Gauck, federal president since March this year, attended a meeting with pupils to remember Kristallnacht 1938; the most aggressive form of
repression executed by the Nazi Regime against Jews in Germany before the start of the Holocaust. In doing so, he reinforced the stance against Antisemitism in Germany. However, Gauck somewhat missed the point by reminding the pupils present that on the same day, November 9, 1989 the Berlin Wall was opened and thus both events should be connected in the memory of Germans.
These remarks leave a bitter aftertaste as putting these two events together in the same context, Kristallnacht and its meaning somehow was diminished by Gauck. It appears that the president has to force home the fact that he suffered under the East German regime and that thus 9 November 1989 is of far more importance for him. On a personal level, this might be true but that is missing the point of those events he attended and where he let those remarks slip. He reminded that these two events are connected as they show the darkest periods and one of the brighter moments in German history.
9 November: Fateful day in History
These two dates are closely linked in that they happen to share the same date: 9 November. It must be considered an irony of history that one of the harbingers of hell and the end of the Berlin Wall and German separation fell on the same date. It serves as a good reminder, however, there are more connections to be made.
- 1848: The failed revolution. The death of Robert Blum in Vienna marked the beginning of the end of the revolution in Germany and the age of revolution in Europe which began in 1789.
- 1918: Another Revolution. After the end of the war, events in Berlin were tumultuous at best. Chancellor Maximilian von Baden declared that the emperor had abdicated while Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed the first republic on German soil. The Weimar Republic was indeed the first democratic state in Germany but its history in hindsight gives a good insight into the flaws of democracy that was neither supported by left nor right and was suffering a severe lack of democrats.
- 1923: Hitler‘s coup. Five years into the life of the Weimar Republic and Hitler’s march on Munich sent out the first signal of what was to come. He was imprisoned, a time which he took to write Mein Kampf. 10 years later, Hitler seized power.
- 1938: Kristallnacht. A programmed attack on jewish businesses and synagogues which sent out a terrifying signal to the rest of the world and made Britain’s politics of appeasement look like children’s play.
- 1989: Fall of the Berlin Wall. A year later Germany was a unified country.
This little list makes it clear that 9 November is indeed a date in German history that is burdened with hope but also with despair and destruction. Each of these events should be remembered, each in its own way. The remarks of the federal president send out a wrong signal but somehow fit into a worrying current in the public discourse on German history. The past of the Nazi regime is somewhat described as a glitch in German history. Guido Knopp, Germany’s most prominent television historian has worked on a legend over the years to portray the two wars that shaped the first of the 20th century as the second ‘Thirty Years War.’ Episodes of his history programme included stories about Hitler’s dogs, his women etc. making it look as though he was a tender human being. Further fuel was added by the discourse of whether the bombing of German cities by Allied forces was an act of terror or not.
Germany, it appears, is in danger to forget its darkest hours or at least, is set to embark on a trip where those periods are displayed in an entirely different, much more positive light than it was 20 or even 30 years ago. The handling of the NSU (Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund – national socialist underground) affair during which it became clear that those assigned to observe the neo nazi scene in Germany failed up to the highest level in administration as well as the differing picture that is being painted by many in mainstream media about Germany’s past is worrying and calls for more public intervention. Sadly, the highest representative of Germany, Joachim Gauck is a failure in this respect.
- Angela Merkel unveils gipsy war dead memorial (telegraph.co.uk)
- Jewish community commemorates Kristallnacht (thejc.com)
- Why we must remember Kristallnacht (jsonline.com)
- Gauck: Kristallnacht and Fall of the Wall not to be separated (Welt online)