Some reasons why a lot of Germans welcome refugees

The pictures and videos of Germans applauding refugees whose march through Hungary ended at German railway stations were broadcasted worldwide, often with a tone of wonder and admiration, sometimes with open skepticism. Why would huge parts of the German population suddenly welcome such an influx of refugees, asylem seekers, migrants?

There is more than one answer to that, as the response to the refugee crisis is as diverse as the German society itself. On the surface, a lot of Germans wanted reacted to the increase in rightwing violence against refugees and migrants within the last year, which actually has to be defined as rightwing terrorism. Welcomed by manifestations of „Pegida“ and so-called „concerned citizens“, islamo- and xenophobe sentiments were voiced frequently on social media and the streets of mostly Eastern German towns and cities. A lot of people wanted to react in a positive way to this threat, and the „refugees welcome“ initative was the banner they chose. We still have to remember that Angela Merkel only joined this cause after the supporters of big football clubs showed there support for refugees, after politicans of the SPD, the Greens or the Linke had called for the silent majority to speak out against racism and violence – which actually resulted in the evacuation of the SPD headquarters after a bomb threat, just after Vice-chancellor and SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel had categorized participants of riots in the town of Heidenau as a mob, and not concerned citizens.

This change in Germany’s predominant political mood was flanked by a change in the media coverage, giving more background information about the ordeal of refugees, the situation in Syria, and the European asylum procedures in general. There is already a lesson politicans can lear here, as the reaction of the German public was not foreseen by any polls – we can see how useless politics is when it only relies on public opinion polling. Nevertheless, there are less obvious reasons for the help refugees receive by volunteers all over Germany, and I would like to point out two of them, which are true at least for Western Germany.

The first one is a mentality issue. There is mindset that was formed after the cultural revolution of 1968, resulting from the lessons learned after nationalsocialism and holocaust. The philosopher Theodor W. Adorno wrote in 1966, that all efforts of education have to ensure that „Ausschwitz must never be again“. Since the 70s, anyone who pursued a  career in education was confronted with thia thinking. Implemented in the curricula of schools and universities, this approach, this imperative influenced the way personalities were build, history was and is taught, the way pupils are motivated to become an active part of civil society, to understand important it is to uphold the Human dignity for everyone at anytime – It is the first and most important Article of the German constitution, the Grundgesetz, being a direct consequence of the horrors that originated from German soil, particularly the concentration camps. While a lot has changed in the phase of neoliberal reforms since the 90s, today’s attitude towards the refugee influx is result of this educational approach.

The second aspect is the memory of refuge. Millions of Germans fled to Western Germany at the end of the Second World War. They were not often welcome by their fellow Germans, being called semi-polish, only half German etc. In consequence, especially where the older generation shared their experience with their families, this knowledge enables people to feel empathy towards the refugees and their situation.
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