do not mention the war

Loss of Memory

In History on December 11, 2015 at 12:00

As Germany is currently following the trial of Beate Zschäpe, her statement reveals a long tradition of memory loss in German history.

According to wikipedia, amnesia describes a state of loss of memory caused by brain damage. A form of amnesia is the amnesic syndrome which is described as follows in the free medical dictionary:

a mental disorder characterized by impairment in short- and long-term memory, with anterograde and sometimes retrograde amnesia, occurring in a normal state of consciousness. Disorientation, confabulation, and a lack of insight into the memory deficit may be present. The most common cause is thiamine deficiency associated with chronic alcohol abuse (alcohol amnestic disorder, korsakoff’s syndrome), but the syndrome may result from any pathologic process causing bilateral damage to certain structures in the medial temporal lobe and diencephalon, including head trauma, brain tumors, infarction, cerebral hypoxia, carbon monoxide poisoning, and herpes simplex encephalitis.

Miniature brass sculpture of three monkeys

Germany is currently following the trial of Beate Zschäpe, suspect to be involved in the killing of 9 persons, 2 bombings and several arson attacks between 1999 and 2011. She is the only surviving member of the NSU, the National Socialist Underground, a right wing terror organization which killed across Germany without the authorities connecting the dots accordingly.

This gross failure notwithstanding, Beate Zschäpe, claims to have had no knowledge of the crimes committed by her compagnons Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt. This loss of memory has a long tradition in Germany.

The German populace claimed not to have known about the Holocaust, yet witnessed the deportation of millions of Jews, their neighbours, friends, colleagues. The Oxford historian Nicholas Starvardt has now shown that this was NOT the case. His work is a puzzle of letters, diaries entries and other written evidence to prove that large parts of the German people believed until spring 1945 in National Socialism and must have had an idea what happened to those deported. They knew about it but did not speak about it as this would have meant a demonstration of disloyalty towards their regime.

As a result of this collective hysteria and its results Germany was carved up between US, the Soviet Union, France and the UK. It took more than 40 years to tear the Berlin Wall down to end the separation of Germany. Ironically, history was repeating itself: those in charge of the border controls in East Germany suddenly suffered a loss of memory. That people were shot was their responsibility but they argued that they acted in the interest of their state. Which is true. Moreover, those agents for the Stasi, regardless at which level they worked and how big their involvement, suddenly forgot that they were spooks. A remarkable loss of memory brought about by events of historical proportions.

Now, after more than 200 days at trial Beate Zschäpe spoke about her participation in NSU, or rather her lawyers did the talking for her. Little surprise that she claimed to have not known a thing about the killings, bombings and arson attacks. She apologized but this rang hollow and was more a slap in the face of the families of the victims. The whole affair is also a splendid occasion to see how forgetful Germany’s secret services are. To this day the involvement or at least the knowledge about NSU within the Secret Services is disputed. The government denies any involvement but evidence suggests otherwise. In short: the NSU trial is a shambles as the security and secret services do not play their cards openly. All of a sudden they did not know a thing; loss of memory.

In declaring not to have known a thing about NSU and what her friends were up to, Beate Zschäpe stands in a long tradition in German history and she is in good company.

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