Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Hitler's Bell

The small town of Herxheim has a problem. Herxheim where? Am Berg in Rhineland-Palatinate. Don't the Herxheimers have an opportunity rather than a problem*?
*An English colleague at CERN tried to convince us that there are no problems, only opportunities

Sankt Jakobskirche mit Glockenturm (©dpa/Uwe Anspach)
Once upon a time, the people of sleepy Herxheim enjoyed the harmonious triad in B-minor of three bells hanging in the belfry of the local Lutheran St. Jacob Church calling them to services on Sundays. It is somewhat strange that the municipality is the owner of the dominant bell but it serves as a fire alarm. During World War II the bell warned of air raids too. Many citizens thought that this was the reason why the big bell remained in its cage when in 1942 the two smaller bells were taken down to be melted for their non-ferrous metal, it being essential to the Nazi war effort.

Bells stored to be melted down in Hamburg's harbor in the fall of 1945, but the war was over.
Note the destroyed buildings in the background. Some of the bells could be restituted.
Already in 1951, the two missing bells were recast and the people of Herxheim lived peacefully and happily thereafter.

©dpa/Uwe Anspach
Not quite, for in 2017, an organist made public that the dominant bell in St. Jacob’s belfry dates back to the Third Reich. It shows a swastika and the text: Alles fuer’s Vaterland - Adolf Hitler (All for the fatherland - AH). However, Lutheran Pastor Helmut Meinhardt and Mayor Ronald Becker of the Free Voter’s Community refused to take down the Hitler bell stating, “We are proud to possess such a bell”, while Becker added, “Not all that Hitler did was bad”, continuing, “There are things that he got off the ground and we still use today.” Herxbach’s municipal council was appalled so Becker had to step down as mayor. Suddenly the small town was all over the news.

His successor Georg Welker, a retired pastor, put his foot in his mouth too when he stated on national television, “I am just saying, in the ringing of the bell I hear the victims. These were German citizens, too, not only Jews.” The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany commented, “A bell with such an inscription must not commemorate victims of the Nazi terror”, and “The distinction Welker has made corresponds exactly to the Nazi ideology," i.e., regarding German Jews as non-Germans.

Although the Lutheran Church has offered to pay for a new bell, on February 26, 2018, Herxheim’s municipal council decided by ten votes to three not only to keep the Hitler bell in its cage but to use it. Previously, a group of experts had classified the bell as a monument, either to be placed in a museum or to be kept in place. The municipal council argued that replacing the bell would be an escape from a culture of memory (Erinnerungskultur). Say what?

In voting for, Herxbach's counselors had suddenly changed their “problem” into an opportunity, i.e., making their town known nationwide. Is Hitler’s bell now a tourist attraction or even worse a place of pilgrimage attracting neo-Nazis similar to the tomb of Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess in the past? In 2011 the small town of Wunsiedel in Bavaria was eventually tired of neo-Nazis hanging around Hess' tomb. The city council had Hess' corpse dug up, burned it, and scattered the ashes on the high seas. End of story.

Herxheimers, why can't you just have the damned bell melted down and the molten mass highly diluted with "innocent" bronze?

P.S: Herxheim remains in the news. Due to a formal error, the vote of February 26 is null and void and has to be repeated. The “final” vote is now scheduled for March 12.

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