Memory and Responsibility in Germany

Time magazine named Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany as its 2015 Person of the Year. She was awarded the honor principally due to her handling of the Greek debt crisis, and the refugee wave overwhelming Europe. In each crisis, she was given credit for not only being tough and fair, but prevailing in keeping the European Union together when each situation threatened to tear the EU apart.

merkel time
Cover of Time Magazine with Angela Merkel
2015 Person of the Year

Merkel also shaped a subtle message over the year: the role of memory and responsibility for individuals and countries.

Personal Actions to Forget

A person’s “Right to be Forgotten” in online searches dates back many years. The “1995 Data Protection Directive” included a clause that an individual had the right to have certain information deleted once it was no longer relevant. That Directive underpinned a 2010 complaint by a Spanish citizen to a local newspaper and Google that personal information that showed up in searches should be removed or altered since the information was no longer correct.

In May 2014, the EU courts ruled that people have some rights to be forgotten, particularly if the information was no longer relevant (a financial hiccup that was fully resolved). The court determined that it would review personal complaints on a case-by-case basis.

In September 2015, France pushed Google to read the EU court ruling broadly, such that the search engine would need to apply individual requests coming from Europe globally, and not limit the “Right to be Forgotten” to searches within Europe.  Europeans cherished their privacy, and wanted their protections everywhere.

National Activities to Remember

In October 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a speech in which he suggested that the idea to kill the Jews in Europe in the 1930s came from the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. While Adolf Hitler may have sought to rid Europe of Jews, it was al Husseini that suggested the “Final Solution.”

German Chancellor Merkel quickly squashed that interpretation of history. Her spokesperson said All Germans know the history of the murderous race mania of the Nazis that led to the break with civilization that was the Holocaust…. This is taught in German schools for good reason, it must never be forgotten. And I see no reason to change our view of history in any way. We know that responsibility for this crime against humanity is German and very much our own.

In an environment where courts were allowing people the “right to be forgotten,” the head of Germany stepped forward to declare that there are things that must never be forgotten. To forget history would ignore responsibility. Such action should never be permitted when the activities were so widespread and heinous, such as Germans drive to exterminate the Jews.

Memory and Responsibility.
Punishment and Forgiveness

In July 2015, history and memory overlapped in Germany.

While Google pushed back against a global order to permit the “right to be forgotten”, two events occurred: a German court found a 94-year old German sergeant from Auschwitz guilty of accessory to 300,000 murders; and over 2,000 Jews from around the world came to Berlin to compete in the Maccabi Games in the same forum as Hitler hosted the 1936 Olympics.

The intersection in time of these events underscores the role that Germany has tried to achieve regarding memory and responsibility, and its ramifications.

While modern Europe sought the right of an individual to escape from being tainted with stale information, Germany made clear that a society must always remember its own past. If some information was no longer relevant as the past situation was fleeting and rectified, perhaps that could be forgotten.  But there are actions that can never be undone, and therefore never removed from consciousness.  Memory demands taking direct responsibility, even decades later.

Germany’s active accounting for its actions paved a path for reconciliation with Jews and the Jewish State of Israel today.  That 2,000 young Jews would return to the very center of the hatred that sought to exterminate them and their families, reveals how memory coupled with responsibility can lead to forgiveness.

Times Magazine honored Merkel with the person of the year award for resolving crises.  In the Greek debt crisis she held firm that Greece could not escape its debt and irresponsible fiscal behavior.  In forcing Greece to confront its past and alter its future behavior, she paved a path for the EU to forgive some of the Greek debt and remain part of the EU.  She similarly showed that she held her own country and people responsible for its own gross failings.

It is a lesson for the world to value as it leaves the year 2015.


