Pulling the loose skin down from a long-ago-strong upper arm, she showed me a two-sided scar. “When I was a girl, a bullet cut straight through my arm,” she said. “Another bullet killed my father. The war took many good people. My father ran a Grüss Gott shop.”
I was stunned by her rage. But I sensed desperation on her part to simply unload her story on one of the hordes of tourists who tramp daily through her hometown to ogle at an icon of the Holocaust.
I asked, “What do you mean, a Grüss Gott shop?” She explained that in Bavaria, shopkeepers greet customers with a “Grüss Gott” (“May God greet you”). During the Third Reich, it was safer to change to the Nazi greeting, “Sieg Heil.” It was a hard choice. Each shopkeeper had to make it. Everyone in Dachau knew which shops were Grüss Gott shops and which were Sieg Heil shops. Over time there were fewer and fewer Grüss Gott shops. Pausing, as if mustering the energy for one last sentence, she stood up and said, “My father's shop was a Grüss Gott shop to the end,” then stepped off the bus.
Conflicts between the majority and the minority persist in today's Europe. Consider Northern Ireland, were the population is divided between Protestants (supporters of British rule) and Catholics (who identify with the Irish). While the familiar Union Jack of the UK is the "official" flag of Northern Ireland, minority Catholics who'd like to see Ireland united see it as a symbol of oppression. Unfortunately, they no longer consider it their flag, and call it “the Butcher's Apron” instead.
For a lesson in the power of symbolism, visit a town where about two-thirds of the community is Protestant and one-third is Catholic. These towns can be decked out like a Union Jack fantasy...or nightmare, if you happen to be Catholic. The curbs are painted red, white, and blue. Houses fly huge British flags. Streets lead under trellises blotting out the sky with flapping Union Jacks. (Not too long ago, many towns like these even came with the remains of a burned-out Catholic church.) A Catholic walking down a street strewn with this British symbolism can only be quiet and accept it. To independence-minded Catholics, the Union Jack symbolizes not a united nation, but the tyranny of the majority. The result: There is no real flag of Northern Ireland.
Before traveling to Europe, I never really grasped the sadness of a society where a majority-rules mentality can, when taken to extremes, abuse a minority and bully it into silent submission.
About This Entry
You are reading "The Tyranny of the Majority, Part 1", an entry posted on 26 August 2009 by Rick Steves.