Germany’s “zero hour” – Then and now

Helmut K. Anheier looks at the past and future Germany on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II - in Project Syndicate. 

In an opinion piece in Project Syndicate, Helmut Anheier writes that, "On the 75th anniversary of the end of the war, the question for thoughtful Germans is what will happen when these last witnesses to the horrors and suffering of the Nazi era – the most brutal 12 years in human history – are gone forever."

"To be sure, this question is not new. Back in the 1970s, Herbert Wehner, the longstanding Social Democratic Party whip and himself a refugee, delivered passionate speeches in the German parliament warning that, with the passing of those who remembered the slide into Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship and the price paid for it, the defense of democracy would become more difficult.

"Such concerns have grown more pronounced with each generation. In the absence of direct historical memory, Samuel Salzborn of the University of Giessen worries that the notion of collective responsibility might once again give way to willful ignorance and “collective innocence.

"Will the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of “Hitler’s willing executioners” (the title of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s controversial 1990s book) conveniently forget the inconvenient truths of Nazism and construct a more palatable or politically expedient version of the past? Right-wing parties such as the Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany, AfD) doubtless would welcome such historical amnesia. But how likely is it to set in?"

Read the full piece on Project Syndicate. (Behind a paywall) 

About Helmut K. Anheier