Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Holocaust Memorial and Modern Germany

Roger Boyes in the Times believes that the opening of the new Holocaust Memorial in Berlin "was a sign that Germany “faces up to its history”". It's a positive step, for sure, but I beg to differ, and I know Richard disagrees too. Yes, it is great to see that such a terrible event in the history of mankind is being remembered in striking fashion, and so close to the heart of the nation. But remorse is not the only means of coming to terms with history.

The de-Nazification laws of Germany are somewhat sinister. Why should they be considered necessary? The slogan of Harry's Place must surely be the guiding principle of any democracy - "liberty, if it means anything, is the right to tell people what they don't want to hear". The best way of dealing with the nutcases and lunatics who deny the Holocaust is to let them spout their nonsense; for that way their ignorance can be exposed. The implication of keeping laws of Holocaust denial is that they are a potentially potent force in Germany and cannot be dealt with by following the usual channels of debate. That can only reflect badly on Germany. The country must have serious problems if it cannot meet the ridiculous and offensive claims of the far-right head-on, and win. We cannot see things purely as black and white when dealing with the crimes of the Second World War. Some things may only be black; but what we see as white is almost certainly a shade of grey (see this post by Frans Groenendijk and the powerful conclusion). Simply throwing plaudits at Germany, no matter how positive the steps, masks potentially more serious problems.

I will repeat here an excerpt from the comment on this post on a Fistful of Euros, for I think it sums up what I want to say quite aptly.

To change topic slightly, I'm not sure that Germany has fully come to terms with its Nazi past. It has done some wonderful things in that regard, but de-Nazification laws are still in place to the extent that the inadvertant (or completely un-Nazi) publication of a swastika on goods leads them to be destroyed and heavy fines to be levied on the carriers. I'm not sure that's a good sign of a healthy coming to terms with one's past.

Posted by Ken at May 10, 2005 12:20 AM

Ken - I get the uncomfortable feeling that you are right. Why else is it necessary to have laws making Holocaust denial a criminal offence when we don't find it necessary to have such laws in Britain? That's not because Britain is rabidly antisemitic but because Holocaust deniers are simply regarded as nut cases here. For that reason, we tend to think it is much better to know who they are rather than try to brush it under the carpet, so to say.

British troops were the first Allied forces to reach the Belsen concentration camp during the advance through Germany in 1945. We had newsreel clips of what the troops discovered showing in cinemas in Britain shortly after - I can still recall the horrific images from seeing the newsreels as a small boy then. And we have extensive archived testimonial evidence from among the troops who were there as well as from survivors who came to settle in Britain. Denials simply aren't credible.

Posted by Bob B at May 10, 2005 01:12 AM