How Germany Successfully Handled Its Past of Evil

By Richardt Stormsgaard

Here in June of 2020 Americans seem to be a crossroads with massive outpourings of support for fundamental change. Rallies all across the US in large cities and in small towns occur daily. The public murders of blacks are now a rarity, but blacks are still the target of institutional racism in housing, education, and the criminal justice system. Hardly a month goes without an unjustified shooting by police of an unarmed black person or without a black inmate being released after decades in prison because police and district attorneys refused to consider alibis or even other possible culprits. We can hope that the change in public opinion will be transformational so the various systems that still keep blacks from enjoying the same opportunities as the rest of us will be overhauled. Cornell University professor Noliwe Rooks, an expert in segregation said: “This is the first time since the 60s, where the global demand, the intergenerational demand, the multiracial demand for systemic change, There is some understanding and acknowledgment at this point that there’s something in the DNA of this country that has to undone”.

As a boy in Southern Denmark I watched with interest and horror the German documentary series “Das Dritte Reich” on the ZDF channel, one of two German television stations at the time. It was shown Friday nights, and repeated Monday nights, in 14 episodes describing the political events in Germany leading up to the WW II and the final defeat when the allies liberated the survivors from the concentration camps. It was watched by 58% of television viewing Germans, a strong majority. It first ran in 1960 and then 5 years later in 1965. This was part of conscious efforts on the part of German authorities to encourage the successful reckoning of modern Germans with the horrific crimes of many of their fathers and grandfathers.

It was a different time and a different country and their evil in some ways worse and in others ways less than ours. But the Germans in the post-war period are one successful example of a nation dealing with its past sins in a very successful way, and the US needs to do something similar because the racism is so imbedded into the very fabric of our society. There is a book I would recommend authored by Susan Neiman who in one of the first sentences of her book writes “I grew up as a white girl in the segregated South, and I’m likely end it as Jewish woman living in Berlin”. The name of the book is “A Heritage of Evil”. It details the efforts of modern Germans through the efforts of Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung and Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung to come to terms with the horrors of the recent German past and proceed from there into a better and kinder future.


2 Comments on “How Germany Successfully Handled Its Past of Evil”

  1. HI RIchard, Very interesting. I wasn’t aware that the Germans showed a documentary series about The Third Reich aimed at reckoning the modern Germans with crimes of their antecedents. However, it isn’t a total success. There are neo-Nazis and extremists in Germany who would love to recreate The Third Reich and continue to murder Jews. I wonder what can be done about them?

  2. Hi Lisa,

    You cannot totally eliminate extremists, but with the concerted effort at reaching the majority of the population, you do about as well as is possible. For Jews, the bigger problem in Germany as in the rest of Europe is Muslim extremists supported by far-left domestic groups. Synagogues and Jewish schools are usually under police guard, and Jews are advised not to wear kippahs to avoid harassment and even assault. In Feb 2015, 3 individuals were killed and 5 injured in an attack, by an Islamic terrorist at the Jewish Synagogue in Copenhagen. Reportedly almost 40% of Jews in Europe consider emigrating out of Europe to find more safety in countries like Israel, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand with smaller Muslim populations than in Europe.

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