For argument’s sake, let’s imagine that Trump’s tweet was wrong, and the “Civil War like fracture in this Nation” doesn’t come to pass. Instead, he and his allies lose the 2020 election. A new Administration comes in, dedicated to helping the nation “work off” its historical crimes, to avoid the coming of a Trump 2.0. What can we learn from the Germans? A few things, Neiman said. First of all, any attempt at Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung must be “multifaceted.” It can’t be confined to schools or museums. “Otherwise it’s boring, and it takes on the character of propaganda,” she said. Germans don’t learn about the Holocaust in just one way. “You really can’t escape it,” she said. “It’s in art works, in literature, in movies, in television, done in different keys and in different registers. There’s no one message.”
Similarly, government initiatives can’t just be a top-down, federal effort. “It needs to be local, spurred by citizen engagement,” she said. She talked about the Stumbling Stones project, which a German artist began in 1996, and which is now the largest decentralized monument in the world, with plaques all over Germany. “In many, many parts of the country, it’s citizen-financed,” Neiman said. “So if you want to put a stumbling stone in your house or in front of your building, you have to research the history of the people who lived there, you have to come up with the fee, a hundred and twenty euros, and get permission from the city. It’s quite interactive. And thousands of people do this.” Meanwhile, white Americans are still getting married at plantations—a practice that Neiman said Germans would probably view with horror. “After all, plantations were concentration camps for black people,” Neiman said.