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Dr. Rainer Hering: Germany Today - Re-writing the Nazi Past?

On the night of the 25th of July 1943, the Allies, in this case the British and American airforce, started to carry out the first in a series of air raids on Hamburg, which became known as "Operation Gomorrha". During the following ten days, 61 percent of the residential area was destroyed and 35.000 people were killed. (2) This was the reaction to the German attacks on Coventry and other European cities in the Second World War, which had been started by the Germans.

50 years later, in July and August 1993, Hamburg remembered this far-reaching event. Numerous lectures were held, several exhibitions brought these bitter days back to todays consciousness. Not only did public institutions - e.g. museums or the university - take part in this act of commemoration, but also the Lutheran Church of Hamburg.(3)

Of course, it is important for the Church to commemorate the Second World War and the thousands of citizens killed in the bomb attacks. The Church claims that it does not want to abandon German history to neo-nationalism, but wants to pass it on honestly to the next generation, which sounds very acceptable. However, if one takes a closer look at the intention which the coordinating committee explains in the official folder, one stumbles upon their conception of victims. It seems as if everybody in the "Third Reich" was a victim: Mothers and their children, civilians and soldiers, the murdered and the warmongers.(4)

The coordinating committee does no longer make a difference between the warmongers, between Nazis and victims. It is possible for theologians to argue that God will forgive everything if forgiveness is prayed for earnestly enough. On the other hand it is dangerous to deny any difference between perpetrator and victim, between the people who took part actively in the killing of millions of human beings in Germany and Europe, and their victims. The historical connection becomes blurred, if culprits and victims are lumped together. Thus, the suffering of the victims is disparaged.

The official folder which presents the program does not mention the causes of the Second World War, German war crimes, the persecution and killing of political opponents and of the Jews, the dead of other nations. The organized mass murder of millions is completely ignored. War seems to be some kind of natural disaster without any connection to human activities.

During the ecumenical commemorative service in St. Michaelis" Church the bishop of Hamburg, Maria Jepsen, did not mention explicitly the guilt that had lain with the citizens. A group of young people complained and demanded to talk about the historical background of the "Third Reich" and the Second World War(5), but they were shouted down - nobody wanted to listen. Helge Adolphsen, the Senior Pastor ("Hauptpastor") of St. Michaelis even said that it would not make sense to talk to these young people. Is there no willingness to discuss this interpretation of recent German history in the Lutheran Church?

However, Hamburg ist not the only example of what Thomas E. Schmidt called a "Normalisierungskur", which might be translated as "normalizing cure". The "Neue Wache" ("New Guard-House") in the unified German capital Berlin - built by Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841) - will become an important memorial in the government quarter. Watched over by the Prussian generals Gerhard Johann Scharnhorst (1755-1813) and August Gneisenau (1760-1831), Germans are to remember their recent history in undifferentiating mourning. The victims of the "Third Reich" are not named so that in the end even people who followed National Socialism appear to be victims themselves.(6) If the difference between them is not pointed out, if the victims are not painstakingly named, there will be no true commemoration and official mourning will take place in a mental mist.

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Zurück zum Text  2. Hans Brunswig: Feuersturm über Hamburg. Stuttgart 1978; Martin Middlebrook: Hamburg Juli" 43. Alliierte Luftstreitkräfte gegen eine deutsche Stadt. Hamburg 1984 (= The Battle of Hamburg. London 1980); Werner Johe: Im Dritten Reich 1933-1945. In: Werner Jochmann (Hg): Vom Kaiserreich bis zur Gegenwart (Hamburg. Geschichte der Stadt und ihrer Bewohner, Bd.2). Hamburg 1986, 265-376, bes. 365-368; Ursula Büttner: "Gomorrha": Hamburg im Bombenkrieg. Die Wirkung der Luftangriffe auf Bevölkerung und Wirtschaft. Hamburg 1993; Renate Hauschild-Thiessen: Die Hamburger Katastrophe vom Sommer 1943 in Augenzeugenberichten (Veröffentlichungen des Vereins für Hamburgische Geschichte, 38). Hamburg 1993; Horst-Eberhard Richter: "Action Gomorrha". Gedanken zum 50. Jahrestag des großen Bombenangriffs auf Hamburg. In: Ders.: Wer nicht leiden will muß hassen. Zur Epidemie der Gewalt. Hamburg: Hoffmann & Campe 1993, 63-72.

Zurück zum Text  3. Broschure: Feuersturm - Gedenken 1993. Kirchliche Veranstaltungen. Hg. vom Ev.-Luth. Kirchenkreisverband Hamburg.

Zurück zum Text  4. Peter Stolt: Die Toten beklagen wir - die Lebenden rufen wir. In: Ebd.

Zurück zum Text  5. Leaflet "Operation Gomorrha: Es gibt nichts zu trauern!", distributed during the service on July 23th 1993.

Zurück zum Text  6. Thomas E. Schmidt: Normalisierungskur. Schinkels Neue Wache als nationale Weihestätte. In: Frankfurter Rundschau Nr.188 vom 16.8.1993, 9. Vgl. auch: Die Tageszeitung vom 25.10.1993.


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