Related First.One.Through articles:

A country that will not assume responsibility for its role in the Holocaust: Austria’s View of Kristallnacht

Persecuting the “Other”: The End of Together

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Jews in the Midst

Summary: Jews are vulnerable members of society. They are not on the fringe on the one hand, nor are they just a regular part of the broader community, on the other. As such, they must be actively protected by governments and citizens alike.

copenhagen jews
Jews in Copenhagen laying flowers where a Jewish man was gunned down,
February 2015 

No Canary in the Mine

Well-meaning people have referred to Jews as the “canary in the mine” when it comes to terrorism. They argue that various attacks on Jews in Europe, Israel and Asia by Islamic radicals over the past years should be seen in the context of an oncoming onslaught on the broader civilized world.

Canaries are treated as disposal life forms that coal miners bring into mines to detect poisonous gases. They assume that if the canary is alive, the air is breathable; however, should the canary die, they should evacuate immediately. The sole role of the canary is to detect danger and benefit the people in the mine.

Jews were not brought to Europe or Asia to serve as warning signs for non-Jews. They are not inferior life forms meant to live solely for the benefit of the broader society. They are proud citizens of their home countries.

 hyperkosher
Paris kosher supermarket where four Jews were killed,
January 2015

Not a Fringe Group

Jews are integrated into society in each country where the live. They have homes in the hearts of the country; they have jobs at corporations, in the government and military. They speak the language and have employment rates that are comparable to their fellow countrymen.

Jews are not a fringe group that fails to assimilate, that doesn’t speak the language or has high unemployment. They are not financial drains on society and do not have incarceration rates above the community averages.

Jews are a fabric of society. They are “everymen,” with particular beliefs and customs.

mumbai chabad
Chabad House in Mumbai where six people were murdered,
November 2008 

No “Random” Attack

While Jews are a basic part of the fabric of society, they are uniquely targeted by Islamic radicals. Terrorist attackers who assaulted major cities including Mumbai (2008), Paris (2015) and Copenhagen (2015), took time to specifically attack this small minority.

While US President Obama and his administration initially called the attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris a “random” attack, he back-tracked to corroborate the statement of the French government which clearly stated that the attack stemmed from antisemitism.

Even while embedded in society, Jews are picked out for attack for the simple reason that they are Jewish.

 bruseels museum
Attack on Jewish Museum in Brussels killed four,
May 2014

Jews in the Midst

There was a movie made in 1988 about a woman, Dian Fossey, who fought to protect gorillas in Uganda. These special creatures were a unique part of the Ugandan landscape that were singled out for slaughter. Dian fought both the government and locals to protect those “Gorillas in the Mist”.  It was a brave action on the part of an individual to take on so many to save the group from butchery.

It is the obligation of governments to protect their citizens.  The leaders in Germany and France have correctly stated that they will take action to ensure that their Jewish communities are safe.

It is time for all governments and citizens to speak loudly and act defiantly in protecting their vulnerable neighbors and countrymen, the Jews in their midst.

 scariest-riots-anti-semitism-men
Riots against Israel and Jews in France,
July 2014

Israel in Europe

The governments of Europe must do more than just assign police officers to synagogues and Jewish centers. They must also declare that Jews everywhere – including in Israel – cannot be targets of jihad.  As part of that effort, they should confront the biases in their governments that are uniquely against the Jewish State, such as:

  • delisting Hamas as a terrorist organization despite its calls to kill Jews and eradicate Israel
  • European Union blaming Israel for the failure of the peace talks without acknowledging the various actions the Palestinians took to sabotage the talks

The list of European actions against the Jewish State over the past year was long, and to an absurd level when compared to EU actions and comments towards murderous regimes such as Iran and Syria. The people in the streets noted, and held anti-Israel rallies which became anti-Semitic riots.

It was against that backdrop of both murders by homegrown terrorists and the anti-Israel actions of the governments that made Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invite the Jews of Europe to come to Israel.

The governments of Europe must declare their strong commitment to a safe and secure Israel.  Such actions should include declaring Hamas a terrorist organization and not recognizing a Palestinian state until it prohibits the promotion of antisemitism and Holocaust denial.  The governments should not pass any BDS (boycott, divestment, sanction) actions against Israel any more than they do for other disputed territories such as Kashmir and Cyprus.

