The Memorial Needles of Erfurt: It’s Hard to Please Everyone

Denknadel Plaque

In Germany and around the world, the last residence of persecuted Jews and other victims of Nazi terror are marked by small brass bricks called Stolpersteine – Stumbling Stones. There are more than 70,000 of these 10 by 10 cm stones installed in cobblestoned and paved sidewalks all made by hand by the artist Gunter Demnig who began the project back in 1992. It has now become common for many in Germany to mark the 9th of November – the anniversary of Kristallnacht – and the 27th of January – Holocaust Remembrance Day on the anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz – by polishing local Stolpersteine.

stolperstein ketchup

Stolpersteine are easy to clean using only expired ketchup and a toothbrush

While the Stolpersteine are ubiquitous across Germany, there are a few exceptions. The city of Munich banned the installation of new Stolpersteine in 2015 after claims that they were disrespectful of the dead, whose names were walked on by the living. In Erfurt, where I now work, the Stolpersteine are not banned, but instead the last known residence of Nazi victims is marked by a DenkNadel – a memorial needle. The civic group Erfurter GeDenken called for proposals in 2007 to create a uniquely Erfurt commemoration for the victims of Nazi terror and local artist Sophie Hollmann won the competition with her design: a silver cone topped by an orange ball as if it was a giant pushpin pressed into the street to mark the spot. The first set of DenkNadel were installed on November 9, 2009 with five more installed in the following years across the city.

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From Stauffenberg to PEGIDA: How the Far Right Adopted the Flag of the Anti-Hitler Resistance.

Kundgebung Pegida in Dresden

PEGIDA rally in 2015

On July 20, 1944 – 73 years ago today –  Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg carried out a plot to assassinate Hitler with a bomb. The attack failed and Stauffenberg along with several dozen military and conservative elites involved were arrested, tortured and executed.

Since WWII, the bomb plot has been an important part of Germany’s political culture – Stauffenberg and the plotters are seen as evidence that not all Germans supported the Nazis and that within the elite there were still men who represented the traditional values of the nation and were willing to die for this. This interpretation is contested, but within the public sphere, commemoration of the plotters and their efforts is a touchstone of mainstream German politics.

widerstand monument

Memorial to the German Resistance in Berlin

All of this makes it puzzling that the flag of the conservative anti-Hitler resistance has become a symbol of the far right in recent years.

Wirmer flag

The Wirmer flag was designed by Josef Wirmer as the flag for the new Germany in 1944. Wirmer was a lawyer who had worked in the social left-wing of the Catholic Center Party before the Nazi seizure of power. The flag combined the red, black, gold of the Weimar (and modern) German flag along with the cross to emphasize the importance of Christianity. Wirmer himself was executed in September 1944 in connection with the July 20th plot.

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When History Goes Bad: On the Dangers of Going Viral

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It seemed like a good idea at the time…

If you spend enough time on social media, you start to get a sense of what is going to be popular. Take something sensational that pushes people’s buttons and confirms their deepest pre-existing beliefs. Give them some ammo for their self-righteousness. Or just put up a cute animal. Or all of the above.

I try my best to avoid doing this. I work on the history of East Germany and post historical facts and photos daily, often on material that can be very emotionally charged. When it comes to historical posts, I do my best to hold back on editorializing or adding inflammatory commentary.

Then came last Friday. I was on the road going to a conference still up in the middle of the night and saw the Daily Mail’s now infamous “Enemies of the People” headline denouncing the High Court for their decision on how Brexit will proceed.

I found this to be objectionable and not just a little bit proto-fascist. Normally I avoid making comparisons with Nazi history, but it immediately brought to mind the famous cover of the Illustrierter Beobachter with the header “Volksverräter” or “traitors of the people” listing those whose citizenship was being stripped in 1933. Not the same thing, just eerily reminiscent.

Shortly after midnight, after a quick google image search for a scan of the newspaper I decided to post the two images side-by-side just stating what they were and calling on readers to compare and contrast. I wasn’t prepared to go so far as to say the Daily Mail were actually fascist, but I wanted to point out where this sort of extreme thinking can lead to. I hadn’t really thought it through too carefully, more just a middle of the night reaction to something troubling in the news.

Almost immediately the post was being re-tweeted by dozens of people and far in excess of the usual enthusiasm for my normal posts of East German football matches or Berlin Wall shooting victims. I stayed up to argue with some people for a while (again, something I try not to do)  and then decided to shut off for the night.

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Who’s to Blame for Aryan Jesus? Some Thoughts on Religion, Atrocities, and the Fallacy of Collective Guilt.

Deutsche Christen Flag

Flag of the Deutsche Christen

How does one go about judging a religion when a radical faction uses an extreme interpretation of doctrine to commit atrocities? I speak of course about the Deutsche Christen – the fanatical Nazis who saw the Christian faith, antisemitism and the cause of the Third Reich as one and the same.

The theologians of the Deutsche Christen movement linked together the Protestant tradition (including Martin Luther’s many anti-Semitic remarks) with Nazi theories of Volk and race. They sought the “de-Judaization of the church” and the elevation of their version of an “Aryan Jesus.” Rather than some fringe movement during the Third Reich, the Deutsche Christen numbered 600,000 at its peak including senior members of the Church hierarchy, religious scholars and the laity.

The movement’s Institute for the Study and Eradication of the Jewish Influence on the German Church “redefined Christianity as a Germanic religion whose founder, Jesus, was no Jew but rather had fought valiantly to destroy Judaism, falling victim to that struggle. Germans were now called upon to be the victors in Jesus’s own struggle against the Jews, who were said to be seeking Germany’s destruction.”

For the Deutsche Christen, the cause of Nazism was the logical end point of protestant theology. As Erich Koch, Reichsminister for Ukraine would tell his post-war prosecutors:

“I held the view that the Nazi idea had to develop from a basic Prussian-Protestant attitude and from Luther’s unfinished Reformation.”

Berlin, Luthertag

Luther Day celebrations in Berlin. November 19, 1933

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