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Germany Continues to Face Past

January 13, 2010

Time is an odd bird. For me, at the beginning of a new decade in a now firmly established  century and broken-in millenium, as I reflect on the last ten years, I wonder, as prophesied by many an elder, where the time has gone. In a universe that, depending on who you ask, is anywhere between 6,000 and 14 billion years old, a decade is a mere  neutron floating around an atom on a molecule in the ink used to draw a timeline of all history. But in these modern times, with the advent of the horseless carriage, telegraph/cell phones, and the Internet, it is easy to have a skewed view of what “a long time” is.

Such was the case when I came across stories regarding two separate, although related, issues. One was a short snippet of an article stating that Germany still owes approximately $84 million in reparations from World War I bond holding creditors. The other, that Deutsche Bahn has been asked by the primary association for Polish concentration camp inmates for compensation from profits earned by DB’s predecessor, Deutsche Reichsbahn, from transporting prisoners in Poland during World War II.

My initial reaction to this was “This all happened a long time ago. Isn’t everybody just ready to move on?” But taking a step back, I realized the error in my assessment. No, it has not been that long since the bloody days of the two World Wars. It has not even been 100 years since the beginning of World War I, let alone the atrocities of the Holocaust and World War II.

The immediacy with which information can be gathered and news reported makes even the events of 9/11 in the US or 7/7 in the UK, seem, in some ways, part of a distant era, a different world. But the reality is the events that took place during that first half of the 20th century are still present in the hearts and minds of the remaining few who were there to experience the bloodshed and destruction and in the millions born post-bellum indirectly impacted by the wars. So, while forcing Germany to address events of the past they’d likely rather forget, it  is important to remember, that, in the grand scheme of things, what took place in the trenches in France and the camp at Auschwitz might as well have taken place yesterday.

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