Reflections on Holocaust Memory and Europe’s Refugee Crisis

By Alex Wittmann

The Dan Stone Article assigned for this week was written right at the height of the Refugee Crisis which has engulfed Europe since 2015. The influx of Middle Eastern refugees have triggered various responses across the continent. There have been humanitarian responses committed to upholding the UNHCR with those who claim that refugees should be let in. There have been nationalistic responses proclaiming refugees as a threat to the stability and in some cases “ethnicity” of the nation. The article highlights the main point of memory of the Second World War and the Holocaust as factors for the various responses for the way in which refugees have been accepted. In the explanation of the German (and particularly Western German) response to the crisis, the article asserts that because Germany was forced to come to terms with its history, it has been more accepting to those fleeing persecution and hardship such as the Middle Eastern refugees. Eastern Europe (particularly Poland) have not been welcoming of refugees due to the fact that after years of communist dictatorships in the Cold War, they have not been afforded a chance of coming to terms with history. The article uncovers the fact that under years of communist oppression, ethnic nationalist sentiments were largely repressed, when Communism fell, they became ignited once more. This is why Poland now has a militant Right Wing populist government that refuses refugees and sees them as a threat to their security and identity. In terms of the concept of coming to terms with the past, I can largely agree with how this can impact the way European countries have handled the refugee influx. Germany has the benefit of coming to terms with its Holocaust past. Therefore it understands the dangers of displacement and persecution, and how it can lead to genocide. Combined with a commitment to upholding the EU standard on refugee acceptance and the UNHCR, Germany has taken a proactive approach in providing homes for and welcoming Middle Eastern refugees. Under the former Communist East, Poles and other Eastern Europeans were taught to absolve themselves of War Crimes such as the Holocaust with an alternative focus on defeating the monster of Nazi Germany. As a result, countries such as Poland have not yet fully come to terms with their own involvement in the Holocaust genocide. It shows that when countries fail to come to terms with the past, it is repeated in different forms. The Right Wing populist movement in Eastern Europe raising an anxiety regarding refugees and the potential “threat” they may have on traditional European society and culture is a primary example.

Source Cited: Dan Stone, “On Neighbours and Those Knocking at the Door: Holocaust Memory and Europe’s Refugee Crisis.” Patterns of Prejudice 52, no. 2/3 (May 2018): 231–43.

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