Why still remember?

Recently I saw a picture in a blog that has touched me deeply:


“Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day 2012″

The official poster of Yom Hashoah 2012 designed by Dorielle Rimmer-Halperin as part of a project of the International School of Holocaust Education at Yad Vashem with the participation of the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, Israel.
Used here with the friendly permission of Dorielle Rimmer-Halperin.

The picture speaks for itself, I think, and probably doesn’t need much of an explanation. I find it very evocative, one of the saddest things I have seen in a long time. And this takes me directly to my headline: Why remember? These days, many people in Germany say things like „Why do we have to be constanly reminded of all this? Surely this must end someday?„. The wording may vary, but the underlying line of reasoning is usually something like this:

Yes, the Nazis [sometimes, what they are really saying between the lines is: Of course not Germany or the Germans in general, most of whom were against the Nazis but had to go along so as not to put themselves in peril. They can, in consequence, not be held responsible; so: just the Nazis] perpetrated the Holocaust.

Yes, this was a horrible thing and shouldn’t have happened. [sometimes, what they are really saying between the lines is: Although, we don’t need or want homosexuals and people with mental disabilities. And of course it wasn’t necessary or wise to kill the Jews, Gypsies etc., kicking them out of the country would have been sufficient.]

The war shouldn’t have happened either [sometimes, what they are really saying between the lines is: Although, sooner or later Stalin would have started a war anyway, and we couldn’t just accept Versailles, could we; so what’s the difference, either way a great big dirty war would have happened.]

BUT: Germany has paid dearly and and done ample penance. [In this context, Dresden is often mentioned, the prolonged bombings of German cities by Allied forces, the firestorms. The expulsion of the civilian population from the former eastern territories of Germany. The atrocities committed mostly by Soviet soldiers when conquering German territory. The dismantling of German heavy industry after the war. The Nuremberg Trials. The official attempts of reparation/restitution aimed at survivors. Of course, you won’t hear much about the fact that a number of countries – ironically, Greece is rather prominent among them – have considerable, substantiated claims against Germany which they have not been able to recover because of creative, not to say dirty, legal tricks the Allied governments employed in Germany’s favour when officially ending World War II. The fact that the pensions paid to Holocaust survivors are often shamefully low, and that the recipients often have had to overcome major bureaucratic hurdles to receive those payments at all, is not much talked about either. Similarly, the simple fact that all reparation efforts and payments from Germany can only be seen as gestures of good will rather than real compensation is nothing anyone likes to talk about. There is not enough money on Earth for real, adequate compensation. And noone could undo all the pain and suffering or hope to even remotely compensate for it, so all we can do is offer symbolic compensation which is very important indeed but nonetheless insufficient.]

And we (i.e. those born after the war) don’t have anything to do with this anyway. We don’t carry any individual guilt, punishing us for our parents‘ or grandparents‘ crimes is not permissible, and Germany – other than Japan or Austria, to name just two – went through an intensive process of, well, grappling with the past and the guilt incurred during the Third Reich and at least tried to learn from the past and make sure nothing like this can ever happen again. Surely the permanent remembrance must end one day. All of this has happened so long ago. Leave us alone at last, it is enough!

And this is wrong. It is not enough, we must not stop remembering and being reminded. As long as survivors of the Holocaust or of the war of invasion and annihilation started by Germany are alive; as long as there are people who as young children saw their siblings, parents or other relatives for the last time in a cattle wagon or on the cursed ramp of Auschwitz; as long as there are people who had to witness or go through one of the many atrocities, „punitive actions“ or massacres commited by German soldiers in the territories conquered by the Wehrmacht, people who maybe lost neighbours, friends or family in the course of these events; as long as property expropriated or stolen during the Third Reich has not been given back to the rightful owners or their heirs; as long as Neonazis openly fight for „nationally liberated areas“ in Germany, insult people, chase them through the streets, beat them up or murder them; as long as the police and the justice system occasionally give the impression of turning a blind eye and seem to prefer going against people (typically of leftist leanings) who try to do something against today’s Nazis (Eisleben comes to mind, where known Nazis attacked and nearly killed a family of Syrian origin who had been legally living in Germany for 16 years; apparently the police were not interested in witness accounts, didn’t arrest the perpetrators; one of the perpetrators was free on parole when he participated in this crime, and his parole was not even revoked; to this day no court date has been set. Or the fact that a man has been sentenced to a lengthy prison term without parole for civil disorder and instigation of attacks against the police, crimes the prosecution failed to prove he actually committed. Or the criminal proceedings against Lothar König for similar alleged crimes); as long as there are people anywhere, but particularly in Germany, who openly declare their allegiance to Adolf Hitler and follow the terrible ideology of his party:

At least as long as all this is going on, there can be no end. As long as this is going on we need to remember the Holocaust and be reminded of what happened. And even after the last grandchild of the last survivor’s grandchild has died, after the last neonazi gave up this worldview, remembrance will be necessary. Of course, this is highly unpleasant for all those of us who – because of our late birth – don’t carry any personal guilt. It is very painful for all people involved. But for the survivors, whose lives were shot to hell in horrible ways in the name of Germany and a sick ideology, without any reason – for these people there will never be an end as long as they are alive. They will never be able to forget what they went through, they will suffer from the consequences up to their last breath. Some visibly, others without it being noticeable. But they are suffering, and the same goes for their children and grandchildren – they can’t get away from this heritage.

Because this is the case we – the children and grandchildren of the perpetrators and of those who didn’t actively participate but ran along, of those who „didn’t know anything“ and of those who for whatever (and often even understandable) reasons didn’t act – cannot and must not demand to be left alone. Surely there must be an end to all of this is no demand we have any right to make. It is not over yet, and won’t be over for a long time to come. These old nightmarish stories will be with us for quite some time yet. And it is not our place to decide when it will be over. We have no demands to make, we can only hope for forgiveness while recognizing that forgiving does not equal forgetting.

We can’t deny the fact that Germany did all this without a reason, and we had better adopt an attitude of humility and penance, the way [German Federal Chancellor] Willy Brandt demonstrated on December 7, 1970 in his Warschauer Kniefall. Surely there must be an end to all of this is the wrong attitude. You can’t burn half the world down and then, having cleared away a few selected piles of rubble here, built a few new things there, donated sizeable sums of money to good causes, half ashamedly and half defiantly say ‚That’s all right, then‘ and pretend everything is fine. Even the assertion that other countries didn’t put in much effort towards coming to terms with their part in all of this can’t serve as a justification for Germany to shirk the responsibility. And Let bygones be bygones, all of this has happened so long ago is not a valid point either. All of this is a very unpleasant heritage, of course, but it is a heritage that we can’t refuse.

If this will ever be laid to rest then certainly not because we, the German people, have the right to demand that the survivors leave us alone with their whingeing, or because we have somehow earned to be left alone. If this ever comes to an end then because the people the old man on the poster stands for don’t want to keep holding the Holocaust against us forever. It will be because they don’t carry the old law An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth to the last but show us more mercy and fairness than they themselves ever experienced in this country.


The German original of this text can be found here: „Irgendwann muss doch mal Schluss sein!“


One Comment on “Why still remember?”

  1. […] Eine englische Version gibt es hier. […]

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