Monday, April 24, 2006
Do apologies for behaviour during the Shoah matter?
How does one apologise for killing six million people? Destroying one third of one of the most ancient and contributing civilisations around today is no easy task. Many individuals and governments have sought forgiveness and many have tried to make amends. Manfred Gerstenfeld attempts to answer the question' if apologies are still relevant...
More than 60 years after the Shoah official apologies from countries and institutions which collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust still trickle in. Eastern European heads of state have almost turned these into a ritual when they visit Israel.
Why are formal apologies for misbehavior during the Holocaust so important? Some critics stress that those who apologize are not the ones who misbehaved. While that is true, they do represent the same institutions. Other critics say that many of the apologies made - for instance those during the restitution negotiations - were not morally motivated, but rather represented political pressure or fear of economic boycotts in the United States.
Yet other critics of apologies say that the main thing is to tell the history as it was. Stressing the painful truth once again - earlier this month - Austrian President Heinz Fischer said that the 1955 Declaration of Independence of his country falsely represented Austria as a victim of the Nazis rather than as a co-perpetrator of crimes.
Despite all criticism apologies by governments, institutions and companies for their wartime behavior remain extremely important. Once these have not only recognized their guilt, but have also offered apologies, a common basis of what is normative has been established. They constitute a clear declaration of irrevocable guilt toward their Jewish counterparts. These apologies will remain well-documented for future generations, after all Holocaust survivors have passed away.
At a time when the president of Iran and others, not only in the Arab and Muslim world, unashamedly deny the Holocaust while at the same time promoting a new one, official apologies - and the historic mark they make - assume an even greater importance than in the past.