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Student discussion grapples with painful American and German histories

By Jack McLaughlin

Arts & Features Editor

Gatepost Archives

“History in the Making” hosted their first of three discussions this semester at the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE) Sept. 20.


The discussion, “The Importance of Memory: How Germany Remembers the Holocaust Compared to How America Remembers Slavery,” was organized by history majors Willow Versackas and Danni Marquez.


The panel was prefaced with a disclaimer from Versackas that this discussion was not trying to compare these events, but rather “the memorialization of these events.”


“We are not here to compare the events by suffering or the trauma of the people,” Versackas added.


The discussion began by looking into how America memorializes slavery, which involved statues of Confederate soldiers from the Civil War.


Versackas said these statues were constructed between the 1890s and 1950s during segregation by a group called the Daughters of the Confederacy.


She added despite the pushback, the U.S. government “has kept these statues in place and they have created different legislation to keep them.”


Versackas said the difference is they were designed to celebrate the leaders of these events, instead of honoring those who suffered as a result of the Civil War.


She talked about how Germany memorializes the Holocaust. One of the examples was a Stolperstein, a brass plaque that is placed outside the last known address of someone who was a victim of the Holocaust.


Versackas explained concentration camps were not protected by the post-war German government, but became memorials because the people who “lived in this history wanted to remember and learn to have that conversation.


“The German government was not very willing to have that conversation because they were not ready to acknowledge and grapple with national socialism,” she added.


Versackas asked attendees, “How have we learned about the history of the Holocaust and national socialism?”


History major Gabriel Berger recollected their high school always tried to have a Holocaust survivor speak once a year. They also noticed that when learning about the topic in high school, these courses did not offer explanation to how Hitler rose to power.


Versackas then asked how attendees in the room learned about slavery in America.


Berger responded with their experience in middle school being “a much more sanitized version of things.”


They added, “And then as that becomes more and more unfashionable, more accurate and honest depictions of what really a monstrous system it was.”


Next, Versackas asked attendees to consider how different both memorials were.


Berger followed up on this question by responding with how well known Civil War memorials do not represent the pain of being a slave.


They said, “I’m sure there is one somewhere, but it’s not nearly as prevalent.”


Political science major Riann Guthrie added more about the memorializing of Confederate officers and how it’s begun to change in recent years.


“I feel like when it comes to America, and I would say other countries, they’ve done so much to change that notion that we are proud of this,” she said.


Versackas said, “No one in Germany, or anywhere in the world, would think of ever putting up a statue of Adolf Hitler.


“But in America, it seems that we’re very OK with putting up statues and memorials and naming places after [Confederate officers],” she said.


History major Alex Szarka made the point that American culture is unique because it idolizes its nation’s leaders while neglecting to acknowledge their faults.


“I think it’s important to recognize that these people are not really mythical figures, but they’re flawed beings,” he said.


“History in the Making” will host two more discussions this semester for students and faculty to join Oct. 25 and Nov. 29.


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