I really want to buy this book that people across Germany are talking about “Mein Kampf”
BERLIN — Most countries celebrate the best in their pasts. Germany unrelentingly promotes its worst.
The enormous Holocaust memorial that dominates a chunk of central Berlin was completed only after years of debate. But the building of monuments to the Nazi disgrace continues unabated.
On Monday, Germany’s minister of culture, Bernd Neumann, announced that construction could begin in Berlin on two monuments: one near the Reichstag, to the murdered Gypsies, known here as the Sinti and the Roma; and another not far from the Brandenburg Gate, to gays and lesbians killed in the Holocaust.
In November Germany broke ground on the long-delayed Topography of Terror center at the site of the former Gestapo and SS headquarters. And in October, a huge new exhibition opened at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. At the Dachau camp, outside Munich, a new visitor center is set to open this summer. The city of Erfurt is planning a museum dedicated to the crematoriums. There are currently two exhibitions about the role of the German railways in delivering millions to their deaths.
Wednesday is the 75th anniversary of the day Hitler and the Nazi Party took power in Germany, and the occasion has prompted a new round of soul-searching.
“Where in the world has one ever seen a nation that erects memorials to immortalize its own shame?” asked Avi Primor, the former Israeli ambassador to Germany, at an event in Erfurt on Friday commemorating the Holocaust and the liberation of Auschwitz. “Only the Germans had the bravery and the humility.”
It is not just in edifices and exhibits that the effort to come to terms with this history marches on. The Federal Crime Office last year began investigating itself, trying to shine a light on the Nazi past of its founders after the end of the war. And this month Germany’s federal prosecutor overturned the guilty verdict of Marinus van der Lubbe, the Communist Dutchman executed on charges of setting the Reichstag fire; that event’s 75th anniversary is Feb. 27.
The experience of Nazism is alive in contemporary public debates over subjects as varied as German troops in Afghanistan, the nation’s low birthrate and the country’s dealings with foreigners. Why Germany seems unendingly obsessed with Nazism is itself a subject of perpetual debate here, ranging from the nation’s philosophical temperament, to simple awe at the unprecedented combination of organization and brutality, to the sense that the crime was so great that it spread like a blot over the entire culture.
Whatever the reasons, as the events become more remote, less personal, this society is forced to confront the question of how it should enshrine its crimes and transgressions over the longer term.
In the decades after the war, the central question was how Hitler ever came to power, Horst Möller, director of the Institute of Contemporary History, said in an interview. Even an American television mini-series called “Holocaust” in the 1970s affected the debate in what was then West Germany, shifting the focus more onto the suffering of the victims themselves, Mr. Möller recalled.
Rüdiger Nemitz first began welcoming back Berlin’s exiled victims of Nazi tyranny, an overwhelming majority of them Jews, in 1969. Berlin flies its former citizens back for a week of visits, all expenses paid and complete with a reception by the mayor.
The Invitation Program for Former Persecuted Citizens of Berlin, which has brought roughly 33,000 people for visits to the city, once had 12 full-time staff members. Now it is just Mr. Nemitz and a half-time employee.
The program is not, however, winding down because of waning support. At a time when the Berlin city government has had to make deep cutbacks in other areas, Mr. Nemitz said, the program’s $800,000 budget has not been pared since at least 2000.
“When it started, they were grown-ups,” said Mr. Nemitz from his office on the ground floor of City Hall. “Now, it’s people with hardly any memory of Berlin. Those who come today were children then.” The visits will end in 2010 or 2011, Mr. Nemitz estimated, because there are so few victims left.
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