BERLIN — In a recent tweet, a German lawmaker used a highly specific term to describe her anti-migrant angst. Suggesting her country’s national identity was under threat, she cried “Umvolkung” — a word roughly translated as “ethnic conversion.”
It is also a word that was last in vogue when Adolf Hitler ruled the land, and its appropriation by a politician from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling party sparked a raucous uproar. Yet the tweet highlighted the term’s resurgence in Germany — where a glossary of a half-dozen terms long associated with the Nazis are staging a comeback.
Hitler and his propagandists wielded a toxic lexicon in the early 20th century, deploying vocabulary meant to exalt ethnic purity and own Germany’s only real truth. And the reemergence in social media, literature and political protests of words that were weaponized by the Nazis is generating a fierce debate here over the power of language in politics, especially as nationalists surge on both sides of the Atlantic.
“While we’re at it, why don’t we just give a positive meaning to the word ‘concentration camp?’ ” quipped television satirist Hans-Joachim Heist after a different German politician recently defended another word — völkisch — used by the Nazis to conjure images of a racially pure state.
Featured image courtesy of AP.
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