On the love of ignorance – a critical commentary

Last updated 29. December 2023 | Webmaster

On the love of ignorance – a critical commentary

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History is a real thing in itself that is told in many different ways. It is characterized by discourse. But what happens if you ignore them? If they are dismissed as irrelevant? Is that also a discourse? An active and critical historical awareness can respond to these questions. In the following, personal and institutional structures in connection with the war crimes committed by the 110th Division will be examined. Infantry Division (ID), it will be made clear that Lüneburg still has a long way to go to come to terms with blind spots in the memory of the city, its people and institutions due to a love of ignorance of the German history of perpetrators. Lüneburg’s post-war memory appears like a collective cognitive dissonance: part of the memory is celebrated, part repressed. The map clearly shows Lüneburg’s institutional involvement as a geopolitical base for military operations and associated war crimes during the Second World War. How is the Wehrmacht viewed locally? Which deeds are hidden? How was the handling of the 110. ID after the end of the war? A politics of remembrance was established which, in its persistent selectivity, can be considered paradigmatically unusual for the culture of remembrance in Germany as a whole.

The “garrison town” policy after the war. The militaristic preferences are far from over.

The end of the war marks the beginning of a long period of strategic oblivion. Since 1956, Lüneburg has served as a regular meeting place for former members of the veterans’ association “ex-ID 110”. These meetings took place until 1990. The veterans’ association was invited in 1956, two years after it was founded – on the occasion of Lüneburg’s 1000-year anniversary celebrations – by Lüneburg’s political leadership at the time, Mayor Peter Gravenhorst (German Party) and Mayor Dr. Walter Bötcher. His arrival was ceremoniously welcomed in the Lüneburger Landeszeitung. At this time, Lüneburg’s political landscape was characterized by a remarkable network of nationalist actors. Mayor Gravenhorst and Dr. Bötcher were among the former Wehrmacht officers whose careers led to leading positions in local politics. This continuity was also reflected in the regional press. The highly decorated Wehrmacht officer Helmut Pleß was editor-in-chief of the Lüneburger Landeszeitung (LZ) for 21 years (1962-1983). This probably explains why, in addition to recurring announcements of meetings of the veterans’ association “ex-ID 110”, various affirmative reports from the LZ regarding these meetings are archived. These reports indicate a rough number of participants of between 100-300 people.
Remarkably, Lüneburg functioned as a supra-regional meeting place for the traditional association of the entire 110 ID. The city thus played a central role in the cohesion of this group, its rituals of cohesion and the associated images of history – self-generated and promoted by the media. This also includes the revisionist presentation of the division chronicle (1965) by a former leading officer of the 110th Division. ID, Ernst Beyersdorff. In it, the speech on the history of the 110. ID of an ex-commander of the same division in Lüneburg town hall in June 1958, Karl Kleyser, at that time already a colonel in the General Staff Service of the German Armed Forces, was processed and further elaborated. Beyersdorff’s division chronicle consolidated an exculpatory narrative, which was expanded and reinforced by the local press’s monopoly on representation.

On the way to the “memorial” of ignorance.

