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Opinion: A Pragmatic Decision

The German company Degussa is being allowed to resume work on Berlin's Holocaust memorial, despite owning a subsidiary that, during the Nazi era, produced poison gas for concentration camps. Was it the right decision?

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The president of Germany’s parliament and chairman of the foundation overseeing the building of the Holocaust memorial, Wolfgang Thierse, brought the issue to a point: Our past looms over our present, he said. And that means that our past cannot be extinguished or washed away.

A historically correct building of the memorial is hardly possible, because many of the participating companies have predecessors who were associated with the Nazi regime, and gruesomely profited from the death or exploitation of innocent people.

The earlier Degussa belonged to those who profited from the horror. Its subsidiary, Degesch, produced the Zyklon B gas that was used in the genocide of the Jews.

The Holocaust memorial will continue to be built in cooperation with Degussa, so the reasoning goes, because the Degussa of today is not the company of yesteryear.

And proceeding without the company would have led to delays as well as a considerable cost increase.

Difficult decision

It was doubtless a difficult decision for the Holocaust memorial foundation to make.

Understandably, the board wanted to consider the concerns of the representatives from the Jewish community, so there wasn’t a formal vote.

Pragmatism won out at the end of what was an emotionally laden debate. But this pragmatism should not be confused with unscrupulousness. We have to respect that for the Jews in Germany, the survivors of Nazi terror, and their relatives, it might be difficult to follow this line of reasoning.

On behalf of all Germans

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was conceived as a place of reflection in the heart of German society, with all its faults and contradictions. It was purposefully not designed to solely be the project of a small group of people determined to remember.

Because it is representative of all the German people, the German parliament took on the organization and financing.

The descendants of the Nazi perpetrators belong to the German people just as this dark chapter belongs to the history of many German companies.

Still, one thing is true: For a long time, Degussa dragged out the compilation of the firm’s history and the opening of their archives to historians.

On the other hand, they were one of the first companies to pay into the compensation fund for Nazi slave laborers.

Is that sufficient grounds for praise? A sure signal of character would doubtless be if Degussa, along with the other participating companies, were to give up the profits they stand to make through the building of the memorial.

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  • Date 14.11.2003
  • Author Cornelia Rabitz
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4KxE
  • Date 14.11.2003
  • Author Cornelia Rabitz
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4KxE