Hans Post: from Nazi to anti-war activist

Issue 

One Man in his Time
By Hans Post
Otford Press, 2002
$31.77
Order at <http://www.otfordpress.com.au/>

REVIEW BY PETER McGREGOR

Hans Post's One Man in his Time is an amazing and inspiring story. It's a historically significant autobiography by an only child, born in 1926 to a pro-Nazi middle-class family in Silesia. The cover of this latest book by the new, independent, social justice publisher, Otford Press, conveys the distance of the journey that Post has travelled. We see the icons: from Nazi and the SS, to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), War Resisters and anarchism.

Post metamorphosised out of a youth that was immersed in Nazi, authoritarian culture, to come of age as an adult choosing pacifist, anarchist and egalitarian ways. It's the kind of journey that the German playwright Peter Weiss imagined in his play Marat/Sade, in which "the most important thing is to pull yourself up by your own hair, to turn yourself inside out and to see the world with fresh eyes".

Post's life story reveals both the appetite for justice latent in each of us and the capacity to change oneself, as a way to also change society. It confirms the validity of an epistemology of common sense — that a mixture of experience, cognition and compassion in the hearts and minds of any of us, not just the learned, is the best distiller of wisdom.

Post has the bold self-esteem to claim the Yiddish status of Mensch, because he has rejected and risen above the way of life into which he was indoctrinated and the suffering and pain he came to experience in the aftermath of the second world war.

As an activist, Post acknowledges that unless each of us address our own history, we certainly won't be able to transcend it. Measures of Post's success are both personal — his second wife of over 24 years, Gina, is a Jewish, feminist, anti-war activist — and social/political. While the former may not be as overtly addressed in the book, the latter certainly is.

Post sees us all as participants in the making of history, either as conscious participants or as unwitting accomplices. And perhaps in a (Wilhelm) Reichian way he conceives of the family as one of the primary ways history is passed on. Hence he expresses sadness at the breakdown in his relations, both with his parents, and also with some of his children.

In the preface, "Goodbye to Germany", Post gives an overview of his — and his first wife, Lydia's — stepping away from something unacceptable, into the unknown. By the mid '50s, Hans and Lydia became increasingly rebellious and dissatisfied with West Germany and they migrated to Australia. Chancellor Adenauer's re-introduction of conscription was proof for them of the return of state propaganda.

Post makes the case that from the time the Nazis took power, the brain-washing of "a society built on lies" was such that, because "people did not know what was really going on", it is hard to "measure individual guilt... My conviction of the fundamental value of the individual, of the meaning of freedom, has become ever stronger, in spite of, or because of, my upbringing in Nazi Germany."

One Man in his Time is written in an engaging and personable style, revealing Post's impressive memory and giving us a feel for the varying times. Post notes crucial turning points, as if it's been an intentional, developmental journey. This isn't just a story for its own sake — it's like a self-help book, offering us something that we need, helping us understand what is wrong with our world and showing us how to change it for the better.

The last photograph in the book is of Hans Post smiling, carrying a CND banner on Hiroshima Day in Sydney, 1995. A humour and warmth permeates as Post presents people and situations with a mixture of compassion and affection, but also dispassion and uncompromising criticism.

[Peter McGregor is lecturer in media and social studies, University of Western Sydney, <p.mcgregor@uws.edu.au>.]

From Green Left Weekly, October 23, 2002.
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