By Joel Mitchell
Winston Churchill famously warned, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” That quote aptly summarizes why books like Darkness Over Germany: A Warning from History are so important.
In the years leading up to World War II, E. Amy Buller spent much effort fostering dialogue between English educators and Germans. Obviously, war was not averted by her efforts, but in this book (published in 1943 while World War II was still raging) she recollects many of the conversations she had with German friends and acquaintances. Most of the conversations involve Germans who dislike Nazism to some degree, ranging from unease to outright hatred. This seems to be an attempt to help understand and humanize the enemy, looking forward to the day when the war is over and people will have to coexist again…perhaps hoping that this will not end in another bitterness-inducing, vengeful Treaty of Versailles.
Today, these conversations provide a sober warning of how difficult it can be to resist once a brutish totalitarian regime has consolidated power. Many of them feature regret that people waited too long to stand up to the Nazis coupled with fear, bewilderment, and/or resignation regarding the seeming futility of making any kind of stand now. For example:
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“Of course, our real guilt lies in our slowness and in letting these gangsters get the whole country in their grip sufficiently to paralyze all collective opposition. So many people were so relieved to see any kind of order emerge out of the uncertainty and chaos that they said ‘Certain things the Nazis are doing are good,’ and left it at that, without inquiring on what this new order was based or what was the spirit of the movement that was sweeping the land.” (p. 20)*
Throughout the book Hitler and his cronies are characterized as upstart “gangsters” whose ham-handed foreign policy can lead only to war. For instance:
“It is also, I gather, true that Hitler is completely ill at ease with the more cultured and conventional diplomats and looks upon them as quite unsuitable agents for putting over his policy with vigor and determination. The groveling insincerity of von Ribbentrop with his horde of keen and fanatical young men, together with the high tension atmosphere of No. 63 [the Nazi Foreign Office], gave Hitler the kind of setting and support he felt he needed.” (p. 69)
“And finally there was the von Ribbentrop and Hewel type who had never held power, men who had very little integrity to suppress and who loved the power that was so new to them. They cheated, bullied and would even murder, I suspect, to gain their ends. All the tricks of the dishonest commercial traveler were in use among this crowd.” (p. 93)
Quite a bit of space is also devoted to exploring how Nazism became widely accepted because it had a religious appeal to those who had drifted from traditional spirituality (especially Christianity).
“The whole world today is full of false gods, and it is not surprising that in Germany they have chosen particularly brutal and violent gods. That makes it easier to see what is happening but there are also other false gods being followed in America and England.’” (p. 157)
The recently written introduction to the book is unnecessary. Any relevant information on Buller is presented again and better in the afterward, and much of the introduction is little better than a partisan political rant. I would strongly recommend skipping it and deciding for yourself what kinds of warnings the sobering history contained in this book has for our own time.
* all quotes are from the March 1, 2018 reprint edition from Interlink Publishing
Joel Mitchell is the senior pastor at Griswold Street Baptist Church in Port Huron. His childhood and teenage years were spent bouncing between Caro, Michigan and Taguatinga Sul in Brazil’s Federal District. After eight years of pastoral ministry in Northeast Pennsylvania and Southern Indiana, he is happy to be back in Michigan. His wife, Karen, who grew up in the Pacific Northwest is glad to be living near water again, and his three children already love the beach life.
Pastor Joel’s desire is to lead Griswold Street Baptist to share the love of God with our community…not just in words, but “in deed and in truth.” In his spare time, he is an avid reader, reading and reviewing about 100 books per year.