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November 10, 2006

Historical Day

Yesterday the opening of the new Synagogue in München (Munich) made the headline of the evening news on TV. Of course, November 9 is a historical day in Germany. As with all history there's good and bad in it. The good news is that with the completion of the synagogue the Jewish community is has found its place in Munich again. This day, 68 years ago, synagogues in Germany were set on fire and shop windows were shattered by members of the NSDAP. November 9 in 1939 marked the beginning of the darkest chapter in German history: the systematic expulsion and murder of the Jewish members of our society. It is something that must never be forgotten to prevent it from ever happening again.

After WWII Germany was divided into two parts, East and West Germany with the Western Allied Forces controlling the Western part and the Russians the East. Berlin, the former capital, formed a sort of island in East Germany. And even Berlin was divided into different sectors, the eastern part of Berlin again being controlled by the Russians. Without the generous help of the Western Allies West Berlin would never have had a chance to survive.

Then in 1961 the leaders of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) ordered a wall to be built right through Berlin separating the western from the eastern part. It was a very well planned undertaking. While the wall was built soldiers were preventing people from crossing it. Most of the wall was finished within one day and families and friends were separated. People who had gone to the other side in the morning could not return in the evening. Suddenly a frontier ran through the whole of Germany separating West and East.

All through my childhood we were never able to visit my father's relatives who still lived in the Eastern part of Germany and they were not allowed to visit us. Only people over 65, like my grandmother, were allowed to go to the West for a visit. The regime obviously didn't mind the pensioners coming over and not returning.

In 1989 the regime of the GR fell apart and on November 9, 1989, the wall finally fell. That was the first step towards and Germany's reunification. Only in theory, of course. If you keep people forcibly away from each other for 28 years they develop in different ways. The biggest catastrophe was that with the end of the Soviet Union the economy in East Germany had collapsed completely as they had been trading mainly with the Eastern States. It was the end of whatever industry there was in East Germany. Great numbers of people came to the West in search of jobs and employment. This resulted and large areas in East being deserted. Rebuilding the industry in the East has only been partly successful. It is an enormous task and a lot is still left to be done.

Ironically, yesterday also died Markus Wolf, the most famous spy of the GDR. He was prominent member of the MfS (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit), the most repressive instrument of the socialist regime. He was head of intelligence service for foreign countries, which included also West Germany. His masterpiece was placing his spy Günter Guillaume as the former Chancellor Willy Brandt's personal secretary. When Guillaume true identity was revealed Willy Brandt was forced to resign. Markus Wolf died without ever uttering a word of regret for what he had done or whom he had served. Instead, he made quite a bit of money with selling his biography to the media in the 90's and appearing in various talkshows. I sometimes wonder about the role the meida play in our society.

But the MfS was better known for spying on its own people, the inhabitants of East Germany and preventing them from fleeing to the West or gathering information from the western media like TV, newspapers or radio broadcasts. Nowadays, with modern communication devices like computers and internet at our disposal it seems quite unbelievable how a whole country could be kept in ignorance and isolation so effectively and for such a long time. When my grandmother came to visit us for the first time, which must have been sometime in the middle of the sixties, she asked my parents if we were still living in the British sector. By then sectors had not been in existence for years but people in the East were kept in total ignorance of developments in the West..

Trust politicians to make a mess of things. In 1989 promises about the development in the East were made to people there which could not be kept, of course. Likewise financial sacrifices were demanded of the people in the West, which were often only grudgingly given. The politicians somehow felt compelled to give these promises and Chancellor Helmut Kohl thought this a good opportunity to stay in power a bit longer.

Well, growing together again has not been easy. But now that almost a generation of post-wall-people has grown up again in East and West, our economy is taking a turn for the better at last and we even have Frau Merkel as Chancellor, who grew up in East Germany, and doesn't do too bad a job, there's hope that things will brighten up at last and we'll feel as one country again.

Posted by Mausi at November 10, 2006 10:24 PM

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Thanks for this very thoughtful insight. I will be marking the Armistice Day two minutes silence in the Abbey today and will keep your comments in mind as I do so. All the peoples of the world are the victims of the hubris of their own politicians at some time or another. WE should not forget that.

Posted by: The Gray Monk at November 11, 2006 08:23 AM