Germany Is Often Praised for Facing Up to Its Nazi Past. But Even There, the Memory of the Holocaust Is Still Up for DebateRoundup
tags: Holocaust, Nazis, Germany
Jacob S. Eder teaches history at the Barenboim-Said Akademie in Berlin and and is the author of Holocaust Angst: The Federal Republic of Germany and American Holocaust Memory since the 1970s.
As the world marks the 75th anniversary of the Jan. 27, 1945, liberation of Auschwitz — a key part of a series of watershed World War II anniversaries this year — all eyes will be on Germany. Angela Merkel set the tone with a moving and highly reflective speech at the Auschwitz Memorial in early December, when she expressed a “deep sense of shame for the barbaric crimes that were here committed by Germans.” The chancellor has come to embody how Germany has faced its Nazi past.
As far as Germany’s institutions and intellectuals are concerned, there exists a broad consensus that the country has confronted its crimes and learned its lessons. Major cities boast impressive monuments, museums and centers dedicated to the study of antisemitism and the Holocaust. Germany’s institutions illustrate a conscious and responsible approach to dealing with past sins. Some observers, like the American moral philosopher Susan Neiman, make the case that it’s time for the rest of the world to begin “learning from the Germans.”
There is a lot of truth to this. Yet a different picture emerges when we leave the nation’s metropolises and look beyond the highly ritualized ways of commemorating the Nazi past. While central questions about how to confront that legacy have been settled in the country’s history textbooks, they are still subject to controversy in villages and towns.
For instance, while it is inconceivable to encounter a monument dedicated to a Nazi leader in Berlin or Munich, the countryside leaves more room for ambivalence. One can find a case in point in a small village just about an hour south of Munich. The beautiful cemetery on the island Frauenchiemsee in Lake Chiemsee is home to a cenotaph built in honor of one of the most abhorrent war criminals of the 20th century, Alfred Jodl. Jodl was the Wehrmacht’s second in command and was tried and hanged by the Allies in Nuremberg.
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