Why Is Germany—With Its History—Enabling China's Genocide? | Opinion

In December of 2019, Chancellor Angela Merkel made her first official visit to Auschwitz. Standing at the site of the Birkenau death camp before a group of Holocaust survivors, the chancellor expressed her abiding gratitude to those who provided testimony of the horrific atrocities committed during the Holocaust. "Remembering the crimes is an unending responsibility," Chancellor Merkel said, an "integral part of our national identity." She closed her address by bowing her head in reverence to the survivors, the victims, and their families.

The legacy of the Holocaust is indeed an indelible part of the history of the German nation. In the last century, the German government perpetrated the worst horrors of mankind: the systematic murder of 6 million Jews in an attempt to annihilate all European Jewry. In the aftermath of these atrocities, Germany made countless proclamations, like the chancellor's at Auschwitz, on its commitment to remembering the crimes of the Holocaust and preventing antisemitism and genocide around the world.

Unfortunately, today, as the Chinese Communist Party perpetrates another brutal genocide in Xinjiang, Germany's promises ring hollow.

Despite Chancellor Merkel's palpable understanding of Germany's unique responsibility in genocide prevention, her tenure witnessed significant engagement with China, even as the Chinese Communist Party detained more than one million ethnic Uyghurs in concentration camps. Over the past few years, Germany has largely sought to avoid any undue pressure on China that might jeopardize its close economic ties with the regime, even refusing to ban Huawei from its 5G network, inviting a serious national security risk into the transatlantic alliance.

Angela Merkel and Xi Jinping
German Chancellor Angela Merkel stands behind Russian President Vladimir Putin (front R) and Chinese President Xi Jinping as they arrive to pose for a group photo before a cultural event at the Osaka Geihinkan in Osaka Castle Park during the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019. DOMINIQUE JACOVIDES/AFP via Getty Images

It is an unfortunate turn of history that the long shadow of the Holocaust, cast forever on the soul of the German nation, has grown darker and more ominous in Germany's China policy. Germany's genocidal past is precisely the reason why it must not continue to accommodate the murderous Communist Party of China.

Instead, Germany should be leading European and international efforts to address these atrocities. Continued prioritization of economic ties enables the terrible crimes Germany has so vociferously committed never again to allow repeated. These actions are not merely the height of national hypocrisy, but also dangerous, unjust, and immoral.

In the coming years, the United States will need European allies to form a united front against China's increasing power and influence in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. As Europe's largest economy, Germany holds significant clout in the European Union and internationally. With a new German government forming under Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Germany has an opportunity to reconsider its approach on China, starting with the Beijing Olympic Games in February, which have already evoked profound comparisons to the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.

The new German government must now decisively choose whether or not it will fulfill the promises it has made in the years since the Holocaust. The German nation has arguably never been better positioned to use its international role to stand against the crimes of its past. In the coming weeks and months, the world will see if Germany's ostensible commitment to genocide prevention is one of words and empty promises, or also one of action and leadership.

In 1970, while laying a wreath at the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, West German Chancellor Willy Brandt spontaneously fell to his knees in a symbol of atonement for his nations' sins in the Holocaust. Brandt, who was part of the resistance during World War Two, later wrote of the act, "As I stood on the edge of Germany's historical abyss, carrying the burden of the millions who were murdered, I did what people do when words fail them."

In that moment of total submission and deference, Chancellor Brandt, like Chancellor Merkel at Auschwitz, understood Germany's eternal responsibility to remember the crimes of the Holocaust and ensure that similar atrocities never occur again. As Germany considers its path forward on China over the next few months and years, its new Chancellor and the new German government would be wise to remember the Kniefall von Warschau, the burdens of Chancellor Brandt, and what good people do under history's mounting, imminent, and ever moral weight.

Dr. Amanda J. Rothschild is the Senior Policy Director of the Vandenberg Coalition, a former Senior Advisor on the State Department Policy Planning Staff, and a former Special Assistant to the President and Senior National Security Speechwriter at the White House. She has published widely on U.S. presidential history and responsiveness to genocide and mass atrocities.

The views in this article are the writer's own.