Like many, I have been pondering the place of the Confederate flag in our future. Many thoughtful opinions have appeared in The Advocate, which have helped me reframe my own ideas about the place the Confederate flag ought to hold today. As a Southerner, I have always honored that flag as an important part of Southern and U.S history, but at the same time, I have abhorred its usage as a symbol of hatred and bigotry.
As we struggle with this dilemma, perhaps the following information about the German national anthem might be instructive.
The current national anthem of Germany is the same anthem that was used by Nazi Germany. The anthem was written by Franz Josef Haydn in 1797 for the birthday of Austrian Emperor Frances II. In 1922, the words of poet von Fallersleben (written in 1841) became the lyrics of the German national anthem. The first verse of the anthem begins, “Deutschland, Deutschland Ãber alles in der Welt” (“Germany, Germany above Everything in the World”), and those words were considered revolutionary at the time and, ultimately, vilified by most of humanity during the reign of the Third Reich.
After the fall of Nazi Germany in 1952, consideration was made to change the national anthem, but it was decided to retain the same national anthem, and only the third verse of von Hoffman’s original poem. The opening line, “Einigkeit und Recht and Freiheit” (Unity, Justice and freedom) is considered Germany’s motto and it appears on some coins and military belt buckles.
As lovely as Haydn’s melody is, I was initially surprised to learn that it is still Germany’s national anthem. For years, I have found it disturbing singing the hymn, which appears in many hymnals with different lyrics. As lovely as the tune is, I find it difficult to detach it from my associations with the evils of Nazi Germany. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for those actually oppressed by that regime, to hear that tune, even with different lyrics!
Yet on further consideration, I wonder if reframing the anthem in light of the Germany of today could be a healing exercise. Could that same healing exercise be applied to our struggles over the place of the Confederate flag? I wonder.