Alternative for Germany, or AfD, is a far-right political party that recently won 13 percent of the vote in national elections on September 24, 2017, and now holds 94 seats of the German parliament. The rise of this extremely conservative political party concerns some of the German population as this is the first time conservative politicians have been in parliament since World War II. Political analysts hypothesize that the AfD’s success is largely because of the voting population’s decreasing confidence in mainstream parties.
Germany has seen increasing amounts of conflict related to immigration policy and far-right concerns that the more liberal parliament has been threatening “Germanness.” Analysts claim that anxiety over identity and social change is what attracted voters to the far-right party. Supporters of the Alternative for Germany party claim that Germans have not been able to reflect national pride without it being misconstrued as the same sort of aggressive nationalism that led to Nazism. This claim of stifled national identity, combined with over a million refugees immigrating from the Middle East and Africa, seems to have resulted in a surge of populist nativism.
There is also a concerning degree of anti-Semitism amongst immigrants from the Middle East who practice blatantly anti-Israeli behavior and claim that the Holocaust was “a Jewish conspiracy.” After witnessing a group of Syrian refugees burning the Israeli flag underneath the Brandenburg Gate in December 2017, Sawsan Chebli, a Berlin state legislator of Palestinian descent, proposed that visits to Nazi concentration camp memorials should be mandatory for immigrants and new citizens.
Chebli’s proposal is receiving mixed responses, with some critics claiming it is too simplistic of a solution, and others describing visits to concentration camps as vital to understanding German history. The suggestion is partially a reaction against anti-Semitist behavior that has erupted in Germany after President Trump claimed that the United States officially considers Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The success of the Alternative for Germany party and its rising to be the third largest German political party resulted in multiple protests in 2017, where anti-AfD protestors and pro-AfD supporters clashed together violently. Now in 2018, teachers are following Chebli’s lead and attempting to protest AfD and its beliefs by informing and educating their students about xenophobia and the Holocaust.
The New York Times interviewed Jakob Hetzelein, a history teacher in a working-class district of northeastern Berlin. Hetzelein decided to take his teenage students to Sachsenhausen, a Nazi concentration camp memorial in Orianenberg after witnessing troubling behavior from his students. Hetzelein’s history class recently held a mock election and multiple students supported the AfD party. Reportedly, Hetzelein’s students were greatly impacted by the trip to the concentration camp. About a week after the class’s visit, Hetzelein asked the students if they thought their own children should one day be made to visit the camp, and out of the 22, 21 said yes. Despite mixed responses to Chebli’s proposal of obligatory concentration camp visits for immigrants, it seems that if Chebli and educators like Hetzelein are correct, then the exposure to concrete evidence of Germany’s complicated history may be a very effective tool to combat the anti-Semitism that is being fostered by the rise of the Alternative for Germany party.
Sources: New York Times; DW News.