The Auschwitz narrative. Focusing can lead to blindness

By Uli Gellermann.

It was January 27, 1945, when the Red Army liberated the Auschwitz camp. There was still a long, hard way to go until the liberation of Germany, until the capitulation of the Hitler Army in May 1945. Today, Auschwitz is not considered a metaphor of liberation by the German public: the public Auschwitz narrative begins and ends with the extermination of the European Jews. The fact that Auschwitz was part of the Nazi war against humanity, that people profited from this war, that its originators in the economy, army and government were only held accountable to a very limited extent, disappears almost completely behind the tale of woe of those people who were described by the Nazis as the Jewish race.

In the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, it was the Auschwitz trials of the 1960s that initiated a partial liberation of West German thought: Before the trials around the extermination camp, for a majority of citizens the Nazi era culminated in a lost war. Warfare was like that: Sometimes you just lose. That the war itself could be considered a crime was only clear to a minority. But with the trials the young started questioning the old: Where were you when your Jewish neighbors were picked up? That even opposing Christians, Communists and Social Democrats got to know the concentration camps from the inside? Yes, they did. But the central crime, that is still valid today, is the crime against the Jews. And indeed, the industrial murder of the Jews was unique. But was the mechanical killing in the German war against the world less reprehensible? Certainly not. But to this day, many people still consider war to be a normal, albeit unpleasant, phenomenon in the lives of nations.

With a narrowed view, a close, almost state friendship with Israel began. In a macabre way, the Nazis’ racial mania was apparently turned to good fortune: In the Luxembourg “reparation agreement”, payments, export goods and services worth a total of 3.5 billion DM were dedicated to the State of Israel. And by emphasizing the Jewish victims, the silence about the “racial-ideological war of annihilation (Hitler)” against the peoples of the Soviet Union began. There was silence about the profiteers of racism: Billions of dollars had been appropriated from Jewish property by corporations such as Salzgitter AG, the Quandt family or the Friedrich Flick conglomerate in the course of the robbery known as “Aryanization”. None of those responsible or their heirs were taken to court; the BMW Quandts still benefit from the silence of the founding years of the Western Republic. Who wants to know that his BMW is assembled from stolen Jewish property?

“We fight antisemitism! We resist the poison that is nationalism! We protect Jewish life! We stand with Israel!”, declared Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the recent Fifth World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. And at the same event, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Iran would threaten the people of the Middle East. Thus, in the fight against antisemitism, one quickly becomes a combatant of Israel in its struggle for supremacy in the Middle East. That the teachings of Auschwitz demand the fight against racism is limited to antisemitism. This kind of racism gets its own commissioners at federal and state level. It converts into ideology, into a question of faith, as if everyday German racism were not also to be found in Anti-Islam. As if the German alliance with Israel was not support for racism, namely the one against the Palestinians.

The “poison of nationalism” – invoked by Frank-Walter Steinmeier – has long since reached the veins of the published debate. This new nationalism – an ideology that denigrates other nations in order to beautify its own – is today targeting the liberators of 1945: the Russians. Nationalism is noticeable even in the media bickering. They say that the Russians did not liberate Auschwitz at all. It was the formation of the Red Army called the “Ukrainian Front”, so the Ukrainians actually deserve the glory of being liberators. That many different nations served in the Red Army, that the formation previously was called the Steppe Front and that the 1st Romanian Volunteer Infantry Division “Tudor Vladimirescu” belonged to it, we will only find out when the media claim the liberation of Auschwitz and the rest of Europe for Romania: German publications bravely continue Hitler’s war against Russia.

Anyone who reduces the narrative of Nazi crimes to the Holocaust is guilty of reducing Nazi bestiality, even though he appears as an anti-fascist. A narrative, the social sciences point out, is a ” story that makes sense and has an influence on the way the environment is perceived. It transports values and emotions”. What sense does it make when the Holocaust seems to have become the Nazis’ only crime? If the German war is not at the center of the German narrative of the recent past? Anyone who asks why the German war against half the world, and especially against its neighbors, hardly plays a role in German remembrance culture will quickly find the answers in the prevailing politics of the Federal Republic of Germany – almost from its foundation. After all, practically since rearmament with its troops it was a member of NATO, an aggressive military alliance. An alliance that is still committed to the old Nazi mantra of the evil Russian. A clear reminder of the German war and the German war guilt disturbs considerably. Especially when German troops are at war with foreign nations in foreign countries. Thus, focusing can lead to social blindness.



This post first appeared on the blog Rationalgalerie on 27th January 2020.


Thanks to the author for the right to publish.


Picture reference: Pier Giorgio Carloni / shutterstock


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