Germany’s moral courage
Around 7 a.m. last Sunday, The New York Times landed on my balcony with a thud, like it always does. It woke me up and startled my cats, like it usually does, until we all realized it’s the same old, same old, and lay our heads down again.
But when I finally emerged about an hour later, dressed, cats fed, coffee in hand, I pulled The Times out of its sea-blue plastic wrapping, scanned the front-page headlines and had to do a double take: There was nothing ‘same-old’ about the day’s big news.
Beneath a picture of an ecstatic-looking crowd of men and women of various ages, all with huge smiles on their faces and arms raised in celebratory cheer, was the astonishing headline:
Wait a minute, my brain cautioned. You mean, that Germany?
I read a little more…
MUNICH – Germans waving welcome signs in German, English and Arabic came to the train station here Saturday to greet the first group of what is expected to be about 8,000 migrants to arrive in Germany by early Sunday… Germans applauded and volunteers offered hot tea, food and toys as about 450 migrants arrived… Germany, which had held out an open hand…
Germany. Which held out an open hand.
Oh, sweet irony of history!
But indeed it was so: While the rest of Europe fretted over what to do about a crisis that is being called “the largest wave of emigration since World War II,” Germany, led by its courageous and moral Chancellor Angela Merkel, signaled its willingness to heed the call of millions of desperate refugees, many of whom have been rendered stateless by the war in Syria and other Middle East crises.
While the United States has sat idly by, draped in its aggrandizing values of justice and liberty for all, its political passivity partly responsible for the refugee crisis to begin with, Germany steps forward with leadership and humanity.
While the Gulf States of Qatar, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia and the United Arab Emirates defend themselves against charges of apathy and indifference, Germany opens its arms. “You can’t welcome people who come from a different atmosphere, from a different place, who suffer from psychological problems, from trauma, and enter them into societies,” Kuwaiti commentator Fahad Al-Shelaimi, chairman of the Gulf Forum for Peace and Security, said last March during a televised address on France24’s Arabic channel.
The Gulf States – and the United States – have a few things in common: Both have opened their checkbooks (Saudi Arabia: $18.4 million; Kuwait: $304 million; U.S.: $1.1 billion), while refusing to open their borders. Instead Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, whose per capita incomes are but a fraction of those in the Gulf States, have absorbed the largest number of refugees (Turkey: 2 million; Lebanon: 1.2 million; Jordan: 630,000). The U.S. has agreed to a paltry 1,500.
So far, only Germany, and her neighboring Austria, have risked their own stability and security to absorb these fleeing refugees, with Germany expecting to receive 800,000 this year alone.
The country’s compassion moved the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to praise Germany, Austria and “civil society” itself for their “remarkable” response to the crisis. “This is political leadership based on humanitarian values,” said a UNHCR statement issued on Sept. 5. Newsweek declared Germany’s Chancellor Merkel “Europe’s Conscience.”
Yes, that Germany. The Germany that between 1939 and 1945 provoked a frantic emigration of its own – that is, for the lucky few who could actually escape its death grip as the country’s maniacal leader and his obedient minions sent millions of Jews and other unfortunate minorities to death pits, concentration camps, gas chambers and burning ovens. That Germany saw itself as superior; as a burgeoning empire that had to cleanse itself of the other –the stranger, the refugee, the Jew – who did not belong, as the Kuwaiti official would have us believe, in a civilized society. That Germany destroyed a generation, murdering 11 million human beings as easily as it obliterated entire states. But history, it turns out, does not repeat itself in Germany.
Who could have predicted that one of the 20th century’s leading countries in moral depravity would become the 21st century’s world leader in moral courage?
While Lady Liberty rusts in the heat of an increasingly simmering sun, Hitler’s onetime puppet country beckons the tired and poor, the huddled Middle Eastern masses yearning to breathe free – of violence, and poverty, and terror. “I just want my sons to study and get jobs,” 35-year-old Syrian refugee and mother of three, Rania al-Hamawi told The Times.
What a lucky twist of fate, then, that the country with the biggest heart also boasts one of the world’s most robust economies. God could hardly have planned this any better.
Seventy years ago, who could have imagined that the country that nearly annihilated God’s Chosen would one day be chosen as a light among nations? Who could have foreseen that the place that almost destroyed the Jewish tradition would come to embody some of its most essential, enduring tenets: Teshuvah, change is possible. The future need not look like the past. Redemption is yours, waiting to be claimed. The world can indeed be re-created: Hayom Harat Olam, Rosh Hashanah tells us. This is the day the world was created – and it is created again and again, every year.
Germany is living these values. We should, too.