Two Sides to Every War

Germany accepts the guilt for Nazi atrocities and uses those historical events to present a commentary about the innate evil found within humankind. These events— the rise of Hitler, the formation of death camps, the persecution of the Jews—warn others that ordinary men are dangerously capable of committing horrific deeds. Of course, this is a valuable lesson on how easy it is to be sucked into the fervor of a political movement. However, this narrative also allows Germany to criticize their enemies from WWII without downplaying their own guilt.

A striking example of this is found in an exhibit on Nazi propaganda in the German Historical Museum:

German propaganda depicting French and Belgian occupiers in the Ruhr region as savage and animal-like.

The caption reads: “The occupiers’ brutality and arbitrary exercise of power were the central motifs of German propaganda. This imagery is barely distinguishable from the anti-German propaganda of the Entente from 1914-1918.” After World War I and the formation of the Treaty of Versailles, French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr region in Germany. By including this in the museum, the German curators point out the ugly truth that the Nazis were not the only occupiers of the 20th Century. The Versailles Treaty devastated Germany, a legacy which inspired German fear for the post-war world: “The Germans were afraid of having to submit to a peace treaty dictated to Germany and of severe punishments for the crimes committed in Europe.”

Furthermore, the museum emphasized the devastation of the German homeland. About 4 million German soldiers died during the war and few buildings remained after the final Allied assault. Germany did not benefit from Nazi atrocities and did endure its fair share of suffering at the hands of the Soviets and the Western Allies. However, including this information in the exhibits rounds out the viewer’s understanding of the German experience rather than shortchanging the suffering imposed by the Nazis. Germany is remembered as “evil” because of the Nazis, which alleviates the responsibility of the Allies to remember their own atrocities. Germany’s interpretation of the war gently reminds historians that victory does not erase moral culpability and that the Allies also share responsibility for the devastation of Europe.

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