In her new book, Das neue Unbehagen an der Erinnerungskultur: Eine Intervention (The New Discomfort with Memory Culture: An Intervention), which I am currently reading for an upcoming review in Central European History, Aleida Assmann presents a historical counterfactual that nicely reveals the rhetorical and political utility of “what ifs.”
Commenting on the tepid response of ordinary Germans to the revelations in 2011 of the “Döner Killings” of eight Turkish immigrants by a cell of neo-Nazi terrorists belonging to the NSU (National Socialist Underground), she expresses her wish that Germans had shown the same degree of disgust shown by ordinary Turks following the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist and activist Hrant Dink, who was killed by a Turkish nationalist in 2007 for his critical remarks about the Turkish government’s ongoing denial of the Armenian genocide. (Unlike the situation in Germany, where the response to the revelations was muted, in Turkey thousands of protesters marched in the streets of multiple cities, exclaiming “We are all Armenians!”).
Assmann did not leave it there, however. She underscored her disaffection by presenting a counterfactual analogy related to the Nazi era, writing “Imagine if after the November pogrom of 1938 [Kristallnacht], thousands of non-Jewish Germans had marched in the streets throughout German cities holding banners that read “We are all Jews!” Following such protests, it would have is been impossible for Hitler’s obsessive pursuit of the Final Solution to be implemented” (p. 140).
Assmann’s counterfactual is not particularly plausible. (Most Germans, being indifferent to the plight of the Jews, were unlikely to have rallied to their defense). But her counterfactual clearly serves as an effective rhetorical exclamation point to her argument that her fellow Germans fell short of the admirable standard set by contemporary Turks in displaying social solidarity with the minorities living in their midst.