Thursday, April 19, 2007

April 19, 1943 - Or: Why It´s Important Not To Forget

(Jewish resistance fighters captured by SS troops during the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Warsaw, Poland)

Today marks the 67th anniversary of the beginning of the final stages of the Uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto, which eventually ended with the liquidation of the ghetto on May 16, 1943, at which point the remaining 56,000 Jews where sent to extermination camps (the remainder, some 300,000+ Jewish inhabitants of the Ghetto, had been sent to extermination camps - which in most cases meant certain death - by the end of 1942). You find a very good, dense summary, plus a link to a more in-depth account, at this blog.

Many, especially young, Germans question the necessity of being constantly reminded of the Nazi past of our history. While I reject the notion that younger generations carry some sort of "guilt" for what our forefathers did (or, in not resisting, did not), I do believe - no: I know that it is important that we are aware of our history and do not act as if it had nothing to do with us, lest we forget.

Case in point: The recent case of historical-political amnesia by conservative Governor of Baden-Wurttemberg, Guenther Oettinger. On April 11, he held a eulogy for the late Hans Filbinger, deceased on April 1, 2007. Filbinger had served as a naval judge from the spring of 1943 to the end of the war. During that time, he was involved in about 230 naval criminal proceedings, in six of which the death sentence was part of the proceedings.

At least in one case, the death sentence proclaimed with Filbinger´s involvement (in that case, he was acting as witness of the prosecution, assembling the death squad, and gave the order to fire) was executed on March 16, 1945 - three weeks before the capitulation - or liberation - of Germany. In this case - as in several others - Filbinger would have had several options open to avoid imposing the death sentence and the execution of 21 year old naval soldier Walter Groeger, who was accused of desertion.

Filbinger had been governor of Baden Wurttemberg from 1966 until he was caught up by his Nazi past and was forced to resign from office in 1978. In his eulogy, Oettinger - perhaps in a false understanding of the concept of "De mortui nil nisi bene" - twisted the historical facts, algidly alleging that Filbinger had been an opponent of the Nazi regime. (Yes, and so was the entire German populace at that time, with the possible exception of Hitler and a few other leading heads themselves ...).

When coming under pressure from various associations (from the most prominent one, the German Central Consistory of Jews, to the association of victims of the Nazi judicial system), Oettinger at first flat out refused to withdraw the claim that Filbinger had been an opponent of the Nazi regime. And he had several supporters amongst the lines of conservatives, among them the head of the JU (the Young Conservatives), Steffen Bilger, who applauded Oettinger for his "liberating" remarks and for "straightening several things out" (I wonder what that was supposed to mean ...).

Oettinger eventually did have to give in and had to withdraw his remarks on Monday, April 16, 2007, after the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, practically forced him to do so, although he probably will not have to resign as a governor. Thankfully, there are some mechanisms and organizations in this country that help to prevent a sugarcoated picture of our history from becoming mainstream, at least for the time being. Which is why it is important for all of us not to forget.

A short account in English on the fallouts of Oettinger´s eulogy by the Washington Post from Saturday, April 14 (i.e., before Oettinger had to distance himself from his remarks) can be found here. A more detailed account and a chronology in German is published there.

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