Germans are marking the 80th anniversary of the rise of Adolf Hitler with a look back, a vow never to forget and a commitment to protect democracy in the future.
It was on Jan. 30, 1933, amid great political instability, that Hitler was appointed chancellor by then president Paul von Hindenburg.
The very next day, Hitler withdrew his Nazi party from the coalition government and asked the president to dissolve the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament.
"Now it will be easy," propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary. "Radio and press are at our disposal. We shall stage a masterpiece of propaganda."
In her weekly podcast, current Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany must continue to take responsibility for the crimes committed by the Nazis.
"Naturally, we have an everlasting responsibility for the crimes of national-socialism, for the victims of World War II, and above all, for the Holocaust," she said as the world marked International Holocaust Memorial Day on Jan. 27. That’s the date in 1945 when the Soviet army liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp in then occupied Poland.
"We must clearly say, generation after generation, and say it again: with courage, civil courage, each individual can help ensure that racism and anti-Semitism have no chance," Merkel said.
'We have an everlasting responsibility for the crimes of national-socialism, for the victims of World War II, and above all, for the Holocaust.'—German Chancellor Angela Merkel
"We’re facing our history, we’re not hiding anything, we’re not repressing anything. We must confront this to make sure we are a good and trustworthy partner in the future, as we already are today, thankfully."
Historic anniversaries afford Germans natural opportunities to remember and understand the past, and political developments 80 years ago had catastrophic consequences on a global scale, said Arnd Bauerkaemper, a professor of modern history at the Free University of Berlin.
'It's certainly part of the psyche, you can’t understand current politics without knowing about Germany's past,' he said.
Nowadays, Germany is reluctant to get involved in military conflict, although that sometimes clashes with the deep need and commitment to defend democracy within the country, and without, Bauerkaemper explained.
Most days, you can read articles about anti-Semitism, racism and even xenophobia in the local newspapers, as Germans debate their relationship with Israel and the welcome extended to newcomers in different communities.
"Think about foreign policy, relations to the United States, to Israel in particular. To what extent can we, should we, criticize Israeli policy?" Bauerkamper asked.
As the events of Hitler's Germany move further into history, the country has been confronting the question of how it should enshrine its crimes and transgressions.
There is a need to beg publicly for forgiveness and a moral obligation to make up for the past, Bauerkaemper said.
For example, most countries celebrate the best in their histories. In the postwar years, Germany has seemed to erect memorials to mark its shame.
The enormous and chilling Holocaust memorial dominates central Berlin. There are monuments to the murdered Gypsies, and to gays and lesbians killed in the Holocaust. There is also a Topography of Terror centre at the site of the former Gestapo and SS headquarters.
Berlin has declared its theme for 2013 as "Destroyed Diversity: Berlin at the time of Nazi dictatorship." A special exhibition at the German Historical Museum will showcase more than 40 projects throughout the city between Jan. 30 to Nov. 9. That's the 75th anniversary of the Kristallnacht, which took place on Nov. 9-10, 1938.
A special tour will highlight the connections between the National Socialist regime in Berlin and places such as the Kurfuerstendamm promenade and Brandenburg Gate, showing their roles from the "seizure of power" in 1933 through to the November Pogrom of 1938.
CBC in Berlin
Karen Pauls is in Berlin to enhance CBC's European coverage at a time when the continent is struggling through one of the most unpredictable periods in recent history. Germany's prosperity is being closely watched as the ongoing fiscal crisis puts the European Union under great strain.
Pauls has covered national affairs in Canada for CBC Radio, and was previously posted in London, U.K., and Washington, D.C.
Follow her on Twitter @karenpaulscbc.
Young Germans are required to study the Nazi era and the Holocaust. Many have embraced the messages of social justice and pacifism, although some worry privately that this will eventually lead to public exhaustion.
At the same time, Germans are alert to any kind of neo-Nazi activity, Bauerkaemper said.
"We have to be sensitive, keep our past in mind and be aware of our collective responsibility. I wouldn't talk about collective guilt, but collective responsibility does remain," he said.
There is no disputing that many non-Germans lost their lives to the Third Reich during the Second World War, but Bauerkaemper said many Germans also lost their liberty to Hitler, who spent 12 years leading them to their own destruction.