It was a cynical humiliation: Above the entrance gate of the Buchenwald concentration camp was the inscription “To each his own”. In contrast to the slogan “Arbeit macht frei”, which was aimed at the population outside the respective concentration camp and was intended to cover up the forced labor and extermination there, the National Socialists applied the slogan in Buchenwald so that it could be read from the inside.

They wanted to mock the camp inmates by confronting them with their racist and anti-Semitic ideology during daily roll call: the world belongs to the National Socialists, the suffering and death in the camp is intended for the inmates.

In 1937, the SS forced the prisoner Franz Ehrlich, a Bauhaus student and communist resistance fighter, to create the typographic draft of the lettering “Jedem das Seine”. The SS men did not notice that Ehrlich chose a font in the Bauhaus style banned by the National Socialists. The Buchenwald Memorial interprets this setting of the letters as an act of resistance.

“To each his own” is not an invention of the National Socialists, but goes back to ancient Greece as a legal principle in the Latin formulation “suum cuique”. At that time it was about, in the sense of justice, granting everyone what was due to them.

In Latin, the phrase was the motto of the Order of the Black Eagle founded by Frederick I in 1701, which later became the highest order of the Prussian crown. The order took off on the personal merits of the honoree (“To each according to his merit”). The saying was embedded in an eight-pointed star of the order.

This star became the insignia of the Prussian Guards in the 19th century. Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS did not use it. In the version of the Prussian Guard Corps, it became the emblem of the Feldjägertruppe, military police of the Bundeswehr, when it was set up in 1955. Since 1978 the Star of the Guard has adorned the beret badge of the Feldjäger.

The federal government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein, is now demanding that the slogan “suum cuique” be removed from the association badge and the beret coins of the military police. “56,000 people were murdered in Buchenwald. Against the background of these facts, I find the inscription on the military police’s clothing untenable,” says a letter from Klein to the Federal Minister of Defense Christine Lambrecht (SPD), which was initially reported by “Junge Freiheit” and is available to WELT.

Read the original letter here

“Even if the emblem of the military police is written in Latin and refers to a Prussian order, the idiom stands in the tradition of the National Socialist practice of extermination,” writes Klein. “In my opinion, it is extremely problematic that part of the German armed forces has a motto that served as a death formula for the National Socialists. The inscription is deeply hurtful and hard to bear for the victims of the Shoah and their families.”

Klein told WELT: “I also think it would be highly problematic if the Bundeswehr military police cooperated with the Israeli army with this incriminating slogan on their berets. That would be completely insensitive.”

The Department of Defense announced an audit and joint assessment with the force. “We are able to change even long-standing traditions,” said a spokeswoman. “Of course we are interested in reflecting.”

In the traffic light coalition, Klein’s initiative is discussed with caution. Wolfgang Hellmich, defense policy spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group, said that it was right and necessary to put the traditions cultivated in the Bundeswehr to the test and to deal with them in an awareness-raising manner. “If you look at the Latin form ‘Suum cuique’ in a differentiated way, it’s quite legitimate to use it – unlike the ‘Everyone his own’ used by the Nazis,” Hellmich continued.

Since 1945, practically no one has associated “Suum cuique” with Nazi crimes. “Therefore, the use by the Bundeswehr military police, which has been in use for more than 60 years, cannot be questioned, as it ties in with the Enlightenment tradition of the term ‘suum cuique’.”

FDP defense politician Alexander Müller believes that the motto is correct – but points out that the military police insignia corresponds “exactly in form and appearance” to the eagle order of the Prussian king Frederick. “It will now be the task of the Ministry of Defense to check whether the traditional effect of the Order of the Eagle is being undermined by the use of the inscription by the National Socialists,” says Müller.

The AfD, on the other hand, is outraged by Klein’s initiative. “The suggestion to deprive our military police of a central component is incredibly thoughtless and can be understood as particularly questionable and destructive overzealousness,” said federal board member Joachim Paul. The Prussian motto stands in the philosophical tradition of both antiquity and the Enlightenment and thus has an emancipatory character.

Rüdiger Lucassen, defense policy spokesman for the AfD in the Bundestag, told WELT that the motto of the military police was part of the German military tradition. “Our impeccable Bundeswehr has been a tradition for 67 years. The abuse took place by the National Socialists. On the threshold of the turning point in history, the Bundeswehr should not be further dismantled by a new wave of cancel culture.”

The anti-Semitism commissioner receives support from the Left Party. Ali Al-Dailami, deputy leader of the parliamentary group and the party, said that the Latin lettering in Germany originated in Prussia, but was “also linked to the terror of German fascism”. “For this reason alone, removing this inscription from the beret caps and association insignia of the military police is more than overdue and the least that Defense Minister Lambrecht should do,” Al-Dailami continued.

The International Auschwitz Committee, an advocacy group for Holocaust survivors, also supports the idea. “Whether in the German or in the Latin version – the saying ‘To each his own’ is always contaminated in Germany,” said Vice President Christoph Heubner. The cruelty and cynicism of the SS are just as much attached to the sentence as the suffering of the prisoners from Buchenwald. “It is high time that the military police removed this memory from their uniforms, especially since the German version has long since been confiscated by neo-Nazis again.”

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