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Germany: The Holocaust

Updated: Aug 9, 2020

Do you go to the major cities of any country to explore how they reconcile with their past? Berlin is not representative of Germany although it's the capital, just as D.C., NYC, or LA is not representative of the United States, at least from a perspective of transitional justice. You must go deeper. Berlin does not look much like the capital of the Nazis, although it was. Bavaria does. It was in the beer halls of Munich that Hitler gave his first speeches. D.C. nor NYC look like a place where slavery and Jim Crow happened, although these cities sanctioned such activity or used the benefits of its plunder as collateral. Montgomery, however, does. As Bryan Stevenson said, we must be proximate. But it does not mean we should leave our capitals free from our national sins. Berlin does not run from its Nazi past (maybe its colonial past). They have hundreds of memorials, museums, sites, etc. It is mandatory that kids at some point in school see a concentration camp. Germans are naturally ashamed of their past. Not in an inferior way, but in a “Wow, I can’t believe my grandfather would do such a thing,” way. And it's probably best we keep it that way for the sake of the rise of the far-right. This feeling, however, is largely in part because they lost a war, two at that.

They sought to exterminate Jews not only in Germany but throughout Europe, alongside trying to invade other countries. If they only single out Jews in Berlin or Germany, I assume they do not get as big an international outcry from nations across the world, or at least ones where there is not a significant Jewish population. What if the U.S. had tried to enslave Africans in every country in Africa (I’m sure they would’ve if they could’ve), or better yet, South Africa tried to put a racial caste system on the entire continent (Europe definitely tried to at the Berlin Conference of 1884)? The point is the Holocaust and Nazi campaign to take over Europe was more international on the basis of the countries it was deliberately plundering. Then you have 4 countries occupying your territory for nearly 40 years. It's hard not to address your wrongs when 4 global powers tell you that you’re wrong for 4 decades. Some may deny, or not acknowledge the severity of the issue, but the focus should always be on the masses, at least for this specific issue. Minorities do have the possibility of becoming the majority, as with Hitler in the 20s, and the AfD party as we speak. Can you prevent this from happening? There has been a rise of the far-right in the U.S, not as clear or definite as in Europe. But we definitely had a rise in the right, out of fear, spite, and privilege after the election of Obama.

Memorials surprisingly, alongside the influx of immigrants, helped create the far-right in Germany. The shame Germany felt after losing WW1 and signing the Treaty of Versailles is the same shame AfD speaks of when they discuss national memorials and immigration. The memorials addressing the Holocaust are adjacent to the Reichstag where the Bundestag meets (equivalent would be the U.S. putting a slavery or native American genocide memorial next to the U.S. Capitol or Supreme Court). It is awesome in the minds of those who see dealing with the past as essential, but dangerous and sickening to those who think their country has nothing to be ashamed of. There is the possibility of that happening in the U.S. too. We can put up memorials, museums, change our curriculum that is centered around our nation’s past, force kids to visit plantations and prisons, make it illegal to fly confederate flags, or start paying reparations to Black and Indigenous peoples. This would have the potential to start another Civil War. What would happen if you tell a white man in Mississippi or Alabama that he cannot fly a Rebel flag and that his taxes are going to Black communities? He will secede faster than South Carolina. Granted, these repairs should not be constrained by the privileged few (i.e. the oppressor). But, we should be able to foresee the possible repercussions of the noble actions.

Through all of this I have to say that I loved Germany. The African Diaspora there is interesting, especially Afro-Germans. They were sure to always enlighten me on issues plaguing their community, which is ultimately our collective struggle. Met with Prof. Peggy Piesche a day or two before I left. Great conversation about my project and the diaspora. She told me to not forget about my "cousins" in Germany who suffer from white supremacy. That made me wonder: do African-Americans have an obligation to the struggles of other Africans around the world? Is our struggle the same? Does the diaspora outside the U.S. think we are struggling? How does one even attempt to tackle such plunder globally? Are we as connected as we would like to be? I have always longed for that connection to Africa, literally anywhere. But did I really mean that? In the year of our ancestors I still find the U.S. as my home more than any country in Africa, but still feel this land will always be where my people come from. If the diaspora migrated back to Africa, it has the potential to cause more civil wars on a continent that has already been plagued by such strife. There will be the concerns of colonization, "taking jobs," language barriers, and the pool of resources brought to each country mostly benefiting the migrants there. In a perfect world free from the stains of imperialism, Africa could be the most powerful continent on Earth. Not to say it isn't already, but in terms of entertainment, military/security, health/medical resources, education, technology, it could be the hegemon of all great nations, united as one African Union to engage with the world.

Just wishful thinking. At a Afro-German policy conference, I met Josua Kwesi Aikens, a Afro-German scholar who led the protests on changing the names of street names commemorating leaders in Germany's colonial past. Didn't even have to introduce myself. We randomly started talking on my way to another event. As we started talking about my project, he figured my interest in Germany stemmed from the Holocaust. He highlighted, however, that most people only come to learn more about the Holocaust and not the genocide in Namibia back in the early 1900s. The first concentration camp was there, wiping out 80% of the population. It was there that racial science started to begin, giving way to the many mechanisms to be used Jews and other minorities. Many of the leaders during that period emerged into Nazi Germany with expertise built on the demise of the Herero and Nama people.

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