German historian: our culture of remembrance omits Poles

German historian: our culture of remembrance omits Poles. “The boundaries between victims and perpetrators are being blurred”

The Germans are proud of their culture of remembrance, but in fact the memory of Nazi crimes is superficial and incomplete – says German historian Stephan Lehnstaedt.

In the material published in the Tuesday edition of the “Tagesspiegel” journal, Lehnstaedt writes that German politicians show pride in the German culture of remembrance and in the critical approach to their own history, but a closer look raises the suspicion that their attitude “costs a little and helps them to gain the political capital” .

German memorial sites are experiencing record numbers of visitors, and at the same time funding for these places leaves a lot to be desired – emphasizes the historian. Lehnstaedt critically assesses recent changes in school programs, where there is less and less information about the Third Reich and German crimes. “Students visit historic places without preparation and confuse, for example, state security Stasi (in the GDR) with the SS (in Nazi Germany).

The historian notes that the problem doesn’t apply only to students. Education programs for teachers do not sufficiently address the years 1933-1945.

Among the negative occurrences that have recently intensified, the historian mentions the blurring of the borders between the victims and the perpetrators. He refers to a report from scientists from the University of Bielefeld, published a few weeks ago, which shows that 18 percent Germans believe that during the Third Reich their ancestors helped the victims. In fact, the percentage was 1000 times smaller.

Lehnstaedt notes that even more grotesque, in his opinion, is the view expressed by 54 percent. survey participants believing, that their relatives were victims of the Second World War.

This is only possible if the victims were killed German soldiers. Such an approach blurs the border between the victims and the perpetrators and it means a return to the theory of unwanted war and of Germans being seduced by Hitler, which was popular in the 1950s – he explains. In his opinion, the German “narration of memory” is limited to the Holocaust.

Some groups of victims are mentioned marginally only, others are completely absent. Almost no one speaks about ethnic Poles, about Soviet prisoners of war or about non-Jewish civilians from some of the Soviet republics – all murdered by Germans,  we read in “Tagesspiegl”. Too little is said, according to him, that in occupied Europe only ethnic Germans, who supported national socialism, did not have to fear reprisals. As he points out, the “forgotten victims” are actually millions of people.

The places of their death are almost exclusively in Eastern Europe, which means that they are “out of sight, out of mind” for Germans – says Lehnstaedt and points out that only the Auschwitz and Yad Vashem museums receive regular funds from the German budget. The German extermination camp sites located now in Poland: Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka, and associated with Operation Reinhardt, in which German perpetrators murdered 1.8 million Jews, are only supported by way of exception and with minimal sums.

Image: Monte Cassino, Lieutenant colonel Stanisław Gliński, commander of the 4th Polish Armoured Regiment “Scorpio” visits a buildup of tanks. Polish soldiers played a crucial role in the defeat of German forces in the Battle of Monte Cassino. Author: Tadeusz Szymański. Source: Polish National Digital Archive.

The Polish review of the material published in the “Tagesspiegel” is accessible here.