The leaders of several European countries acknowledge that there is a problem of anti-Semitism spreading in the continent.  They must be aggressive in confronting it in every manner possible.

Jews in the Midst

Summary: Jews are vulnerable members of society. They are not on the fringe on the one hand, nor are they just a regular part of the broader community, on the other. As such, they must be actively protected by governments and citizens alike.

 

No Canary in the Mine

Well-meaning people have referred to Jews as the “canary in the mine” when it comes to terrorism. They argue that various attacks on Jews in Europe, Israel and Asia by Islamic radicals over the past years should be seen in the context of an oncoming onslaught on the broader civilized world.

Canaries are treated as disposal life forms that coal miners bring into mines to detect poisonous gases. They assume that if the canary is alive, the air is breathable; however, should the canary die, they should evacuate immediately. The sole role of the canary is to detect danger and benefit the people in the mine.

Jews were not brought to Europe or Asia to serve as warning signs for non-Jews. They are not inferior life forms meant to live solely for the benefit of the broader society. They are proud citizens of their home countries.

 

Not a Fringe Group

Jews are integrated into society in each country where the live. They have homes in the hearts of the country; they have jobs at corporations, in the government and military. They speak the language and have employment rates that are comparable to their fellow countrymen.

Jews are not a fringe group that fails to assimilate, that doesn’t speak the language or has high unemployment. They are not financial drains on society and do not have incarceration rates above the community averages.

Jews are a fabric of society. They are “everymen,” with particular beliefs and customs.

 

No “Random” Attack

While Jews are a basic part of the fabric of society, they are uniquely targeted by Islamic radicals. Terrorist attackers who assaulted major cities including Mumbai (2008), Paris (2015) and Copenhagen (2015), took time to specifically attack this small minority.

While US President Obama and his administration initially called the attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris a “random” attack, he back-tracked to corroborate the statement of the French government which clearly stated that the attack stemmed from antisemitism.

Even while embedded in society, Jews are picked out for attack for the simple reason that they are Jewish.

 

Jews in the Midst

There was a movie made in 1988 about a woman, Dian Fossey, who fought to protect gorillas in Uganda. These special creatures were a unique part of the Ugandan landscape that were singled out for slaughter. Dian fought both the government and locals to protect those “Gorillas in the Mist”.  It was a brave action on the part of an individual to take on so many to save the group from butchery.

It is the obligation of governments to protect their citizens.  The leaders in Germany and France have correctly stated that they will take action to ensure that their Jewish communities are safe.

It is time for all governments and citizens to speak loudly and act defiantly in protecting their vulnerable neighbors and countrymen, the Jews in their midst.

 

Israel in Europe

The governments of Europe must do more than just assign police officers to synagogues and Jewish centers. They must also declare that Jews everywhere – including in Israel – cannot be targets of jihad.  As part of that effort, they should confront the biases in their governments that are uniquely against the Jewish State, such as:

  • delisting Hamas as a terrorist organization despite its calls to kill Jews and eradicate Israel
  • European Union blaming Israel for the failure of the peace talks without acknowledging the various actions the Palestinians took to sabotage the talks

The list of European actions against the Jewish State over the past year was long, and to an absurd level when compared to EU actions and comments towards murderous regimes such as Iran and Syria. The people in the streets noted, and held anti-Israel rallies which became anti-Semitic riots.

It was against that backdrop of both murders by homegrown terrorists and the anti-Israel actions of the governments that made Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invite the Jews of Europe to come to Israel.

The governments of Europe must declare their strong commitment to a safe and secure Israel.  Such actions should include declaring Hamas a terrorist organization and not recognizing a Palestinian state until it prohibits the promotion of antisemitism and Holocaust denial.  The governments should not pass any BDS (boycott, divestment, sanction) actions against Israel any more than they do for other disputed territories such as Kashmir and Cyprus.

The leaders of several European countries acknowledge that there is a problem of anti-Semitism spreading in the continent.  They must be aggressive in confronting it in every manner possible.