US looks to Germany, where police cadets learn mandatory Holocaust history

New York Times report on police brutality highlights role learning about World War II plays in training, including visit by all Berlin trainees to Sachsenhausen concentration camp

German police seen in Potsdam's central train station, on June 26, 2020. (Julian Stähle/picture alliance via Getty Images via JTA)
German police seen in Potsdam's central train station, on June 26, 2020. (Julian Stähle/picture alliance via Getty Images via JTA)

JTA — In the United States, applicants can become police officers in as little as 11 weeks, the requirement in Georgia. In Germany, the process takes at least 2 1/2 years and involves learning Holocaust history: For example, since 1984, all trainees in Berlin must visit the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

That’s from a New York Times report this week on how Germany reorganized its police force after World War II, and the pros and cons of following the country’s lead in the US, where debate about police reform has raged since an officer killed George Floyd in Minneapolis by kneeling on his neck.

In addition to decentralizing and “denazifying” the police, who were a crucial force in carrying out Hitler’s orders and murdered over a million people during the war, Germany sought to instill a new culture in its officers — demilitarization. Cadets must pass personality and intelligence tests before taking law, ethics and police history courses. They are taught to rarely draw their weapons. Minor things such as parking tickets are handled by unarmed officers.

Learning about the Holocaust plays a key role in the training. One officer interviewed said his entire graduating class watched “Schindler’s List” together in 1994. Through the federal police union, two trips to Israel, which include a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum, are offered every year.

The entry of the former Nazi concentration camp of Sachsenhausen is pictured in Oranienburg on April 16, 2020 (Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Germany is a much smaller country than the US, but there have been results. From the report:

[P]olice fatally shot 11 people and injured 34 while on duty in 2018, according to statistics compiled by the German Police Academy in Münster.

In the United States, with a population four times that of Germany, 1,098 people were killed by police in 2019, according to Mapping Police Violence. In Minnesota alone, where Mr. Floyd was killed, police fatally shot 13 people.

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