I’ve been in Berlin for the past few days, having a great time. But also a bit bleak, it’s hard to be in Berlin without seeing the awful German history of the 20th century. The Holocaust, the division of Berlin, the Stasi, the people murdered trying to cross the Wall. It’s inescapable.

What I admire is how directly the German state seems to engage with its evil history. There are museums and monuments everywhere, from small plaques at the former homes of Jews who were deported and murdered to reminders of the Wall to state funded museums like the Topography of Terror.

The tone of the presentations (at least in English translation) is forthright and neutral. So all you see is an unvarnished explanation of how the Third Reich inventoried and killed millions of people. No attempt to explain or contextualize the act, certainly not to justify it, not even color commentary on how horrible it was. Just meticulous, detailed documentation of the terrible crimes of the Holocaust.

It feels like an honest attempt to understand and account for the past crimes of German governments. By presenting things so directly it becomes impossible to explain it away as some aberrant past, some temporary mania, the inexplicable actions of others. They are saying “Here are the facts of our history. Never forget.”

I’d like to see a similarly forthright American account of some the worst parts of our history. The genocide of the Native Americans, the importation and enslavement of Africans, the Civil War (on both sides). There’s too much explanation and justification in our historical narrative, not enough simple accounting of the evils in our past.

  2013-10-05 15:35 Z