November 30, 2023

Never Again: Germans and Genocide after the Holocaust, written by Andrew I. Port, a professor of history at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, argues that discussions of the Holocaust played a significant role in shaping Germany’s responses to genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. The book examines the impact of memories of the Third Reich and the “Final Solution” on Germany’s actions in the face of mass atrocities.

In 1979, as millions of West Germans watched the TV miniseries Holocaust, which depicted the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, German journalists used language reminiscent of the Holocaust to describe the events. This language, Port argues, reflected the “intensive reckoning” with Germany’s past. Similar language and imagery were used to discuss mass murders in Bosnia and Rwanda. The impact of history and lessons from World War II on government policies and decisions is also examined, with Port acknowledging that practical considerations played a significant role in shaping responses to genocide.

The book highlights how Germany’s past, particularly the legacy of the Third Reich, influenced the country’s actions and decisions in response to genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia. Practical considerations such as economic ties, political pressure, and domestic public opinion also played a role in shaping Germany’s responses to these atrocities. Despite calls to “do something” and the use of Nazi atrocities as a historical analogy, Germany did not intervene in the genocide in Rwanda.

The book raises questions about the balance between “too much” and “too little” memory and how Germany continues to struggle with its past. While Germany has reacted minimally to genocides in other parts of the world, the book emphasizes that the country’s conflicted past continues to influence its actions and decisions. Ultimately, the book reflects on whether Germany has become a “normal” nation and how its decisions continue to be influenced by its history.