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Cheering Germany, On And Off The Pitch

Talking about today's World Cup match between Argentina and Germany, I heard myself saying, "Go, Germany," and flinched.

For many people around the world, it is hard to ever really root for Germany. We may admire German cars and opera. We may acclaim German genius, from Goethe to Brecht to Richard von Weizsacker.

But Germany is still known — and will always be known — as that nation that committed the crime which defines evil.

Even 65 years after the Allies, at great cost of blood and treasure, brought Nazi Germany's reign of cruelty to an end. Even though there are few Germans alive today who even remember that time, much less had a hand in them.

I once interviewed a French woman who had been in the Resistance. She said she didn’t like the way politically correct Americans referred to the "Nazis" who strutted bloody tracks all over Europe and made machines to murder every Jew.

"Who knows how many of them were Nazis?" she said. "But they were all German."

Even a lot of Germans might agree.

Willy Brandt, the former chancellor, escaped Germany in the 1930’s to fight the Nazis. But he knelt down in atonement at the site of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1970, saying later, "Under the weight of recent history, I did what people do when words fail them. In this way I commemorated millions of murdered people."

German football fans. Matthias Kern/Getty Images i i

For many people around the world, it is hard to ever really root for Germany. Matthias Kern/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Matthias Kern/Getty Images
German football fans. Matthias Kern/Getty Images

For many people around the world, it is hard to ever really root for Germany.

Matthias Kern/Getty Images

As another chancellor, Helmut Kohl, said as Germany unified in 1989, "We will not allow the responsibility for this dark chapter of our history to be blotted out."

My family and I have been to Germany in recent years, and we've been impressed. The largest cities and smallest towns have moving, prominent memorials to those who were murdered by the German state. The history of the Holocaust and German responsibility for it, are widely taught. When we went to Dachau, a suburban Munich town that welcomed the first concentration camp, it teemed with German school kids who entered, laughing and wisecracking, as teenagers do; but they left in sober silence.

More surprisingly, we've had a good time. Berlin and Munich, whose streets once seethed with terror and cruelty, now seem bubbling and diverse.

Germany's World Cup team is not from your grandfather's Germany. Two members of the 23-man squad are African-German. Three, including their big star, Mesut Ozil, have Turkish heritage. Two are Latin. One is Bosnian, and three are from Poland — all nationalities that Nazi Germany's barbarous racial laws classified as subhuman.

This German team seems to reflect a new and civilized place that has confronted and repudiated its past and is now a democracy that makes a place for immigrants and diversity. Its World Cup team reminds us: What Germany has done deserves a cheer.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small