IT HAS been fascinating to watch the battle of ideas as commentators outside of Oxford have ventured opinions and finances on the issue of whether the statue of Rhodes in Oriel College should fall.

One question that very sadly has not been considered in all of this is the issue of how we remember the past, and particularly those parts of the past we are not proud of.

I had the huge privilege during my undergraduate history studies to investigate how post-war Germany dealt with the legacy of the Holocaust. Plainly, the Germans could not afford to simply forget about the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime and pretend they did not happen, nor could they use any form of memorial that appeared to glorify genocidal warfare.

The continuing response of Germans is striking – memorials to the Holocaust are purposefully designed to provoke thought and demand a response.

Perhaps the best example of this is the use of ‘stolpersteins’– quite literally ‘stumbling stones’ – that are raised above other cobbles in the street, and not only mark the place where a deported Jew once lived, but also tell their story.

A person stumbles upon the stone as they walk, and in investigating what they have tripped on, are reminded of the person that was taken from their community.

Another memorable example is a fountain that was destroyed during the Nazi era as it had been built with Jewish finance.

When it was recently rebuilt, they built it upside down and under the ground – recognising that simply to rebuild it wouldn’t mark the hurt and damage that had been caused.

This culture of memorialisation is extraordinarily effective as the viewer cannot simply walk past the landmark – it demands that one thinks about why the person or event requires remembering, and has helped Germans to deal constructively with a chapter in their history that understandably they would rather forget.

In a digital age when we can attempt to delete embarrassing social media posts before anyone notices, it’s very tempting to airbrush our mistakes out of existence. While it is absolutely right to shame wrongdoing and resolve to do better, our resolve to do better also makes us a nation that believes in redemption and learning from the past, rather than wearing a mask of perfection.

It seems to me that a far better response than trying to pretend we never got it wrong, is to learn from the German example of provoking future generations to learn from our mistakes.

In the horribly perfectionist culture of Oxford colleges, teaching the message that we can rise above even the gravest of errors might actually be the most valuable lesson we could impart to future students.