Analysis: Is Germany ignoring the lessons of the Holocaust?

This year’s remembrance of the liberation of Auschwitz has been marred by some German politicians’ bizarre liking for Iranian Holocaust deniers and terrorists.

January 27, 2015 20:44
3 minute read.
Anti-Israel protest in Berlin

A WOMAN holds a sign during an anti-Israel protest in Berlin on August 1.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

BERLIN – German politicians and world leaders marked the 70th commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz on Tuesday with didactic warnings about preserving the memory of the Holocaust. “There is no German identity without Auschwitz,” President Joachim Gauck said.

Fealty to the remembrance of the Holocaust is the common denominator among all the parties in the Bundestag.

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Key to the conversation about the Holocaust is precisely how one defines memory’s ability to inform actions in the present.

Germans have a particular affinity for codifying passive, nonresistant Jews: “The Jews, if they’re not dead, should please suffer, admonish and warn, but not fight back,” Eike Geisel (1945-1997), a critic of the country’s post-Shoah remembrance culture, wrote.

His insight was reflected in a study the Bertelsmann Foundation released on Monday showing that 68 percent of Germans want their members of parliament to pull the plug on weapons deliveries to Israel.

Eighty-one percent of Germans want to the close the chapter of the Holocaust so their lawmakers can focus on “contemporary problems,” the survey revealed.

This year’s remembrance of the liberation of Auschwitz has been marred by some German politicians’ bizarre liking for Iranian Holocaust deniers and terrorists.

Days before Tuesday’s Holocaust remembrance, Green Party deputy Claudia Roth and Christian Social Union politician Dagmar Wöhrl, a former Miss Germany, met with Ali Larijani, the president of Iran’s parliament, in Tehran.

Larijani infamously defended the regime of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying Iran had “different perspectives on the Holocaust.” Der Spiegel headlined its 2007 article: Larijani denies the Holocaust in Munich. The Iranian politician compares Israel to Islamic State and calls for military actions against the Jewish state.

“Why are you visiting a Holocaust denier, Ms. Roth?” the mass-circulation Bild asked on Monday.

Roth issued a boilerplate answer to the Bild about her meeting with Larijani: “We are all obligated to stand against anti-Semitism in Germany and in the world.”

Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel office, said it “is a basic given that a German politician will not meet with people who deny the Holocaust.”

Meetings with Iranians who advocate and carry out lethal anti-Semitism are not limited to the Greens and the Christian Social Union.

In December, Niels Annen, a Social Democratic deputy and foreign policy spokesman in the Bundestag, met with former Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati to discuss the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program and the situation in the Middle East. Velayati was implicated in the assassination of Kurdish dissidents at the Mykonos restaurant in West Berlin in 1992 and the bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in which 85 were killed and hundreds wounded in 1994. Interpol seeks the arrest of Velayati for his involvement in the terrorist attack at the Jewish center.

Annen wrote the Post that “in the framework of these talks [in Tehran] he did not discuss the Holocaust.” He declined to comment on whether he considered Velayati a terrorist.

In the cases of Roth, Annen and Wöhrl, Germany’s remembrance culture represents, to quote Geisel, “the highest form of forgetting.” In short, efforts to combat modern anti-Semitism are divorced from the crimes of the Holocaust.

Nonetheless, politicians such as Chancellor Angela Merkel have internalized a sophisticated, modern definition of Holocaust remembrance. Zuroff said one “can’t expect homogeneity in a country with 82 million Germans, but official Germany recognizes its responsibility.”

As proof, he cited the sale of six German-built Dolphin class submarines to Israel, with the capability to strike back with nuclear bombs.

There are, however, ”internal contradictions” within German society and its political establishment, according to Zuroff. Take the example of Berlin refusing to outlaw Hezbollah’s political operation in the Federal Republic. Hezbollah has 950 active members in Germany who contribute to spreading deep hatred of Jews and Israel. In sharp contrast to Germany, the Netherlands banned Hezbollah’s entire organization.

How the Holocaust is memorialized in Germany in the years to come will largely depend on the country’s posture toward radical Islamic groups within its territory and toward revolutionary lethal anti-Semitism in Iran and across the Arab world.

Benjamin Weinthal is the European affairs correspondent for The Jerusalem Post and a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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