Alt-right Gains Traction in Germany and Everyone’s Surprised – though really they shouldn’t be

It is not a popular opinion, nor is it politically correct. And since most Germans will deny this when asked straight out, it’s (nearly) impossible to move past the anecdotal. On top of all that, if you accuse a German of being a Nazi you’re the one who can end up in jail, at the very least you’ll be fined, keeping the illusion alive that Germany managed to rid itself of all the Nazi vermin.

Except that in my time spent there a different picture emerged. Nazism was alive and well, rearing its ugly head in ways too subtle to prove. The German teacher who purposely down graded all foreigners in class participation so they couldn’t take AP or Honors classes, the very liberal teacher who chided you for calling the self-proclaimed Nazi an a**hole after he told you too bad a bomb hadn’t dropped on the foreign city you’d spent your vacation in (to be fair, teens have an interesting way of banter, so either tell them both to cool it, or ignore them both), teachers who deliberately left out any reading material on WWII in German class while their one rogue colleague practically spent the entire year on the subject (I’ll never forget that teacher, and I’ll be eternally grateful to him for the rest of my life).

These are merely a few examples, otherwise this would take too long and would take years to write, but it gives you a general idea. In the spirit of fairness I should add that clearly not all Germans are like that, and others are not exempt from this kind of behavior, but living there that was the experience I had. And yet, call someone a Nazi and you’re in a world of trouble.

People have been voicing their concern (not to mention surprise) at the steady rise of the rightwing factions since these same factions became too loud to ignore. Foreign liberals will tell you that it’s because it was too difficult to deal with the past, so people found it easier to look away. I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to the latter part. Even though it’s (borderline) cowardly, it really is much easier to look away, and to be fair, we’ve all looked away at some point or other, even if it was only something very little.

I don’t know what the solution is. All the countries I’ve lived in and / or feel connected to have had and have their fair share of supremacists. It’s a natural human instinct not to approach what is naturally different, or approach with highest trepidation. It kept us safe while we hightailed it back to our caves when encountering something unfamiliar, which we knew spelled immediate danger. But give people whose experience differs from your own a chance to express themselves. Listen to what they have to say, no matter how uncomfortable it is. Perhaps thinking that if only people had listened to those who pointed out the virulent xenophobia and anti-Semitism things might not have attained this level is a bit too optimistic, but it’s certainly something that merits further thought.


  1. I recommend “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century” by Timothy Snyder. It examines how totalitarian regimes gain power, and suggests ways ordinary citizens can oppose them. The book is a fast read. Those of us who recognize the danger must not keep silent.

    Liked by 1 person

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