The Elephant in the Room
Trip Start Jul 03, 2011
172Trip End Jan 17, 2012
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German people keep asking me what Americans think of them. They have the impression we all think of pretzels and braids when we think of Germans, that we imagine people walking around in the traditional Bavarian Oktoberfest garb all the time. I laugh nervously, yeah, that's exactly what we think. The fact is, it's not. Despite the Cold War and almost a century of political turmoil, seventy years later, when Americans think of Germany we inevitably think of Nazis and the Holocaust. I haven't admitted this pre-conceived notion of Germany to any Germans however, because now that I'm here I see that nothing could be further from the truth.
Germans are as embarrassed about their past as we were with our former president, the oh-so-lovable George W. Bush. Since the Holocaust, Germany has been torn apart in many senses. The Iron Curtain tore through the country politically, the Berlin Wall tore through it physically, but most striking has been the tearing apart of the generations. After the Holocaust, children rebelled against their parents' fanatacism with an equal ferocity as they echoed the rest of the world: "How could you?" Families were divided as children ostracized their parents for being responsible for such atrocities, whether because of genuine evil or a cowardice to do otherwise. Children held their parents accountable in ways tribunals never could.
Each generation seems to be pushing further and further away from the image of Nazi Germany. It is a hard burden to carry, being German, and it holds a great responsibility. I've seen images of the swastika spraypainted on walls in Spain, England, Belgium, even Ecuador, but I doubt I will ever see such a thing in Germany. Germans learned the hard way that apathy towards others can not be tolerated, and they do not tolerate it.
I can only imagine the terror people felt at speaking up against antisemitism in the years leading up to the Holocaust. Not conforming to the Nazi party completely would bring brutal force against yourself and your family. I only hope history will not repeat itself, and I not allow myself to be silenced in the face of adversity.
In post 9-11 America, there is a growing movement of racism against our Muslim citizens. Many of my friends and students have complained of being taunted for wearing their hijab or for practicing their religion. There are Facebook pages and forums on the internet that accuse the religion of Islam to being synonomous with terrorism. Hate is burning in our blood and we are lying to ourselves if we pretend not to notice it. If we don't speak out against this hate, this scapegoating, these irrational fears, at some point your children may look at you with disgust as they accuse you of the cowardice that comes with silence.