Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Monday, February 10, 2014

What if the Nazis Had Destroyed Paris? Volker Schlöndorff's New Film, "Diplomacy"

In a short story in today’s New York Times, there was news of a new Volker Schlöndorff film, entitled Diplomacy, which is debuting at the Berlin Fesitval as we speak. The Times story reports that the film is “set in 1944,...[and] explores how the Swedish consul general in Paris, Raoul Nordling, helped persuade the Nazi military governor of Paris, Dietrich von Choltitz, not to obey Hitler’s orders to destroy the historic city should it fall into enemy hands.

"Mr. Schlöndorff said that today was a perfect time for Europe to re-examine the power of diplomacy: 'At a moment when Europe is questioning a lot of anti-Europe sentiment and demagogy, just imagine if we Germans had blown up Paris and destroyed it in the same way as Warsaw, if there ever would have been the possibility of a reconciliation within Europe,” he said. “Certainly not with a French-German tandem.'”
It remains to be seen how much the film plays up the hypothetical scenario of what would have happened had the Nazis actually gone through with their plans.  (In all likelihood, it will be a looming shadow that hovers over the film's entire narrative).
But regardless, one point is clear: Schlöndorff’s counterfactual shows how nightmare scenarios, in which the past turned out worse than in reality, express our gratitude for how history’s course ended up unfolding.  By implying that Germany and France's postwar rapprochement would have been much more difficult with the wanton destruction of Paris, the film highlights the value and necessity of diplomacy in the present-day world. 

This is not to say that the destruction of Paris would have poisoned relations eternally between Germany and France.  The Germans’ destruction of Warsaw did not entirely prevent the reestablishment of cordial relations between the two countries, which do in fact exist today.  But the level of mistrust between the two countries (certainly their inhabitants) is still deeper than between Germany and France; moreover the reduction of mistrust between Germans and Poles has taken much longer than between the Germans and French.    

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