Column god and the world: shying away from historical truth

The GEW foundation is named after Max Traeger. He stands as an example for the many teachers who served National Socialism.

The National Socialist Teachers’ Association (NSLB) was also in line with the NS. Here Hitler strives for the German youth, 1934 Photo: imago/Sepp Spiegl

No political force is currently more needed than the unions. If anything, they are in a position to successfully stand up to racist and xenophobic sentiments. A special role is played by those unions that are active in the areas of care, education and training: Verdi as well as the GEW, i.e. the trade union for education and science founded in 1948, which calls itself an education trade union and wants to fight for equal opportunities, co-determination, social security as well as for democracy.

However: This union, too, turns out to be a "completely normal organization" (Stefan Kuhl), an association that is primarily concerned with self-preservation and with keeping everything the way it has always been. In this way, however, an organization that is supposed to be concerned with an emphatically understood "enlightenment" threatens to become a champion of counter-enlightenment.

Readers of the taz have followed the process: In November of last year, the GEW’s junior organization, the Federal Committee of Students of the GEW (BASS), supported by academics such as Frankfurt’s Professor Ortmeyer, demanded that the union’s own Max Traeger Foundation be renamed, since Traeger could not be a role model.

In fact, Max Traeger (1887-1960) was a "man of the first hour" as far as the founding of the GEW in Hamburg was concerned. Admittedly, Traeger was well over fifty years old at the end of the war in 1945, and before 1930 he was a member of the liberal German Democratic Party as a member of parliament, only to join a party in 1930 that adorned itself with the highly respectable-sounding name of the German State Party, but was nothing other than an extreme right-wing splinter party.

Right-wing splinter party

The goals it actually pursued made a mockery of the seriously pretentious name – as can be read in Wikipedia: "In 1930, the DDP united with the Volksnationale Reichsvereinigung, initially for the Reichstag elections, to form the German State Party. This brought fierce conflicts within the party, as it was the political arm of Artur Mahraun’s conservative anti-Semitic ‘Jungdeutscher Orden’. After this merger, many members of the left wing … left the party …"

The least that could be expected from an "educational union" is that it neither conceals nor glosses over the historical truth.

Now a column is not the place to discuss the internal politics of the Weimar Republic, so back to the present. The biography of Max Traeger, who voluntarily (!!!) joined the National Socialist Teachers’ Association in 1933, exemplifies the fact that many teachers of the fading Weimar Republic voluntarily offered themselves to National Socialism in order to seek – quite understandably – a path to the new Federal Republic after the defeat of National Socialist Germany.

Thus, it cannot be a matter of condemning a man like Traeger from the comfortable position of late-borns; but the least that could be expected from an "education union" like the GEW is that it neither conceals nor glosses over the historical truth. But it does so with a biographical sketch of Max Traeger passed around, penned by former Hamburg GEW chairman Hans-Peter de Lorent, who wants to recognize "resistance" in Traeger’s occasional skat rounds with other members of the fascist party banned by the National Socialists and transfigures it into an "underground board".

Do we really have to remind the GEW and its federal board that at a time when Bjorn Hocke and the AfD are calling for a reinterpretation of German history, it cannot, and even more so must not, be a matter of remaining faithful to traditions that have always been mendacious, but only of promoting historical insight and judgment, i.e. "enlightenment". Even and especially when this runs counter to traditions that have become dear to us.