Germany’s kindness isn’t about guilt – it’s about humanity
I was having lunch with some English friends yesterday and one of them, a man in his fifties, said: “Germany’s response to the refugees has completely changed my view of the Germans. I used to think they were a cold heartless bunch.”
As a German who grew up in the UK I was a bit taken aback by his barbed compliment. I had thought Germany’s image had mollified over the years. But this was a gradual transformation looking for an image. And in the welcoming scenes in Munich and Frankfurt it has found one.
Watch: Hundreds of migrants and refugees are greeted with cheers and singing in Germany after an epic journey https://t.co/R4vrVRduXg
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) September 6, 2015
Refugees are nothing new in Germany. The country took in over half a million in the first year of the Yugoslav wars in the early nineties. My own parents became refugees at the end of the war when 14 million Germans were pushed out of their homeland after it became Poland.
But in the years following the war German refugees understandably kept a low profile. Guilt left no room for pity. The question I get asked most is whether the outpouring of welcome is due to the war and a lingering sense of collective guilt. I think that’s only part of the story and perhaps no part at all with the younger generation.
I put this to a volunteer doctor in a Berlin camp last week called Nachtigall, Nightingale. She was in her thirties and she was taken aback by the question and said: “No it’s the just the right thing to do.”
To put Germany’s mass kindness of strangers down to the war is a way of exonerating other countries for not doing enough. It becomes a question of German exceptionalism when this is surely about a common humanity. Germans are also realistic enough to know that not everyone is welcoming the refugees, that neo Nazi thugs especially in the East are using this to mobilise fear and loathing against outsiders.
The German CDU MP who is hosting two Eritreans in his home and did so long before it became as fashionable as the ice bucket challenge has even received death threats for his gesture. The picture is not all Disney for Germany.But so far a quorum of ordinary Germans and political leaders have done the descent thing and that makes me proud. The numbers will test those attitudes.
The government is nervous and there could still be a backlash. But a month ago Angela Merkel was reviled as the dominatrix of Greece and within the last week that image had been overturned.
What’s more Germany, a country with a shrinking population is getting perhaps the most desirable refugees anywhere. Educated, middle class Syrians, who have proved their resilience on the odyssey from the Middle East. That also goes for the Eritreans, Afghans or Nigerians I have met. They may not all be genuine refugees. But having made it across deserts and oceans they are surely a resourceful and resilient bunch.
We are lucky to have many of them. Just how many is the trickiest question of them all.
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