BERLIN – Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called on Friday for a democratic patriotism across the country on a date that combines three important anniversaries: the centennial of the proclamation of the Weimar Republic, 80 years since the anti-Semitic pogrom known as the “Night of Broken Glass” that marked the start of the Holocaust and the 29th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Steinmeier said during a commemoration at the Bundestag (the lower house of the German parliament) that Germans should be proud of the traditions of freedom and democracy without losing sight of what he described as “the abyss” of the Holocaust – the systematic extermination of millions of Jews, left-wingers, LGBT, Roma and other minorities by the brutal Nazi regime (1933-45).
“Nationalism embellishes one’s own past and evokes a perfect old world that never existed as such,” Steinmeier said, adding that a “democratic patriotism, however, is not a pillow on which to rest, but rather a constant stimulus for those who want a better future.”
Those who spurn human rights and despise democracy by appealing to the nationalist hatred of yore have no historical right to the colors of the German flag (black, red and gold) that represent democracy, the rule of law and freedom, the president added.
He described Nov. 9 as an ambivalent date in German history with many contradictions.
The revolution that put an end to the Second German Empire (1871-1918) by forcing the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II after the defeat in World War I was a profound historical breakthrough and a milestone for German democracy, Steinmeier said.
The 1918 November Revolution laid the groundwork for the modern welfare state, with a republican constitution and the birth of true parliamentary democracy that ushered in the ill-fated Weimar Republic, which nonetheless faced devastating war reparations, an unemployment crisis and rampant hyperinflation, eventually giving way to Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, the darkest era in German history.
It was the Nazi regime that on the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938, launched a pogrom targeting Jewish establishments and places of worship that was carried out by the SA’s “Brownshirt” paramilitary forces and thousands of civilians.
Known by the infamous name “Kristallnacht” – in reference to the countless shards of broken glass littering the country’s streets the morning after – around 100 Jewish citizens were murdered that night, while homes, schools, hospitals and shops were ransacked by mobs with sledgehammers and torches.
Steinmeier also paid homage to the men and women that took to the streets on Nov. 9, 1989, and started to climb and tear down the border wall that at the time separated the traditional German capital, paving the way for the reunification of East and West Germany that transformed it into the European powerhouse it is today.
“It was the happiest ninth of November in German history,” the president concluded.