Speech Commemorating the Night of the Pogrom of November 9, 1938
The speech has been shortened.
[ . . . ]
Mr. President, Mr. President of the Bundestag, Mr. Chancellor, I alone am responsible for what I am about to say, not “all Jews.” Just as Mr. Walser alone is responsible for his speech and not “all Germans.” The latter cannot be true, for then I, too, would be responsible for Walser’s speech. Let me begin, however, with a statement by the historian Fried, who said these words during his opening remarks at the 42nd Deutscher Historikertag*: “Whoever tries to escape history will fail in the long run.”
I have been criticized by many; it was said that I went too far in my criticism of Walser and that I misunderstood him. Martin Walser is one of the leading writers of the postwar republic and is a man of words. He must therefore accept that his language and his style will receive more attention than the language and style of a mere mortal like myself.
I don’t know what there is to interpret in his statement that he had to learn to look away, that he is well-practiced in deflecting his thoughts, and that he cannot participate in the disqualification of repression. Here, Walser is clearly speaking for a culture of looking away and of not thinking, which was more than customary under National Socialism and to which we must not become accustomed again today.
We must all confront history, and that includes watching movies not only about Goethe or Bismarck, but also about the period of National Socialism. We also study the history of the Thirty Years’ War and the history of the Vormärz revolution of 1848; naturally, we take pleasure in the biographies of Goethe, Schiller, Beethoven, or Bismarck. All of this is part of German history. But it also includes Hitler and Himmler. One cannot search out only the pleasant sides of one’s history and repress the unpleasant ones. Whoever is unwilling to address this part of history, and instead prefers to deflect his thoughts or forget, must be aware that history can repeat itself.
This shame was there, period, and will not disappear by wanting to forget, and it is “intellectual arson” if anyone sees in it an instrumentalization of Auschwitz for present purposes. Those are the kinds of assertions that usually come from right-wing party leaders. Society has gotten used to having such statements and assertions come from the right-wing camp. But if someone who belongs to the intellectual elite of the republic makes such a claim, it carries a very different weight. I don’t know anyone who invokes Frey or Deckert**, but now right-wing extremists, too, will most certainly invoke Walser.
* Deutscher Historikertag: an annual professional meeting of German historians – trans.
** Gerhard Frey, head of the right-wing extremist party German People’s Union [Deutsche Volksunion or DVU], and Günter Deckert, chairman of the National Democratic Party of Germany [Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands or NPD] from 1991-96; Holocaust denier; in jail from 1995-2000 – eds.