For decades, a sense of shame dominated German society over what my parents' and grandparents' generation had done. We felt shame over the deaths of 6 million Jews in Auschwitz concentration camp and other places, murdered by a quasi-industrial Nazi killing machine that had never existed before — and that we still find difficult to grasp today.
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This sense of shame was at the heart of speeches by politicians and intellectuals at countless services to commemorate the horrors of the Holocaust. As a university student, my fellow classmates and I felt this sense of shame. And later, as a journalist, this feeling was shared by my colleagues. We were all ashamed by Germany's past.
Attack on a German synagogue
This year, however, I feel different. That is because this might be the last time that individuals who witnessed these horrors will participate in the commemorative events. But I feel different in particular because Jews are once again in danger in my country. Because last year, a man attacked a synagogue with an automatic rifle in Halle on the holiest day in Judaism. Because anti-Semitic jokes are becoming the norm again, and "Jew" has once again become a slur. And as the world commemorates the victims of the Holocaust, reports show that there are an increasing number of neo-Nazis in Germany's armed forces. All this makes me feel angry, rather than ashamed.
I am angry that this is happening in my country and that it is not being stopped. Of course it is important to give speeches. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier's address at Yad Vashem last week, for example, was excellent. Indeed, symbolic gestures have played a big role in Germany's culture of remembrance. And it all started when former German Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt before the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1970.
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But such gestures are no longer enough. If Germany really wants to carry responsibility for this crime against humanity it must do more than this. German lawmakers must take steps so that German synagogues no longer require police protection. Parents must take steps to ensure schoolchildren stop trading anti-Semitic jokes. And Germany's education system needs to be improved as well — how can it be that one out of four German schoolchildren have never heard of Auschwitz?
Holocaust remembrance must become mainstream
All of us — members of civil society, the political class, intellectuals — must work to make Holocaust remembrance mainstream, instead of something practiced by the elite alone. German schools need to do much more to educate youth. We must rid society of anti-Semitism and xenophobia. We all agree the Holocaust must never happen again — so we must act accordingly, with determination.
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It is difficult to hate something you know. Germany should heed this insight and promote education about the Jewish faith, Jewish life and the history of Judaism in Europe. And why has Germany not yet launched a student exchange program with Israel?
Soon, the last remaining Holocaust witnesses will have passed away. And its perpetrators are a further generation removed from the one shaping German society today. It is now time for the German government to act.