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Why we need a discussion about Germany’s historical responsibility toward Ukraine

MP Beck at a Ukrainian event in Berlin. Photo:
Why we need a discussion about Germany’s historical responsibility toward Ukraine
Article by: Marieluise Beck

On June 20, an expert conference concerning Germany’s historical responsibility before Ukraine will be held inside the German Parliament. In the first half of July, a similar conference was held in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada. A month ago, in late May, a  parliamentary debate on the same subject took place in the Bundestag.

In Ukraine, some may wonder why discussions about Germany’s historical responsibility for the crimes of Nazism are still needed 72 years after the Second World War?

Propaganda tries to turn Ukraine from a victim of the bloody war into a Nazi accomplice
Nobody in Ukraine questions the facts of crimes committed by SS and Wehrmacht soldiers – their traces are still felt inside the country. Probably, stories of slave labor, ostarbeiters, hunger, massacres of the Jewish and Slavic populations are well known to each Ukrainian family.

However, the Ukrainian part of this story is largely forgotten in Germany.

The current Kremlin propaganda deliberately encourages the view that the aggressive war by Germany was waged only against Russia.

Moreover, propaganda even tries to turn Ukraine from a victim of the bloody war into a Nazi accomplice.

When millions of Ukrainians took to the streets to struggle for independence and freedom three years ago, innuendoes were spread alleging that the driving forces behind these protests are the “Banderite Nazis” and antisemites. Given the fact that we in Germany have lost sight of a part of our own history, this Kremlin propaganda found fertile soil in our country. For this reason, Ukraine’s fight for freedom and dignity since Euromaidan has often been observed with cool detachment from Germany.

Many people in Germany are aware that World War II began in 1939 when the Wehrmacht attacked Poland.

But the fact that two totalitarian systems divided Eastern Europe between themselves as a result of the pact between Hitler and Stalin, that the Wehrmacht and the Red Army held a joint victory parade in Brest on 22 September 1939 has all but vanished from the collective memory of the Germans. However, our eastern neighbors from Poland and the Baltic states remember these pages from the history of totalitarian Europe very well.

The attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 as the second phase of the war is entrenched in the collective memory of Germany as well.

Many people in Germany still equate today’s Russia and the former Soviet Union both geographically and politically. Therefore, Germany’s historical responsibility is mainly associated with Moscow.

The fact that this war was conducted on the area between Berlin and Moscow, which historian Timothy Snyder calls the “bloodlands,” has fallen out of our collective memory.

Our duty is to address this blind spot in Germany’s cultural memory.

For Western Europe, the eastern part of the continent gradually turned into a terra incognita.
Of course, Germany should bear historical guilt towards Russia – we need only recall the barbaric siege of Leningrad. But unbelievable atrocities were committed also in Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine. But the “bloodlands” are lost in the minds of most of the German population behind the responsibility towards Russia.

And the Kremlin facilitates this with the help of its propaganda.

The voice of Germany is particularly important in this general chorus of European votes for Ukraine’s struggle for freedom and dignity.

Germany should know:

never again should a Berlin-Moscow axis be established without consideration of the views of the countries in between.

Memories of the arbitrary division of Europe between the victors at the Yalta Conference after the Second World War have almost vanished in the West. There are almost no memories left about how people in Central and Eastern Europe paid with their freedom for the results of the Second World War.

For Western Europe, the eastern part of the continent gradually turned into a terra incognita.

Europe today is often identified with the European Union. It is as if Eastern Europe does not exist, it is attributed to the Russian sphere of influence.

That is why there is still a perception that Ukraine should take the function of a “neutral” buffer state or a kind of “entrance hall” of the Russian Federation.

But only those who see Ukraine as a full-fledged part of Europe realize that the country can not be separated from European integration processes.


Marieluise Beck is the Speaker for Eastern Europe at Germany’s Green Party


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