These veterans’ association meetings were significant in light of the fact that a “memorial” for the war criminals of the 110 ID would soon be erected. There was also a speech by a former lieutenant general of the 110th Division. ID, Martin Gilbert, also in the Fürstensaal of Lüneburg Town Hall in June 1958, stands for the city’s welcoming culture. As part of a presentation on the history and identity of the 110. ID, Gilbert praised them as a “clean” Wehrmacht unit. “The core of the unit whose fate unites us was as clean, clear and genuine as gold. I can say from my own experience and from my own opportunity for comparison that the 110th Infantry Division was the embodiment of the best German soldiering in terms of performance and spirit from the first to the last hour.” In the most representative hall of the town hall, Lord Mayor Gravenhorst and Chief Town Clerk Bötcher, other councillors and the traditional association of the 110th Brigade were seated. ID. Their agreement on the 110th’s spotless past. ID should continue for a long time to come.
In 1960, the 110. ID, also known as the “Viking Division”, a “memorial” on Graalwall in Lüneburg’s city center. The Swedish granite monument is emblazoned with the tactical symbol of the 110th Division. ID, a Viking ship. At the time, the symbol conjured up a Nordic cult linked to blood and soil. Today it retroactively aestheticizes the war of annihilation against the Soviet Union and heroizes the Wehrmacht unit. On behalf of the town, ex-military officer and head of the town council Bötcher announced that the heath town would “maintain” the memorial “in such a way that this place becomes a worthy place of remembrance” (LZ, 1960).
The Bundeswehr was also invested in the “memorial”: by means of so-called “guards of honour”, which were held during the inauguration and in the following years, these military death guards acted as a protective unit for the idealized reputation of the Wehrmacht division. Depictions of the public ceremonies can be found in the LZ up to 1990.
The anchoring of the 110. ID in the local cultural memory through a “memorial stone” for this unit. This was placed in 1960 in the Scharnhorstkaserne grove of honor – on today’s university campus. The “memorial stone” remained at this site until 1993, when it was moved to the nearby memorial grove of the Theodor Körner barracks. The last time this relic was photographed there was in 2016/17. Its whereabouts are currently unknown.
Up until the 2010s, i.e. over three generations of Lüneburg’s population, the harrowing story of the 110th Brigade remained unresolved. ID unlit, their crimes kept hidden.

