Growing up in Germany just 20 years after WWII with parents who were born during the war did have a great impact on me I guess. War was as present as it can be with stories being told. My mother has many memories, the sirenes when the American planes were coming, starting the bombings, injured and dead people, the nights in the bunkers, the hunger and somehow my grandmother could manage that her children didn’t have to join the Hitlerjugend.
I can’t remember ever seeing my grandma laughing, this silent and meager woman with God as the only remaining ground in her life. Her pain wasn’t allowed to be mentioned because she was German. May she rest in peace with all her memories buried with her in her grave.
A defeated Germany, later the Wirtschaftswunder and the deep silence about all the many victims other than Jews. Based on the insane desire of creating an Aryan master race all people who were different were victims of the Holocaust. Non-Aryans, disabled people, homosexuals, mentally ill people etc. Euthanasia of those “unworthy of life”, newborns as well as adults, medical experiments, Dr. Mengele just as one name out of many – when perverted phantasies gain power a disaster to mankind will follow.
When I started my apprenticeship, I was about 16 then, I didn’t know that the owner of the small company was a former convinced Nazi. An old fanatic and never in my life I came across another person who adored Hitler and Nazi-Germany and the SS so deeply as this man did. If German laws had allowed it he had put a oversized swastika on top of his company. Because I didn’t meet his criteria of the Aryan decent woman it became tough 2,5 years there, with him who also believed that I should have been sent to Dachau.
I understood one thing quite quickly: that other whites don’t show solidarity with the victim but side with the perpetrator. Exactly nobody listened to me and everybody found excuses for his behavior, like “he grew up in another time” and things like that. I was told to accept and to assimilate, that if I am just friendly and silent things would be easier.
No. Confronted with somebody who stayed with his memory in Nazi-Germany, probably secretly mourning Hitler’s death and celebrating his birthday, believing of himself to be a hero who did the right things, defeated without being able to realize Hitler’s dream of the master race, according to him unfairly confronted with people “unworthy of living” with no possibility anymore to send them to the gas-chambers, the only place he believed this people should be.
When I finally could leave this place I also knew that for me as a white the ‘dislike’ or discrimination remains limited to certain circumstances. I more or less could leave it behind me. I know that others can’t and couldn’t during the time he was so fascinated of.
At that time I was fascinated from something different – America. I was filled with the desire to immigrate to the USA. We have been there about one year before I started my apprenticeship, visiting my uncle and aunt. My uncle is Black American, was stationed in Germany where he met my aunt and where they married, later moving to America. Sometimes in life you meet people where you don’t need big words, where there is just mutual understanding, my uncle was such a person and it was the first time were I felt at home.
Later I travelled to the USA, I was 20 or so, with the eyes of the future immigrant. I wanted to look behind the Coca Cola and Hollywood illusions and travelled to the East Coast and South. Of course still a tourist but you visit a country in a different way when you are looking for opportunities or places where to stay. I was talking to people, we entered rural all-white towns where I would have never stayed over night, I was nervous in states with death-penalty. White Americans who managed in a weird way to tell American history without mentioning Native or Black Americans, talking about the ‘proud history’ and how great America is and those white Americans who were proud to meet “real Germans”, greeting us with Heil Hitler and the raised arm, asking us how life is in Germany. We met many homeless people and we were irritated by the sharp contrasts of rich areas and then you go across the street, around the corner and you are in very impoverished areas, with houses more ruins than houses.
And my final good-bye to America was the sight of a chain-gang. We were in the bus driving along a high-way and there they have been, chained together and guards with guns. I don’t know what was more stunning for me, the chain-gang or that the tour-guide didn’t see anything wrong with it. They are called criminals and then there is nothing wrong with it. No longer humans. I felt so deeply humiliated that I still today can recall this feeling when I think about the men of the chain-gang.
The tragedy of history and also the unanswered question how whites themselves could and can allow to be dehumanized by alleged privileges and laws like Jim Crow or ‘Aryans only’. My uncle grew up in the American South during Jim Crow. How should I feel whole and human with the knowledge that at the time of Jim Crow laws would artificially separate people who have alot in common via mind-set. And that would artificially bond people together who have nothing in common besides skin-color. How can whites live with that without feeling degraded themselves? How can they feel free when either laws or societal norms separate them from other people and they allow this to happen?
Somewhere in America there was a shoe-cleaner [my dictionary tells me the word shoeshine-boy, which sounds wrong because he was a Black adult], the white supremacist image with the white male sitting on the chair and the Black man cleaning his shoes. It was right on the street. In a rational way one can call this just an “job-opportunity”, in a human way I wonder how white people can see anything correct in it.
“I have the luxury of living all my life in the dominant society where the accepted norms are what I grew up with, am familiar with from birth, so they all come naturally to me and I can fall into them as easily as breathing. ” (Laura Douglas in How I benefit from white privilege)
Everybody white who can fall into this culture and norms as easily as breathing is still as white as one can be and then all listings or acknowledgements won’t help this white person to truly overcome the lies white society wants to tell whites. Life begins beyond ‘whiteness’, life begins when a person defined by this system and culture as white doesn’t feel at home within this norms and is unable to fall into it as easily as breathing.
The illusion of perfection, demonstrated during the Holocaust, the illusion that there would be a perfect human race shows that nature gave us brain but not the soul to deal with it.
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” (Einstein)
We whites as a collective won’t be able to solve our problems and the problems we cause to ‘us’ and ‘others’ by remaining white while looking for solutions. Eurocentric ways to rationalize racism, the belief that whites just can learn “good” behavior won’t help. Whites should do what isn’t welcome in Euroculture: Start feeling. Us, our history and the humanity of those we call others. I think that only then we as a people will be able to accept us like we are: Not perfect. And therefore no longer in need for this deadly illusion that we are or have to be perfect.
Then people like my former boss wouldn’t have been so disturbed or whatever by a young girl like me that he wanted me to see in a KZ, 40 years after WWII. He was the one person in my life who demonstrated the true face of whiteness to me. And my uncle taught me that humanity can survive regardless how inhumane the world can be.