I missed out on modern history at school and confess that for decades I shied away from gaining much knowledge of the rise of fascism as it all seemed too ugly, too horrific, to delve into.
Now I’m finding it hard to put down Anna Funder’s All That I Am, a novel based on real events in the period between WWI and II, when Hitler rose to power and those on the Left, the communists and socialists of all stripes, were purged. The captured were rounded up and put in prisons until there were so many that concentration camps were created to house them. Thousands of journalists, writers, poets, activists and intellectuals fled Germany to live in exile as refugees in bordering states. Denied the right to work, these refugees existed on air. And they were forbidden from political activism of any kind. Breaking this rule meant deportation.
Many were made stateless. Others were hunted down and killed in exile.
They were dangerous revolutionary times, when humanitarianism was pitted against ugly despotic power.
A similar sort of energy hangs over the world right now. An intensification of power and control versus the revolutionary spirit. The rise of neo-Nazi far-right parties throughout Europe with an equally if not more powerful rise of the Left. Not the Left of old. Something new and fresh is emerging, populist in flavour, youthful, visionary, determined to represent the people, not ideology. Anti-austerity movements emerging in Greece, in Spain, in Italy, and even, in its own way, in Queensland, Australia.
The road ahead for these movements will be fraught, but out of goodwill, out of hope, out of respect, I shall not add my voice to analysis and criticism before they’ve had a chance to prove themselves.
Meanwhile, the old-school persists in habits that have long since been discredited. The treatment of refugees a case in point.
Rounding up refugees (asylum seekers) and putting them in off-shore detention centres is somehow worse than what Hitler did. Those seeking asylum, the same sorts of people that were purged by Hitler (with his lists), the journalists, writers, poets, activists and intellectuals, having already fled persecution, are being imprisoned without trial and tortured, not by their own country, but by ours. There’s something so nightmarish about it. For anyone held captive it is a horror on an epic scale. And here we stand, yet more journalists, writers, poets, activists and intellectuals, risking our own freedoms under new anti-terror and surveillance laws, speaking out on behalf of common humanity.
Anna Funder’s All That I Am is well-researched and factually based. Her contribution to our awareness of that era is profound.
In my own small way I have attempted to do the same. My forthcoming novel Asylum, is situated against a backdrop of events occurring at the time of writing, of asylum seeker boat turn backs, of wretched conditions on Manus and Nauru, and of the intractable cruelty of the Department of Immigration (and border protection).
(Asylum will be available in e-book format in February 2015).