Two sides of Germany have been on my mind lately, exemplified by the reaction to the recent crisis in the Catholic church, and the continued existence of neo-Nazism and the far right.
The Seriousness of Holocaust Denial
I recently wrote about how German individuals react to what their countrymen did in WWII, and now recent events have shown us how the country still takes very seriously it’s responsibility to never let the atrocities of WWII be forgotten. In case you haven’t heard, Pope Benedict XVI chose to lift the excommunication of British bishop Richard Williamson, a holocaust denier. From the Spiegel Online International article German Far-Right Hails Holocaust Denier Williamson:
Germany’s far right is… pleased with the decision and is hailing Williamson as a hero — because he has denied the Holocaust. He told Swedish television in an interview broadcast last Wednesday: “I believe there were no gas chambers.” He claimed that only 300,000 Jews perished in the Nazi concentration camps, instead of the 6 million figure that is widely accepted by historians.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted firmly, saying, “This should not be allowed to pass without consequences… The Pope and the Vatican should clarify unambiguously that there can be no denial.” Spiegel Online International reports on the German mainstream media’s reaction to her statement, most of which said outright that it was the right thing to do, that it had to be done. In Germany, it is a crime to deny the Holocaust, and this crime is taken very seriously.
Neo-Nazis in Germany and Austria
In The 2nd Generation in The WWII Aftermath, Phil, a 20 year old Austrian blogger, has written a reaction to my earlier post describing his emotional and physical reaction upon seeing Nazi symbols spray-painted on a building. While I haven’t noticed neo-Nazi graffiti (I have photographed interesting anti-Nazi graffiti), I have been disturbed by legal signage produced by the far right, namely, political posters. During the last Bavarian elections, while driving through the countryside here, we came across a lot of political posters from the NPD (National Democratic Party) and die Republikaner, both of which are considered by most to be neo-Nazi parties. Most of the time, their political signs are posted like this:
“WIR statt Überfremdung!” = “WE instead of foreign infiltration!”
If you’ll notice, the sign is posted high above the ground, making it difficult to tear down. It is illegal to tear down political signs, and since hauling out a ladder to do so makes you awfully conspicuous, their signs are relatively safe in this kind of placement. I do know of several Germans who have said that they would still do it if this sign was anywhere near their house. What disturbed me about many of the signs in the area here, is shown in this picture I took in the center of Velburg:
“Der Heimat zuliebe” = “For the sake of your country”
Notice that the sign in Velburg is about three feet off the ground, and it really was right along the main street of the town. This wasn’t the only town we saw signs placed like this, they were in small villages dotted across the countryside here. We spotted a couple in Beratzhausen, the next town out from us, for example, although I’m happy to report there were none in Laaber. What worries me, is that these parties are very anti-foreigner, and these signs were apparently not bothering anyone.
There are still places where neo-Nazi sentiments are acceptable, and like Phil wondering about the people who made the neo-Nazi graffiti, I have to wonder about the people who are tolerant of these parties. I guess there will always be people who want to blame their troubles on others, and foreigners are an easy scapegoat. As the economy worsens, there will be more people with troubles, and Rainer has even expressed worry that there could be a backlash against Americans if we’re chosen as the lone scapegoats who caused the recession. I’ve realized, as an American, and as an obviously non-white one at that, I have to be careful about which villages I choose to live in here in Germany.