Hurt Feelings

April 29, 1994|By ELLEN GOODMAN

BOSTON — It seems that their feelings are hurt. The Americans, the Brits, the French -- all their friends -- are throwing a big party on June 6.

But the Germans haven't been invited.

It will be the 50th anniversary of D-Day. There will be parachute drops and aerial displays and veterans swarming over the beaches named Utah and Omaha.

Bill Clinton is coming. So is Queen Elizabeth. So is Francois Mitterrand. But Helmut Kohl won't be there to commemorate the Allies' assault on Normandy. And frankly, he's feeling left out. So are some of his countrymen.

After all, the Germans were there for the first D-Day. Without the Germans there wouldn't have been any D-Day at all. If there is to be some historic re-enactment perhaps some of the old veterans could come out with their hands up. Just for an authentic touch.

But I am being sarcastic and the German government is being serious. Those who object to this closed party explain that they are now a part of democratic Europe, not a fascist enemy.

They are asking for some sense of closure on the Nazi era. It's 50 years, after all, they say. Two generations have been born since then. And besides, one man said to a radio reporter, Germans too want to celebrate the day that began ''their liberation from Adolph Hitler.''

Well, I am not one of those children of World War II veterans who refused to buy a Volkswagen or bridled at a German accent. I do not believe the sins of the grandparents should be visited on the grandchildren.

But I am also queasy at the notion of transforming a historic commemoration of what Eisenhower called ''the Great Crusade'' a day that cost 6,603 American lives -- into a government celebration of letting bygones be bygones.

What a pain history is at times. We can't live with it. We can't live without it. We are told that those who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it. But those who can't forget may be doomed as well.

At times it seems to me that the practical need to burn the score cards, the old enemies lists and start fresh is essential. Otherwisewe walk through life looking behind us, as if we were being stalked through a dark alley by old adversaries. At other times there is a compelling need to remember, to distinguish right from wrong, victim from assailant. To maintain our sense of justice and honor those who upheld it.

On any given day, these messages are in the news. Stories about the power of memory and stories about the price of forgetting.

We read of murderous feuds between international Hatfields and McCoys. In Bosnia, people shoot each other in revenge for events that can be traced back 800 years. In the Middle East, Israelis and Palestinians kill each other now in the name of Israelis and Palestinians who killed each other then.

At same time, all through Europe, there are young, ignorant neo-Nazis painting swastikas on walls. In America, a cult of ''revisionists'' denies that the Holocaust ever happened. In Japan, young students learn more about Hiroshima than Pearl Harbor. In Italy, a ''post-Fascist" leader calls Mussolini "the greatest statesman of the century."

I remember nine years ago when President Reagan visited Bitburg, where side by side with Helmut Kohl, he laid a wreath in a cemetery where SS soldiers were buried. That gesture didn't strike me as a moment of reconciliation but one of moral blindness.

Now we are getting ready for D-Day. The veterans landing at Normandy this June are senior citizens. The Holocaust survivors are mostly old people, their collective memory soon assigned to museums. The landing may indeed have begun the liberation of Germany from Hitler, but few Germans thought so in 1944.

If I were planning this history party, would I invite Germans? Sure. I'd invite the resisters, the Schindlers, any survivors of the anti-Nazi underground.

To put it simply, the D-Day commemoration isn't about German-bashing. It isn't an insult. It isn't a time warp. It is a gathering for those who fought against tyranny. After 50 years, that is worth remembering.

Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.

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