The Holocaust and the Middle Passage aren’t really comparable, except as two of the most horrifying examples of genocide in human history. But can anyone see the United States ever coping with its role in the Middle Passage the way Germany seems to have done with the Holocaust?

On Monday, Germany’s minister of culture, Bernd Neumann, announced that construction could begin in Berlin on two monuments: one near the Reichstag, to the murdered Gypsies, known here as the Sinti and the Roma; and another not far from the Brandenburg Gate, to gays and lesbians killed in the Holocaust.

In November Germany broke ground on the long-delayed Topography of Terror center at the site of the former Gestapo and SS headquarters. And in October, a huge new exhibition opened at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. At the Dachau camp, outside Munich, a new visitor center is set to open this summer. The city of Erfurt is planning a museum dedicated to the crematoriums. There are currently two exhibitions about the role of the German railways in delivering millions to their deaths.

Wednesday is the 75th anniversary of the day Hitler and the Nazi Party took power in Germany, and the occasion has prompted a new round of soul-searching.

“Where in the world has one ever seen a nation that erects memorials to immortalize its own shame?” asked Avi Primor, the former Israeli ambassador to Germany, at an event in Erfurt on Friday commemorating the Holocaust and the liberation of Auschwitz. “Only the Germans had the bravery and the humility.”

America’s unwillingness to cope with the evil of chattel slavery is at least partially responsible for the next century of legalized discrimination and violence against African-Americans. Never has there ever been a sincere and widespread recognition of how awful slavery and reconstruction actually were, and as a result to this day both events are trivialized, most often by conservatives clinging to racist beliefs. South Africa likewise had its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but here in the United States we just try to pretend it wasn’t that bad. The philosophical underpinnings of slavery, that black people don’t deserve the same rights and respect as white people, persisted long after emancipation.

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