“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfil it ”. That quote by the writer, George Santayana, will be on many minds following the German elections.
For Jews, in particular, the sight of an avowedly xenophobic, anti- immigrant party sitting once again in the Bundestag will stir troubling memories of a past in which the swastika was Germany’s riposte to a weak and divided Europe.
But seeing everything through the prism of the past has its dangers.
In many respects, the success of the AfD mirrors the UKIP surge of 2015, which would also have led to seats in the House of Commons if we had a voting system based on proportional representation.
The AfD is riding that same wave of European populism which took the Front National to the final round of the French presidential contest, boosted the fortunes of the Austrian and Dutch Freedom parties and is sustaining the Hungarian and Polish governments in power.
In other words, German dissatisfaction with the traditional ‘centrist’ parties of the CDU and SPD is as significant a factor in this lurch to the right as any atavistic longing for a regime glorifying Blud und Boden (Blood and Soil).
But there is one factor which justifies recalling the legacy of the Nazi era.
It is surely no accident that the AfD has found its greatest support in the eastern half of Germany, in cities like Dresden, where immigration has not been high.
When defeated Germany was divided in 1945, the Communist East comforted itself with the illusion that the German people had been led astray by a gang of fascists around Hitler and that there was no mass support for Nazism.
That was a lie, and lies can have a persistent and disturbing afterlife.