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Germany Confronts The Past


Since the end of the Second World War, Germany has increasingly come to terms with its Nazi past. A symbol of the Germans' willingness to confront the darkest moments of their history is the newly opened Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin.

Designed by Peter Eisenman, the memorial consists of more than two-thousand concrete pillars that appear to be sinking into the earth. To some, the pillars conjure up images of tombstones. Paved with uneven cobblestones, the path between the pillars slowly descends until views of the surrounding city fade from sight. Gray menacing pillars, like a prison camp, close in on the visitor. At the eastern edge of the memorial is the information center. Under its ceiling of recessed panels, visitors learn about the history of Nazi dictator Adolph Hitler's so-called Final Solution, the plan adopted in 1942 to systematically round-up and kill all European Jews. Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazi regime murdered some six-million Jews, a genocide that has since become known as the Holocaust.

Speaking on the anniversary of the end of the Second World War, German President Horst Koehler acknowledged his country's responsibility for the war and the Holocaust. "We Germans look back with shock and shame at World War Two, which was unleashed by Germany, and at the Holocaust, which was a breakdown of civilization for which Germans are responsible." Mr. Koehler said that, Germans "feel disgust and contempt for those who were guilty of these crimes against humanity and who dishonored our country."

It is important not only for Germany but for the rest of the world that the memory of the Holocaust be kept alive. As President George W. Bush said, the Holocaust "didn't happen in some remote or unfamiliar place; it happened right in the middle of the Western world. Trains carrying men, women, and children in cattle cars departed from Paris and Vienna, Frankfurt, and Warsaw. And the orders came not from crude and uneducated men, but from men who regarded themselves as cultured and well-schooled, modern, and even forward-looking. They had all the outward traits of cultured men -- except for conscience."

"In the end," President Bush said, "only conscience can stop [crimes like those committed under the Holocaust], and moral discernment and decency and tolerance. These can never be assured in any time or in any society." These virtues must be taught. And memorials like the one in Berlin can help educate the next generation, so that history's horrors will never be repeated.

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.

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