Wunsiedel is a small German town not far from the border with Czechia, which carries with it the burden of being a place for neo-nazi pilgrimage.
Why present day nazis are interested in this particular East German town is irrelevant for this story.
What is awesome is how locals have reacted to these unwelcome guests that insist on visiting their town each year. Instead of confronting them in anger or repulsion (which would be understandable) they chose the path of pacifism and fun (and reverse psychology).
Upon arrival, the neonazis started being met with joyful faces and streets adorned with glitter, confetti and silly string. The counter protests started in 2004, making sure that anywhere the neonazis went, a colorful party of diversity and happiness erupted.
In 2005, the neonazi march was banned. Small groups of baldhead-and-army-booted youths continued to show up every year though, inspiring Wunsiedelonians (?) to take their counteractions to the next level
In 2014 they reached level “truly epic” when they turned something that initially was being referred to as the yearly Nazi Memorial March into the Most involuntary walkathon.
At the beginning of the route paint was applied on the road, signalling this was “the START”, in the same way this would be present at a marathon.
Colorful banners unfolded as the neo-nazis passed by, thanking them for their contributions to the good cause… I’m sorry, what?
Yes, Wunsiedel had turned the march into a sponosored walkathon, donating money for every meter the participants walked. The organization being funded with the money raised was an organisation called EXIT Deutschland.
EXIT Deutschland is there for people who have been part of a neonazi group but have decided to leave the hateful lifestyle behind them. Besides mental and financial help, Exiters often need protection from the people they used to call their friends. Also, you can imagine there might be tattoos that need removing (or covering up).
In short, EXIT was an awesome organization to sponsor with this most involuntary walkathon as it meant that with every step they took, they were essentially walking for the support of their defectors.
Check out the video below to see the whole thing unfold:
Supporters cheered as they reached “the finish line”. A large banner displayed the exact amount they had raised. They even received a cute little certificate, to remember their accomplishment of that day.
Newschannel Euronews has an item they show in between programs called “no comment“. It always shows images of some event but with no commentary. No translation. No explanation. Just images. For a couple of minutes you get to decide what is going on and if you think that’s OK or not. I always thought it was kind of cool. Perhaps it’s the closest you can get to objective journalism.
If the internet taught me anything though, it is that there is no such thing as “the truth”, nor is anybody ever completely impartial. The fact that the camera is pointing this way and not that can change the whole story. I try to be conscious of this fact when I read / watch any narrative.
This morning however, the internet gave me a shocker when I encountered the image seen below, among the likes of one of my FB friends. It really took me a while to process what I was seeing and reading and my initial reaction was anger. I asked the person who had liked the image (and he’s a family member, for crying out loud!) if he really believed this to be true. I asked him this, with the intention of deleting him from my account and from my life if he declared to my (cyber)face that he stood behind this statement.
I felt offended. Personally. I felt the legacy of my grandparents was being spat on and I couldn’t believe people were giving such a message a thumbs up. I felt it was unfair to hold me accountable for something that happened long before I was born. I felt it was wrong to put the Nazi horrors in the same sentence with what is happening in Palestine as if these things are somehow related. I hated the fact that I was being asked to disagree with Germans killing jews but to condone jews killing muslims (or vice versa for that matter).
Now that I’ve calmed down a bit I am trying to see if I can find the nuance in there somewhere, but I’m finding it quite difficult. All I can come up with is that I do understand that everyone has the right to defend themselves. My inner Ghandi however keeps popping out and poking at me with his walking stick and repeating his famous quote like a mantra:
UPDATE: Nuance found! I also decided to change the title of this blog and share a bit of the discussion I had on FB with the people that posted the controversial image.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, actually, and I still feel that the way this South African jewish organization formulated their message was way too strong., -and I can’t believe I am actually going to admit it,- BUT, I do understand where they were coming from now.
In their very elaborate response to my angry, slightly defensive rant, they asked me to bare two things in mind:
1. The Allies were fighting the German/Italian/Japanese Axis not because of what Hitler was doing to the Jews but because they were invading other countries.
2. The incredibly brave individuals who put their lives on the line to save Jews during the Holocaust were a minuscule minority.
I can’t deny any of this. It’s painful and it’s true.
The thing is, that I actually do believe that the world stood by and watched atrocities happen for way too long. Individuals breathed a sigh of relief as the horrors passed by their front doors (in other words, they were not jewish) and politicians dared not speak up and risk turning up on the losing end.
The world was stunned, like a deer in headlights. There was no protocol for this. No precedents or lessons learnt from previous occurrences that we could fall back on. We were slow to act. There must have been denial and heaps of mixed messages, making it so difficult to take a strong stand for the masses.
So yes, that surviving jews held grudges for the world’s passiveness: I get it… We didn’t step up until the Nazis started making life difficult for the rest of us, the non-jews. That’s offensive and no apology or compensation will ever mend those wounds.
