Independent Bath Literature Festival: Move on from the Nazis, historian pleads


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The Independent Culture

Don’t mention the war, or at least don’t mention it quite so often – that was the plea from one historian.

“Four years ago 850 books were published in England on the subject of the Nazis alone”, said Miranda Seymour, biographer and historical novelist. “It's time that we stopped only dwelling on that. It's time that we gave our children what we owe them, which is a richer understanding of the past and of the importance of all that Germany has done for England and that England has done for Germany. It's not fair to restrict them to just that one area of history.”

Seymour added that the war and the evil deeds of the Nazis should never be forgiven or forgotten. “[But] I think it is a problem that for children there is always the attraction of evil rather than good and therefore the subject of the Nazis remains irresistibly interesting to English children studying history.”

Seymour was speaking at The Independent Bath Literature Festival about her book, Noble Endeavours, a rare study of the special relationship of “trust and mutual respect” between England and Germany over 300 years, from the marriage of King James I's daughter Elizabeth to Prince Frederick in 1613 through to Christopher Isherwood's 1920s Berlin heyday. 

The fact that one newspaper greeted Angela Merkel's visit to the UK last week with a picture of the German Chancellor in a spiked helmet shows that despite a rich history of positive cultural exchange relations are still “uneasy”. “We are still picking at sores.”

Seymour's book also reveals her own extraordinary foothold in Anglo-German relations. In 1931, her uncle John Scott-Ellis was having a driving lesson in Munich when he turned a corner too quickly and knocked over a small moustachioed man in a brown uniform. It was Adolf Hitler.

“So my uncle is the man who almost killed Hitler”, said Seymour.

Two weeks after the accident, Geli Raubal, who was living in Hitler's apartment in Munich killed herself with his pistol. “It's my theory that he stepped off the pavement and didn't see the bright red Fiat that day because he was out of his wits with worry about the situation at home”, she added.