Taken from article: How Germany handled monuments from the NAZI era

Over the last 75 years, the country (Germany) has accepted a simple truth: Out of sight hardly means out of mind. The removal of the relics of a hateful social order is not in itself cause for celebration. It is the aftermath that matters.


The German case is exemplary not because Germans attained closure, but because they came to recognize that closure was neither tenable nor desirable. Instead, the processing of history is like an open wound that slowly heals only with careful debate about the often-explosive issues at stake. The United States can avoid making irreparable mistakes by learning from Germany’s blunders and subsequent course corrections.

Over time, Germans have moved through three distinct phases to tackle the country’s fascist legacy: erasing it, ignoring it, and consigning it to the Vergangenheitsbewältigung — German for “the enduring confrontation with the past.” The experience offers seven lessons for the fight over America’s Confederate past.

For better or worse, wartime Allied bombing and firestorms had given them a considerable head start. In some cases, the wartime damage did 90 percent of the job. And yet this near-total destruction did little to prevent the neo-Nazis and revisionists from reorganizing. The 1952 court ban on the Nazi Party’s successor, the Socialist Reich Party, sent a much stronger message.

  1. Compromises look weak but have benefits. Soon enough, it became obvious that wiping out every structure with a whiff of Nazism was unrealistic. The traces of the Third Reich included entire city blocks constructed in the regime’s signature bombastic, boxy style. Blowing up structurally sound buildings or the highways Hitler expanded into a Reichsautobahn network would have further hurt a nation whose infrastructure lay in ruins.
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  4. Other corners of former East Germany have also striven to preserve this history by allowing many statues of Communist heroes to remain standing. In some small towns, such as Königswusterhausen outside Berlin, streets named after Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels run parallel to each other.

    1. Razing and replacing uncovers more than it hides. Where attempts to dismantle Communist symbols had prevailed, as in the case of the East German Palace of the Republic, which was destroyed to rebuild the shell of the Kaiser’s Berlin Palace, new issues emerged. The demolition and reconstruction have exposed additional unprocessed chapters of Germany’s past, especially its history of colonialism. Achieving a clean slate, free of historical stains, proved to be a delusion.