Last month, members of Alternative for Germany (AfD), Germany’s major far-right party and the largest opposition group in the country’s legislature, were offered a curious Christmas gift: Free tickets to “Schindler’s List.” They weren’t thrilled.
As The New York Times reports, Cinexx, an independent theater in Hachenburg, declared it would give free admission for a screening of the film on January 27 to AfD party members showing their membership cards at the box office. January 27 is Germany’s National Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“We see ourselves as a meeting place; films are windows on the world and initiate discussion in society,” Cinexx wrote in a statement translated by The Times. “We are in no way asserting that those who vote for the AfD are Nazis — everyone has to judge for themselves whether they need clarification about history.”
That’s not how some members took the overture. The European branch of i24 News, an Israeli international news outlet, reports that in an interview with German broadcaster WSR, party representatives objected to the connection they felt was being made by those at Cinexx. “We find the fact that the AfD is being linked to the Holocaust, the industrial mass extermination of people of the Jewish faith, to be an unspeakable error,” representatives for the state of Rhineland-Palatine said. And on Twitter, AfD politician Malte Kauffmann wrote the offer was a “senseless provocation” and that party members “don’t need tutoring” in the history of genocide.
Prominent AfD members have criticized Germany’s investment in Holocaust education, claiming it’s part of an effort to emphasize the evils of the Third Reich over what they believe is a national theme of German excellence. In February of last year the party‘s co-leader, Alexander Gauland, told a group of young members “we have a glorious history — and that, dear friends, lasted longer than the damn 12 years.” And last January Björn Höcke, a senior member of the party and regular main speaker at AfD events, said Germans were “the only people in the world to plant a monument of shame in the heart of its capital,” referring to the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. The culture of repentance and responsibility the memorial represents has been a consistent part of German life since the late 1960s.
Left-wing politicians in Germany have praised Cinexx’s offer, citing the AfD’s long record of trivializing remembrance initiatives.
“If a party’s members partially questions the remembrance culture and show their contempt of it, then such actions are justified and I think they are good and creative,” Hendrik Hering, President of the German State Parliament, told i24 News.
In response to the controversy, other liberal German politicians noted AfD member’s willingness to march with Neo-Nazis in the Chemnitz riots last summer as grounds for a history lesson. In those riots, instigated by the death of a German-Cuban man who authorities believe was murdered by two migrants, AfD members mixed with extremist groups who gave the Nazi salute and traded blows with counter-protestors.
When “Schindler’s List” first premiered in Germany in 1994, the conservative daily paper the Frankfurter Allgemeine wrote, “everyone should see this film” in a front-page review. Many more Germans cried in theaters and were distressed that their countrymen had never made a film like it. That reception adds weight to director Steven Spielberg’s decision to rerelease the film on its 25th anniversary, a decision the director attributed to his perception of a “renewed cycle of hate.”
Karin Leicher, who runs Cinexx, acknowledged the controversial nature of the offer in an interview with SWR, i24 News reports.
“I know it’s a provocation,” Leicher told the station. She also reported receiving “an extremely large number of positive and also some critical feedback.”
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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