When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Auschwitz Survivor Hails Germany's "Heroic" Stand On Migrants

Auschwitz survivor and University of California professor Ruth Klüger's address to the German parliament to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was stirringly relevant to today's great challenges.

Auschwitz survivor Ruth Klüger
Auschwitz survivor Ruth Klüger
Alan Posener

BERLIN — If ever we needed proof that our country is able to remember the victims of the Nazi era with dignity while looking optimistically into the future, it was provided during yesterday's Day of Remembrance that marked 71years since the liberation of Auschwitz.

Having begun with Bundestag President Norbert Lammert's admonition to be aware of the constant threat to liberty, it ended with Auschwitz survivor Ruth Klüger's appreciation of the "simple and heroic slogan, "We Can Do It!"" for Germany's unique efforts to respond to the refugee crisis. It was a lesson in history the likes of which every student in the country should behold.

When a 12-year-old Klüger arrived at Auschwitz by train from Theresienstadt, she was saved with a fib. She would have been gassed with most of her fellow prisoners had it not been for a woman who whispered in her ear to tell the Nazis she was 15 instead of 12. And that's why she was selected to die a slow death by slave labor rather than a quick one by asphyxiation.

But the liberation of Auschwitz prevented that untimely death. The then slight 12-year-old has become a still slight but confident 84-year-old. The literary scholar who, among other things, writes forDie Welt, reigned supreme during Wednesday's speech to the Bundestag, Germany's federal legislative body. She represents an entire generation that has suffered and survived so much, one that is nearly gone. But the suffering has not stopped.

Slow deaths

Some 13 million people were sentenced to hard labor in the German Reich, which constituted a quarter of all workers and employees at the time. Berlin alone had 3,000 collective accommodation sites for 500,000 workers. Everyone knew what was going on, Lammert remarked, but it wasn't until 40 years later that the Day of Remembrance was introduced.

And it was only in 2000 that Germany finally managed to establish the Foundation for Remembrance, Responsibility and Future, which has paid compensation to 1.5 million former slave laborers. Lammert characterized this as nothing more than a gesture, a token payment. But it's one that nonetheless was met with considerable resistance by many German citizens, who were of the opinion that there had to be an end to the paying of historical debt.

But, Lammert continued, there cannot be an upper limit to remembrance, no matter how heavy the burden. Every culture has to develop its own culture of remembrance, Lammert said. "This includes this and future generations and those who, for whatever reason, came to us in later years." We should be vigilant against inhumanity, anti-Semitism and racism, "which applies to all who live here."

Ruth Klüger began her speech by returning to the winter of 1944/45, to the women's concentration camp of Christianstadt, a smaller camp within the larger Gross-Rosen. The days immediately following her removal from Auschwitz and its "cadaver stench" were filled with "sheer bliss" to be alive, to see trees and the end of a deep-seated fear for her life. But soon thereafter cold and hunger crept in.

[rebelmouse-image 27089892 alt="""" original_size="824x562" expand=1]

Model of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp — Source: Lzur/GFDL

The women laborers had to do work whose meaning they didn't quite understand. Even reciting poems while working was considered "an act of sabotage." But Klüger was filled with a "childish, pre-feminist pride and defiance" about the fact that the Germans weren't able to get the Jewish women to march, or goose-step, to work the way they wanted them to. "Men were more willing to do so," she said.

Klüger acknowledged the accomplishments of the women laborers, "women of the middle classes, born around the turn of the century, who had relied on men to provide for and protect them," and who were now forced to fight against men who let them starve. The term "slave labor" doesn't even come close to accurately describing what these women experienced, she said, seeing as how the slave owner at least has an interest in keeping his property alive. But as long as the German raids continued, there was no shortage of slave laborers.

Klüger spoke of the "forced sexual labor" of female concentration camp prisoners who were delivered to "privileged" male prisoners. These women were victimized twice: Because they were not considered slave laborers, they therefore weren't entitled to compensation. Even the post-Nazi generation believed "the age-old prejudice that women were demeaned by intercourse."

Klüger recalled an incident in which she once witnessed a man queuing ahead of her in a shop in Göttingen, raging that "all these foreigners should be gassed, and politicians too, while we're at it." But even less brutal comments did and still do express the general wish to suppress the past.


But the lesson didn't end there. Klüger noticed with "amazement that turned into admiration" how Germany opened its borders and took in refugees, she said. This, she continued, was the main reason why she decided to speak to the Bundestag, despite the fact that she is skeptical about remembrance rituals.

She declared Germany's attitude towards refugees as "simple and heroic."

It would be so easy to criticize this particular remembrance event with a right-wing attitude in mind, because it ended with the popular communist front song "Peat Bog Soldiers," or because it was exploited to honor the chancellor's policies with lessons learned from the past.

But could it be that Germany is finally grown up enough to incorporate communism into its history without forgetting anti-communism? Could it be possible that, as Klüger said, we actually gain "global applause" for our refugee policies but only register the complaints within Europe? Could it be possible that a jolt will go through Germany after this event that will enable us to walk just a little bit taller? It could be.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


The Trudeau-Modi Row Reveals Growing Right-Wing Bent Of India's Diaspora

Western governments will not be oblivious to the growing right-wing activism among the diaspora and the efforts of the BJP and Narendra Modi's government to harness that energy for political support and stave off criticism of India.

The Trudeau-Modi Row Reveals Growing Right-Wing Bent Of India's Diaspora

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 Summit in New Delhi on Sept. 9

Sushil Aaron


NEW DELHICanadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has brought Narendra Modi’s exuberant post-G20 atmospherics to a halt by alleging in parliament that agents of the Indian government were involved in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian national, in June this year.

“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Trudeau said. The Canadian foreign ministry subsequently expelled an Indian diplomat, who was identified as the head of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s foreign intelligence agency, in Canada. [On Thursday, India retaliated through its visa processing center in Canada, which suspended services until further notice over “operational reasons.”]

Trudeau’s announcement was immediately picked up by the international media and generated quite a ripple across social media. This is big because the Canadians have accused the Indian government – not any private vigilante group or organisation – of murder in a foreign land.

Trudeau and Canadian state services seem to have taken this as seriously as the UK did when the Russian émigré Alexander Litvinenko was killed, allegedly on orders of the Kremlin. It is extraordinarily rare for a Western democracy to expel a diplomat from another democracy on these grounds.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest