I wanted to share some excerpts from “What Old Nazis Make Us Remember,” an article in the NY Times by Anna Sauerbrey, published on May 1st, 2015. (read the whole thing here)
Anna is an editor on the opinion page of Der Tagesspiegel.
The article is a reaction to the trial of Oskar Groning, 93-year-old “accountant of Auschwitz," who was charged with complicity in the murder of at least 300,000 people. It is the remaining "old Nazis," the perpetrators, who remind us of how bureaucratic and "normal" their perception of horrific, widespread murder was. We have to actively practice tolerance, to make clear that "never again" cannot be taken for granted.
From the article (emphases mine):
"Survivors of the Holocaust still regularly speak in classrooms in Germany. Everyone reads the “Diary of Anne Frank,” over and over. I have read it knowing that my grandparents had at least tolerated the regime that murdered her – and that both my grandfathers served in the war. We have all grown up with the vague feeling of inherited guilt.
It is the horrifying, mind-wrecking banality of evil condensed in a sentence like “that’s how things went in a concentration camp” that has sustained the German self-narrative of guilt, much more than compassion ever could have.
Mr. Groning makes us question ourselves. I, too, am afraid I wouldn’t have resisted. The victims tell us: We must never forget. The perpetrators say: we might do it again.
One afternoon, when I was a teenager, I asked my grandfather, “Didn’t you know back then?” His answer took me by surprise. “How could we have known?” he said with a violence that revealed more than his actual answer.
One day, when my young son takes an interest in German literature, he’ll inevitably read Gunther Grass. But as strong and indicting as a novel like “The Tin Drum” is, it won’t have the same effect as being confronted with Oskar Groning, or being uncertain about your own grandfather’s moral integrity. How will he understand his own responsibility, as a German, to combat ideologies of hatred and prevent crimes against humanity?
We must find a new narrative, a new way to ensure “never again.” Not through ideology, but through action – for example by more generously helping the refugees that seek asylum in our country. Instead of trying to transfer a vague feeling inherited guilt to yet another generation, we should change from remembering what we must never forget, to knowing why."