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A Traditionalist Pleads for a More Positive Memory of Prussia (October 21, 1978)

When even the East German government began to sponsor a return to progressive Prussian traditions, the conservative journalist Günther Zehm called for a similar abandoning of militarism-cum-authoritarianism stereotypes and for a franker appreciation of the liberal and humane legacy of Prussia in the Federal Republic.

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In Search of Prussia

Good news from East Berlin: In the FDJ [Free German Youth] and the student newspaper Forum, a campaign was started to rehabilitate (at least partly) the Prussian state and the Prusso-German tradition. But the endeavor is not without its catches: only the “progressive strands” in Prussian history are to be acknowledged and “a counterweight to the FRG’s reactionary Prussia cult is to be created.” Nevertheless, one can only agree with the Forum’s statement that the image of Prussia has long been unduly darkened by Bismarck’s struggle against the “revolutionary workers’ movement.” This shows a level of awareness that has yet to reach many social democratic circles in the West. These circles are presently marking “the hundredth anniversary of the Anti-Socialist Act” and are thereby indulging, once again, in the old clichés that leftists have always had with respect to Prussia.

The anti-Prussian cliché: Entire dissertations have been written on this curious subject. An untiring coalition of socialists, ultramontanists, and Munich-based caricaturists tinkered with its basic design after 1870, and in the end the horrifying image of a monocle-brandishing, dumbly grating “Prussian lieutenant” grew so much larger than life that its inventors themselves believed in it and identified Prussia with the caricature without a second thought.

And worse yet: Even abroad, people started believing it. Later, it led the Hitler regime straight back to the “Prussianization of Germany.” When Germany’s defeat in the Second World War was on the horizon, Winston Churchill said that after the victory “Prussia” should be punished first and foremost and the other German states spared. In 1945, the Allied forces announced in a bombastic resolution that Prussia was finally eliminated. They hadn’t noticed that that state hadn’t existed since 1934. At that time, Hermann Göring, a Bavarian, had already done away with it on orders of the Austrian Adolf Hitler.*

So it is high time to remember the history of Prussia and its productive role in the history of the German state and culture. It was a good and necessary idea for the Berlin Senate to decide to set up a large, objective exhibition about Prussia, and it can only be welcomed that the “GDR” now wants to follow suit. Anyone who wishes to track down “progressive impulses” will find that a wide and promising field opens up when researching Prussia.

* This refers to the National Socialist’s dissolution of Prussia on account of its left-wing government during the Weimar Republic – ed.

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