A few months back, I found out that Joachim von Ribbentrop – former Reich’s Minister of Foreign Affairs under Hitler’s Nazi Regime and the first to be sentenced to death by hanging at the notorious Nuremberg Trials – now has a gravestone to his name on a local commentary in my home town in Germany. Read my piece on The Importance of Remembering Nazi Perpetrators where I chronicle the response to the emergence of this gravestone 70 years after the trial at Nuremberg, before arguing that the debate that ensued is symptomatic of much larger tensions in Germany’s memorial landscape today.
“Finally, placing Ribbentrop’s gravestone in a municipal cemetery, what is perceived as the ordinary burial place of honorable citizens, veterans, and neighbors, may be felt to be offensive by some, or out of place by others – however, I would argue, the uncomfortable truth is that it is exactly where and how he should be remembered. In the same way as the stumbling stones in front of houses remind us that the Jews who lived here were neighbors, his gravestone serves as an important reminder that the perpetrators of the Holocaust were neither ‘different’, extra-ordinary, nor on the margins of society. Ideas of ‘the individual as madman’-theory of history and ‘perpetrators-as-monsters’, allows us to disassociate ourselves too easily from their crimes, and takes away the complexities of the process that leads to mass atrocity of which ordinary people were part. Ribbentrop and others were amongst all of us, with personal lives, and regular families of their own. Just in the same way as their victims were amongst us, too.”