Donna Barr Inteview


DM) You’ve said, “…I am now in possession of undisclosed sources, who trust that they can reveal formerly classified — and dangerous — information to me, and use me as an outlet for information that would literally threaten their lives or the lives of their families.” What did you mean?

DB) The stories of World War Two are not over yet. Especially the stories from the Germans, which have been revised and repressed ever since the end of World War Two. Stories in the area I have mentioned, however, may be revealed in the next year, or the year after that, and in much closer resources. As journalists, you are urged to keep an eye out for them.

DM) Do you feel that the Germans have suffered from undue “bad publicity”?

DB) Well, poorly-researched and realized “publicity,” if you will. The whole story is far more important and interesting than the narrow pale band Americans get a peek at, in our “accepted” history.

When you talk about “the Germans,” you’re talking about our relatives. I know many Americans whose fathers served in the German military during World War Two. Leni Riefenstahl is my mother’s brother’s first wife’s first cousin (I had to memorize that — it’s too ridiculous).

DM) Who is Leni Riefenstahl?

DB) The director of Olympiad and Triumph of Will and the true originator of the modern style of documentary, and presently known for wonderful books ofphotography, especially in Africa.

DM) “The Desert Peach” is about the fictional gay brother of Erwin Rommel. How much is that character based on reality?

DB) Erwin Rommel had an elder sister, a teacher, and three younger brothers… a pilot who was crippled by malaria in World War I, an opera singer who started in Berlin and returned to sing in Swabia, and a baby who died in infancy. Pfirsich Rommel is the third brother. By adding this brother to the family, I’ve been able to comment upon the history of World War Two andthe character of the Field Marshal, in a fresh manner.

DM) You chronicle the history of Germany and World War II, documenting some of the major events. How much historical truth is there?

DB) “Historical truth” in reference to Germany and World War II, especially from the Allied viewpoint, is highly repressed and revised. Think of it as the actual history of the Indian Wars — but only fifty years since the last “Savages” were “Civilized.” Germans have not told their storiesbecause it has not served an Allied purpose. This is dangerous. For example, by not prosecuting mass rape with a political purpose at Nuremberg, because it was a crime committed by the Allies, and not listing it as a War Crime, this activity was used in the Balkans with no precedence as a War Crime. The bombing of cities was not declared a War Crime, either, for obvious reasons. Our chickens are coming home to roost.

Every time I use a story, there is an historical reference to it, whether in a history, a personal experience, a letter, and a photograph — or even my own experiences. As an example, every single sentence of the horrible things that men say about women in my book “Lady Luck” is quoted. While serving in the U.S. Army, I actually heard men say these things, as threats.

DM) What are your feelings on history revisionists who claim that the holocaust never happened?

DB) “Holocaust” means “burnt offering,” and refers to the sacrifice of cattle. I prefer “the Jewish tragedy;” with that, it sounds more like human beings.

All history of World War Two suffers from some “revisionism” — a word that is being tossed around rather loosely. Every single member of an historical event has their own true story. Many of those stories seem to contradict one another, because we are never in possession of all the facts from all the viewpoints. I’ve heard two different people tell the same story about the same incident, and you’d never know they were talking about the same thing — although the details of their two stories do, upon examination, match perfectly. Not in viewpoint, not in judgement, not even in value of outcome — but they are the same. Rashomon is not just amovie; it’s a fact of historical research.

The refusal to believe that many people — including a majority of the European Jewish population — died in the specifically German concentration camps is a backlash against the sectioning of the communities of death into “valid” and “invalid” deaths. From 60 to 100 million people died in World War Two, not tenmillion. Not all this grief has been dealt with — to deny itis to invite even more denial. Another 50 years must pass before anything is “over.”

The thought that, in simple numbers of deaths alone, the concentration camps could even count as a side-show is heartrending. Can we ever possibly imagine a situation in which 10 million deaths were simply ignored in the over-all chaos, and not recognized until the war was over? And yet this is what happened. A diphtheria epidemic killed 50,000 people in Europe during World War Two — but it wasn’t really reported upon. It was just another part of the war.

DM) Do you think that there will ever be healing?

DB) When everybody’s dead. Like usual. But reparations payments we will always have with us. I’ve been hugging myself in glee lately – the Germans paying so many reparations to the Jews is setting a precedent for governments repaying their victims — and Native Americans and African Americans are starting to take advantage of it! Another reason to be pissed off at the Germans, no doubt.

The Americans helped to proclaim that the Jewish Tragedy was “unequaled” in history. The reason they backed this was so that they wouldn’t have to pay reparations. In the long run, you know it won’t work. I can’t wait ’till the lid blows off on that one.

DM) Do you feel that Germans were “just” in their behavior in WWII?

DB) “Just?” I’m not sure what you mean by this question. “Just” about what?

I’m going to take a major sidetrack here, as a demonstration:

“Just” when the German captain of the ship full of Jews was turned back from America — and took his human cargo back to Amersterdam before the war, as the safest place he could think of? “Just” when a General with jurisdiction in Bavaria ordered his men to arrest any SS they found harassing minorities? “Just” when an SS camp commandant secretly gave money to the Jewish camp doctor, who had town privileges, to buy medication for the children in the camp? And shot himself in the head when it was over? “Just” when Lucie Rommel gave her inheritance to Oscar Schindler in the form of diamonds to help him in his efforts to hide “his” Jews?

Messy things to hear about? Only the good side? Just as lopsided as recitingonly the bad side. Just as pointless and dangerous. There is no Collective Guilt — and there is no Collective Virtue.

You’re using the grouping “the Germans.” You’re talking about ca. 80 million individuals, at least at the time. That’s 80 million minds and fates and actions. You have to deal with human beings one person at a time — it is one of the painful consequences of democracy. It’s not fun, it’snot easy, but it’s required of decent human beings. If you bunch people together and see them as a single unit — that’s fascism.

(I should point out that some of my blood-lines are English Catholic, Prussian, Jewish, and Transylvanian Gypsy. You can see, with that background, how I would have little loyalty to countries or borders or groups. My people were usually on the run).

DM) It sounds like you believe the story is much more rounded than history has given credit. Injustices were done on both sides.

DB) My “belief” has nothing to do with it. That’s the way humans are. Period. In all cases. Depend upon it. But one-sided history is wonderfully convenient.

I have three rules for writing:

If it’s funny, it’s right.

If it’s physically possible, it happened.

If it didn’t happen, it should have.

The historical-research version is:

If it’s stupid, it’s true.

If it’s physically possible, some fool has tried it.

If it hasn’t been tried — some fool thought about it.

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