German Kryptonite

»There is no German identity without Auschwitz.« Joachim Gauck

Germany does not compensate. No matter whether it is the Greek claim of 278 Billion Euros for war reparations, a forced loan and restitution for the Greek victims of National Socialism, or the genocide of the Herero and the Nama. In all of these cases, the German government emphasized it will neither pay individual nor collective restitutions. Instead, German negotiator Ruprecht Polenz offered the establishment of a German-Namibian Future Foundation, which would organize commemorative projects as well as a youth exchange.

All three measures taken by the Berlin Zoo in reaction to restitution claims are no exception to the rule: a commemorative plaque, an exhibition and an academic program. The Berlin Senate Committee on Finance repeatedly announced that »the contemporary focus of indemnification for historic Nazi crimes is not individual restitution, but public rehabilitation and commemoration«. Instead of restitution, the Berlin Senate and the Berlin Zoo are aiming for a »constant representation of our disgrace«, like author Martin Walser phrased in his 1998 acceptance speech at St. Paul’s Church in Frankfurt. Walser managed to find the perfect description of contemporary German commemoration culture, stating that »not the not-allowed-to-forget is the motive, but the exploitation of our shame for current goals«.

During an interview with German magazine SPIEGEL in May 2015, Walser unexpectedly dissociated from the usual interpretation of his speech. »Maybe« it had been »careless« of him to »talk about the exploitation of the Holocaust without naming people«. He had thought of Günter Grass, Joschka Fischer and Walter Jens. Walser continues that it was Ignatz Bubis, then chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, who believed himself to be the addressee. As it took him nearly two decades to clear this ostensible error up, his sudden catharsis seems to be rather implausible. Nevertheless, a modicum of truth can be found within his speech.

  • Copyright: Antifaschistische Jugend Dortmund
  • Walser was right when he accused former Minister of Foreign Affairs Fischer of exploiting German history from 1933 to 1945. Back then, Germany’s entry into the Yugoslavia Wars required a very German sleight of hand: Social Democratic Party MP and author Freimut Duve furnished his notorious Zeit article about the atrocities of Bosnian-Serbian irregulars in 1995 with the headline »At the access ramp of Srebrenica«. Joschka Fischer saw Serbian fascism at work in Srebrenica and later Minister of Defense Rudolf Scharping claimed that »UN Troops had to watch 30,000 people being murdered«. The Schröder-Fischer gang tried to create the impression that the Bosnian Serbs were about to commit the next Holocaust. Correspondingly, the young red-green coalition felt »compelled« to declare war on Serbia: A second Auschwitz had to be prevented through German engagement.

    Not despite, but because of Auschwitz!

    »The outcome of ritualization has the quality of a lip service prayer.« Martin Walser

    German commemoration days give even the blissfully ignorant a queasy feeling. The ritualization of Holocaust remembrance serves »healing the patient«, not remembering the decreased and murdered. President of Germany Joachim Gauck said the following on his 70th V Day anniversary speech on 27 January 2015: »As long as I live, I will be suffering because the German nation with its estimable culture was capable of the most unspeakable crimes against humanity«.

    Like all German officials, Gauck wants to strengthen Germany’s post-Holocaust identity. In the hands of Germans on the loose, the intended effect of Holocaust remembrance is reversed. At the latest since Social Democrat Schröder, then Chancellor, declared the country a peace-keeping force and attempted to establish a third, European, bloc in between the opposite poles of Russia and the USA, the country has been in need of an ideology to convey the new project. Both inward and outward. Germany, the world champion in coming to terms with the past, could finally turn its economic supremacy into political capital. Moralizing criticism directed at the USA and concurrent implementation of economic interests using similar, albeit much less military measures, has become the majority-backed project ever since, nationally and internationally. In the past, such a provocational stance towards the former protecting power USA, would have at least been opposed by classic conservative Atlanticists. Today, however, the political spectrum is united against the USA.

    The Good Germans

    »However, as I keep being confronted with the past by the media every day, I feel inner resistance against this constant representation of our disgrace. Instead of being grateful for this neverending exhibition of our shame, I start looking away. I would like to understand why in this decade, the past is being exhibited like never before. As I feel inner resistance, I’m attempting to probe the provision of our disgrace for its motives, and I am almost glad when I think I can discover that not commemoration, the not-allowed-to-forget is the motive, but the exploitation of our shame for current goals. Always for good, righteous purposes. But yet exploitation.« Martin Walser

    The exploitation has become part of the German DNA in the 21st century. Accordingly, Björn Höcke’s (Populist Party AfD) Dresden speech caused an outcry of indignation, and Social Democrat Sigmar Gabriel reacted on everyone’s behalf: »We Germans have come to terms with those unspeakable crimes that even earned us the respect of the victims of Germans.« Gabriel continues his Facebook statement and proves that the German method is to always fight fire with fire: »Björn Höcke assumes the handling of the Nazi past belittles us. On the contrary: That we’ve learned from our history, that we’ve learned from the past, was the enabler for Germany to be respected worldwide. Björn Höcke despises the Germany I’m proud of.« Because treating history like an »award pin« or a »certificate of political attitude« (Eike Geisel) brings Germany back to renown, even the smallest commemoration event plays an important role in restoring Germany’s self-confidence.

    »Not denying the undeniable makes up the stubbornness anymore, like 40 years ago, when real perpetrators (and their heirs) were controlling the political climate«, as Uli Krug formulated (Bahamas #71), but the »constant representation of our disgrace«, as Martin Walser lamented 19 years ago. This country is quick to mount a plaque, rename a street or initiate a student exchange program with Israel, but the idea of paying compensation always meets intense resistance. As long as the »guilt posturing« which »has become meek and ritualized« remains the status quo, remembering means nothing but preachy claptrap, as Max Horkheimer stated in 1959 already.

    Financial compensation, however, impedes the process through which Germany finds identity and self-confirmation. Actual restitution for survivors is like a confession of guilt. It implies that Germans should still better hold back today. The Greek restitution claims are not only rejected for being a hefty sum, but because they put Germany’s leading role in Europe at stake.

    An exhibition, a TV series or a Heimatfilm featuring at least one good German among the hordes of evil Nazis, on the other hand, enables »the counter-projection of one’s own innocence into the family history of the collective« (Uli Krug). By contrast the demand for restitution is the most cunning stab in the back of Germany, as it jeopardizes the ambition to re-enter the international stage as a reformed sinner. It destroys the self-conception of being the world champion in coming to terms with the past. It uncovers that the German collective has not even started to atone for its »sins«. It is the German superman’s kryptonite. It will not kill Germany, nor stop it, but it is debilitating the monster, at least.

    Antideutsche Aktion Berlin, February 2017