BERLIN - In a recent appearance on German TV, former chancellor Helmut Schmidt repeated something he had already said earlier about Germans bearing more responsibility for Europe than other nations because of the “”industrial” killing of "six million Jewish fellow citizens."
Bulls**t. And on three counts. First of all, the overwhelming majority of Holocaust victims were not German “fellow citizens” but citizens of other countries. According to census figures, barely 500,000 Jews lived in Germany in 1933 – but that was a few too many for their “fellow Christian” citizens. Over 300,000 Jews emigrated, leaving about 200,000 in Germany on the eve of World War II, and when deportations began in 1941 there were only 163,000.
Secondly, Jews weren’t just killed “industrially.” This concept serves to mitigate blame – also for Schmidt, an officer in the armed forces of the Third Reich – by suggesting that it was just a question of pulling a few levers to set the conveyor belt of death in motion. In reality, millions of Jews were also shot, beaten to death, buried alive, or died as a result of slave labor, hunger, cold, sickness, torture, and forced marches.
And thirdly: if because of this historic guilt we as Germans bear more responsibility today than others then it’s not towards Europe – which manifested faint if any opposition to the murders – that we should feel responsible, but to the state of Israel.
Granted, Schmidt holds a different view – as early as 1978 he stated on another German TV show that Germany couldn’t maintain special relations with Israel permanently. In 1980, Schmidt said that Saudi Arabia was Germany’s "most important partner," after Europe and the United States, also because the Arabs were not burdened with all the "historical and moral baggage." To which cynics might add: and because they have lots and lots of oil.
But let’s erase that from the board, it’s all in the past. What is important now is that Germany actually does have a lot of excellent reasons for commitment to Europe – but the Holocaust is not one of them. And those like Schmidt who sprang to the defense of the unspeakable Günter Grass when he criticized Germany’s delivery of submarines to an allegedly war-mongering Israel should be a whole lot more careful in using that six million figure.