How the Nazi Flags in Charlottesville Look to a German

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tags: Nazis, Charlottesville, Trump



As we watched the news stream in from Charlottesville over the weekend, it wasn’t the violence that shocked my fiancée the most. She was born and raised in Germany, a nation whose citizens are all too familiar with Nazism and terrorism. Nor did her face go slack with disbelief at the footage of right-wing militiamen marching through the streets of Charlottesville with automatic weapons. What got to her was the Nazi flag, which at least one of the demonstrators carried openly in the streets. “How is that even legal?” she asked me.

It wouldn’t be in Germany. Soon after the end of World War II, the Germans banned swastikas and other Nazi emblems, and the German people, not to mention the police, do not tend to react well when the symbols of that era are put on display. Hours before the clashing demonstrations started in Charlottesville on Saturday, an American tourist in the German city of Dresden got punched in the face by a local for drunkenly throwing the Hitler salute. Less than two weeks earlier, two Chinese tourists in Berlin made the same gesture while taking a photo in front of the Reichstag; they were promptly arrested and could face a fine or up to three years in prison.

That’s not to say Germany has fully rid itself of homegrown fascism; according to research by the Anti-Defamation League, a U.S.-based advocacy group for civil rights, some 16% of Germans are still “infected with extensive anti-Semitism,” and slightly more than half of them believe that Jews talk about the Holocaust too much. But as a nation, Germany has reckoned with the evils (and the symbols) of its past much more honestly and thoroughly than the U.S. has done with the history of slavery, for instance, or the atrocities committed against Native Americans.




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