In the 1920s, too, there is very little that can stir up the intellectual republic quite as much as the questioning of the singularity of the holocaust. In times when not only anti-Semitic attacks are increasing, but also the last contemporary witnesses are dying, there are still too many good reasons for that. Accordingly, the current “historian dispute 2.0” has not been fought out for a long time: The thesis is not challenged from the right – as in the first historian dispute of the 1980s – but from the left, i.e. by representatives of postcolonial studies, who see it primarily as a continuation of the colonial crimes of the West want.
However, the fronts are not simply hardened. In the end, one had the impression that their styles and perspectives were so fundamentally different that the quarrelers no longer even misunderstood each other.
In this situation, taking a step back and holding a conference on how the debate should actually be conducted in the future seemed overdue. But that doesn’t mean much if someone doesn’t take the initiative. Luckily, the Frankfurt S.-Fischer-Verlag did it. On Thursday, some of the debate’s most prominent minds met at Berlin’s Magnus House on Kupfergraben to talk about exactly that.
It seemed a bit like the meeting of the bosses of bosses in Scorsese’s “Godfathers”. And with the opening question from moderator Shelly Kupferberg, the group was immediately warmed up: what to make of the fact that the Bundestag on Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday first of the queer victims of National Socialism commemorates Is the? What about the Jews, who were the overwhelming majority of the victims?
Social commemoration culture and official commemoration policy are too often mixed up, said Meron Mendel
In keeping with the spirit of the day, Meron Mendel, professor of social work and director of the Anne Frank educational center in Frankfurt, did not accept the provocation, but set the tone by pointing out the difference between social culture of remembrance and official politics of remembrance. Both are too often mixed up in the debate, which creates situations of victim competition and such a sharpness that also has the absurd consequence that it is hardly possible to juxtapose really controversial positions, as is the case in the new one he co-edited Book “Frenemies” was tried. Too many feared doing themselves harm simply by allowing their views to be in the wrong company. His verdict: “The German discussion culture is sick.”
The historian Michael Wildt, who was sitting in the audience, didn’t want to let that stand: “I don’t think it’s a bad thing that the debate is being heated up.” Like Mendel, however, he saw that it would be a problem if the state was not sufficiently kept out of the debate. The only question was how exactly this should work on this topic, where the official commemoration policy is not without influence on the distribution of research funds, for example. The head of the Center for Research on Antisemitism, Stefanie Schüler-Springorum, also described a disturbing consequence of the situation: Really controversial discussions about the debate could currently only be held behind closed doors at her house.
How could it come to this? Mendel’s observation that the German discourse on remembrance is characterized by a small but momentous shift in interpretation is certainly not completely wrong. A kind of subtle self-deception. The focus is no longer on the act of remembering itself, but on the overly self-satisfied conviction of how well one is processing. But is that why, as he demanded with a wink, “the whole of German society has to sit on the couch”?
It might be enough for the time being, as Stefanie Schüler-Springorum remarked, if the time after 1945 was finally taken seriously. Who were the bearers of the new order then? Who was further excluded? According to Schüler-Springorum, all of this has so far played a far too insignificant role in the culture of remembrance. Everyday stories about it, Shelly Kupferberg said, about what it was like when German Jews saw their furniture in their old neighbors’ apartments after the war and only got it back with police protection – if they were granted it. In Jewish German families, something like this is a matter of course to remember. A non-Jewish German audience today often hears such things for the very first time.
On the side of the descendants of the perpetrators, there is still a lot that has not been resolved
Now it is no surprise that remembering the wrongs suffered by a family is easier than remembering the wrongs committed by one’s ancestors. This makes it all the more a task that should be devoted to more intensively, which became abundantly clear on that day. So the discourse may not be sick, but it does get sick. On the side of the descendants of the perpetrators, there is simply still so much that has not been dealt with.
Of course, the spirit of the times does the rest. The racism researcher Manuela Bojadžijev pointed out the problem that there now seems to be a very fundamental discourse-tactical consensus: everyone assumes today that they have to present themselves as victims if they want to be heard. This is of course the most unfavorable condition imaginable for the urgent need to intensify the memory of the perpetrator.
The conversation that Jens-Christian Wagner, Karen Jungblut and Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartmann had afterwards unfortunately left us a little more clueless than we had hoped. All three have the organization of remembrance as a specific profession, Wagner as director of the Buchenwald Memorial, Ebbrecht-Hartmann as a researcher at the Jerusalem Hebrew University and Jungblut as head of the Shoa Foundation in Germany. The fact that contemporary witnesses die out is not their greatest concern. Rather, that the peace and space that are necessary for successful memory work are far too rare. According to Wagner, students cannot get a real impression of Buchenwald from a single tour. Workshops that last several hours, preferably several days, are actually useful. And without detailed preparation and follow-up of the visit to the school, the effect of the workshops will quickly fade.
The rigor with which the Tel Aviv sociologist Natan Sznaider insisted in the end not to pretend more reconciliation than was possible in view of the existing anti-Semitism suddenly seemed much less provocative than one would like: “The Jews are foreign, that it’s the unknown world next door.” That sounded depressingly harsh, but in the spirit of the conference it actually only referred to the possibly real problem: For the majority of non-Jewish Germans, only essential parts of their own family histories could be even more alien than German-Jewish life.