remember wondering what Indy ever saw in Willie, who was a shrieking harpy most of the time, just as much of a stereotypical caricature as the evil Japanese mobsters, or the Kali-worshiping Indians.

    I really need to get a life. :)

  32. Peter LLC says:

    Germany–Hitler’s birthplace

    Austria–Beethoven’s birthplace

    I see some parallels to the US and Canada. One is overbearing, self-righteous and prone to violence. The other is laid-back, peace-loving and given to multilateralism.

  33. Peter,

    Wait, wait, don’t tell me, I can figure this one out…..

  34. “Temple of Doom is all about ShortRound.”
    “I am very little; you cheat very big” is definitely in the top ten lines of all time.

  35. Peter LLC,

    Don’t you have that backwards? Hitler was from Austria and Beethoven was born in Bonn. However Mozartkugeln are still the bomb (not to be punny).

  36. And no-one asked for a translation of Lemming’s landlord statement regarding the toliet?

    And I am curious, Last Lemming, did you respond with anything? Zum beispiel, “Yah, mein Herr, aber we benutzen unsere Toliette jeden Tag, nicht nur einmal waehrend dem Monat.”?

    Back to the actual topic, I do recall having discussions with an older German who was very honest with us about WWII and what it was like in Germany. He said that we shouldn’t believe those who said they never knew about the camps. Everyone knew what was going but wouldn’t or couldn’t do anything about it.
    Given the tactics of the Gestapo and the Brownshirts, would we have done anything if we had been in their shoes?

  37. Peter LLC says:

    Don’t you have that backwards? Hitler was from Austria and Beethoven was born in Bonn.

    I dunno MattG, I live down the road from several of Beethoven’s houses in Heiligenstadt and I’m pretty sure Hitler was dictator of Germany?

  38. Peter- regarding your comment about the US and Canada. I assume that BCC readers are the intellectuals of the Mormon world. Was I wrong?

  39. MattG,
    Far be it for me to translate Peter’s ramblings, but I think he’s upping the stakes on the German suckitude scale.

  40. Peter, I’m sure you live in a very nice place, but seriously, Hilter was born in austria, to an austrian family.

    (But remember, when he was born ‘Germany’ had even quite recently been a geographical expression rather than a state, and there were still lots of pan-german nationalists who thought that Austria had a place in Germany.

  41. TMD,
    I am pretty sure Peter knows that Hitler was born in Austria. I bet he’s even been to Braunau.

  42. Mark B. says:

    Yeah, Hitler was born in Braunau, just across the river from Germany. And Beethoven was born in Bonn–he just moved to Vienna for the Sachertorte.

    And, if anybody is yammering about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, get over it. If wholesale slaughter of civilians by aerial bombing is a problem for you, that line had long since been crossed by the Germans (Warsaw, anybody, or Guernica, or London, or Rotterdam), the British (“area bombing”, a euphemism for “we can’t hit a damn thing anyway, so we’ll just push these out the bomb bay doors when we think we’re over the city), the British again and the Americans (Hamburg, 1943, or Dresden, 1945), the Americans again (Tokyo, March 1945, Osaka, Nagoya, Tokyo again, Yokohama, all in the spring and summer of 1945).

    The only difference was that Hiroshima and Nagasaki took fewer planes and fewer bombs.

  43. I appreciated JD Salinger’s keen review of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

    On the money.

  44. Mark B,
    Well, yes. And?

  45. BTW, I agree with Steve E. that as a novelist and short-storyist, Salinger is a hack. I think he missed his calling as a movie critic.

  46. MikeInWeHo says:

    It’s wrong to call Steven Spielberg a Germanophobe. He’s a remarkable man who has done so much more than make a bunch of hit films. Are you familiar with his Shoah Project?

  47. I like Franny and Zooey a lot.

    Otherwise, he could have stuck to rottentomatoes.

  48. matt w. says:

    I like that indy has done judaism, hinduism, christianity, and now scientology

  49. Carlos U. says:

    Well, what’s the translation of the SS toilet german guy, already??!?!?!?!?!

  50. Carlos U. says:

    Or I can just start making all my postings en el hermoso idioma de Cervantes, el maravilloso Castellano.