What has Germany really learned – and remembered – from Kristallnacht?

Good commentary with the lingering questions “What have we learned from the Shoah?”:

Last week, Germany memorialized the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht – “the night of broken glass” – during which 1,400 synagogues and innumerable Jewish businesses throughout the country were vandalized. There were dozens of killings on that day, Nov. 9, 1938. At least 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

It was the visible unravelling of the old as a violent new social order was born, yet the savagery had not emerged from a void, as many have since argued. For almost a century, anti-Semitic speech had been increasingly normalized in public discourse. The brutality of Kristallnacht was an unsurprising outcome once a leader able to channel hatred arrived on the scene.

As the 2018 memorial date approached, the German government banned a planned protest march by far-right groups. This was a risky move in a liberal democracy, but necessary, according to Thomas Lutz, who heads the Memorial Museums Department of the Topography of Terror Foundation in Berlin. Mr. Lutz told me he encouraged the authorities to take preventative action. He belongs to the postwar generations who have made moral responsibility and Holocaust education their life’s work – a group that is being tested as never before. The radical Alternative for Germany party (AfD) is a serious threat to the German liberal consensus. Having entered the political mainstream in 2017, its leaders are hostile to foreigners and to Holocaust memorialization in the name of resurgent ethnic nationalism.

Two political streams are emerging where, until recently, there was only one. The AfD is increasing its support, but last week the older ethos was also visible when a 94-year-old former SS guard went on trial for crimes committed in Poland. “Germany owes it to the families and victims to prosecute these Nazi war crimes even today,” the prosecutor said. “This is a legal and moral question.”

No country has made greater efforts to atone for Second World War crimes than Germany, the perpetrator state. Since the 1970s, schoolchildren have learned about the Holocaust through history classes and mandatory visits to concentration camps. Museums such as Mr. Lutz’s superb Topography of Terror, which details the Nazi regime in words and pictures, have been erected. Small and large memorials pepper Berlin, including the massive and unsettling Holocaust Memorial near the famous Brandenburg Gate.

On the other hand, the former East Germany did not parallel this education. According to Communist ideology, there were no war criminals east of the Wall: they all lived in the West; a fiction that blocked acknowledgement and reflection. At reunification in 1990, the two cultures were largely strangers, and in the subsequent years, the promise of measurable gain has not materialized in much of the East. One can plot the growth of animosity. Simmering resentments soared in 2015 when Chancellor Angela Merkel allowed a million poorly vetted refugees into the country. Postwar taboos against racist speech loosened, possibly liberated by trash talk from the new U.S. President. Permission to spout hatred almost always radiates from the top.

On the anniversary last week, Ms. Merkel delivered a powerful address in a reconstructed synagogue in Berlin. She decried the “worrying” rise of anti-Semitism in her country. She called for the safeguarding of protective institutions and the liberal values that underpin them. And she asked the seminal question we once thought we had answers to, but has since become ambiguous: “What did we really learn from the Shoah, this rupture of civilization?”

“Democracy is complicated,” she said. “It relies on balance between majority and minority, on the division of powers.” Then she addressed an evident truth: Those who felt left behind were looking for simple, not complicated, answers – and they were finding them among racist nationalists.

Given its 20th-century history, the revival of right-wing German nationalism is a fearful prospect – not least to Germans themselves. Yet as important as it is to march in the streets, simple confrontation is not an effective strategy. New research suggests that cultural memory has a shelf life of 70 to 80 years – exactly the time that has elapsed since the Holocaust. Better solutions to the economic problems and social resentments of those who feel outstripped must be reimagined.

Angela Merkel is Europe’s wisest leader, but she has been fatally weakened by the political rise of the extreme right in both parts of her country. In her forthcoming absence, others must defend the democratic values she embodies and with which she has served her country.

Her question, “What have we learned from the Shoah?” hangs in the air.

Source: What has Germany really learned – and remembered – from Kristallnacht?

Swedish Anti-Nazi Activists Fail to Invite Jews to Kristallnacht Rally – The Daily Beast

Disconcerting:
The organizers of an anti-Nazi rally in Umeå face intense scrutiny for not inviting the local Jewish community out of security concerns.

When commemorating the 77th anniversary of Kristallnacht with an anti-Nazism rally, you’d think perhaps the most obvious people to invite would be Jewish citizens. Not so for organizers in one Swedish city, where a Monday evening event will transpire without the presence of local Jews.

“Umeå Against Nazism” is set to take place in Umeå’s Town Hall Square, timed to the anniversary of the 1938 violent pogrom largely seen as the start of the Holocaust. The event’s organizer, Jan Hägglund, is a local lawmaker and member of the local socialist Workers’ Party.

The decision not to invite local Jews, he said, was because the rally could “be perceived as unwelcoming or unsafe situation for them.” According to Norrköping Tidningar, previous rallies have included Palestinian flags and banners where the Star of David was equated with the Nazi swastika. Another Workers’ Party official told The Jerusalem Post that, in the past, this rally has been “a narrow affair for ‘leftists.’”

The event’s Facebook pageacknowledged Kristallnacht as the moment when ”Nazis stepped up the violence against the Jewish population in Germany.” Additionally, the page beckoned, “Knowledge of the Nazi extermination of millions of Jews and Roma must be kept alive.”

Noting that Nazi activists marched on Umeå for the first time since World War II two years ago, the page declared that “our rally should be seen as a defense of Umeå as a city of openness towards people with different culture, religion and sexual orientation. As well as support for those forced to flee from war and hopes for a future in Umeå.”

Critics see that latter statement as a hint that the event has ulterior political motives.

 “How much clearer can the anti-Semitism of the left be?” one Facebook commenter wrote. Another person added that not including Jews for a Kristallnacht memorial is like only including whites to take part in a demonstration against South African apartheid.

Source: Swedish Anti-Nazi Activists Fail to Invite Jews to Kristallnacht Rally – The Daily Beast