So I finally got around to Hitler.
I took the expiry of the copyright of Mein Kampf as my excuse to reflect on how the Germans have over the past 70 years dealt with the shadow and legacy of the Führer.
But that piece in our 2015 Christmas Issue is only the latest of several articles that I’ve written on the wider theme of German remembrance.
Recall that in 2012 I moved from California to Germany to cover the country for The Economist. In that time (through 2015) I must have written a couple of hundred articles of all lengths, in print and online. So I want to select just a few here on my blog, in a series of posts grouped by themes. And the first theme must be remembrance.
I’ve always been fascinated by German Vergangenheitsbewältigung. That one long word means coping-with-the-past, and it’s telling that only the Germans would need such a term. Germany is cursed with the worst past to cope with. But coped it has. In the process, Germany has transformed a curse into a sort of blessing. All other countries, and even individuals, can learn from it in this respect.
The question, for a country and a person, is: how does one confront the worst in one’s past to atone for it and eventually to transcend it by becoming good in the present?
The answer is: with relentless honesty and everlasting sensitivity so that the act of remembering always connects one with, rather than divides one from, those one has harmed and allows new connections in the present. (That aspect of re-connecting is salient in the Stolpersteine piece below.)
Articles I have written that touch in different ways on this theme of remembrance and Vergangenheitsbewältigung, in reverse chronological order:
Hitler: What the Führer means for Germans today
Obituary: Richard von Weizsäcker
This is a piece I wrote for The Atlantic on how Germany uses its public architecture “to blend the tragedy of the past with redemption in the present and renewal in the future.”
Other themes to come in this series:
- The German mentality
- German power
- Germany and Europe
- The awful German language