A cemetery in Austria is the latest location to face a ban on something historically relevant. It’s not the Confederate flag, or even something designed by a 12-year-old. This time, it’s the Nazi symbols attached to the gravestones of some of Hitler’s former soldiers.
But if the reports are correct, I’m afraid that this is yet another disturbing erasure of history, and indeed it should offend those who fought the Nazis to think that their actions can so easily be whitewashed.
Let’s face it, no one – or maybe, hardly anyone – goes to a cemetery in Austria to revere the former Nazis. Frankly, the oldest, living, next generation relatives of former soldiers are entering their later years now. If you were born in 1945, you’re now 70 years old. There’s very little chance that you’re going to mount a successful beer hall putsch against the Austrian government, induced by a symbol on your father’s grave.
And for the Neo-Nazis – and there are some – who still cling onto those bygone days when the “trains ran on time”, removing the symbols won’t deter them, in the same way that banning pornography won’t make people any less horny.
“It’s disgusting and a nuisance that [the SS symbol] is on public display. For a long time I’ve been hoping that this insignia would be removed but nothing has happened,” Uwe Sailer told the Kurier newspaper.
Of course its disgusting. It’s a symbol of fascism and national socialism. But letting these people – Gisbert Katzwendel, and Friedrich Katzwendel – off the hook isn’t going to change history, and it isn’t going to erase the fact that the Holocaust happened, or that Germany tried multiple times to military take over Europe, before it realised it could do it economically and bureaucratically instead.
I understand there is a law in Austria preventing such symbols being displayed. But that law was only applicable to things created after 1947, when the legislation came into effect. I worry that sooner or later, we’ll just end up in a situation where we continuously whitewash human history, papering over the mistakes and disgraces of the bad guys, leading to a situation where history will happily repeat itself because we’ve failed to learn the lessons and refuse to keep reminding ourselves.
In a week where Iran – a state sponsor of terrorism that wants to wipe the Jewish state ‘off the map’ – has been given a hefty cheque which even the U.S. State Department acknowledges may be spent on terror, this is indeed a terrifying prospect.
Human errors, grotesque as they may be to encounter, and remember, should not be confined to the memory holes of modernity. I want to know who the Nazis were. I want to remember the havoc, murder, and distress they caused to an entire world, and an entire race. And I want to honour those who fought against them, and mourn those who lost their lives to their ideology.
Because if we don’t remember the villains, then it won’t be long before we’re also forgetting the victims. And what did we once promise? “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”