Tip to 'modern' Germany: Take 'never again' to heart


April 02, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

The German government wants an exhibit on "modern" Germany included at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, scheduled to open April 26 in Washington, D.C.

Germany has a certain image problem -- what with its murder of 6 million Jews in World War II -- and so you can see why it is ever eager to counter bad publicity.

Though the Holocaust museum has turned down the German request, I wonder what such an exhibit would have looked like. Maybe it would have included a filmed interview with a German citizen who had lived through the war. And it could have been titled "Who Knew?"

Citizen: The Holocaust? Who knew? We knew nothing.

Interviewer: But didn't you notice when the Jews were rounded up? Didn't you notice the boxcars? Didn't you notice the thousands and thousands who disappeared?

Citizen: We noticed, but we didn't know.

Interviewer: Did you serve in the German army?

Citizen: No, I was exempt because I had an essential civilian job.

Interviewer: What did you do?

Citizen: I made shower heads.

Interviewer: What were those shower heads used for?

Citizen: Who knew?

Interviewer: What did you know?

Citizen: I knew enough to know I didn't want to know. Look, all the death camps -- Auschwitz, Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek, Belzec -- they were not in Germany. They were in Poland. So how could we in Germany have known?

Interviewer: And where did you live in Germany?

Citizen: Dachau.

Well, maybe that wouldn't make such a good exhibit after all. And let's be fair: Most Germans alive today are not old enough to have personal memories of the Holocaust, even if they wanted any.

But Germany has a little problem with its request for an exhibit on the "modern" Germany. Consider:

* In 1992 there were more than 2,000 hate crimes reported in Germany, an average of six per day, which included beatings, firebombings and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries.

* There were 17 hate murders committed in Germany last year, with two getting special attention:

On Nov. 12, a 53-year-old pensioner got into a fight in a bar in Wuppertal with two members of the National Front, an extremist right-wing party.

After the bartender told the two that the man was a Jew, they beat and kicked him, doused him with brandy and set him on fire while shouting "Jews must burn!"

The man died. It turned out he was not Jewish.

On Nov. 23 in Moelln, a Turkish woman, 50, who had lived in Germany for 20 years, her 14-year-old niece and her 10-year old granddaughter were burned to death when neo-Nazis hurled Molotov cocktails at their home. Those claiming responsibility called police and shouted: "Heil Hitler!"

* According to Elliot Neaman, writing in the January/February 1993 issue of the Jewish publication Tikkun: "Jewish public figures [in Germany] experience anti-Semitic threats regularly. . . . Jewish jokes, many with references to Auschwitz, long a taboo, are back in style."

* A Holocaust memorial in Berlin was damaged by an explosion last year, a barracks that held Jewish prisoners at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp was destroyed by a firebomb, and right-wing skinheads and left-wing anarchists have battled in German streets using baseball bats, knives and hatchets.

Some find a direct parallel between these and the clashes between Communists and Fascists in Germany in the 1920s, which led to the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Adolf Hitler.

* Bild am Sontag, a conservative newspaper, said German government figures show that the number of right-wing extremists in Germany increased from 150 in 1991 to 37,700 in 1992.

As I said, maybe this is not the best time for a tribute to modern Germany. But the picture is not all bleak:

Millions of Germans have demonstrated in favor of tolerance, and this year, on the 60th anniversary of Hitler's becoming chancellor of Germany, 100,000 Berliners held a candlelight vigil in front of a sign that read "Nie Wieder!" -- Never Again!

You bet it's not going to happen again. But it is toward this goal, and not public relations gimmicks in America, that Germany should turn its energies.

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