The other night, as I had to take the train home, I had the displeasure to overhear a conversation between three people in their forties. All were quite tipsy and telling obscene stories about their bosses and colleagues at the job centre. Their conversation was peppered with hateful statements like ‘gipsy slut’ or ‘… one more word and I’ll put her into Auschwitz, where she belongs.’ All three were drunk but you could tell they were familiar with the terms they were throwing around.
When I wanted to get off, I had to go past them, thereby interrupting their conversation. ‘What you’re saying is simply disgusting.’
The train stopped and I got off quickly. Horror remained. It’s 2019 and these words come easily to some people again. Is it stupidity? Is it ignorance? Or the strange assumption to be part of a master race that has the natural right to put itself above others? I’m not sure but the encounter left a bitter aftertaste.
A few days later I’m in central Berlin and on my way to an appointment. Smack bang in the middle of the crowd, a group of teenagers passes by. One of them is shouting ‘Sieg!’, while the others respond with ‘Heil!’ They’re laughing and thinking they’re great for doing something you shouldn’t do.
I cross their path and tell them that I’d be careful with statements like these – that’s sedition. ‘Sorry,’ one of them stammers, a pale brown-haired guy wearing a Ramones T-shirt, ‘We’re not from Berlin!’ I’m sure I wasn’t faced with staunch Nazis but with a bunch of boys who were on a school trip and wanted to feel extra cool.
But why is this ‘cool’? What do 15-year-olds see in shouting ‘Sieg Heil!’ on Potsdamer Platz in Berlin? Has the horror of the biggest catastrophe of the 20th century receded so far into the past that its tentacles can no longer reach them? 70 years lie between their generation and that of my grandmother, who took the pain of this time to her grave. A lifetime. Is our inability to learn and to remember actually this big? Do we have to feel the pain ourselves and do we have to inflict it upon ourselves to understand that hatred is never the answer?
In 2018, there were more than 1,000 registered anti-Semitic assaults in Berlin. That’s a 14% increase compared to the year before. Alarming figures. A party, bright blue, which reels in votes in Eastern Germany and which gives itself a confident and intellectual air, systematically destroys the German culture of remembrance and presents its own, skewed perception as reality. Where does the truth end and the lie begin? The lines are blurred. And we as a society are already feeling the consequences. In the shape of students who no longer understand the meaning of ‘Sieg Heil’ and how deep the wounds inflicted by this hateful ideology still run in Germany and the rest of Europe today.
In order to help young people understand that every human being is invaluable, regardless of skin colour, religious identity or country of origin, to understand each other and to accept each other, we offer religious workshops. They are funded by the LADS, the Berlin State Office for Equal Treatment and Against Discrimination.