Angela Merkel is the first German Chancellor to visit the Dachau memorial yesterday. She thus set an example for modern-day politicians of how to treat their own history. Merkel went round the former concentration camp and said that it was “a horrible chapter in German history, which had never occurred before or ever since then.” Merkel noted that most Germans had been shutting their eyes to what was going on there. She called her visit to Dachau “a bridge from the past to the present and the future that we want to build.”
The iron chancellor confessed that she had arrived at the camp with a feeling of shame and bitterness. Merkel emphasized that the memory of prisoners’ sufferings should be handed down from generation to generation. Young people must know what a deep sorrow Germany caused.
“Never again should a situation occur when some people among us remain unprotected only because they arrived from a particular country, profess a certain religion, have certain political views and sexual attitude. Never again should we allow them to be discriminated against and killed for this,” Merkel said in conclusion of her speech at a CSU beer tent.
The federal chancellor visited the memorial at the invitation of a former camp inmate, but the opposition views the visit as part of her election campaign and, for this reason, they leveled scathing criticism at her.
Max Mannheimer, 93, chairman of the Dachau Prisoners Committee, said it was a “historic” visit. In his words, it is “a token of respect for and memory of all the former prisoners.”
It will be recalled that, earlier, Germany’s President Joachim Gauck called upon Russia to repent for the crimes of communism (see “The Experience of Overcoming,” Den No. 130, July 26, 2013). Indeed, it would be a good idea if Russian politicians followed the example of their German counterparts and repented for the crimes of communism and the Stalinist regime. Why not visit the foot of Mount Schmitt, Solovki, and Bykivnia? Could the owners of Norilsk Nickel pay at least some medical insurance to the camp inmates who in fact built the plant? Maybe, this would somewhat improve relations with the neighbors?
Yurii SHAPOVAL, Ph.D. in History, Head of the Department of Ethnopolitology, Institute of Political and Ethnic-National Research, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine:
“This is a matter of principle and a step of paramount importance which reminds me of Willy Brandt who knelt down before the monument to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1950. This is also a good example to our presidents, because for a long time none of them made a trip to Bykivnia, a place of mass burial of the victims of political repressions in Ukraine. What politicians do is that they always invest additional meaning in their steps.
“What Merkel did is a very good example to all politicians in the world, including ours. This is an example to be emulated. Aware of the complex processes taking place in Germany and how Ukraine’s perception of its place and role in Europe is shifting, this is a highly significant step.
“What prevents Russia from repenting? For some reason, it still identifies itself with that regime. This is a hard question, because Putin and Medvedev publicly said on several occasions that they renounced Stalin’s heritage. Evidently, they are non-Soviet people (in the classic sense of the word), because there are many factors pointing to this. However, for some reason, ideological or political-ideological, they identify themselves with those times and that regime and values which, in their opinion, are not losing value. In fact, values are created by people and they become devalued just like people. Another reason is that the Russians instrumentalize history. They subordinate it to politics and their current agenda as they try to rise to power and keep it and win the favor of certain population groups. After all, this is Russia; it’s their experience and life, but we need to think, above all, about ourselves.
“Russia’s inability to repent is, no doubt, a barrier to friendly relations with Ukraine. When people say that they have done something wrong, it’s self-purification. Every person, just like society, undergoes certain evolution. If this is not done (which does not mean that we need to blacken our past and renounce it), society cannot receive more and adequately perceive other people.”
The Day’s FACT FILE
Dachau, situated near Munich, was the first concentration camp set up by the Nazis in March 1933. There were at least 200,000 prisoners in the camp over the 12 years of its existence. Historians believe that 41,500 prisoners were killed or died of hunger, exhaustion, and illnesses. The camp was liquidated on April 29, 1945, when its inmates were freed by US troops. A memorial was unveiled at this place in 1965.