Umweltschutz als moralkeule: The german past, the refugee present, and the planet’s future

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


By drawing on the virtual archive of German news media, this article shows how Willkommenskultur is interacting with Vergangenheitsbewältigung in public discourses about the “refugee crisis” of 2015, taking into account similar crises of solidarity in 1945 and 1992. While some of the media examples highlight shared experiences between refugees in 1945 and 2015, others demand to “do better” than in 1992, which yet others take to be an attempt at atonement, or even redemption for Nazi deeds. Rightwing voices call for a Schlussstrich instead, invoking the vocabulary of Vergangenheitsbewältigung while rejecting it, as they do refugees. But racism arises not only from this direction: Umweltschutz has taken on widespread national pride, which shows in the white saviorism of environmental education initiatives, where well-meaning volunteers teach the supposedly homogenous blank slate of “the refugee.” This makes environmentalism appear more pertinent for “integration” than the planet at times, and Umweltschutz emerges as a Moralkeule that stops complicated conversations about racism and environmentalist efficacy. The media archive therefore demonstrates that public discourses about the German past are inextricably bound up with the present and future, and it reminds us that environmentalism needs to be practiced and taught with attention to social justice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-195
Number of pages17
JournalColloquia Germanica
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Environmental culture
  • Environmental racism
  • Environmentalism
  • Refugee crisis
  • Refugees
  • Vergangenheitsbewältigung
  • Willkommenskultur

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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