Asylum seekers in Germany. Photo by Andreas Bohnenstengel (Wikimedia Commons CC)
There's no getting around it – it looks bad. The town of Schwerte, North Rhine-Westphalia decided the other day that it might have to use a part of the concentration camp Buchenwald to house some asylum seekers. In the fevered climate we're in at the moment – cartoonists being murdered in Paris, asylum seekers being murdered in Dresden and having swastikas painted on their doors, and PEGIDA marching around with the silliest name for a movement ever, apparently under the impression there's not enough about Muslims in the news, the papers must be lying about what a big problem they are – it didn't exactly make for a good headline, and refugee organizations are right to say that it "sends out the wrong signal".
But then again, maybe we should just let the Schwerte town council off the hook for this one. For one thing, it's only meant to be temporary. For another, the building is nowhere near Buchenwald concentration camp, which is next to Weimar, about 360 kilometres away. The building was part of a network of dozens of warehouses where prisoners were forced to work. In this particular one, around 700 Poles were forced to build weapons. Since then, the building has been put to a few different uses, including a Waldorf kindergarten.
I don't know the exact figures, but in the Nazi time, A LOT of German factories and warehouses had forced labourers in them. Really, really bad things happened in them. In fact, terrible things happened in places all over Germany and elsewhere. I'm not saying it's a good thing to put asylum seekers in this warehouse, but as Drew Portnoy said in this week's edition of News des Nachrichtens, if we're not allowed to use the parts of Germany where bad things happened, we might as well abandon the country. I mean, the Bendlerblock is still Germany's defence ministry, for one thing.
So I think we should let this one go. There are worse things happening in the world. And anyway the real issue is that Schwerte town council doesn't have enough money to house its refugees – they said they couldn't even afford to build the temporary containers where refugees are usually put, and which don't exactly sound that great either. If you ask me, the real problem is that Merkel's government is happy to push all the responsibility for the issue onto the local councils rather than invest any federal funds and do something to help those people find a place here. This government's "solution" is to find any excuse to get rid of refugees as quickly as possible – in 2012, for example, it set up what amounts to a special prison at Schönefeld airport, where asylum seekers can be turned away before they had officially entered the country.
The concentration camp thing isn't half the problem.