Germany's welcoming of refugees is sending out a strong signal to the rest of Europe and the world. But there's hard work ahead in a country that knows the weight of history.
BERLIN — Photographs of three children, variously heartrending and touching, have helped bring us closer to the truth: the dead Syrian boy washed up on the beach; the girl with the black curly hair and the soft smile at the Munich train station; the blond boy holding a "Welcome" sign...
It is these images that remind us of what we often try to push away: Being born in a modern and peaceful country is neither an acquisition nor an accomplishment. It's pure luck.
What we're witnessing in Germany suggests that perhaps many people are beginning to realize this. Germany's willingness to help desperate refugees has brought us admiration from around the world. Instead of running down streets holding torches and hounding people who have fled war to save their very lives, we are ready to share, ready to help.
This is encouraging, and we should proud of it. But let's remember what ushered in this euphoric wave of aid and goodwill: It was these pictures of children, this documentation of defenseless innocence, that pushed us to act.
Risks and dangers
With all the spontaneous emotion in this country, we shouldn't forget how long we, especially the government, have pushed this problem aside. We shouldn't forget either the shameful conditions that many of Germany's refugees are currently living in, and the remarkable commitment to refugee aid that civil society has proven.
Why should we face our government's failures in this current moment of euphoria? Because our biggest challenge still lies ahead of us. Winter is coming, and hundreds of thousands of desperate people will hurry towards the gates of Europe, no matter the quota Brussels might have agreed upon.
As evidenced by what happened Saturday night in Hungary, we won't be able to simply stand on the sidelines when a humanitarian catastrophe is in the offing. What is about to come doesn't have anything to do with iconic images of children. It will be difficult and unpleasant work. Huge integration efforts will be demanded, and will include risks and dangers. And refugees themselves will also face the enormous challenge of integrating in a new society.
Germany's part in this challenge may make it a role model, and it may even change Europe. We can prove that we are capable of even more than economic miracles and summer fairytales. We have no need to worry: If there is a country capable of this, then it must certainly be modern Germany with its people, economic power and sense of history.