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‘Just a Speck of Bird Poop,’ ‘A Detail of History’

German troops march through Warsaw, Poland, September 1939 (National Archives)

In Germany, the AfD is the literal alt-Right, the Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany). Its co-leader, Alexander Gauland, spoke to its youth wing on Saturday. He said something interesting about Germany and the Third Reich: “We have a glorious history and it, dear friends, lasted longer than those blasted twelve years. Hitler and the Nazis are just a speck of bird poop in more than 1,000 years of successful German history.”

According to a report, he said this “to applause” (naturally).

Do you applaud it? It’s true that the Nazis’ rule was brief — the flash of an eye. But, in that time, they started a world war (with their Soviet partner) and murdered two-thirds of European Jewry. Also, as David Pryce-Jones remarked yesterday, they turned Germany into a totalitarian state.

Not bad for twelve years, right? Or very bad.

The AfD man may be a perfectly good Joe, or Fritz, and he may have meant his remark innocently. But, frankly, it reminded me of Jean-Marie Le Pen — who spoke of the Holocaust as “a detail of history.” (Mark Helprin borrows this phrase for the ending of his stunning recent novel, Paris in the Present Tense.)

On the homepage today, you’ll find an appreciation of Richard Pipes, here. Pipes was “a great scholar, an important public figure, and an extraordinary man” (to quote the subtitle). He was born in Poland in 1923. So he was 16 when the Nazis came. He actually saw Hitler, on October 6, 1939, a month and a week after the invasion. Hitler had come to Warsaw to take a kind of victory lap.

Pipes and his parents were able to flee. Their family and friends left behind — murdered.

In America, Pipes became a leading historian of Russia, the Soviet Union, and Communism. Why? In large part, because he wanted to deal with political evil, and the experience of Europe under Nazism was a little close to home. So he devoted himself to the other side of the same, totalitarian coin. When it came time to write his memoirs, he said, “I felt and feel to this day that I have been spared not to waste my life on self-­indulgence or self-aggrandizement but to spread a moral message by showing, using examples from history, how evil ideas lead to evil consequences.”

One task for this day: Try not to let them minimize the Third Reich and the Holocaust.

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