Americans Can Learn from Germany’s Example

Erasing history is not the answer

Ryan Frankel, Staff Writer

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Recently, Americans have been wrestling with the controversy involving the removal of statues that depict the Confederacy. Racism has always been a problem in our country, and instead of dividing over this issue, Americans should come together and learn from our past.

The American people could learn a lot from the Germans: In Germany, the people recognize their past mistakes and educate others about the realities of German history. School children study the Holocaust and take field trips to learn more. When I was fifteen-years-old, I participated in a four-week exchange to Düsseldorf, Germany, where I stayed with a host family and went to school. One day, we went on a field trip into Düsseldorf and studied the world’s largest decentralized memorial, Die Stolpersteine, which is also known as the Stolpersteine Project. Translated as “Stumbling Stones,” the memorial includes gold-coated stones that highlight the name of a person who died during the Holocaust. These stones are placed outside buildings, where people and families lived before they were captured by the Nazis.

The purpose of the Stolpersteine Project is to commemorate people who lost their lives in cities across central Europe. These stones are like no other: they are placed higher out of the ground so someone can occasionally “stumble” upon them and read the information on the stone. Today, there are over 56,000 stolpersteine laid in 22 European countries, and the number continues to grow.

We can never forget the six million lives lost during World War II, and we must continue to study and understand this harsh history. I talked to a student at Comenius Gynasium, my exchange student’s school, about why it’s important to learn from our past. “Today, people [Americans] need to understand that what happened to Germany was in the past–that wasn’t us!!” she said. “This is the new Germany, and it’s different from the old one. We need to come together to solve our problems and learn from our mistakes.”

After the events in Charlottesville, state and local governments are removing statues and monuments that symbolize the Southern Confederacy. Removing these statues won’t do anything to help because we can’t erase history. We need to learn from it.  We need to understand how we got here and what forces shaped our country’s current status. In Germany, they didn’t tear down Auschwitz or other concentration camps. The Germans turned them into memorials, so people could learn from the past. If local governments in the United States remove Confederate statues, what’s the use? If they put the statues in museums or local historic sites, people will be able to educate themselves about the stains of our past.


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Americans Can Learn from Germany’s Example