h1

Never Again

June 23, 2010

Never again

The saying “never again” or some variation on it is embedded in the nomenclature of Germany.  Summing up the idea that the holocaust and atrocities under Hitler should never be repeated, “never again” is almost a mantra.

So throughout my stay in Berlin, I became thoroughly acquainted with many of the exhibits, museums, memorial sites and other places that really drive home the idea that theses types of atrocities should never happen again.

Maybe I am cynical or just plain jaded, but I keep asking myself over and over and over again how exactly these memorials make a never again scenario even remotely possible. And after a few weeks of reflection I have come to many conclusions and here are a few….

It is possible that the memorials and sites of reflection do, in fact, get the ball rolling and the conversation started about humanity, life, and the extermination of it. Maybe the thousands of tourists that come and see theses cites in Berlin each year go back to their homes and respective communities and really spread the word about how brutal humans can be. Maybe much more of the world is now better versed in the dark aspects of German history. Better yet, perhaps everyone goes home and votes for policies and politicians that do not resemble the ugly history they have just seen firsthand.

Not just tourists, however, are effected by the memorial cites. One group of people who are thankful for the memorial cites are those persons who decided to become history majors because without tourism and memorial cites, many of them would be out of a job. At nearly every memorial cite or exhibition our class went to, I made it a habit to ask the speaker/guide about their academic background, and the large majority were history majors.

The city of Berlin and the country of Germany benefit as well–the memorials act as a huge Public Relations boost by making public apologies and large and expensive measures to regain the trust of the public. In fact, I would say that from a PR perspective the Germans have done far better at Vergangenheitsbewältigung than any other country guilty of similar crimes.

But alas, after reflecting and expounding upon my experience I have come to the conclusion that these memorials and sites seem like the biggest Elephant in a room ever.

People are so caught up in wanting to go see the tourist attractions that in their journey to remember the past by exploring history they forget about the history that is be created as we speak. It feels as though spending ones time to learn about genocide and then not actively engaging conversation and activism related to contemporary genocides being committed in Darfur and Palestine is counterproductive to the learning achieved at a memorial cite.

Especially at GDR prison, I got this overwhelming feeling of guilt because of my country’s policy on torture. Here I was at a former prison where torture tactics were used readily and frequently and many of them, especially the water torture and sleep deprivation, seemed very analogous to tactics used at Guantanamo Bay. But is this a feeling that is shared by all? When hundreds and hundreds of American tourists come and visit this site, do they somehow leave with a changed view of U.S. foreign policy? The statistics gauging US support for torture would tell a different story, with at least half of all Americans supporting torture at one time or another.

And to close, aside from the genocide and violence perpetrated against countless human beings that is still happening despite these memorials in place, other negative elements from the “bad years” memorialized are still ever-present in western society and culture. To list a few: homophobia, racism, classism, the “othering” of humans (especially gypsies), and anti-intellectualism.

Finally, I admit that, yes, apologies need to be made and histories need to be accurately told from all points of views and perspectives. However, I argue that the idea of “never again” should be the focus. And for this student, I saw far too many inconsistencies in my great stay in Berlin between memorials and actually following through with “Never Again”.

Advertisements

One comment

  1. You raise some really important questions: “Here I was at a former prison where torture tactics were used readily and frequently and many of them, especially the water torture and sleep deprivation, seemed very analogous to tactics used at Guantanamo Bay. But is this a feeling that is shared by all? When hundreds and hundreds of American tourists come and visit this site, do they somehow leave with a changed view of U.S. foreign policy?” Yet I think that you jump to conclusions when you argue that these American tourists are not affected by what they see in Berlin. It would be worth studying this issue (MA thesis?). Do not just assume that people are unaffected by memorial sites. That takes the science out of political science.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: