What Is Contrition With out Reparation?

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For our December cover story, our employees author Clint Smith—who has written a guide about historic websites and memorials of slavery in America—frolicked in Germany, visiting websites of Holocaust reminiscence and learning the debates round them. I known as him to debate how acts of atonement differ within the two nations.

However first, listed below are three new tales from The Atlantic.

Crammed With Stones

Isabel Fattal: What stunned you as you frolicked with Germany’s Holocaust memorials and commemorative spots?

Clint Smith: Like many individuals, I learn books concerning the Holocaust in grade faculty. I learn Anne Frank’s diary and Elie Wiesel’s Evening; I frolicked with a number of these narratives that gave me a small perception into what occurred. However I’m a giant believer within the energy of placing your physique within the place the place historical past occurred. It offers you a unique sense of your individual proximity to that historical past. I feel I felt that the majority on the Dachau focus camp.

I’ve been to plantations. I’ve been within execution chambers. I’ve walked the halls of demise row. I’ve been to a number of locations the place demise and violence are, and have been, enacted on folks. However I’ve by no means skilled the coolness in my physique and in my spirit that I did after I was strolling by the fuel chamber at Dachau. I used to be startled by how deeply I felt it in my physique, how deeply unsettled I felt in my spirit. And then you definately notice how current it was. This was lower than 80 years in the past.

Isabel: What are the teachings America can take from Germany about acknowledging and atoning for the harms of the previous?

Clint: One of the vital shifting memorials that I encountered had been the “stumbling stones,” an English translation of Stolpersteine. There are greater than 90,000 brass stones unfold throughout 30 completely different nations in Europe, and so they’re sometimes positioned in entrance of the houses, residences, synagogues, and colleges the place Jews and different teams had been persecuted and murdered by the Nazis, or the place they final lived earlier than they had been despatched to their deaths. I used to be speaking with a Jewish lady I frolicked with who lived in a house that had two stumbling stones in entrance of it, and she or he stated to me, “Are you able to think about what it will be like should you had this for slavery in your hometown, in New Orleans?” And I had a second the place I appeared down on the stones and imagined what it will be like.

She stated, “It might be packed.” And it’s true, proper? Whole streets could be full of stones. I take into consideration what it will be like if we did one thing commensurate with that right here. What would it not be like if we had stumbling stones or markers in each place the place enslaved folks had been bought or held or rendered captive? What may it do to our collective understanding of our historical past? Would now we have such a distorted sense of what America has been and what it’s if we had been repeatedly reminded of what it has executed?

Markers and stumbling stones aren’t a panacea by any means. However the factor about Germany is that these websites of reminiscence are ubiquitous. There are such a lot of reminders, in every single place you flip, of what Germany did, that it turns into an indelible a part of the nationwide psyche.

Isabel: One of many factors that caught out to me in your story was that in Germany as we speak, Jews are extra of a historic abstraction than an actual group of individuals. That makes the act of memorializing the Holocaust in Germany very completely different from that of memorializing slavery in America.

Clint: In Germany, Jewish persons are lower than 1 / 4 of a p.c of the inhabitants. There are extra Jewish folks in Boston than there are in all of Germany. As one Jewish lady put it, Jewishness is an empty canvas upon which Germans can paint their repentance. It’s extra of an concept upon which contrition is projected than it’s an precise group of people that need to be engaged with. Many Germans don’t know, spend time with, or interact with Jewish folks.

In america, there are 41 million Black folks on this nation. And so you possibly can’t merely construct a memorial to slavery or put a wreath down annually on Juneteenth and say, We did this horrible factor. We gained’t do it once more, with out accounting for the fabric implications of what occurred for the people who find themselves proper in entrance of you. Contrition with out reparation would really feel empty or incomplete. Throughout the nation, we see the manifestations of an absence of reparations within the pervasive inequality between Black and white folks.

In Germany, many Jewish folks consider that it’s simpler while you don’t really need to account for or interact with the folks you probably did this factor to, as a result of there are so few of them left. I feel it creates a basically completely different set of social and political realities from america, the place should you say you’re sorry however then don’t do something for the people who find themselves the descendants of that hurt or who expertise that hurt now, then what are you really doing?

Isabel: To finish on a considerably hopeful word, you argue that residents don’t need to depend on authorities help to acknowledge the previous. “Atypical persons are the conscience,” you write. What recommendation would you give individuals who hope to develop into part of their neighborhood’s makes an attempt to recollect?

Clint: There are examples of communities within the U.S. that aren’t ready for the federal government to inform them that they need to construct a memorial or they need to create websites of public reminiscence. I feel probably the most compelling is a bunch in Connecticut that’s doing a Witness Stones Venture, primarily based on the stumbling-stones venture in Germany. Center- and high-school college students are putting stones to mark the areas the place enslaved folks lived, labored, and worshiped.

What I discovered in Germany is that the stumbling stones weren’t began by the federal government. It began with one man, Gunter Demnig, an artist who determined to begin placing these stones into the bottom. So he did. At first, authorities officers tried to cease him, however after seeing how a lot help there was for the venture, they relented, and even in the end started supporting his efforts. Typically it’s about being proactive and making an attempt to inform the tales in your neighborhood that no person else is telling.


At this time’s Information
  1. The Related Press, citing an nameless U.S. official, reported that Russian missiles had crossed into Poland (a NATO member), killing two folks. The U.S. authorities and NATO allies have but to verify the assertion, and Russia has denied involvement.
  2. Donald Trump is expected to announce his 2024 presidential run at his Mar-a-Lago resort this night.
  3. Grammy nominations had been announced, and Beyoncé obtained essentially the most nominations this yr, adopted by Kendrick Lamar.


Night Learn
Silhouette of face on doctor's notepad
(Tyler Comrie / The Atlantic)

Do You Actually Wish to Learn What Your Physician Writes About You?

By Zoya Qureshi

You might not be conscious of this, however you possibly can learn the whole lot that your physician writes about you. Go to your affected person portal on-line, click on round till you land on notes out of your previous visits, and skim away. This can be a current growth, and a giant one. Beforehand, you all the time had the proper to request your medical document out of your care suppliers—an typically costly and generally fruitless course of—however in April 2021, a brand new federal rule went into impact, mandating that sufferers have the authorized proper to freely and electronically entry most sorts of notes written about them by their medical doctors.

Read the full article.

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I requested Clint what he may suggest for additional studying on the themes of historical past and public reminiscence. “By way of considering by the reminiscence of slavery in america, there isn’t any one higher than historian David Blight; his Pulitzer Prize–profitable biography of Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom, is a must-read,” Clint stated. “I’d additionally encourage folks to learn W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1952 essay on his go to to Warsaw, which in some ways served as a supply of inspiration for my journey to Berlin and Dachau.”

— Isabel

To listen to extra about our December cowl story, be a part of Clint in dialog with The Atlantic’s editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, on Friday, November 18, at 1 p.m. ET. Register here.

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