Repairing the Irreparable

Germany and Other Formerly-Oppressor States’ Duty to Institutional Memorialization

By Anoushka Shahane

The state of Germany and other formerly oppressor states have a duty to devote public resources to institutional memorialization. Memorialization is commemorating or preserving the memory of any event, in this case, the Holocaust, one of the most significant mass atrocities in history.

These states should have this duty because by institutionalizing the public resources, they are acknowledging their wrongs, are not in denial of the past, and are showing courage and maturity by facing history. Institutional memorialization can be a means of reparative justice. The survivors can view this as justice since memorialization is essentially a public display and acknowledgement of the victims’ suffering. For example, if a survivor of the Holocaust were to see a memorial established to honor the victims, he or she may feel psychological liberation and gratitude. This form of reparative justice may be more satisfying than a financial compensation. It will be more effective in the long run since it entails public understanding, contrasting with financial compensation, which may be satisfying only for a short-term.

The state of Germany and other formerly-oppressor states should not establish institutional memorialization because they feel forced to or because they feel the world expects it from them. It certainly is their duty; however, it should come from within and they should feel the responsibility of their actions, and the gravity of the damage they caused.The states must be very careful in how they devote public resources to institutional memorialization. A limitation is that the memorials may serve as a constant reminder to those survivors who have to see the memorials everyday. Victims who have to relive the pain may feel an adverse effect of the memorial: not a honor, but a perpetual vicious reminder of the pain they suffered through. Therefore, the institutions may not be effective, depending on the individual differences. The states need to be careful to ensure that the messages portrayed in the memorials are respectful in order to reduce the weakness of this reparative method’s limitation.

Education is one of the most important reasons to use public resources to institutional memorialization. One can educate people into well-informed human beings with the memorials since the memorials are spreading awareness about the past. One can build respect for the survivors and criminals: for the survivors, since they were forced to endure the agony in the concentration camps, and for the criminals, since they have acknowledged their wrongs and have attempted to move forward in unity. Memorials can facilitate preventing further issues since the future generations can learn from the past’s mistakes.

Germany and other formerly oppressor states certainly have this duty that must be fulfilled not out of a sense of obligation, but an inner desire to repair. Dedicating public resources to institutional memorialization may be an effective form of reparative justice as it informs survivors that their offenders have realized their wrongdoings, and as it educates current and future generations.

Anoushka Shahane is a senior majoring in Bisopsychology and Cognitive Brain Sciences.