Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Germans Are Too Generous

For a Jewish World War II veteran, it's comforting to learn from a New York Times OpEd that "There Are No Hurt Feelings in Germany."

Our new president, a German novelist reveals, is still much admired, even though "current warnings that Mr. Obama must inevitably disappoint the hopes we’ve placed on him will probably turn out to have been somewhat justified."

He goes on to explain: "People like my 75-year-old grandparents, who live in the countryside and have always thought and voted conservatively, are of the opinion that this presidency is off to a good start, as are nearly all of my friends here in Berlin.

"The announcements made and the measures undertaken in Washington in the past 10 weeks...have given rise to the impression that the new president means to turn his campaign promises into action."

This pompous generosity toward an African-American president does not sit well with someone who recalls how the author's forebears in 1936 were cheering another black man, Jesse Owens, in the Berlin Olympics for breaking records while their Fuhrer, disappointed in the failure of Aryan superiority, left the stadium to continue planning his slaughter of millions of Jews.

A decade later, as an infantry foot soldier seeing the skeletal survivors of that Holocaust and afterward working with and living among local townspeople to publish a regimental newspaper, I failed to meet a single German who would acknowledge let alone discuss what had been done.

Now, as that nation's leaders drag their feet in easing the global economic freefall, the same kind of selective memory dwells on the recent failures of America's financial system rather than the Marshall Plan generosity that restored German industry after World War II.

"Most of the people I’m in contact with, many of them intellectuals inclined to the humanities or the arts," the German Oped writer observes, "can comprehend only gradually and hesitantly the extent to which the economies of the world have become one inextricable tangle, and we never cease to be amazed at the level of irrationality present in the reactions of the institutions and individuals that play a part in the economic process. In us, it elicits a shrug expressive of something between cluelessness and resignation."

He may want to take a hard look back at his own country's long history of cluelessness and resignation before patronizing an American president for his personal qualities while worrying that he will "disappoint" German hopes.

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