‘Germans know very little about the history of violence in Eastern Europe’

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Lviv, April 2022: A young woman sews Ukrainian flags for the army. © AFP

Historian Michael Wilde on Conflicts and Self-Assurance in Ukraine, Tolerable and Unforgivable False Judgments Regarding Russian Politics – and on His New Book “Zerborstene Zeit”

Mr. Wildt, in your recently published book “Zerborstene Zeit”, a presentation of German history between 1918 and 1945, a chapter deals with events in what is now Ukraine’s Lemberg around 1941. Why Lviv/Lemberg in particular?

I did not want to describe the German war of annihilation from the point of view of Berlin, but from the point of view of an attacking city, that is, from the point of view of the victim. Lviv / Lwow / Lemberg has presented itself due to its diverse history. I also visited the city several years ago and was instantly fascinated by it.

One cannot help but take this chapter as a key to a better understanding of the state of war today. What can be learned from this now?

In the twentieth century, this city has repeatedly suffered from war, occupation and ethnic violence. There were serious conflicts between the Poles and the Ukrainians, there was a Soviet and German occupation and horrific pogroms against the Jewish population. Finally, the Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Only by looking at this history of violence can we understand the population’s desire to assert their presence today.

Your book clearly shows in many ways that the European history of violence at this time cannot be broken down into simple stories of perpetrators and victims. What could be an agreement that transcends different national readings?

There were also times of coexistence and the awareness that cultural differences should not lead to national animosity. But this requires daily trust, which is currently devastated by the war of aggression and Russian war crimes.

Your book is about German history. However, they also touch upon the foundations of contemporary Ukrainian nationalism. How can it be drawn?

In the former Tsarist Empire, respective national movements developed against Russian domination, often combined with anti-Semitism against the Jewish minority, which was dismissed as non-Polish and non-Ukrainian. Last but not least, Soviet mass crimes against Ukraine, such as the great famine of the early 1930s, form a central background to Ukrainian national consciousness today.

Is it even necessary to address Ukrainian nationalism, such as the role of the Nazi rebel and collaborator Stepan Bandera?

Yes, despite all the necessary solidarity with Ukraine today, it should not be hidden that Bandera, the leader of the militant organization of Ukrainian nationalists, who was honored in many places in Ukraine as a fighter against Bolshevism, was an extremist anti-Semite who tried to cooperate with the Nazis. It was the personnel of the OUN who, in early July 1941, ignited the terrible pogrom against the Jewish population of Lemberg, with the support of German soldiers.

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Michael Wild (67) Professor Emeritus of Humboldt University in Berlin. After training as a bookseller, he received his Ph.D. in 1991 with a thesis on consumer society. Between 1991 and 1997 he was a researcher at the Research Center for the History of National Socialism in Hamburg. In 1997 he moved to the Hamburg Institute for Social Research.

for his most important works It includes the book “Unconditional Generation” on the leadership corps of the Reich Security Main Office and “People’s Duality”. National Socialism as Social History”.

broken time book Recently published by CH Beck, it consists of 638 pages and costs 32 euros.

With the Russian attack on Ukraine, the long-standing assumption that a friendly relationship with Russia is the basis of the European peace system appears to have collapsed. Was this assumption naive?

It was not naive, but was based on the perfectly rational idea that countries with mutually beneficial economic relations do not go to war with each other. It was a mistake not to take into account that the Russian leadership under Putin wanted and still wants to move forward with restoring the former empire, perhaps using military force against economic interests.

In recent weeks there has been more talk of German guilt. This time it was addictive depletion of fossil fuels that financed Putin’s war. Can guilt really be formulated so easily?

Not a sin, just ignoring the fact that the Russian side is pursuing purely non-economic interests. German politicians did not want to hear voices warning of dependency. In fact, Nord Stream 2 should not be built.

Germany’s policy of the past and remembrance also seems to have been badly damaged, having contributed significantly in recent decades to the national self-image of society that solidified after National Socialism. Was it all self-deception?

not at all. However, in addressing the German War of Extermination, the Soviet Union was equated with Russia and National Socialist mass crimes were not seen to have been committed primarily in Ukraine, Belarus, and Poland. There were also mass Stalinist crimes there. In Germany, we still know very little about the history of violence in Eastern Europe.

Even if pacifist ideals are not currently very popular, the question arises whether the “never again” formula, which has been valid for so long, has fatally led to new reproachable entanglements.

“No war again” does not mean turning a blind eye to violence and crime. On the contrary, “never again” is a clear call to take responsibility and, if necessary, to provide military support to countries like Ukraine so that they do not fall victim to military aggression.

Hopefully we will be able to talk about a new post-war order very quickly: what criteria should your knowledge as a historian be shaped by?

The post-war European order, reinforced by the 1975 Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, is based on democratic self-determination and the territorial integrity of states as well as respect for human rights. This should also be the basis of a new post-war order, backed by effective security guarantees. And we hope that it will also be related to the gradual disarmament agreement, especially for nuclear weapons.

Interview: Harry Knott

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