Refugee crisis: Germany's welcoming approach towards people in need is no surprise

Germany knows more about refugees than probably any other country in Europe

Tony Paterson
Sunday 06 September 2015 19:09 BST

Why are the Germans being so nice? Hardened cynics would claim that, as always, they simply want to make up for what they did during the Second World War.

It is true that any German worth their salt remains acutely aware of what was done in Germany’s name from 1933 until 1945. But there is more to it than that: Germany knows more about refugees than probably any other country in Europe.

Millions fled the Soviet Red Army as Germany faced defeat at the end of the Second World War. They became refugees in their own country. The majority escaped to West Germany and were forced to start new lives with nothing apart from Marshall Plan aid after 1945. The remainder ended up as virtual prisoners in communist East Germany.

Then, in the autumn of 1989 thousands of East Germans were holed up in West German embassies in Prague and elsewhere across Eastern Europe. Like the Syrians and Afghans in Hungary last week, they were desperate to get trains out to the West. By dint of West German diplomacy they did.

The scenes at Munich station look similar to what was going on at stations across West Germany then, as thousands of desperate East Germans arrived on trains from the east.

The Berlin Wall fell weeks later. It’s not surprising that Angela Merkel has come out in favour of giving the refugees a big welcome. It’s not only about being kind. Germany has the world’s lowest birth rate. It can do with a big influx of well-educated, highly motivated people.

Being nice to refugees, it has to be said, also helps dispel the “ugly German” image, so widespread during the euro crisis. As a former East German, Angela Merkel has no difficulty in appreciating freedom, respect and human rights. After all, if no one had cared for East Germany’s refugees back in 1989 – she might never have become Chancellor.

This newspaper has started a campaign for the UK to welcome a fair share of refugees.

Click here to sign The Independent's petition

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