Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post on the new (old?) Anti-Semitism in my home country. In this context, I felt the need to add that there is another, equally disturbing tendency in Germany: More and more people seem to oppose dealing with the memory of the Holocaust on an intellectual level. Some even actively reject the idea that from our past, we need to draw lessons for the present and the future.
After a discussion in North Rhine-Westfalia’s state parliament on 12 February, the Vice-President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Abraham Lehrer, was quoted saying that within the majority of society, there was a “diminishing respect” towards Jews, which manifests itself in “fending off guilt and remembrance”.
For a long time, I used to be proud of the German “Erinnerungskultur” (culture of remembrance, or also historical consciousness), that is, the readiness of many to face the gruesome details of our past, and the tireless work of some to do deep research on the root causes. The shared grief, the many different ways of commemoration, and the attempt to learn lessons from our history. I was proud of our Grundgesetz, the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany (which celebrated its seventieth birthday a few weeks ago), which absorbed many of these lessons. It was created to protect, among many other rights, the personal freedom, the freedom of expression and the religious freedom of every single citizen, regardless of their origin and faith. From today’s perspective, it seems that not everyone in my country can freely exercise these rights – especially when this entails wearing a Kippa or a Magen David necklace.
Sadly, the “Erinnerungskultur” has always been sabotaged from the right, but in recent years, the assaults seem to become more and more vehement – and more and more condoned by the majority of society. They include brainless vandalism, such as the repeated damaging of three birches in my hometown, which had once been planted by Jewish citizens who later became victims of the Holocaust. The most recent and most alarming way of undermining the “Erinnerungskultur” comprises political attempts, such as by the party “Alternative für Deutschland” (AfD, Alternative for Germany), to systematically denigrate and vilify the memory of the Shoah – right up to the unbelievable speech by the parliamentary leader of the AfD in the Thuringian state parliament, who demanded a “turn of 180 degrees” in the politics of remembrance.
In a Podcast interview, the party’s deputy leader of the same federal association designated a speech in the Bundestag of the notable historian and Holocaust researcher Götz Aly as “political instrumentalization at its best”. Another MP of the party added to the annual Holocaust commemoration in the Bundestag, where Shoah survivors are regularly invited, that AfD would be happy to allow “authentic remembrance”, but that the survivors did not have a right to pronounce admonitions, to “interfere in today’s politics […]”. In other words, AfD members accuse the Shoah survivors of politically “abusing” their suffering.
Hearing such slogans or seeing such meaningless destruction really makes me sick. What the … does AfD mean by “authentic” commemoration? Why do we commemorate anything at all, why do we remember dark chapters of a history, if not and precisely because of this: not to repeat the mistakes of the past, which led to these dark chapters? How is this supposed to work – remember without thinking? Let me ask a different question: Why do we read fairy tales to our children? Not least because they learn from those tales, how to intelligently live one’s life, how to become a sufferable someone? So how should I imagine that – the kids of right-wing parents read only fairy tales without a “moral of the story”? And of course, exclusively based on original German cultural property? Such as the oh-so-German brothers Grimm, who happily copied foreign sources… did you know that Little Red Riding Hood is actually French?
The wanton disparaging of commemorative events, and the fact that German right-wing circles would like to ban – or reverse? – educational work on the 3rd Reich and the Holocaust history, is highly dangerous, and we need to put a stop to this urgently. Haven’t many countries been ready to re-establish (closer) diplomatic relations with Germany, to have (more) confidence in us again, based on the German culture of remembrance and willingness to face and learn from our history? I do not want to keep quiet and wait for the moment when, as a German, people will automatically attribute to me a certain frame of mind.
With the rising anti-Semitism and the associated right-wing extremism, we endanger the reputation of Germany in the world. At this moment, we may still feel pride of our “Erinnerungskultur”, but some would rather do away with it, to relish German history in undifferentiated terms. If we allow our historical consciousness to be endangered, we have absolutely forfeited our right to be proud.