Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Monuments To Her Nazi Past

Honoring Nazi victims as witnesses fade

Most countries celebrate the best in their past. Germany unrelentingly promotes its worst.

The enormous Holocaust memorial that dominates a chunk of central Berlin was completed only after years of debate. But the building of monuments to the Nazi disgrace continues unabated. On Monday, the German minister of culture, Bernd Neumann, announced that construction could begin in Berlin on two monuments, one near the Reichstag to slain members of the gypsy groups, known here as the Sinti and Roma, and another not far from the Brandenburg Gate to gays and lesbians killed in the Holocaust.

In November they broke ground on the long-delayed Topography of Terror center at the site of the former Gestapo and SS headquarters. And in October, a huge new exhibition opened at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. At the Dachau camp outside Munich, a new visitor center opens this summer. The city of Erfurt is planning a museum dedicated to the crematoriums. There are currently two competing exhibitions about the role of the German railroads in delivering millions to their deaths.

This Wednesday marks the 75th anniversary of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party taking power in Germany, which remarkably has prompted yet a new round of soul-searching.

"Where in the world has one ever seen a nation that erects memorials to immortalize its own shame?" said Avi Primor, the former Israeli ambassador to Germany, at an event commemorating the Holocaust and the liberation of Auschwitz on Friday in Erfurt. "Only the Germans had the bravery and the humility."


RĂ¼diger Nemitz first began welcoming back this city's exiled victims of Nazi tyranny, the overwhelming majority of them Jews, in 1969. Berlin flies its former citizens, mostly Jews, back for a week of fully expense-paid visits, complete with a reception by the mayor.

The Invitation Program for Former Persecuted Citizens of Berlin, which has brought roughly 33,000 people for visits to the city, once had 12 full-time staff members. Now it is just Nemitz and another half-time employee.

The program is not, however, winding down due to waning support for commemoration of Germany's difficult past. To the contrary, at a time when the nearly-broke Berlin city government has had to make deep cutbacks in other areas, Nemitz said that every single political party in the city Parliament supported the program and had not pared back its budget of €550,000, or about $815,000, for flights, hotels and tours since at least 2000.

"When it started, they were grown-ups. Now, it's people with hardly any memory of Berlin," said Nemitz, 61, from his office on the ground floor of the Berlin City Hall. "Those who come today were children then."

The visits will end in either 2010 or 2011, Nemitz estimated, because there are so few victims left.


As the contact to the events becomes more remote, less personal, it raises the question of how a society should enshrine its crimes and transgressions over the longer term.

"I can't help but feeling that some of the continued 'Let's build monuments. Let's build Jewish museums,' is a fairly ritualized behavior," said Susan Neiman, director of the Einstein Forums in Potsdam, an international public research organization.

Her own children, she said, are saturated with discussions of the Holocaust and no longer want to hear about it.

"I worry terribly that it's going to backfire," she said.


When insufficient care is taken around the history, it immediately grabs national attention. In Munich this past weekend, a traditional carnival season parade overlapped with the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, celebrated every year on Jan. 27. The result was a nationwide flood of negative publicity for the city. Charlotte Knobloch, head of Germany's national Jewish organization, said that it "dishonors and insults the victims."

"There was no conscious affront," said Stefan Hauf, a spokesman for the city. He explained that they would have changed the date of the parade as the smaller city of Regensburg had, but too many participants were flying in from other countries to make the change on such short notice.

"The date has been on the public calendar since last May," Hauf said.
And not a soul working for the city was aware of the significance of January 27th??? My . . . Heinie . . . ass you didn't know.
Munich played a special role in Nazi history. It is where the National Socialist party rose to prominence and was the location of the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, the failed coup attempt enshrined in Nazi myth. Hitler eventually declared the city the "Capital of the Movement." Unlike Berlin, which has developed a reputation as a city with a memorial practically on every street corner, Munich has often been criticized for playing down its history.

"Munich was the capital of the movement. Since 1945 it's been the capital of forgetting," said Wolfram Kastner, an artist who said he has fought the city government over the years for permits and permission to use performance art to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.


Read it all at International Herald Tribune

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