Consider it a Minnesota counterpoint to a controversial Nazi reenactors' party on Martin Luther King Day at a Minneapolis restaurant. That's the contrast that struck me Tuesday as about 100 Minnesotans -- legislators, business executives and academicians among them -- heard four scholars consider the continuing implications of the Nazi memories today's Germans bear.
Their forum, sponsored by the University of Minnesota's Center for German and European Studies, highlighted the huge German response to a recent three-part TV docudrama that aired in that country as "Our Mothers, Our Fathers." It is being screened for American audiences as "Generation War."
The film depicts the war experience of five young friends, two women, two soldiers and one Jewish man. One German critic called the series "the first and last chance to ask our grandparents about their true biographies."
A last chance to hear war participants' voices is indeed at hand. Surviving war veterans are now in their late 80s and 90s. But it may be news to Americans that some Germans have not yet had a first chance to explore the Holocaust and Nazi brutality with their elders.
Panelists explained that not until the 1990s, after Germany was reunified, did Germans truly examine Nazi history and debate the German population's culpability for atrocities. In the former East Germany, Holocaust denial was commonplace, panelists said. In some telling, the 6 million Jews murdered in Nazi death camps were characterized as war victims akin to other Germans who suffered and died from 1939 to 1945.
Today's German goverment is "actively involved in keeping the memory alive, and in educating this and future generations about German history," said Christa Tiefenbacher-Hudson, honorary consul of the Federal Republic of Germany in Minneapolis. "It's all meant to understand what happened in the past and also to prevent that it would happen again in the future." Minnesotans, too, should seek understanding of the sort that comes from sober analysis of genocidal empire-building -- not from partying in Nazi garb.