Monday, July 23, 2018

Perhaps it’s Time to Dust off that Aryan Certificate

When my grandmother with three kids in tow ran away from the advancing Russian tanks in 1945, she took crucial papers with her. Bank information, her POW husband’s WWI medals – and the Aryan certificate. The Nazis required civil servants, soldiers and other people crucial to the state to prove that at least from January 1, 1800 onwards, there had been no Jews in their family tree. I don’t know what she was thinking at the time, but the document, the war medals, letters from that period, photos and a lock from my grandmother remain in a metal box in my mother’s attic.

I don’t know what I am supposed to think about that but the issue of Mesut Özil’s resignation from the German national soccer team does make me wonder whether that document might come in handy again at some point. At least for me. I am not so sure about my wife and kids, given their Indian ancestry.

When we moved to Munich after 20 years abroad, we came at around the same time as the country opened its borders for Syrian refugees. Munich was a crucial transit point and the world media showed pictures of Germans welcoming families who had just arrived. The city become so involved that the agencies soon ran out of jobs for volunteers. Fast forward to today — what a difference an chaotic EU asylum policy can make. 

Bavaria passed a law to embellish state offices with crosses. Austria just stopped producing Turkish versions of the theoretical driver’s test. Mind you, not the English, Croat or Slovene editions even though Turkish is the second most requested version after German. Right-wingers in Germany shout “let them drown” referring to mostly African refugees who try to cross the Mediterranean. And now that the country thoroughly embarrassed itself during the soccer world cup it’s all one man’s fault: Mesut Özil. This sentence summarises his letter of resignation best: “I am a German when we win and an immigrant when we lose.”

What is frightening is that he has received abuse not just from right-winged nutters but from the establishment. A politician from the left leaning SPD called him a “goat fucker”, the head of the German Theatre in Munich tweeted Özil should sod off to Anatolia. 
When I went to school back in the ‘70s and ‘80s they drummed Germany’s Nazi history into me in every subject but math and physics. There was always an angle to teach about the horrors of the holocaust, the Nazi ideology, about burning books and about Martin Niemöller’s “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not A Socialist […]” 

Another ubiquitous phrase was “Beware the Beginnings” and it fits neatly to Niemöller’s poem which ends with the line “Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me”.

This puts into perspective some of the little things my wife experiences a lot of time. From “When do you go back home again?” to being completely ignored by the sales staff at department stores (I am calling on you Oberpollinger) because the tall blond blue-eyed busty customer next to my petit wife required everyone’s attention. She was born in Germany and probably knows more classic German Folksongs than I do — but she doesn’t look German, you know. So sometimes she tells me to handle stuff because "you're the one with the white face". These are the beginnings whether you want it or not. A million little issues leading to things suddenly becoming acceptable. 

On my way to Munich’s city center I pass the Scholl Siblings Place almost every day. Hans and Sophie were brave enough to speak out against the Nazis and were executed in 1943. To me it is a stark reminder of what is at stake. They also had a vision for a united Europe, another aspect a lot of people should remember.

I may be overdoing it with the Aryan Certificate — but I know where it is in case I need it.


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