Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The collaborators?

As well as racism and anti-semitism, a familiar charge levelled against Georges Remi (Hergé) is one of collaboration. When the Allies liberated Brussels in September 1944, the Belgian creator of cartoon hero Tintin was arrested as a traitor and questioned.

Hergé had decided to stay in Belgium following the country's invasion by the Nazis, and continued to produce comic strips for the German-run Le Soir newspaper. During World War II, he retreated into the apolitical fantasies of The Secret of the Unicorn, Red Rackham's Treasure (recently made into a film by Steven Spielberg, of course) and The Seven Crystal Balls.

The Shooting Star (1942) is undoubtedly anti-semitic but its apocalyptic atmosphere can surely only have been informed by the arrival of the Nazis, while the pre-war King's Ottokar's Sceptre is decidedly anti-fascist (though only Tintin in America and The Black Island were banned by the Nazis).

Nevertheless, the first form of official pardon for Hergé came as late as 1958, when he was met by the Belgian ambassador on a visit to London. According to biographer Harry Thompson, the author 'remained bitter at the treatment meted out to those who - as he saw it - had stuck with Belgium in her hour of need.'

One of the reasons Hergé gave for remaining in the country was because his beloved king (Leopold III) had also stayed and, indeed, urged his subjects to work as usual. Another possibility may be that Hergé was not disposed to living in another country, as was the case with German Hans Fallada - real name, Rudolf Ditzen - currently much celebrated for Alone in Berlin and A Small Circus.

Fallada had any number of opportunities to leave Germany during the Nazis' rise, but decided to stick it out. In 1944 he wrote: 'I am a German, I say that today with pride and sorrow, I love Germany, I don't want to live or work anywhere else in the world. I probably couldn't live or work anywhere else.' (Quoted in Jenny Williams' biography More Lives than One.)

His novels show a fine judge of the human spirit, though whether his political judgement was so sharp remains open to question. In November 1937 he accepted an approach to write a novel 'dealing with the fate of a German family from 1914 until around 1933'.

When Fallada brought Iron Gustav to a close in 1928, Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, intervened to ensure the writer fulfilled the detail of his contract, which meant Fallada had to cover the rise of the National Socialists. Williams writes: '[Fallada] later tried to justify his capitulation in the following terms: "I do not like grand gestures, being slaughtered before the tyrant's throne, senselessly, to the benefit of no one and to the detriment of my children, that is not my way."'

He may have found some sympathy from Vasily Grossman, the Russian celebrated for Everything Flows and Life and Fate, his massive novel centred on the battle for Stalingrad. For three years from 1943, Grossman contributed to an astounding narrative of Jewish massacres in Poland and the Soviet Union - informing some of Life and Fate - and yet, in 1952, he signed an official letter condemning Stalin's Jewish doctors for a plot to kill the dictator.

Perhaps only someone who has experienced such extremes can write, as Grossman does in Life and Fate: 'Does human nature undergo a true change in the cauldron of totalitarian violence? Does man lose his innate yearning for freedom? The fate of both man and the totalitarian state depends on the answer to this question. If human nature does change, then the eternal and worldwide triumph of the dictatorial state is assured; if his yearning for freedom remains constant, then the totalitarian state is doomed.'

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