#22 / Editorial

And what about Germany? Incongruous though it may seem, this question is, consciously or not, at heart of every text K publishes which takes this central European country as its subject. Objectively speaking, Germany now constitutes the economic center of Europe; it therefore enjoys the ability to dictate both domestic and international policy. That it does not assert this power, does not make it a policy of conquest or explicit domination–that it even mingles it with distinct moral contrition it comes to the Jews and the State of Israel–does not prevent Jewish eyes from watching Germany with a certain anxiety. For even if Germany itself tries to ensure nothing remains of the spirit which led to the Holocaust, one cannot avoid the question of whether there is not something of it left. This residue need not be manifested as a presence, even though it is undeniable that anti-Semitism is once more ascendent in Germany too, (knowing this compels us to return to our interview with Michael Blume, Baden-Württemberg’s Commissioner for Combating Antisemitism.) However, he does not usually take such clearly expressed positions.

Sometimes its presence, as Jean Améry intuited in At the Mind’s Limits, emerges rather in what is no more. For Améry, it is the European spirit as a whole that has been definitively ruined by Germany, and it is in its intractable absence that Germany has imposed its indelible mark on Europe. According to the study by Maxime Decout, which appears in this week’s edition of K, this European spirit, however grandiloquent its name, is for Améry nothing more than the confidence one has in thought, in its capacity to understand the world–to make sense of what is happening in reality. If faith in the intelligibility of reality, a bit guileless perhaps, but characteristic of old Europe, was destroyed by Germany, it is because Germany knew how to give extermination a rational air: There was nothing more sensible in the implacable logic of the SS state than the annihilation the Jewish people. Germany’s legacy in this area is the infinite mourning of the spirit, which is not exclusively German. It is not only of the Geist that Améry speaks, but of all thought that goes beyond the recording of raw facts. And every time someone fails to mourn, Germany, the one that worries, shows through.

Sometimes, though, what remains of Germany is its desire to forget–as if it could persist in burying its Nazi past under a veil of normality. It was the normalization of the crime that was at stake thirty years ago in what has entered intellectual history under the title of “Historians’ dispute” Moreover, it is the same gesture that is repeated today, this time not by historians who at least still cared about the facts to which Améry saw intellectual work reduced, but by producers of transnational meaning who believe that by dint of comparing crimes, it is still possible to discover a direction of History. Julia Christ’s text, which we republish here, examines the stakes of this enterprise–of a “memory” that produces oblivion and, perhaps unwittingly, allows Germany to find a continuity without rupture.

Horst Bredekamp, in an interview he gave to K. in May, deals with another form of active forgetting. This time it concerns the specifically Jewish contribution to the life of the spirit in Europe before the Holocaust. By outlining an alternative path to that which Germany finally took, the great art historian reminds us that the European spirit was not univocal. The work of the Jewish-German ethnologists and anthropologists of the Wilhelmian Empire did indeed map out a possibility for thought in which understanding did not mean domination. While it may be naïve to believe that this spirit was not destroyed by Germany and that it could be referred to in order to rebuild Europe, it is certain that the active erasure of this possibility by postcolonial studies, constitutes one of the ways in which this Germany persists. This never ceases to disturb.

Fifty-five years ago, in 1966, Jean Améry published ‘At the Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities’. In the preface he speaks of the “a gloomy spell” that prevented him from speaking for two decades, until the moment when “suddenly everything demanded telling.” This “everything” that wanted to be said is first of all a powerlessness: that of culture and spirit in the face of Auschwitz.

Does the Holocauste constitute a unique crime that marks a turning point in European history? Or should we count it just as another crime that is not extraordinary in itself?…

The Humboldt Forum’s vocation is to host exhibitions on non-European cultures. But this ethnographic museum is now at the center of a controversy over the ownership of artworks and objects obtained during the German colonial empire in Africa and Asia. In this interview with the art historian Horst Bredekamp, we wanted to learn more about a forgotten German ethnographic tradition – and in particular about the contribution of Jewish scholars and collectors within this tradition.

With the support of:

Thanks to the Paris office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for their cooperation in the design of the magazine’s website.