German past -- and future
Chancellor Kohl of West Germany put a valuable perspective on the wave of antifascist marches, scholarly discussions, and other events marking the 50th anniversary of Hitler's rise to power:
''Remembrance and grief will have been fruitful,'' he said, ''if out of them grows responsibility.''
The Germans have seen a dramatic postwar resurgence of democracy and humane tradition. But continuing responsibility is demanded for their preservation.
For there is no more than a half truth in the warning by philosopher George Santayana that is regularly summoned up on historical occasions: ''Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.''
In the first place, the worst aspects of the past are often repeated by those who can remember it. Witness the way conflicts in various parts of the world have repeatedly been allowed to lapse into violence even within one generation.
In the second place, those who cannot literally remember the past can still prove they are not condemned to repeat it. Here is where there is something particularly heartening in many German young people. They are too young to remember the Nazis' slaughter of the Jews and depredations on other countries. But they are determined to know the facts, to join a chastened older generation in ensuring that such excesses will never happen again.
At the same time, a less quoted line of Santayana might be invoked in the light of German history going far beyond its 20th-century blights. ''Without demanding from the men of to-day anything final or solid,'' he wrote, '' we may be grateful to them for those glimpses of great things past and of great things possible.'' The Germans have an abundance of great things past - in the arts and sciences, for example - to be glimpsed in the midst of the current black memories. And there are glimpses of great things possible in the way a people has regenerated its government with a healing acknowledgment of days when, as Chancellor Kohl said, ''in the name of Germany, the face of humanity was shamed.''