It is an unusual anniversary of the end of the World War this year in Berlin. Who would want to lay wreaths with Russian officials at the Red Army memorials in Treptow and Tiergarten when modern-day Russia is waging a brutal war in Ukraine?
The commemoration in the Karlshorst Museum is also canceled – the place where Hitler’s generals signed the unconditional surrender on the night of May 8th to 9th, which the western powers commemorate on May 8th and the Russians on May 9th. This emptiness is particularly bitter.
Because there, in the years before Putin’s attack, efforts were being made to commemorate the World War, the German crimes on the Eastern Front and the liberation of Germany in a new, more honest way: a German-Russian-Ukrainian commemoration that included the perspective of the non-Russian peoples of the Soviet Union .
Good and evil are not always clearly divided
The broad historical lines do not follow black-and-white schemes in which the roles of good and evil are forever clearly divided – even if state propaganda often pretends to be so. Real history is full of ruptures and contradictions.
It is precisely these ruptures that offer occasions to question the habitual views of history. But they do not justify replacing one blindness with another.
In view of the Russian war crimes in Ukraine, it would be questionable to toast with Putin’s representatives to international friendship as a lesson learned from the world war. However, the Ukraine war is also not a good argument to forget the role played by the Soviet Union in Hitler’s liberation. Nor does it take anything away from German guilt for monstrous war crimes.
A view of history that only sees current Russian guilt would be just as dishonest as the commemoration imposed by Moscow for decades, in which the Hitler-Stalin Pact was not mentioned. And in which it was omitted that in September 1939 Poland was attacked from two sides, by Hitler in the west and shortly afterwards by Stalin in the east.
The Soviet view of history was a lie by omission. It focused on the victorious power at the end of the war and Russia’s role in the Soviet Union. Complicity at the beginning of the war was suppressed. What was suppressed was that the main Soviet victims of the war were Ukrainians and Belarusians – and also the contribution of non-Russian soldiers to the victory over Hitler.
Honesty requires looking at the whole story. Not only on May 8th and 9th. But for Germans especially on these two days. And on September 1st, when Germans started the world war.