But I don’t see us giving the Tutsi’s in Rwanda a free pass, nor have I heard them ask for one (or have they…? not even sure about that one, as the world cared even less about what happened to them than the jews’ ordeal and I haven’t really heard of them since)…
Another thing that has been bugging me is how this statement is not about the world not allowing jews to stand up for themselves. This whole image, without mentioning it ONCE, is actually about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I always struggle with political correctness here. Can you use Jew as a synonym for Israeli? I can imagine there are many jews that would disagree. Or non jews, for that matter. As a matter of fact, I know quite a few muslims that have no issues with jews or their faith, but do whole heartedly dislike Israelis. And then there are those referred to as zionists, who are the one’s that believe in and actually persue “the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland“
So in that sense, the first sentence in the image above refers to jews, but the second one refers to Israeli’s and more specifically, the zionists who are trying to establish their so called homeland on somebody else’s homeland.
So my conclusion is, I get it, but I still don’t think it’s OK at all…. but feel free to disagree!
My father has always had a strong aversion toward militarism. I could let all sort of psychological theories loose on the why and how of this sentiment, but that is not my point of today. I was brought up with his teachings and – all though his pedestal has crumbled here and there throughout the years, – I consider him to be one of the wisest men I know, especially when it comes to matters of the world. He is an incredibly informed and smart man, whose opinions I value highly.
I suppose it is because of my upbringing that parading soldiers give me the chills and even boy scouts make me cringe a bit, when they pride themselves in their uniformity. I am a true pacifist at heart. I don’t like seeing hummers in the streets, not only because they are ridiculously fuel inefficient, but most of all because they are originally army vehicles. I hate the fact that firearms even exist and so many of us have come to believe they are synonyms for safety or even justice. It breaks my heart.
(In that context, have you seen the “make love not war” commercials by Axe… man, if only….)
Not long ago I had a talk with someone who had a very different point of view. As representative of a national veteran organization his task was to praise and show respect to every form of military involvement to those that had served our country, be it on recent missions or in wars many decades ago. I remember him complaining about the choices our country was making in the face of the economic crisis. Of course cuts are being made all around, but our ministry of defense has had to hand over a great deal of its funding, with great consequences for our military.
I remember feeling a strong urge to contradict him, from the very first sentence. My thoughts and words were full of the necessity for education, unemployment, welfare and social programs. I remember him saying we might regret our choices at some point and I remember snapping back that it was more important to deal with problems that were actually truly affecting us now than worrying about some fear monger’s hypothetical war of the future.
I think I still stand behind those words, but I am starting to understand what he was saying. I think it’s a pity it took me so long to process his point of view, because it could have been a much more productive and interesting conversation, had I been more open to it.
With my father as an example, I have always tried to be well informed and involved in the worlds’ affairs. I am not completely sure if times are truly harsher or that my sensitivity to it has just grown but lately it’s been really getting to me. On the one side I want to stay aware, interested and engaged and not let the hopelessness and eternal stalemates of conflicts make me look away or become indifferent. Like a legendary Argentinian song by Leon Gieco says:
Sólo le pido a Dios
que la guerra no me sea indiferente,
es un monstruo grande y pisa fuerte
toda la pobre inocencia de la gente.
I only ask of God
That i am not indifferent to the battle,
It’s a big monster and it tramples hard
on all the poor innocence of people.
On the other side, the endlessness of it and the inhumanity of humans just really gets to me sometimes and I just can’t watch it any longer. This makes me feel guilty because I know there are people who can not switch it off. It is their reality and anything the TV shows them is an improvement compared to what goes on right outside their doors (if it hasn’t come crashing down through their roofs already…)
I think my slight change of heart came a couple of months back, after seeing an interview I also blogged about here. The world is changing and I have this uneasy feeling of chaos brewing around me. A sense of hate that is building, of tempers rising, of mobs growing. We all see it and our solution is to send in our army of politicians and diplomats. We analyze, we write reports, we understand its history and the possible outcomes. We have men in suits and ties, armed with laptops, blackberries and fountain pens and, oh man, I truly wish that would be enough but I know it is not going to bring us anywhere…
The time that we could say “not our problem” and retreat in our bubble of blissful ignorance seems to be ending. The conflicts of the Middle East are not only IN the Middle East. Our populations are built up of people of all ethnicities and our cultures have become entangled through migration and globalization. And then there is this new game we are playing with Russia. If it’s all just economics and politics, then our army of bureaucrats will do just fine. But if the “bare-chested one” has as much cojones as he claims, we might be in trouble…
The other day, one of the Transformers movies was on TV and for some reason (despite it being a terribly simplistic story with some pretty poor acting here and there) it made me so incredibly sad. All I saw was destruction, suffering and men getting traumatized. At the end I saw a victorious society, scarred for life by the traumas of war. If I were religious I would be praying for wisdom and tranquility, orworld peace, if you will… but I’m not… so now what can I do??