Merkel dis­ap­points onHolo­caust vis­its

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

In her al­most nine years as chan­cel­lor of Ger­many, An­ge­laMerkel has won re­spect around the world for her dig­ni­fied lead­er­ship, strong moral sense and dis­ci­plined, re­spon­si­ble fis­cal poli­cies. In her will­ing­ness to stand by un­pop­u­lar but es­sen­tial fis­cal poli­cies dur­ing the eu­ro­zone cri­sis, she has of­ten ap­peared to be the last adult left stand­ing among the cur­rent crop of Euro­pean na­tional lead­ers.

It is all the more dis­ap­point­ing, there­fore, thatMerkel’s govern­ment has de­clined two Chi­nese re­quests to in­cludeHolo­caust me­mo­rial sites in the of­fi­cial itin­er­ary of Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in Berlin start­ing on March 28, the­Memo­rial to the­Mur­dered Jews of Europe – the city’s largestHolo­caust me­mo­rial site and the Me­mo­rial to the Vic­tims of Fas­cism and­Mil­i­tarism on the Un­ter den Lin­den boule­vard.

Merkel’s record of fully ac­knowl­edg­ing Ger­many’s own hor­ren­dous record of geno­cide dur­ing theNazi regime of AdolfHitler has been con­sis­tent, coura­geous and ad­mirable. It is se­curely rooted in the re­spon­si­ble po­si­tions taken by the lead­ers of demo­cratic, mod­ern Ger­many since the Federal Repub­lic was first es­tab­lished un­der Kon­rad Ade­nauer in 1949.

Merkel has never shown the slight­est re­luc­tance to ac­knowl­edge the hor­rors of theHolo­caust when any Is­raeli leader has vis­ited Ger­many. Why, then, her re­fusal to pub­licly do so with Pres­i­dent Xi? The an­swer clearly does not lie in any Ger­man de­sire to bury or deny the facts of theHolo­caust. In­stead it rests on an ob­vi­ous po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tion. As the Bri­tish news­pa­per The Daily Tele­graph pointed out on March 5, “Berlin fears that it will be drawn into an em­bar­rass­ing row be­tween Bei­jing and Tokyo over Ja­pan’s per­ceived fail­ure to ac­knowl­edge past war crimes.”

The govern­ment of China has been try­ing to im­press the world with the sharp con­trast be­tween post-World War II Ja­pan and Ger­many in fac­ing their par­al­lel bur­dens of his­tory. Both na­tions car­ried out war crimes in­volv­ing the sys­tem­ized ex­ter­mi­na­tion of scores of mil­lions of hu­man be­ings that were with­out prece­dent in mod­ern his­tory. At least 11 mil­lion people, in­clud­ing 6 mil­lion Jews, are gen­er­ally ac­cepted as hav­ing been sys­tem­at­i­cally mur­dered in theNazi geno­ci­dal pro­grams. The most re­cent ex­ten­sive re­search by the Amer­i­canHolo­caust Memo­rial­Mu­seum in­Wash­ing­ton, DC, sug­gests that the death toll was even higher, 20 mil­lion in all. Count­less Rus­sians, Poles, gyp­sies and other na­tion­al­i­ties were also mur­dered dur­ing those nightmare years.

Lit­tle noted in theWest was the com­pa­ra­ble slaugh­ter in­flicted by the Im­pe­rial Ja­panese Army dur­ing its eight years of con­quest, oc­cu­pa­tion and sup­pres­sion cam­paigns in China from 1937 to 1945. Cer­tainly 16 mil­lion Chi­nese non-com­bat­ant civil­ians were slaugh­tered. Some es­ti­mates put the fig­ure as high as 20 mil­lion. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of peas­ants were sys­tem­at­i­cally and de­lib­er­ately in­fected with the most hor­rific bac­te­ri­o­log­i­cal and other bi­o­log­i­cal war com­pounds by the in­fa­mous Unit 731. Af­ter the war all the doc­tors and sci­en­tists ofUnit 731 were qui­etly cleared byUS oc­cu­pa­tion au­thor­i­ties in Ja­pan, so that their re­search and “ex­per­tise” could be ap­pro­pri­ated by theUnited States in its ColdWar strug­gle with the Sovi­etUnion.

Ger­many played no di­rect role in the worst Ja­panese atroc­i­ties in China. The slaugh­ter of 300,000 civil­ians in the hor­rific Rape ofNan­jing in 1937 oc­curred two years be­fore Ja­pan for­mally joined the Axis Al­liance with Nazi Ger­many. How­ever, the dark, fas­cist ide­olo­gies of racism, im­pe­ri­al­ism, and the phi­los­o­phy that “might makes right” were en­thu­si­as­ti­cally shared by the regimes in Berlin and Tokyo through the 1930s and 1940s. The suf­fer­ings of the Chi­nese people were on a scale com­pa­ra­ble with those of the Rus­sian, Jewish and Pol­ish peo­ples. It is there­fore fit­ting and mov­ing that Pres­i­dent Xi wanted to make this com­par­i­son pub­licly.

An­other re­sult of Pres­i­dent Xi’s ini­tia­tive would have been to con­trast Ger­many’s na­tional ac­cep­tance of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the crimes of the Nazi era with the con­sis­tent re­cent poli­cies of PrimeMin­is­ter Shinzo Abe in Ja­pan. Abe has made clear he is de­ter­mined to sup­press any ref­er­ence, let alone ac­knowl­edge­ment, of Ja­pan’s ter­ri­ble war crimes. He has done so not just in his pub­lic ac­tions and state­ments, but also in his sys­tem­atic ap­point­ments to the gov­ern­ing board of NHK, Ja­pan’s state broad­cast­ing cor­po­ra­tion. Nearly 70 years af­ter the end ofWorldWar II, these crimes have never been re­vealed sys­tem­at­i­cally and on a wide scale to the Ja­panese people. And now un­der Abe the poli­cies of de­nial and sup­pres­sion are be­ing in­ten­si­fied, not aban­doned.

Chan­cel­lorMerkel made an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic and grave er­ror in not ac­com­pa­ny­ing Pres­i­dent Xi to theHolo­caust me­mo­ri­als in Berlin. The visit would have sym­bol­ized the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of old an­tag­o­nists. And pre­sented a pow­er­ful mes­sage to the world about the need for ex­panded hu­mane in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion. Any em­bar­rass­ment the Abe govern­ment ex­pe­ri­enced would have been salu­tary, and for its own good. The lessons of mem­ory still need to be learned. The au­thor is a colum­nist for the PostEx­am­iner on­line news­pa­pers in the United States and a se­nior fel­low of the Amer­i­can Univer­sity in­Moscow.

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