refugees want germany Artur Widak/ZumaPress

The Roots of German Openness

Germany – a country that, less than a century ago, was a source of huge numbers of refugees – has become the most desired destination for those fleeing the Middle East and Africa, and a moral compass for the rest of Europe. How did the country move so rapidly from darkness to light?

PARIS – “Germany, Germany,” shout thousands of refugees, faced with the obvious bad will of Hungary’s political authorities, in front of Budapest’s Keleti railway station. They are dreaming of Germany – not any European country, but specifically Germany – the way, more than a century ago, Europe’s poor, fleeing misery – and, in some cases, pogroms – dreamed of America.

This represents a dramatic shift from the past. What a contrast between the photo, taken less than 80 years ago in the Warsaw Ghetto, of a small Jewish child with raised arms and fearful eyes, and one taken a few days ago in Munich of a smiling refugee boy, his head protected by a policeman’s hat. For the first child, Germany meant certain death; for the second, it offers hope for a better life.

And Germany does not represent just an abstract hope; the country is welcoming more migrants than any of its European counterparts, with Chancellor Angela Merkel having announced that the country will take at least 800,000 asylum-seekers this year. How can a country move so rapidly from darkness to light?

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