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On a visit to Berlin last year, my husband and I found ourselves sitting on a streetcar next to another American, identified by his University of Memphis T-shirt. As fellow tourists do, we struck up a conversation.

How long had he been there? A few days. What had he enjoyed most in that time? Not enjoyed, exactly, but he had been most affected by a visit to one of the death camps where the Nazis had murdered thousands of Jews, Roma, socialists, communists, homosexuals, and anyone else the Nazis deemed inferior or a political threat. “The tour guides at the camp were impressive,” he said. “They don’t sugarcoat anything.”

I started to say, “They can’t afford to.” I was thinking about the colossal responsibility Germans have to ensure that their Nazi history never repeats itself and the deliberate self-reflection they have undertaken in the decades since World War II. But as I looked at the young African-American man in front of me, the words died in my throat.

All I could think was, “We can’t afford to either — but we sugarcoat everything.”

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