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Germany never forgets its past wrongdoings

Posted August. 24, 2013 05:28,   


On the afternoon of August 17, there were 2,700 concrete masses placed at a square that was five minutes’ walk from the Brandenburg Gate and the Bundestag (German Federal Parliament). The place is where the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe designed by U.S. architect Peter Eisenman in 2005 to mark the 60th anniversary of the World War II.

Many tourists visiting the “stone graveyard” were contemplative while walking through the numerous gravestones with solemn looks on their faces. As I walked, I found that rocks taller than men, making me feel as if I were locked up in a ghetto or a concentration camp.

Jews were not the only victims of the Nazi atrocities. Homosexuals, who were considered “impure” people and a “disgrace” to the German nation, were also put into the concentration camps, wearing Rosa Winkel (pink triangle) badges, and half a million Gypsies were also persecuted. A monument to homosexual victims was built in the Tiergarten park in 2008 and a memorial to Gypsy victims in 2012. Another monument will be built near the Berlin Philharmonic Hall in memory of the disabled people killed by the Nazis.

Such memorial facilities that continue to be built in downtown Berlin is managed by the Holocaust Memorial Association, whose chairman is the speaker of the German federal parliament. The Dong-A Ilbo had an interview with Uwe Neumaerker, the executive director of the association.

Asked about the background for such a large-scale construction of memorial facilities in Berlin after the German reunification, Uwe said, “When the collapse of the Eastern Bloc led to the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Yugoslav Socialist Federation, and other Eastern European countries, only Germany was reunified with its population and area increasing significantly. The reunification caused concern among many people around the world over a reunified Germany’s possible return to the Nazi era. After the reunification, however, the first thing the German parliament did was to build memorial facilities for Nazi victims. There was also the self-reflection that there were many memorial facilities including the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, but one in Germany.”

As the Berlin Wall was removed, the vast area around the wall fell into Berlin’s ownership. There were attempts to develop the central area with the Brandenburg Gate and the Bundestag into a commercial district. If the city of Berlin carried out the projects, it would have raked in an astronomical amount of money in profits. But Berlin decided to build memorial facilities in the area.

Among the monuments in central Berlin, the most salient structure is a monument built in memory of German lawmakers who were murdered by the Nazis. The monument is inscribed with information about the 96 lawmakers, including their names, their political parties and the year of death. The monument testifies how cruel and violent the Nazis were to change the German constitution clandestinely, despite Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso’s wish to learn from the Nazis in the secret constitutional revision.

“In Germany, if a politician had made remarks embellishing militarism the way Aso did, his political life must have been terminated immediately,” Neumaerker said, adding that such a way of thinking was “unimaginable” in a “normal” country.

In addition, there are about 40 other Nazi-related facilities in Berlin, including a memorial to the Polish victims, the Memorial to the German Resistance and the Memorial for the Victims of Euthanasia.

There is no facility in Berlin that honors war criminals the way Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine does. Last year, the German government removed the grave of Nazi Class-A war criminal Rudolf Hess to prevent it become a Neo-Nazi pilgrimage site. Austria also removed the tombstone marking the grave of Adolf Hitler’s parents, as it became a place of pilgrimage for neo-Nazis.

The bunker just hundreds of meters away from the Bundestag in which Adolf Hitler killed himself was not a proud site at all. The underground bunker was found in relatively a good shape after the Berlin Wall collapsed. However, it was not open to the public for decades after being redeveloped into a housing area. The German government did not put up any signpost, lest the site become a holy place for Neo-Nazis. A small signboard was installed in 2006 ahead of the World Cup soccer games. On August 18, I could see only a small number of guided tourists.

Such scenes, which are unimaginable in Japan, were just everyday features in Germany. If Japan should repent and apologized for its past wrongdoings the way the Germans did, it would be able to play a central role in Asia, just as Germany is leading the European Union.