Germany shouldn't have tried 'Ivan the Miserable'
The man in the wheelchair rolled into court was merely one of tens of thousands of Nazi collaborators.
From its very beginnings, West Germany never enjoyed remembering, and its first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, built his political career, and indeed his country's power, on defying the outside world's accusations, making out that the Germans were only victims. So who was guilty? Hitler and his gang, of course, and they had vanished a few years before. So that's all there was to the matter.
That Germany, ruled by the Christian Democrats, did everything it could to avoid legal proceedings against the Nazis who had escaped prosecution during the Allied occupation immediately after the war. The reparation and compensation agreements were a wise move, and Germany entered the international community by way of financial atonement. But the money did not go to all the countries that were devastated and whose people were slaughtered by the German military, but almost only to the Jews and Israel.
The most outstanding example of the way Israel repaid that Germany, with its scant memories, was the order David Ben-Gurion gave to the prosecutor in the Adolf Eichmann trial, Gideon Hausner. When describing the events that led to the destruction of the Jews, he was to omit one detail - the name of Adenauer's top aide in the postwar West German government, Hans Globke. Before the war, Globke served on the team that drew up the Nuremberg Laws, but he was not only spared prosecution, he became an important leader of the Christian Democratic Party.
As the years went by, the politics of German remembrance underwent a transformation. A generation passed and a truly new generation replaced it, one whose memory consists of islands of knowledge and ignorance. Either way, Germany waited until 1996 before marking the Holocaust, and even now it does so using a very selective memory. The other atrocities have never been memorialized. This selective memory jibed well with the Israeli memory that crystallized gradually over the same years. The horrors of World War II and the crimes by the German military on the various fronts are slipping slowly into oblivion, both here and there, whereas the Holocaust is singled out as a unique phenomenon, almost detached from all the other monstrous acts.
All the above provides a backdrop to the farce surrounding the trial of John (Ivan) Demjanjuk. In this last trial of its kind on German soil, a non-German has been accused of crimes against humanity; the proceedings will end, at best, with the moral that there were also wicked Slavs. Listeners to a German radio station or viewers of German television on Monday might have believed that Josef Mengele was going on trial, or that a the criminal who regrettably wasn't hanged at Nuremberg after the war had finally been caught. But the man in the wheelchair who was rolled into court, with hundreds of reporters and photographers looking on, was merely one of tens of thousands of Nazi collaborators the United States admitted after the war.
Israeli schoolchildren are not taken to march around Bergen-Belsen in northern Germany (the German government wouldn't allow such parades on its home turf), but to Poland, without learning what the Poles underwent during the Nazi occupation. Similarly, the last chapter in Germany's legal proceedings against Nazi criminals will be the trial of Ivan the Miserable. Heinrich Himmler thought that mass murder was not a simple matter for German refinement to handle, as he explained at length in his speech at Posen in October 1943. So he assigned the Slavs to do the dirty work in the death camps. He could have chuckled over this trial and said that the Slavs really did the job. The German judicial system would have done better to refrain from this self-debasement.