Germany needs to do more for Ukraine to implement 'never again' - opinion

Germany understands the evil of its role in the Holocaust, but it is also blocking sanction against Russia.

A sign at Dachau Concentration Camp reading "Never Again" (photo credit: US AIR FORCE PHOTO ILLUSTRATION/SENIOR AIRMAN BRIANA JONES)
A sign at Dachau Concentration Camp reading "Never Again"
(photo credit: US AIR FORCE PHOTO ILLUSTRATION/SENIOR AIRMAN BRIANA JONES)

Half a year ago, at the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in Kyiv, we commemorated 80 years of the mass shooting of Ukrainian Jews by German soldiers at that site. I had the honor to speak after three heads of state; among them, the president of Germany.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whom I respect very much for his commitment to European values, named the lessons Germany had learned from its Nazi past.

The Federal President said: “We Germans know about our responsibility. It is a responsibility that does not end.” 

He spoke about “the joint basis of international law and human dignity, freedom of people to choose their way and to live in territorial integrity, a peaceful and secure Europe. 

“This basis we must protect – this is also part of our responsibility related to our history.” 

 Service members of pro-Russian troops ride an armoured vehicle during fighting in Ukraine-Russia conflict near a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works company in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 12, 2022. (credit: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters) Service members of pro-Russian troops ride an armoured vehicle during fighting in Ukraine-Russia conflict near a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works company in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 12, 2022. (credit: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

“If the evil demons of the past show themselves today in new clothes,” he said, then “for us Germans, there can be only one answer to this: Never again! The fight must continue.”

BUT UNFORTUNATELY, I don’t see that Germany is today the country of “Never again!”. Today, Russia attacked a peaceful country, bombs and kills thousands of peaceful civilians, starves the inhabitants of cities it blocks, and lets them die of diseases. Russian troops commit mass executions of Ukrainians – a visual reminder of the shootings in Babyn Yar.

For over a month, Germans see it on the news in real-time.

Yes, Germany implements sanctions, and gives humanitarian aid and weapons, which was unimaginable not long ago.

But today, half a year after president Steinmeier’s powerful and confident statement: “For us Germans, there can be only one answer: ‘Never again!’” – it is Germany that blocks the full implementation of sanctions to exclude Russian banks from the SWIFT system. It is Germany that does not want to put an immediate embargo on Russian oil, coal and gas because the German economy will suffer (and Germany slows down EU decisions). Germany drags its feet when delivering the heavy weapons Ukraine needs.

I understand that to be able to do the right thing tomorrow, Germany must remain economically alive. I am a realist. But “Never Again!” means not only speaking out against swastikas. It means to fight with all you have against mass killings, genocides, war crimes and atrocities. 

Today, I believe Germany must do everything it can. And Germany must take risks. There is no easy way without risks and sacrifices to defeat the evil and stop the atrocities happening in Ukraine.

Germany, you have let the evil become too strong. You have earned a lot of money on the way, and I assume in completely good faith. But therefore today, because of your history, the Nazi history and your recent earnings, it will be right if you step up and acknowledge that your good faith was misplaced and today costs the lives of people. From this comes a special responsibility to sacrifice, and risk.

What more do you need? Chemical attacks in a country 700 km. from Germany? Thousands and tens of thousands more bombed to death in besieged cities, or starving or dying of thirst? Attacks with nuclear weapons?

WHILE YOU determine what would be needed to really commit, I suggest a new template for future senior German politicians’ speeches:

Don’t say anymore, “There can be only one answer for us Germans: ‘Never again!’

Say: “There can be only one answer for us Germans: ‘Hopefully not too soon again! Or if something happens, we will for sure discuss ways to help, if we can do so without losing too much ourselves.”

Germans have done a unique job of acknowledging the horrible crimes of their past. 

What I don’t see is Germans acknowledging the truth of its present.

I am aware that I am emotional, because I am a Ukrainian Jew, and I used to believe in the new Germany. I am aware I don’t have the perfect way forward. But still, let me depict the truth as I see it today about Germany:

Then, Germans were perpetrators. Germans committed the Holocaust.

Today – you are responsible. You let war crimes happen. Eighty years after the Nazi genocide in Ukraine, you are not doing everything you can to stop the genocide by Russians.

This is not “Never Again!” And this is not enough.

I can only ask you to act with the necessary urgency, to do everything to stop the Russian war machinery. And thus show: It is not so that Germans find other things more important than defending freedom and life against oppression and death.

“Never Again!” is real in Germany.

The writer, a leading Ukrainian businessman and patron of the arts, was born in Kyiv in 1960.