What caused the post-Hitler, post-Nazi, apolitical youth to become an ardent neo-Nazi? What led the professional photo retoucher to become an amateur retoucher of history? It is not inconceivable that the answer to this question involves the troubling effect that a uni-dimensional portraiture of Germans in post-war literature had on an impressionable young mind. Zündel disclosed as much in an interview with Michael Tenstzen of The Globe and Mail (December 6, 1983). Male adventure magazines of the 1950s and 1960s. with their focus on German atrocity stories, left a mark on his psyche. "I said, this is ridiculous. I knew German soldiers in our village, my father and his brother were ones and they never talked about stories like this.''
His concern with the negative stereotyping of Germans as "goose-stepping mass murderers or stupid figures of fun" is, in fact, shared by mainstream German Canadians. Many of the latter have been genuinely disturbed by the persistent focus of the media, film industry and popular literature with that narrow, albeit momentous, era in German history known as the Third Reich. For the most part, however, these German Canadians have acknowledged and confronted the reality of the Holocaust.
Believing that there is no cause for shame in ethnic origin, since there is no such thing as collective guilt, they are proud of their heritage and their achievements in this country. Russell Doern, for example, a member of the Manitoba legislature, declared in an article in Maclean's magazine: "I, too, am angered, sickened and horrified by the terrible crimes committed by the Nazis - which the world must never forget."
However, in his view, "German-Canadians must stand proud as an intelligent, industrious and sensitive people who have made a significant contribution to Canadian society since the first Germans came here 227 years ago. Only then will our history be placed in proper perspective."
In reply to a letter from Zündel, Reuben C. Baetz, Minister of Culture and Recreation for Ontario, wrote as follows (December 31, 1981): "Stereotypes feed on ignorance. If the public knew the story of the German community, if it were aware of the contributions Canadians of German origins have made to all aspects of our life, if it were sensitive to the achievements of all that is best and finest in the German intellect and spirit, the kinds of objectionable materials you cite would lose both their credibility and their audience. In the long run this is the best solution, I believe."
Zündel, however, for a variety of reasons, could never bring himself to take this approach. For one thing. he could not adopt the achievements of German Canadians because he refused to become one, never having taken out Canadian citizenship. To be sure, he did anglicize his name to "Ernest Zündel" when he arrived first in Canada, but this did not last; indeed, sometime in the 1970s, he reaffirmed his Germanness by returning to the original spelling. If he could not bring himself to emulate German Canadians, he could have emulated the post-war German generation, that generation that confronted Nazi criminality, turned its back on Nazism, and built a new, vibrant and democratic society. He also could have emulated authentic German heroes, such as the anti-Nazi martyrs who died at Hitler's hands for their opposition to the dictatorship and its murderous policies. But he did not.
The only Germany Zündel saw was a "vanquished and divided German nation" - one he could neither associate with nor accept. Burdened by guilt, his pride and self-esteem injured, unable to honestly face the past and thereby transcend it, he opted to deny it. Since, moreover, Holocaust denial is but one side of a coin whose other side includes the glorification of the Third Reich, opposition to justice for Nazi war criminals and a desire to found a white supremacist Fourth Reich - in short, neo-Nazism-Zündel made the mental and emotional transition from a post-Hitler youth to a post-Hitler Hitlerite.
Certain personal character traits also played a part in his conversion, notably a strong capacity to suspend belief. The same irrationalism that allows him to ignore scientific evidence pointing to the non-existence of flying saucers allows him to ignore historical evidence pointing to one of the best-attested facts of all time: the Holocaust. Of course, it is likely that Zündel does not believe in flying saucers at all and these stories are merely for effect. It is also likely, as the court found in two trials, that he does not believe in his own propaganda claims, despite the immense psychological power of wilful self-deception. Holocaust denial is employed as the key device in marketing neo-Nazism. "If there was never any crime of mass murder then there are no mass murderers. Nazism and the Third Reich are whitewashed and made once again respectable and, what is most important...attractive."
There is also considerable evidence of egomania and exhibitionism. Zündel regards himself, and wants to be seen, as a man of substance, a leader, as the sort of pre-eminent individual described in his autobiography. He does not only love Hitler, he wishes to emulate him. This passion surely makes him design new neo-Nazi symbols, incorporating the initial of his own name. Apparently, he sees himself as a budding Führer; indeed, he described himself to the Toronto Star (October 3, 1978) as the "Führer of Concerned Parents of German Descent." Another factor that may have affected his Nazi metamorphosis is a peculiar sense of shame about what he claims was his original pacifism. In his interview with Tenstzen of The Globe, he indicated that he "chose Canada because he knew the country did not have peacetime conscription." Perhaps his militaristic neo-Nazism is in part a classic overcompensation for an earlier non-violent (religious?) ethic. Such things are not unknown.
In any case, the ex-pacifist had marketed depictions of Nazi weapons and "warrior belt buckles," telling Dick Chapman of The Toronto Sun (in a March 25, 1981, interview) that, once the Bonn government is overthrown, "we [will]...certainly execute several hundred of the current crop of leaders in West Germany." If Zündel was ever a pacifist, those days are clearly far behind.
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