Reflection: Lessons from German History

Bundesarchiv Bild, Nürnberg, Reichsparteitag, SA-Aufmarsch

This article is adapted from the author's remarks at the tenth annual dinner of the Leo Baeck Institute in New York, at which he was honored for distinguished scholarship in German history and for contributions to good relations between the United States and Germany. Reflections on his career and accomplishments were made at the November 14 dinner by Joschka Fischer, German foreign minister; W. Michael Blumenthal, director of the Jewish Museum in Berlin; and Richard C. Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

To have witnessed even as a child the descent in Germany from decency to Nazi barbarism gave the question, how was it possible? an existential immediacy. Along with others of my generation, I wrestled with that question, trying to reconstruct some parts of the past and perhaps intuit some lessons.

Today, I worry about the immediate future of the United States, the country that gave haven

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