Wednesday 14 January 2015

vertreibung oder flรผchtlingsthematik

A small village near Weimar, the city that hosted Goethe and Schiller, Bauhaus and the Weimar Republic, is facing some sharp criticism over its suggestion to house refugees in the officers' barracks of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. There unspeakable horrors associated with the memories of this place, and ironically it seems that our memory has become quite a feeble and atrophied thing. The immigration question is a complex one, but so is Germany’s relation to its past—much more so. Do Germans yet have guilt to discharge from the first half of the twentieth century? Surely, as do many of us—but does this make them to feel grudgingly obligated to accept more and more evacuees? That’s harder to answer—as with the Wirtschaftswunder that characterized Germany’s rebuilding and recovery after the wars ended was made possible to a very large extent through its guest worker programme, many also argue that Germany needs an infusion of a young population to sustain its present and retiring work-force and that Germany on balance benefits from immigration. I also feel that we are prone to lose our perspective as well: we’re welcoming in these people who’ve mostly been on the run from poverty and violence.
Mostly—and I think we choose to focus on those exceptions and malingerers. We also forget that while the sites of former concentration camps are sacred places, they were not recognized and consecrated as such right away and were regarded very differently depending on whether one found himself in East or West. Buchenwald was used by the Soviets initially as an internment camp for Nazi prisoners-of-war—although political-dissidents were also held there; Dachau and other locations in West Germany was first used to contain Germany’s own refugee crisis. Some fourteen million ethnic Germans were forcibly expelled from territories either ill-gotten and taken back (like Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia), lands that had been historically German, like much of Prussia that went to Poland and the Soviet Union, for centuries and other European cities where they were no longer welcome, like Amsterdam, were resettled in a Germany in ruins. Not only did the expelled Germany have to leave everything behind, they also faced the prospect of starting all over in a homeland that maybe was not at all familiar to them—their families perhaps living abroad for generations, spoke differently, had strange mannerisms, didn’t eat proper German food and were failing to integrate—and try to live among a population that if not outright hostile to the refugees were themselves struggling and barely had enough to provide for themselves, to say nothing for these newcomers. In the 1950s, once these crises had somewhat subsided, the regimes of the two Germanys took different positions on how the past was to be remembered. East Germany was quicker to turn Buchenwald and other sites into memorials and strongly encouraged people to visit, especially school-children, to face the incomprehensible and dread past. Whereas, in the West, the subject remained uncomfortable and while not going ignored or unexplored, talk was taboo for a long time and it really was not until Reunification that the public became more willing to confront their autobiographies.  Perhaps empathy is yet harder to face.