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How automobiles helped to end discrimination

I have written before about my memories of World War II from my teenage years. I know how most people, young and old, experienced the terror and depredation of the German occupation of the Netherlands — especially the final year, “The Hunger Winter,” which etched deep, traumatic memories in the psyche of the nation as a whole.

Almost all individuals who lived through the famine of the final war year would talk about it incessantly, and discrimination against Germans was accepted. Even years after the conclusion of that horrifying experience, Germans were generally disliked. They were almost invariably referred to in casual conversation as “krauts.” There was no taboo on using such a moniker. Political correctness did not come into it. Even years later during their vacations in the Netherlands, many Germans were denied the enjoyment of a restful surrounding and a space to set up a tent or camper.

But eventually much of that changed. Later German generations were no longer blamed for what their fathers and grandfathers had committed. For many, a time had come to forgive and forget. Soon German automobiles became popular, with the Opel Kadett in the lead, closely followed by Volkswagens, the Beetle and later the Golf. Then came the German-built Fords, the Taurus and Escort.

The economic miracle in West Germany kept humming along, thanks to the starter help delivered by the Marshall Plan and the Cold War, in which the western powers wanted to ensure a strong West Germany on the front line in the fight against communism. The approach was to hold one’s nose and do business in Germany in an attempt to strengthen the western alliance.

I do not know if people actually made that conscious analysis, or whether it was simply a choice for affordable quality goods, including automobiles. Everyone it seemed “knew” that French and Italian cars rusted, and British cars were of inferior quality. The Japanese economic invasion had not quite started yet.

Many people from other European nations looked across their borders for their summer vacation in Germany. Many people began to make treks during the summer months along the German Autobahn to the Black Forest, the Sauerland and Bavaria.

And so it all changed. The older generation, of course, will never forget and forgive what took place during those five years of hostility and abuse. But that generation will soon be gone, and maybe then all can return to a normalcy where people of all nations and backgrounds can come together and enjoy their vacations without malice and hatred for each other.

Tony Antonides lives in Central Point.

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