Face to face: Never again

  • Focus
  • Sunday, 15 Dec 2019

What young Malaysians need to learn from Germany is to learn from history, says the German Ambassador to Malaysia.

WHEN German Ambassador Nikolaus Graf Lambsdorff heard about the actions of a Malaysian graduate who gave a Nazi salute at his convocation ceremony recently, he was shocked.

For most Germans, either the denial or the praise of the Holocaust is one of the worst things that could happen.

“It’s unthinkable for us. You cannot do that. It’s a criminal offence in Germany. I was simply shocked, I knew immediately this could not stand and I had to do something, ” he says.

The embassy issued a statement condemning the incident on its Facebook page last week, which became their most popular post to date.

The post was inundated with various comments – mostly positive.

In Germany, the Swastika and other Nazi symbols are banned while those found guilty of the Nazi salute face a fine or even jail term.

As Lambsdorff highlights, a few days ago, a German man was fined 600 euros (RM2,760) by a local court in Cologne for making the Nazi salute, which is a tribute to dictator Adolf Hitler.

“The judge said this was a serious crime and must not happen again. I understand that for outsiders, for some Malaysians, it may be hard to understand why this would be a serious crime. To us, it is, with our history. To praise Adolf Hitler for killing Jews in an industrialised, planned, strategic way is a serious crime, ” says Lambsdorff.

The graduate of Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) explained that his salute was in protest over what he believed was the Jewish dominance of the world.

He also expresses his support for the Palestinians in Gaza as well as his resentment at the Jews and went as far as to support the cruel actions of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust. The student then ended his post with the hashtags #SaveGaza and #Pray4Palestine.

“To us Germans, the very simple message that we learnt from our history is two words – never again. This is why we are allergic to anything that looks like genocide. It doesn’t matter who is affected, whether in Myanmar with the Rohingya or what Pol Pot did in Cambodia, ” says Lamsdorff, who has been in Malaysia for more than two years.

The Holocaust was the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million European Jews by the Nazi regime.

Based on Hitler’s book Mein Kamf (My Struggle), the Nazis believed that the Germans were superior to everyone else.

Lambsdorff concedes that he has heard people in Asia saying that people should be glad about what Hitler did to the the Jews and that this sort of methods could be applied to other specific ethnic groups.

“Can you imagine that – it’s the meanest thing you can probably say. There are very few people who would say that but it has happened to me. Most of these people don’t really know what they are talking about, ” he says.

While Jews were the main targets of Hitler and the Nazi party, other minorities such as homosexuals, the disabled, and Gypsies were targeted as well.

There are, however, Malaysians who justify Hitler’s actions on the Jews by saying that the Palestinians are victims of atrocities committed by the Israeli state.

“That’s a rather absurd comparison. First of all, the Holocaust is a singular event in size. Six million people were killed. Nothing like that had ever happened before – a systematic way to kill millions of people – it sounds awful and it is awful, in an industrialised way. They invented all sorts of methods to kill Jews, ” he says.

These methods included mass shootings and the use of gas chambers.

Adds Lambsdorff, Germany believes in international law for the basis of states living next to each other.

“We try to help avoid or stop wars, that is one of the main goals for German foreign policy. This has been the case since the Second World War. That’s another lesson we learnt, war is never a solution. We will never support a policy that only leads to more violence and more wars, ” he says.

Lambsdorff is of the view that it is up to both Israel and Palestine to sort out their problems, although he admits that it sounds a lot easier than being done.

“We, especially lately, have been rather critical of what the Israeli government has been doing, especially in occupied territories.

“But, to us, it is quite important to make clear that while we take the right to criticise any government including Israel, we will never doubt Israel’s right of existence.

“At the same time, we do quite a lot to help the Palestinians. We are a major part of UN missions who work in the territories. We have always fought terrorism, and of course in the past, one source of terrorism was Palestine. It’s not a coincidence that we have an embassy in Israel and an office in Palestine. Relations with both of them are good. There are limits to what we can do to get the two to get along with each other, but we are trying, ” he says.

History sticks with you, whether you like it or not, Lamsdorff notes.

“We have been and continue to try to live down our history. I could claim that I was too young, what do I have to do with it? A lot to do with it, not because I happen to be a diplomat but because I’m German. We cannot shake it but what we can do is try to learn from it. We can warn others not to make mistakes that we made. That didn’t always work. We couldn’t stop Pol Pot in Cambodia. There were other killings in Africa or Asia, but we do try to help the victims. We first teach our own people in schools our history and why it happened. The everlasting question is how it could be possible in a democracy; Germany was a democracy before the war and before Adolf Hitler came to power and did what he did.”

As for the UMS graduate, Lambsdorff says he would like to meet him if there is an opportunity and if he is willing to talk and listen.

“We have every interest to tell as many people about the Holocaust and the lessons from it. He obviously took the completely wrong lessons, ” he notes. “We are trying to tell others, whoever is willing to listen and this is why we have a articulate interest in the rule of law, in democracy and human rights anywhere in the world including in Malaysia.

“For us Germans, GE14 as a democratic, totally peaceful, change of power was fantastic. It shows that Malaysia is a maturing democracy; that something like this happened in faraway Asia, gives us hope. It’s proof of what can be done and achieved, ” he adds.

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