A new way of dealing with the past: the young generation in Germany sheds its anxiety of xenophobia.

Author:Ndolo, Rosa-Maria
Position:Racial Discrimination

Students in present-day Germany learn early on: there is no denying their past. History teachers tell them that what their grandparents might have been a part of during the Second World War does not apply to them directly. However, they are still faced with prejudice in some parts of the world, with lingering suspicions that Germany never quite left its anti-Semitic and racist past behind.

Ever since evidence showed that not only a handful of individuals participated in the horror of the Nazi regime, but that ordinary people silently tolerated the atrocities, a whole nation has stood accused before the world for what happened during the Third Reich. But considerably worse than the international perspective is the view Germans have of themselves. Out of long-cherished collective memory and once-necessary self-criticism has emerged a nation that 60 years later is still unsure about the difference between national chauvinism and patriotism, and therefore continues to characterize itself as guilty of xenophobia. In today's Germany, which has been reunited for almost 20 years and whose citizens rank among those who travel most, it is hard for the "new" young generation to accept such labels when it considers itself open-minded and liberal.

It seems that many Germans perceive a large-scale resistance against expressions of patriotism as a result of the stigma of the Second World War and the Holocaust. For example, a politician's statement in March 2001 that he was "proud to be German" drew massive criticism and reignited a debate whether German patriotism in the twenty-first century was to be equated with the Third Reich and its values. Another recent example demonstrates the ambiguity of dealing with the past. Jurgen Kamm, a student from Stuttgart, sold several T-shirts showing smashed swastikas and other motifs intended to promote the fight against any form of national socialism. In 2006, he was accused by the mother of a young boy who had bought some of his T-shirts, and later fined approximately $5,000 for violating article 86a of Germany's penal code, which prohibits the utilization and display of Nazi symbols of any kind. In contrast, Rafael Seligman, a German-Jewish historian, demanded that Hitler's Mein Kampf be finally published in the country, after having been banned for 60 years. He explained that liberating the book's publication would take away its cachet--which the book does not deserve--by making it freely available and exposing...

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