What India and Pakistan need to learn from Germany

When I shared the news about my selection and travel to Germany for the 3rd International Arnold Summer School of Georg Eckert Institute, some of my friends expressed our limited knowledge and understanding of the country. They reiterated the dark Nazi history of the country and asked me if Nazis are still around. I shared the little that I knew, among which was about a section on affirmative action for the victims of the Nazi regime on the German Consulate website that I had come across while applying for visa.

We in India have a very limited knowledge about Germany. This is because of the way Germany appears in our textbooks and popular culture. Germany is equated with Hitler and the oppressive Nazi regime. The way history is taught in India is also problematic. It not only claims to talk about “facts” but also imposes fixed and uniform notions about countries largely on the basis of what the rulers did. There is very less discussion on the impact, resistance and counter cultures. Germany suffers heavily under our cruel history regime. There is not much understanding of Hitler, the culture and order of hatred he and his party established and what the victims went through. While I am not aware of how exactly Pakistani textbooks deal with Germany, I know that the pedagogy of history education is same. There is a lack of critical understanding with regard to history in both the countries.

Being a history graduate and having knowledge on existence of counter cultures, while I did not have a fixed and biased understanding of Germany, the way Germany dealt with its past was still a mystery to me. What I experienced in Germany astonished me.

To begin with, I went to Braunschweig for the 3rd International Summer School on Sustainable Peace. This summer school is organised by the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research. The theme of this year was Human Rights Education (HRE) and so the summer school was a coming together of scholars, research students and practitioners from different countries. In fact, there were participants from almost all the continents. They presented on the nature and constraints of HRE which often touched upon the conflict of a dark history or/and present in their respective regions. I had presented on the need and challenges for Human Rights Education in context of the Indo-Pak conflict based on my work through Aaghaz-e-Dosti, an Indo-Pak friendship initiative. This summer school and the broader goals of the institute are astonishing when we take into view the history of Braunschweig. Braunschweig has a very strong Nazi history. It was the city which gave German citizenship to Hitler. Braunschweig was also a garrison city and had many Nazi state institutions. The Georg Eckert Institute which marks a counter image of the city shows how we need to deal with our dark histories.

Berlin wall gei photo
Georg Eckert Institute – David Ausserhofer

The summer school, I realise, introduced us to various aspects of history, of memory and remembrance. They did not hesitate to tell us about the dark history of Germany and Europe during the World Wars and the Cold War era. In fact they encouraged us to explore it. The school program included a visit to Berlin which consisted of a visit to the Topographie des Terrors (Topography of Terror). This memorial which is built on the Nazi buildings that were bombed exhibits the official documents, the law orders, petitions by the people, photographic evidences of the horror that constituted the political order of the time. It gave a sense of how the order of horror and inhumanity was established gradually and how the German people who were not from the targeted identities participated in the order. To say the least, the memorial was disturbing and even horrifying. The memorial is situated next to the remnants of the Berlin Wall and some of the Nazi buildings beyond the wall are also visible. This is also a Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. A competition was announced over its design. People were asked to express themselves about the event. The selected entry and the monument I felt captures the essence of life in Nazi Germany. The Holocaust Memorial is a site with about two thousand concrete slabs of different size arranged orderly in a kind of maze. It is like a cemetery. The feeling that one gets while walking through it is what perhaps describes life in those cruel times. There was order and that order invoked fear, confusion and helplessness. Berlin is dotted with such sites as memorials. In fact this is true for the whole of Germany and Europe. There are many holocaust memorial sites, museums focused on different aspects of the dark Nazi history and even memorials about the silent heroes or the people who resisted the Nazis and helped the targeted communities.

These sites are visited not just by people who belonged to the targeted communities but by everyone. In the summer school, someone even shared that while visiting the memorial, some remembered their relatives who had been the victims of holocaust, some of us wondered if the perpetrators of violence who were mentioned were their own relatives. It was a moment of guilt and remorse for them.

I was shocked to hear this statement and I could not help but think how mature and courageous these people are. I could not help think about the difference that lies between them and us the South Asians. While the memory of partition is still alive within us and we reiterate it daily when we Indians and Pakistanis compare ourselves with each other, we refuse to have a critical understanding of it. We continue to blame the other without acknowledging how both communities killed, looted and raped. Talk around partition remains a taboo. One reason is also that both countries officially have a very different narrative on partition. While India sees it as a moment of mourning, Pakistan sees it as a moment of liberation. However, whatever may be the reasons for partition, what is undisputed is that it was accompanied by a lot of bloodshed, hatred and inhumanity. There are wounds that still need to be healed.

The basis of partition was the view that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together and so they need to be in separate countries for peace but even when that happened, there is no peace. We have not moved on because we have not forgiven each other. We continue to think that only “our” side suffered.

There is a war memorial in Berlin which consists of a single hall which is empty “except” a statue of a person weeping. The memorial, the remnants of the Berlin wall stand in testimony to the sufferings of the people, of humanity. But we in the subcontinent do not understand. For us, a war memorial is a place where we feel proud. Our war memorials express the glory of war. We use our border ceremonies to invoke patriotism and aggressive nationalism. We do not acknowledge the pain of those who migrated from India to Pakistan or vice versa. We do not think what they go through when they see the border gates. We do not think about the people who suffered because of the partition, the hatred.

This is because both countries treat partition as only a political decision and do not acknowledge what the people went through. They fail to acknowledge the horror of partition. Our independence was accompanied by partition. People who had been living in a certain place for years were suddenly asked to migrate to a different place and begin from a scratch. The struggle to migrate was no less easy. It was disastrous. But many do not know because we don’t read this. We don’t know the stories of migration, survival and resistance. We don’t read about the silent heroes who stood against their own communities for the sake of humanity. This needs to be questioned. Why this is not considered important?

We cannot be at peace with each other unless we are at peace with our past. We both have pain and it is time we acknowledge it. Germany has a cruel history and so do we. But the way Germany is coping with it, we need to learn. We cannot undo the dark history but we must remember it to ensure that everyone learns from it and never repeat it. Germany did it, India and Pakistan must do it too.

You might also like More from author

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.