Analysis: Has Germany learned from its Nazi history?

Analysis Has Germany le

Hitler Mussolini 248.88 (photo credit: )
Hitler Mussolini 248.88
(photo credit: )
Where is the intersection of the trial of alleged Nazi guard John Demjanjuk and the Islamic Republic of Iran? The Demjanjuk trial is an example of Germany grappling with its historic responsibility to the victims of the Holocaust and to universal justice. Yet with regard to its more future-oriented responsibility to prevent Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons and its threats to obliterate Israel, critics say Germany is stumbling. The cross-paths of Iran and Demjanjuk were evident at the international Mideast Freedom Forum Berlin conference "Time to Act" this past weekend. The Berlin conference's policy experts, journalists and academics raised questions about Germany's historic responsibility to Israel and the lessons from genocidal Nazi anti-Semitism. The head of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, Dr. Charles Small, rhetorically asked if Germany had extracted lessons from the Nazi period in order to prevent an Iran-organized Shoah. His answer: No. Small cited the passivity and indifference of German academics, think-tank representatives and government officials who were fleeing this historical responsibility by not confronting Iran's genocidal anti-Semitism. He exposed a number of raw nerves in his keynote speech. Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration's docile approach to Iran revolves more around fluffy rhetoric than punishing Iran for its hatred of Israel and its energetic pursuit of nuclear weapons, critics say. A telling example, according to critics at the Iran conference: The new German Ambassador to Iran Bernd Erbe announced that he looked forward to "preserving the historical treasure of the German-Iranian friendship." Erbe issued his statement despite the repression of the pro-democracy movement in Iran and the discovery of a new uranium enrichment plant. Erbe's statement boded well for German industry. To the frustration and disappointment of Israel, the German government has refused to introduce unilateral economic sanctions on Iran and stop its flourishing trade relationship with the Islamic Republic. Holocaust denial is unlawful in Germany. Yet Iranian Holocaust-deniers such as Muhammad Javad Ardashir Larijani, himself a former politician, denied the Holocaust yet again at a trans-Atlantic security conference organized by former German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin. His brother, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, also denied the Holocaust this past year at the Munich security conference. While there seems to be no stomach to fight Iranian deniers of the Holocaust, German authorities have pursued such figures as Bishop Richard Williamson and the neo-Nazi Horst Mahler. Critics in Germany argue that Germany's Iran-friendly policies allow for excusing Islamic anti-Semitism. There is no shortage of civil campaigns not to conduct business with the neo-Nazi German party NPD, but there exists no hesitation by Siemens, Mercedes-Benz, MAN, and Linde to trade with Teheran and its cadre of Holocaust deniers. Actually, the snail-like process of pursuing war crimes charges against Demjanjuk parallels the passive posture of German authorities to Iran's human rights violations against the religious minority Baha'is, Iranian Kurds, women, gays and trade unionists. While the German media such as Der Spiegel sharply criticized their country's missed opportunities in pursuing Demjanjuk, there seemed to be more apathy regarding the Iranian regime. There is, however, growing awareness among the German media about the role of German technology in supporting repression in Iran. While the "Time to Act" conference could not compete with the saturation coverage the Demjanjuk trial has been receiving, the popular television news show Die Tagesschau broadcast a report on the conference, reaching almost seven million viewers on Sunday. Historical responsibility unites Demjanjuk and the Islamic Republic, but the glacier-like pace at which the connection is being understood is rather surprising in a country that helped to develop philosophical thinking based on connections.