I am now onto blog post number 64, and I still haven’t really spoken about the war. I suppose it’s about time I had a go at tackling those unspoken questions. How did it happen? Do Germans feel guilty? Does it get spoken about, or covered up? Could it have happened somewhere else? Will it happen again? I used to be able to ask these questions with a little distance. But then I got married and we produced two half-German children so now the answers are more than just “a bit interesting” for me. Were they born with some pre-loaded holocaust guilt? Has some rubbed off on me after living here for half my life?
The easy answer to all the above questions, and the most accurate, is “I don’t really know”. I will have a pop at answering them over the next year but let me start with something easier. What do people say about the war and holocaust here?
The first thing is that I have never met a holocaust denier. If you are born here there is absolutely no question that (a) Germany lost the war and (b) the Nazis were the bad guys. No excuses, no cop-outs, no forgetting. This sounds obvious, but for lots of other countries the degree of association with the Nazis is a grey area – in some cases actually getting whiter as time passes and history is tweaked. I have also never met anyone who has tried to deny how bad it was or justify the holocaust in any way. The schools take this very seriously. There is no way that any child coming through the system is not going to get a dose of holocaust history. Many schools will also have a field-trip to one of the concentration camps at some stage.
It’s the same with politicians. Throughout the year, there are always dates to remember and ceremonies to attend. Angela Merkel, or the (largely symbolic) President Joachim Gauck are often seen speaking and remembering the horrors of the Nazi years during these ceremonies. They take this very seriously, and so they should. Germany knows that the world is looking and are acutely aware that any tendencies toward “right-wing” extremism must be stamped out immediately.
Considering that Germany took in about 1,1 million(!) refugees, last year alone, I think that the rise of the AfD (more like UKIP than the BNP) was inevitable. The recent polls show them with between 11% and 14% of the vote. This is about half the level of Le Pen’s support in France last year. But for many Germans this is still embarrassing – because of the history.
I recently asked a friend, whose children are a little older than mine, what he told them about how they should deal with their nation’s past. He said that he always told them it was their responsibility to “never let people forget and never let it happen again” but that they bore no guilt and it was OK to be proud to be a German. This is eminently sensible and I will give my children the same advice. And still, the televised outpouring of unbridled patriotism that you see during, say the Queen’s jubilee or the football world cup in England just wouldn’t happen here. It will probably take another generation until it does.