Yesterday, January 27th, 2017, marked the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the biggest national socialist concentration camp. From September 1941 until the liberation by Soviet troops on January 27th, 1945 at least 1.1 million people were killed in Auschwitz, most of whom Jews. From Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 until Germany’s unconditional surrender in 1945, the Nazi regime spread hatred, violence, racism and war in Europe and all over the world. During the Second World War, an estimate of 50 to 85 million people died and at least 6 million of them were victims of the Holocaust. Contrary to common perception, the Holocaust was not only the genocide of Jewish people, it also targeted Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, and physically and mentally disabled. They were persecuted, humiliated, imprisoned, starved, abused, and killed in unimaginably cruel ways simply because of their origin, religion, sexual orientation and ability. In 1996 January 27th became the Day of Commemoration of the Victims of National Socialism in Germany, and in 2005 the United Nations introduced this day as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
You probably wonder how Germany is dealing with this remembrance day 72 years after the war ended? The answer to this question is not to be given lightly.
I was born on the January 16th 1999 in Stuttgart, Germany, approximately 54 years after the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. There is no discussion about whether I am to be blamed for the acts of the Nazis more than half a century before my birth. Blaming me for the actions of my ancestors would be prejudiced. Nevertheless, the Holocaust is also part of my heritage, my parent’s heritage, and every German’s heritage. One can not be proud of Goethe and Schiller, nor Germany’s philosophers and scientists without feeling ashamed of the inexpressible horrors of the Third Reich. Ask me how I feel about the years between 1933-1945: horrified, shaken, ashamed, and incredibly sorry for all the victims.
In my English class, we recently discussed national identity. As a German, finding one’s national identity means asking oneself about Germany’s history. One duty that comes with our nationality is preserving the history and the memories and at the same time making sure that something like that shall never happen again, not in Germany and or anywhere in the world. This is exactly what the majority of German politicians attempt to do on 27th January. Remember and inform, admonish and encourage a free and democratic world. However, some do see our history a bit differently. Last September for example, Frauke Petry, the party chairwoman of the right-wing populist party AFD (“Alternative for Germany”), stated that the word “völkisch”, an antiquated word for national, should be reintegrated into the German vocabulary. The word “völkisch” was lastingly shaped by the Nazis and is commonly associated with the Third Reich, especially due to its extensive use in Adolf Hitler’s programmatic book Mein Kampf.
The lack of consciousness regarding Germany’s history displayed by popular representatives of the AFD party was brought to a new climax during a party event in Dresden when Bernd Höcke mentioned the Holocaust Memorial Berlin in a speech. He called the Germany “the only nation in the world who placed themselves a monument of shame in the heart of its capital”. In my opinion, the fact that a German politician makes a statement like this has to be a wake-up call not only for Germans but for everyone else. The fact that the newly inaugurated president of the United States, Donald Trump, signed an Executive Order on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day discriminating people from Muslim-majority countries, categorizing them as terrorists, taking away their basic rights, is highly questionable and reminiscent of our past.
The political developments in many European countries with the rise of the AFD in Germany and the Front National in France and Donald Trump’s presidency should alarm us all. For this day’s purpose is to make sure that we shall never forget what happened and ensure it will never happen again.
by Emilie W.