Nearly 12 years ago, in Berlin, I covered the official opening of one of the most important and poignant monuments in Germany, the Holocaust Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Composed of 2,711 rectangular concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field in the center of Germany’s cosmopolitan capital, it pays stark homage to the six million Jewish victims of Nazi genocidal terror.
Appropriately enough, the monument, designed by the New York architect Peter Eisenman, was solemnly inaugurated on the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, a conflict initiated by a Nazi leadership intent on dominating Europe and wiping out its Jewish population.
It goes without saying that the monument is a tangible expression of Germany’s atonement for Nazi crimes against humanity. Much to its credit, Germany has made herculean efforts come to terms with its dark past. It’s a policy that has enabled Germany to purge itself of the Nazi blot and take its rightful place among the family of nations.
Shamefully, however, some malcontents in Germany reject this reality, claiming that the Nazi interregnum was not an ugly stain on the canvas of German history.
One of these revisionists is Bjorn Hocke, a member of the Alternative for Germany, a right-wing political party that has fared relatively well in recent state elections. Hocke, the chairman of its Thuringia chapter, recently spoke to young members in Dresden, telling them that Germany must make a 180 degree change in how it relates to the Nazi period.
Urging Germany to set aside its “stupid” culture of remembrance of Nazi crimes, he declared, “We Germans are the only people in the world who planted a memorial of shame in the heart of the capital city.”
He was, of course, referring to the Holocaust Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
Going one step further, Hocke lambasted the late Richard von Weizsacker, who, as Germany’s president, delivered a memorable speech in 1985 calling on Germans to remember their historical responsibility for Nazi crimes. To Hocke, Weizsacker — the son of a top-tier diplomat who faithfully served the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s — had betrayed “his own people” and had turned German history into “something rotten and ridiculous.”
Hocke’s comments, far from being measured or decent, are downright scandalous and disgraceful. They’re the hateful words of a blinkered chauvinist who wallows in the rhetoric of ignorance and malice.
The chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, was understandably shocked by Hocke’s departure from the norms of contemporary German politics. “I would have never believed that it would be possible for a politician in Germany to make such statements 70 years after the Holocaust,” he said.
It’s commendable that Frauke Petry, the leader of Alternative for Germany, distanced herself from Hocke’s disturbing remarks and dismissed him as “a burden” on her party.
But let there be no illusions. There are literally millions of Germans who share his twisted beliefs. Some Germans will never learn the lessons imparted by Nazi Germany.