Thursday, June 7, 2012

Changing Minds and Leaving the Past Behind

A few years ago, my father and I were talking about taking a trip to Europe. We definitely wanted to go to London. My dad suggested visiting other countries while we were there. I thought that was a great idea and mentioned Ireland and Scotland. He then said France and Germany. I crunched up my face and said “Who would want to visit Germany?” I had no desire to visit the land of Hitler and the holocaust. That sounds mean, but I couldn’t think of any other thing in Germany besides Oktoberfest, and I’m not a big beer fan.

However, with films like Schindler’s List and Valkyrie, more and more information about the German resistance during World War II has been coming to the surface. I have seen several documentaries on the History channel lately on this exact subject. I know it’s been a long time since I was in school, but I don’t remember a huge amount of information about German’s fighting against Hitler. Not that I blamed them since it generally meant certain death. He ruled by fear, not necessarily because everyone agreed with him.

Recently, I read an article about German college students who were angry because they also felt like Germany would never crawl out from under Hitler’s shadow. That made me think, maybe they’re right. Is it fair for me to judge modern day Germany based on Hitler’s madness? It reminded me of when I was in college and working with Japanese exchange students. They never failed to ask me what I thought about the WWII bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. None of us were even born then, so why would they want to know what I thought about it? Ding. Light bulb moment. I realized I was doing the same thing by judging Germany for something that happened before many of its current residents were born.

All of this came back to me the other day when I was at Starbucks. I was standing in line behind two women. One woman ordered and went to sit down. The other lady started to order, and I could tell she had a German accent. The man behind the counter asked her where she was from. The conversation went like this:

“I’m from Germany.”

“I have always wanted to visit Germany.” Starbucks guy said.

“You should. It is very beautiful.” She said with a big smile.

“Yeah, and I could see all the holocaust sites.”

“What?” she said, smile fading.

“You know; the holocaust.”

“Yeah, but you should come for Oktoberfest. There is a lot of food and beer.” She replied smiling again.

“And Auschwitz.” Dumbass Starbucks guy said. When she just stared at him, he continued to dig his socially inept hole by saying, “Auschwitz, the concentration camp. Did I pronounce it right?”

She mumbled “Yes” before paying and going to sit with her friend. 

I approached the counter and he gave me a big smile, but I wasn’t having it. “Dude, you need to go apologize. I’m not even German, and I was offended. Auschwitz and the holocaust? Is that the best you could come up with?” He looked surprised. I don’t know if he apologized or not. He was a lot younger than I am, so the problem is still very real.

In truth Germany has one of the strongest economies in the Euro. If you ask my husband, the car fanatic, it is the home of Audi, Volkswagon, Opal, the Autobahn and Nürburg-Ring race course. It is also the home of great beer and food, beautiful sites, museums and art, and amazing architecture. There is so much more to Germany besides war. 

On a more personal note, I have something to be thankful for from Germany. My husband looks like his father with dark hair and brown eyes, but his mother is of German descent. So my honey is part German and our kids have beautiful blue eyes and blonde hair. So yeah, I need to move on. Go Germany!


  1. Great blog. As a born Jew, I suppose I have every right to hold a grudge against the Germans. But most forget that a lot of the Jews that Hitler killed were German Jews. The point is, this is not about Germany. It is about one crazy lunatic and what he did. It has really nothing to do with Germany. In the same way that slavery wasn't about blacks and whites persay. It was about a few whites who were as crazy as Hitler and all the rest who really could not fight against that, as you pointed out with Hitler. The past is the past. As the Jews say "never forget" have to remember to live and and not dwell on what happened in the past.

    1. That's a great point Mark, it really was about Hilter and many of the Jewish people who were killed were also Germans. I had many older relatives who fought in the war, so I heard a lot of negative comments about the Germans and the Japanese growing up. I didn't even think about how that had influenced me. I agree with what you said it is important to remember what happened, but we need "to remember to live and not dwell on what happened in the past." Thanks Mark.

    2. Sadly, there will always be people who rule like Hitler.

  2. Great post, Michelle. You have definitely given me something to think about. Isn't it interesting how our points of view can twist or frame events?


    1. It really is interesting. I'm sorry it has taken me so long to reconsider my point of view.

  3. You should also be thankful for your German BFF!!! My last name couldn't be more German if it was holding a beer and eating kraut!!! I've always wanted to go there to see where my peeps are from.