Trivialization of the Shoah at Deutsche Bahn

As early as last October, Deutsche Bahn announced that it would name one of its new ICE 4 high-speed trains after Anne Frank. This decision has been widely discussed and has provoked different reactions, but has mostly been heavily criticized. The name suggestions had been collected in an open tender. The final decision was made by a jury of six PR and marketing experts, chaired by senior Group historian Susanne Kill.

Gisela Mettele, professor of gender history at the University of Jena, was also involved. The involvement of an independent historian sheds special light on the decision. Particularly astonishing is the view expressed by Ms. Mettele and reported by Der Spiegel that all the selected persons had in common that they were “curious about the world. All members of the jury, but especially a renowned historian, should be aware that Deutsche Bahn is the legal successor of the Reichsbahn, which to this day refuses to pay compensation for the deportation of millions of people and which, moreover, has, for example, been running the “Train of Memory” has significantly hindered his work:

Against this background, the question posed in the Tagesspiegel, “[w]hat bad motives should the railroads also have?” seems rather naive. The naming of a train after Anne Frank can hardly be understood in any other way than as a further attempt by Deutsche Bahn to evade its historical responsibility through cheap symbolism based on affect, instead of fulfilling it through appropriate compensation payments and responsible support for historical research into its own history. Only cynical is then also the response of the railroad to the criticism: “The DB apologizes if someone’s feelings were hurt”. This boundless trivialization of the human crime of the Shoah discussed here corresponds to a reaction pattern all too familiar from politics, which always comes into play where one has to capitulate argumentatively but does not want to take responsibility for one’s own actions.

However, the behavior of Deutsche Bahn is not surprising in view of its previous handling of its own corporate history. But it shows what can happen when scientists give up their distance to such official concerns of a large corporation. It would be the task of scientific work to question and criticize such practices. The statement about the involuntary namesakes of the new trains, however, is a leveling of the biography of Anne Frank. Serious historical understanding and responsible historical mediation simply disappear behind such a generalization that all these people were “curious about the world”. Behind this, the historical specificity of their biographies becomes invisible: while Anne Frank had to stay in hiding in Amsterdam and was finally deported to his death, Ludwig Erhard, who also gave his name, satisfied his curiosity “about the world” as the head of an “Institute for Industrial Research,” thus in a prominent position in the structure of the Nazi state. Anne Frank’s biographical wishes and plans can certainly not be reduced to such an empty sentence.

Incidentally, the fact that this is not only about Anne Frank, but also about numerous other selected personalities, has rarely been addressed. While the names of Karl Marx or Thomas Mann have to be used for any nonsense anyway, the selection of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Scholl siblings, but also those of Hannah Arendt and Erich Kästner, are equally worthy of criticism in this context.

A reflected historical examination of the individual experiences of persecution of these people and the crimes committed against them, symbolized in a special way by the name Anne Frank, is not facilitated by the naming of the trains. The intention of Deutsche Bahn to evade its historical responsibility, on the other hand, unfortunately does.

Author: Michael Becker