Why November 9 is the most important day in German history

A bronze commemorative plaque depicts the relief of a destroyed synagogue in a residential building on Franzensbader Strasse in Berlin on November 7. (Omer Messinger/EPA-EFE/REX)

Jennifer Redmann is an Associate Professor of German at Franklin & Marshall College.

For America and its allies, November 11 marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history. Events across Europe and around the world will commemorate this solemn day.

In Germany, however, the significance of November 11 is overshadowed by a date two days earlier: November 9, 1918, when a widespread anti-government revolution reached Berlin, forcing Kaiser Wilhelm II to abdicate his throne and step down. exile. Only hours after the overthrow of the monarchy, Philipp Scheidemann and Karl Liebknecht, politicians from rival social democratic parties, separately announced the birth of a German republic.

The political chaos of November 9 helped end the war two days later, but also laid the fragile foundations of Germany’s first democracy, which would be overthrown by the Nazis 15 years later.

Until a flurry of books, articles and TV shows appeared in Germany to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War in 2014, German public memory of the Great War had been clouded by the long shadow of the Second World War. The launch of the German republic is now remembered as the first of four Significant historical events took place in Germany on November 9, events that shaped the 20th century and are in danger of being forgotten.

On November 9, 1923, Adolf Hitler and 2,000 compatriots unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow Germany’s weak democracy by staging a coup in Munich. The action earned Hitler five years in prison, where he dictated the first volume of his infamous manifesto, “Mein Kampf.”

Fifteen years later, on November 9, 1938, the Nazis staged the horrible Reichspogromnachtunderstated Kristallnacht or “Night of Broken Glass”. During that night, one of the darkest in German history, thousands of Jewish businesses across the country were vandalized and looted, 1,200 synagogues were burned down, 97 German Jews were killed and 30,000 were deported to concentration camps.

Coincidentally, the Berlin Wall came down on that same fateful date, November 9, 1989. The East German government had for months been under pressure from protesters seeking democratic rights and freedoms. When, on the afternoon of November 9, a spokesman for the East German Socialist Unity Party improvised an announcement that East Germany would lift travel restrictions to the West, no one could not have guessed that the Berlin Wall would fall by the end of the evening. Once the two Germanys were reunited, however, the Nazis’ terrible associations with November 9 made it impossible for that date to serve as a new national holiday.

The “Day of German Unity” is celebrated instead on October 3, when East and West Germany officially became one nation. Most Germans agree that October 3 is a strange holiday, devoid of common traditions and associations. November 9, on the other hand, is emotionally charged for Germans, filled with tragedy and upliftment, guilt and joy, shame and pride.

The framing of 20th century German history around November 9, from the final days of World War I through the Third Reich to the end of the Cold War, reminds us of how the German people continually struggled with the past of his nation. Germany’s continued efforts to Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or “come to terms with the past”, have been held up as a model for other countries facing their own sins of the past, including the United States.

In recent years, however, a new attitude among Germans towards their nation’s past and its responsibility to remember has taken hold. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) political party has steadily gained popular support since the refugee crisis brought 1 million migrants to Germany in 2015. This development parallels the rise of Trumpism in the USA. Just as Trump caused outrage by claiming following the Charlottesville rally in 2017 that there were “very good people on both sides,” the leaders of Alternative for Germany have caused controversy by suggesting that it might be time to put an end to Germany. -called Schuldkult, his “cult of guilt”.

In January 2017, Björn Höcke, a leader of the AfD party, drew heavy criticism from opponents in the German parliament and in the media when he described the huge and moving Holocaust memorial in Berlin as a Denkmal der Schande, or “monument of disgrace”. In a September poll, 16% of Germans expressed support for the Alternative for Germany, a new record, and the AfD is now the most popular party in the five states that once made up West Germany. ‘East.

On November 9, the lessons of the German 20th century seem threatened with being lost. The Weimar constitution established after the fall of the German monarchy on November 9, 1918 guaranteed for the first time unprecedented democratic rights and freedoms to the German people. The people then stood idly by as Hitler and the Nazis overthrew this constitution and suspended the civil liberties of Jews and other so-called “enemies of the state.” Over the past decades, Germany has insisted on taking responsibility for its past crimes, including those committed on November 9, 1938. With the right to human dignity and personal honor now enshrined in its Grundgesetz (Basic Law), Germany refused to tolerate any form of hate speech. His commitment to democratic rights and freedoms is unwavering. Although AfD sympathizers prefer these lessons to be forgotten, their importance remains clear and should not be erased from history.

Armistice Day, or Veterans Day, remains a date of solemn reflection around the world. But let’s not look too soon and overlook the equally important lessons of November 9.