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Heinrich Böll on the Psychological Impact of the Economic Miracle (1960)

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Being a German means being threatened in a Paris hotel for being one and, on the return trip, sitting on the train across from a young French fascist who tries to compliment him on the rigor with which anti-Semitism was pursued in this country; it means not being able to join in when the French talk about Algeria, perhaps one will only be permitted to speak when as many people are killed there as were murdered under German rule in Europe between 1933 and 1945. Who keeps track of this mysterious account of the nations? Who determines the price of a human life? Will a look decide this tomorrow? That dark stock exchange that dictates the price, where will it lead? The threat in the Paris hotel, of course, is directed precisely against the German who brought a handful of potatoes to a Jew in hiding, and the British customs official holds in his fingers – as though it were the ID card of a leper – the passport of precisely the German who did not pass on the denunciation. If there were any indications of collective guilt in this country, then they would have started precisely at the moment when the sale of pain, grief, and memory began with the “currency reform.”

It is horrible that there are more than enough occasions to get angry in and about this country. But who should be the object of this anger? They swallow everything; in a report about a car accident, they could perhaps be shown the death of their own neighbor on a television screen; they would be startled, maybe even say: “Don’t I know him?” and then wait for the next image. In the next currency reform, the value of their money could be converted at a rate equaling 100 to 0.10, and the assets of those who are clever would be correspondingly higher. People would sigh, complain a little, but then they would soon roll up their sleeves and work, work, work. In this way they can manage another few miracles and won’t need to fear that anyone would get upset about the uncertainly in the equation. The inverse of the miracle of the [multiplying] loaves is the miracle of stealing bread to survive. The faces of the experts who can explain the miracle with simple words are as empty and dead as the moon. [ . . . ]

Source: Heinrich Böll, “Hierzulande” [“In this Country”], in Werke. Essayistische Schriften und Reden [Works. Essayistic Writings and Speeches], vol. 1, 1952-1963. Cologne, 1978, pp. 366-75.

Translation: Allison Brown

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