The Neue Wache: Germany and Historical Revisionism
When, on Sunday, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, President Horst Köhler and other German political dignitaries lay wreaths to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the capitulation of Nazi Germany, they did so before a Kathe Kollwitz Pietà at the so-called “Neue Wache” Memorial in Berlin.
In the German Democratic Republic, the Neue Wache, which lies in the eastern part of the city, served as a memorial to “the Victims of Fascism and Militarism”: a formula that clearly referred to the Nazi regime and its crimes. After Reunification, in 1993, the Neue Wache was re-opened as the “Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany”. The inscription had been changed. Instead of the “Victims of Fascism and Militarism”, it is now dedicated to the “Victims of War and Tyranny [Gewaltherrschaft]”. The substitution of “Tyranny” for “Fascism” served to establish an equivalence between the Nazi regime and the Communist regime of East Germany. The substitution of “War” for “Militarism” served to evade the question of responsibility: notably, of German responsibility for the Second World War and hence for the carnage it entailed. (The same question could, of course, also be posed in this context with respect to the First World War.)
Thus, although it is true that when Chancellor Schröder and President Köhler lay their wreaths before the Kollwitz Pietà they paid tribute to the victims of Nazi crimes, this is only part of the truth. They also – silently, without having to say any words that might provoke unease outside of Germany – paid tribute to many of the perpetrators of those crimes. Grandiose – indeed downright megalomaniacal – would-be "artistic" expressions of remorse for the Holocaust, such as Peter Eisenman’s just inaugurated “field of pillars” or Daniel Libeskind’s “Jewish Museum” (about which I have written extensively here and, in German, here), may obscure this fact. But they do not change it. They also, incidentally, obscure the tens of millions of non-Jewish victims of Nazi aggression and persecution in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Greece, Yugoslavia, the USSR, France, etc., etc., etc.