Today, Germany is recognized as a leading industrialized nation with a stable democracy. But despite the country’s Holocaust memorials and reparations, anti-Semitism—along with racism and neo-Nazi ideology—has remained part of German society since 1945.These circumstances are at the heart of “Germany After 1945: A Society Confronts Anti-Semitism, Racism and Neo-Nazism,” a traveling exhibition that is making its U.S. debut at Baruch College of The City University of New York.
Created by the Berlin-based Amadeu Antonio Foundation, the exhibit is a compact survey comprising 16 panels of text, photographs and other illustrations. The panels progress thematically and across time, depicting incidents of anti-Semitism and racism in West Germany, East Germany and United Germany.
At a launch event held at Baruch College on April 17, Andrés Nader, who directs the Regional Center for Education, Integration and Democracy in Berlin and is one of the scholars who assembled the exhibition, noted that each of the topics easily merits a full book. But this exhibition is designed to travel; its purpose is more to stimulate awareness and discussion than to provide comprehensive accounts or solutions.
To that end, the exhibition presents an array of troubling statistics and stories. It takes as its starting point the fact that neo-Nazis have killed over 180 people in Germany since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. One 2007 photograph shows spray-painted swastikas and slogans such as “Sieg Heil” on the walls of Jewish kindergarten in Berlin. The visitor’s attention is also drawn to the story of the man for whom the foundation is named: “On the evening of 24th November 1990, a group of local white youths carrying baseball bats went through [the town of Eberswalde] looking to ‘beat up some Blacks.’ They found Amadeu Antonio, a Black man from Angola who had been living [in Eberswalde] as a contract worker since 1987. They beat him until he fell into a coma….Amadeu Antonio died from the beating on December 6th. There were reports about the murder in the national media, but the local press downplayed the incident….”
Part of the exhibition’s message is that efforts have indeed been made to confront incidents of prejudice and hate crimes. But equally evident is the argument that in Germany—as elsewhere—much work remains to be done.
“Germany After 1945: A Society Confronts Anti-Semitism, Racism and Neo-Nazism” is on display in the Baruch Performing Arts Center lobby, Lexington Ave. and 25th St., until May 13. Hours: 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, weekdays). The Amadeu Antonio Foundation has also published a complementary exhibition catalog.
New Yorker Erika Dreifus is the author of “Quiet Americans: Stories” (Last Light Studio).