Remember and never forget

Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, in the June 2012 issue of aktuell is asking the readers to remember Berlin’s 775th birthday.

Are Berlin’s school children taught the significance of this historic event? Are the students also made aware that their city and many other German cities almost did not survive sixty-five to seventy years ago? And do they know why this happened?

In the United States, numerous Holocaust Museums were founded in the early and mid-1990s. They dedicated themselves to educating people, especially students, about the Holocaust, to remembering six million Jews and many other innocent victims throughout Germany and Europe, and to honoring the survivors’ legacy.

Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, the museums teach the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy.

Today future teachers from across the United States participate in special programs that help them learn how to inform their students about one of history’s darkest times, the Holocaust, and the relevance to today’s world.

I have received aktuell twice a year since 1993 and many times I have asked myself, are Berlin’s and other German school children ever made aware of the Backsteine or the Stolpersteine and their significance? Do they have any knowledge of the thousand of letters that begin with the heart-rending questions “Wer kannte…?” or “Suche nach…?” or “Wer erinnert sich an die Familie…?” Could they possibly be aware that, besides the beautifully restored places, churches, monuments, museums, Brandenburger Tor, that there are people who say of Berlin’s Siegesallee: “Nowhere in the world has a country constructed so many memorials to the barbarity of its past.”

One could picture a German teenager, while driving on the Kurfürstendamm, seeing the Kaiser-
Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche and asking himself why this church has not been rebuilt. It may be the only historic structure reminding the Bürger of Berlin’s past seventy-five years. I saw it standing tall and beautiful in the nineteen-twenties and early thirties. Not far from there is the Jewish Community Center on the former premises of one of Berlin’s once magnificent synagogues, which was burned to the ground by the Brown Shirts – the S.A. – during Kristallnacht in 1938.

During a business trip in the late 1970s to the Ruhr, I met with executives of Krupp & Thyssen. Not surprisingly, I encountered the same German arrogance, the “Deutschland über alles” psyche, that I encountered dealing with German Afrika Korps prisoners in 1942 and 1943 in Tunisia and Algeria. I keep asking myself, is there no awareness, no introspection or understanding of history? “Das Reich” has had enormous economic success, and culturally, great strides are in evidence, yet have the second and third generation since World War II been taught about their past? aktuell , as a beautiful publication, tells us about and shows us great restorations, the latest in modern structures, gleaming high-rise buildings, restored historic castles with meticulous landscaping, new school buildings, museums, new airports, and train stations. But are these younger generations aware of the mass destruction, the loss of thousands of lives? Do they know anything about the Nürnberg Trials and the resulting laws? Do they even care what their fathers and grandfathers perpetrated, not only in the Fatherland itself but throughout Europe and in many countries of the world? Finally, are they aware that World War II had over sixteen million fatalities?

I am in my nineties. I was born in Berlin at the end of World War I. My school was the Herder Gymnasium, bombed out of existence in World War II. My family was broken up in 1933. I was able to escape from Germany in the latter part of 1936, starting a new life in the United States. My father and sister escaped to England in 1937. I entered the U.S. Army in the summer of 1941, joining an elite infantry division and participating in eight major campaigns from 1942 to 1945, in North Africa, Sicily, Normandy, Northern France, Belgium and Germany. I was twice wounded in combat and decorated by the U.S. Army and the French and Belgian governments. During the latter stages of the War, I assisted in the liberation of the infamous slave labor camp at Nordhausen, in the Harz Mountains.

We saw first-hand the barbarity perpetrated on innocent people.

These days I keep asking myself, how is it possible that over a hundred thousand Jews have again settled in Germany? How quickly they forget.

My generation is fast disappearing. What happened from the 1920s through the 1940s was not a blip in world history – it changed the lives of millions of people. We can only hope that “Never Again” is a challenge to reject hatred in all forms, including anti-Semitism, which has no place in a civilized world.

Herbert U. Stern
Chiffre 122102