Rivki Rosenblatt of OU Press and I are currently staffing a trip to Germany from the OU’s Alumni Connections Department, courtesy of an organization named Germany Close Up. During our orientation, Dr. Dagmar Pruin, the founder and director of Germany Close Up, said something that really struck me. She said that Germans’ attitudes towards the Holocaust are generally pacifistic. As she put it, “‘Never again’ means something different to the perpetrator than it does to the victim.”
As we tour the country, this becomes more and more apparent. Memorials are ubiquitous. There are plaques on the ground in front of houses naming residents who were deported to the camps. Holocaust education is taught in the schools. Holocaust denial is a crime, as is giving the Nazi salute. They don’t say that someone “died in Auschwitz,” they say the person “was murdered in Auschwitz.”
Sometimes this difference in attitude can be misunderstood. For example, Americans have been taught that “Kristallnacht” means “the night of broken glass,” referring to the powerful imagery we have been shown of the broken shop windows. This is actually not the case. To a German, the name means “the night we broke their expensive stemware.” It was a name given by the perpetrators in order to minimize the extent of the violence they wrought. So when an American hears a German refer to “the so-called Kristallnacht,” the American invariably gets offended, thinking that the intention is to suggest that the event didn’t really happen. Actually, the speaker’s intention is to remove the euphemism that was inherent in the phrase as coined by the perpetrators.
Once here, it’s easy to see that Germany takes the Holocaust very seriously. They accept responsibility for the actions of their forebears. While there are no doubt exceptions – as we have seen in recent events throughout Europe, as well as in the US – the Germany of today is clearly our partner in ensuring that such a crime never happens again.