Urban policy of indifference

First indications that the 110. ID must have been involved in war crimes only reappeared in Lüneburg in 2014, after locally ignored evidence in the context of the Nuremberg Trial, via a lecture in Karlsruhe on the 35th ID, a division that was also involved in the massacre in the Ozarichi area in 1944.
In response to an initial examination of the topic, the memorial was included in 2014 as one of 24 places of remembrance in the so-called “Peace Trail” – a “city tour of monuments and places of remembrance” in Lüneburg. Originating from the Günter Manzke Peace Foundation, the purpose of this “city tour” was to “commemorate”. In fact, he tied in what the monument for the 110th anniversary of the founding of the city. ID, however, is based on the saying of this “memorial”: “Let no one say that our fallen are dead”. The so-called peace path is part of this rhetorical tradition. A small plaque was initially placed at a distance of around 30 meters from the “memorial” in order to comment on it. The words read: “The trauma of war will not let the dead rest”. Accompanying information spoke of a “memorial” and stated: “Of 10,500 men before the battle of Minsk in 1944, only about 300 managed to escape”. An exacerbation of the gloomy balance can be found in the LZ, which emerged from the NS publication “Lüneburger Anzeigen”. The newspaper has reported several times in the past about at least 1000 soldiers of the 110th Division. ID who would have survived the war. Following ongoing protests, the plaque and its contents have now not only been moved closer to the memorial, but have also been replaced, although no final solution has been found (for the time being). The dubious preservation of monuments was first brought to attention in connection with the trial of SS member Oskar Gröning, formerly active in the Auschwitz concentration camp, which took place in Lüneburg’s Ritterakademie in 2015.
Bernadette and Joachim Gottschalk from Laatzen near Hanover were dismayed and outraged by the cynical euphemisms of the “Peace Trail” at the time. They took part in the trial as relatives of victims of the Shoah. The Gottschalk couple complained about the “memorial” and the city’s handling of it at the time, which their relatives found re-traumatizing. They demanded a new information board detailing the crimes of the 110th Division. ID in the Ozarichi area and clarifies the “memorial” in connection with the Shoah, i.e. the National Socialist genocide of the Jews. A protest action drew attention to the situation: “Court indicts concentration camp supervisors – Lüneburg honors war criminals of the 110th Inf.Div.”. The poster documented in the Landeszeitung was displayed in the street Am Graalwall and pointed out the painful proximity of the Gröning trial to the “memorial”. The Gottschalks brought charges against the city of Lüneburg for “commemoration to the exclusion of the victims”, “one-sided, unreflected commemoration of this division”, failure to make a “gesture of empathy and reconciliation”, “vilification of the survivors of the Shoah and their families” and maintaining a “fascist culture of remembrance”. They questioned such a “commemoration” and stated that the city was promoting recognition of the war trauma on the part of the murderers, but was not taking the victims into account in any way. They eventually filed several lawsuits against the city.
In March 2017, Prof. Dr. Christoph Rass, a leading researcher in the field of war crimes in Ozarichi and member of the Historical Commission of Lower Saxony and Bremen, prepared an expert report at the request of the Dean of Cultural Studies at Leuphana, specifically on the involvement of the 110th Brigade. ID in the war crime. The report shows that the participation of the 110. ID comprised three fields: the deportation of around 3,000 locals, the construction of two intermediate and two final camps with presumably up to 3,600 dead in the area of the 110th ID. ID and the allocation of 250 people who had to perform forced labor. In the same month, Rass made his extensive research material available for the art space exhibition “Hinterbühne I” at Leuphana University. The exhibition – which can still be read on the Internet – was dedicated to the events in Ozarichi. In the days and weeks that followed, reactions to the report and the Kunstraum exhibition mainly took the form of opposing interventions at the 110th Division’s “memorial”. ID and the explanatory panel of the “Peace Trail”.
In August 2017, Leuphana University and the Association of Victims of National Socialism (VVN Lüneburg) welcomed six female survivors of the war crimes in Ozarichi as part of an exchange in the Leuphana Art Space. They had the courage to accept the invitation and come to Germany. This makes an interview that was published around six months later, in January 2018, all the more shameful. On the now-deleted YouTube channel of Shoah denier and self-proclaimed “teacher of the people” Nicolai Nerling, who still fills the headlines as a far-right influencer, the historian and local CDU politician Dr. Gerhard Scharf, mayor of Lüneburg for over 25 years, was interviewed in front of the “memorial” of the 110th Lüneburg Army. ID about its deliberate actionist desecration and the reception of the survivors in the town hall. Dr. Scharf spoke of a “scandal”, a “huge theater” that was being played out against the good soldiers of the 110th Division. ID was addressed. While the massacre in Ozarichi is considered by scholars to be one of the greatest and most repugnant crimes ever committed by the Wehrmacht, Dr. Scharf told the Volkslehrer and his listeners: “It’s like a knife in your pocket.” He accused the critics of wanting to remove the “memorial” and denigrated the very heterogeneous constellation of resisters as “leftists”.
Furthermore, Dr. Scharf commented with regard to the war crimes in the Ozarichi area that these had been carried out exclusively on a voluntary basis by special commandos. The remaining 11,000 soldiers were busy “keeping the Russians at bay”. “Volkslehrer” Nicolai Nerling worked as a primary school teacher in Berlin until his suspension in 2018 and, with a current reach of around 70,000 subscribers on his channel, is a key intermediary for far-right propaganda.
Despite a motion to vote him out of office by the Die Linke parliamentary group in the city council in 2018, Dr. Scharf remained in office until the end: he was confirmed by 20 votes to 17. Scharf only retired from politics in September 2021. In October 2021, he received the City of Lüneburg’s Ring of Honor because, as the laudatory speech said, he had “rendered outstanding services to the city”.

Conclusion

These accounts make it clear that Lüneburg’s city policy has so far cultivated a limited awareness of history. “The love of ignorance” is intended to symbolize how a political and psychological spectacle of a special kind took place here in Lüneburg. The systematic forgetting within the cultivated filter memory emerged from an interaction of multiple factors and was able to remain undisturbed for a particularly long time due to local alliances. This map confronts the systematic forgetting: it takes a stand against the growing ignorance and exposes the hypocrisy of the previous, belated way of dealing with the Wehrmacht past. It needs this card, it needs this reappraisal, again and again. It is telling that there is still no memorial to the victims of the perpetrators who started war crimes from Lüneburg. As students at a university in a city with a long tradition of militarism, we want to promote the reappraisal of the military past. There are still large gaps. This map is intended to serve as a guide for future generations of students and interested parties on the path of remembrance.