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Will Japan ever have courage to own up to its past?

By Fu Jing (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2015-08-30 13:06

Nation's politicians should follow example set by their German counterparts

Since China will hold activities, including a parade, on Sept 3 to mark the 70th anniversary of the victory in the war against fascism, I went on a one-day tour of Berlin on Saturday to see what World War II means to the German people and returned with respect for the city for facing its past with honesty.

The first proof of Berlin's honesty for me was the Soviet War Memorial in Tiergarten. Built in 1945, the memorial, shaped like a curved stoa topped by a statue of a Soviet soldier, is today surrounded by woodland. The memorial, following the division of Berlin after World War II, was in the British sector, but still the Germans honored the tens of thousands of Soviet soldiers who sacrificed their lives fighting the Nazis in the Battle of Berlin as their country's "heroes". This profound courage, honesty and respect for history has been shown by German politicians, too.

Europe observes V-E Day on May 8. Two days before the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, German President Joachim Gauck laid a wreath at a cemetery in Holte-Stukenbrock, northern Germany, where Soviet soldiers are buried, saying it is important to remember one of the worst crimes of war.

Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel skipped the Red Square parade on Russia's V-E Day amid a Western boycott, she attended a wreath-laying ceremony in Moscow to commemorate the Soviet soldiers and civilians killed during WWII. And, while on a visit to Japan in March, she said Germans are not in a position to advise anyone, but they can deal with history squarely.

Leaving the Tiergarten memorial, I walked to the Holocaust Memorial, just one block south of the 18th-century, neoclassical Brandenburg Gate. The site is covered with concrete slabs in grid pattern on a sloping field, and an attached underground "Place of Information" holds the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims. Following the tourists, veterans and their families, I weaved between rows of slabs, overhearing the stories of death, pain, despair, sacrifice and valor told by tour guides and history teachers. Not a single word is inscribed on the slabs, but still they tell you everything about humanity and its fight against fascism.

Apart from another memorial, I also visited the spot where once the Berlin Wall stood. Built in 1961, the wall divided the city into East and West Berlin for 28 years. Standing on one of the most spectacular spots on Berlin Potsdamer Square, the remaining part of the Berlin Wall teaches us the significance of peace, reconciliation and reunification. A visit to the German Chancellery, thanks to its parliamentary journey, also enriched my knowledge of German history.

Among the things that impressed me most was what Germans have written on an exhibition plate: "The frank discussion on Germany's past is one of the major achievements of our political culture and the foundation of our understanding of ourselves as a nation in a free Europe."

Germans consider frank discussions on their past a necessity because they respect history and are not reluctant to apologize for their country's history of aggression. And that is exactly what helped the Germans to emerge as trustworthy builders of peace in Europe and become an economic power.

German people and politicians deserve praise for their honesty and attitude toward WWII, but the same cannot be said about Japanese politicians. Japan has emerged as a big economic power but failed to win the trust of its neighbors, especially China and the Republic of Korea, because its rightwing politicians refuse or are reluctant to express remorse for Japan's war past. The latest such example is Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's speech on Aug 14 to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, which left Asian countries unhappy.

Is it that hard for Japanese politicians to learn from their German counterparts?

The author is China Daily chief correspondent in Brussels. Contact the writer at

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