Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Blood Memories of Europe in Crisis

British and German heads of state met this week to bridge the gap between them and “tried to paper over divergent views on European policy that have sparked a war of words between politicians and media in both countries.”

For someone who lived through World War II, the picture of David Cameron entreating Angela Merkel conjures up Neville Chamberlain trying to appease Hitler—-and failing to stop the slaughter of millions of innocents.

Such blood memories may be impossible for most Americans to understand now, but those who can still bear witness are haunted by a history we have largely suppressed in order to live in our own time. Fairness is not part of the equation.

My own response was to Netflix a movie I have resisted watching—-about the theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who came of age when Nazis took over Germany and, as a devout Pacifist and proponent of Christian morality, opposed both a murderous regime and his compliant fellow ministers. He was finally imprisoned for taking part in a plot to assassinate Hitler and hanged only weeks before V-Day.

Cheap grace,” wrote Bonhoeffer, denouncing the comfort his Church was conferring on believers while turning a blind eye to the inhumanity of Nazis, "is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance...absolution without personal confession.”

In that film, seas of adoring Germans heiling Hitler’s rants provide a contrast to my memories of fighting through Germany as a foot soldier, seeing stragglers in ragged stripes, dazed gaunt figures wandering the roads and being picked up by Army trucks. We knew who they were.

During the days of Occupation, working with German civilians, I never met one who would admit to knowing about those concentration camps.

Yet, in contrast to the punitive post-World War I era that created an impoverished nation and opened the way the way for Nazi nationalism, the U.S. poured billions into Germany under the Marshall Plan and underwrote a recovery that led to the strongest economy in 21st century Europe.

Today’s crisis is a long, long way from that era and Angela Merkel is certainly no Nazi, but Germany’s foot-dragging as investors bail out of European bonds is threatening economic collapse.

Those of us with long memories would be comforted by seeing a former enemy recall Bonhoeffer’s warnings about cheap grace.

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