Home > General > Guilt’s end.

Guilt’s end.

Growing up I was drip-fed a steady stream of guilt. Germany is an evil country, one without a soul or hope for national redemption/salvation. Germany, in fact, existed in a historic vacuum only emerging on occasion to be the villain, the bogeyman for the world. Often, the only time when Germany would really be discussed in any meaningful sense by most people, in the times I was living in the USA, was in the context of wars — mostly WWII, sometimes WWI. There were the occasional references made to Germany’s music, literature, art, and engineering. Most of the time, though, it was the war. When in Germany we sought simply to get by in life. The war was not a common subject of discussion — though the scars were everywhere, it was something best left alone. Things such as flag waving were simply not done and patriotism was passively discouraged. Even quiet guilt is still guilt, scars are merely nature’s way of covering a wound.

These scars were not the scars of victims, however. Germany started WWII and it was Germany that was guilty of the tens of millions of death — civilian and military. Germany was responsible for the Holocaust. In time, however, wounds heal — not quite forgotten, but the memories fade ever further into the back of the national consciousness as more and more things take place after that. Germany was divided, Germany was held hostage by France for its political motivations. Germany survived and it thrived. We rebuilt, we became strong, and I would argue better, that we had ever been before. Still, there was that spectre hanging in the background. Then something happened — the World Cup. The entire world saw Germany as it is, not as it was then. A new country, a country without jackboots or criminally insane dictators with ugly moustaches. Suddenly Germany was reborn, or rather, Germany was brought forward in its best.

On a personal level, my sense of national guilt had already been dispersed before. This guilt was a bit stronger than most. Two great-grand-uncles were involved with the Nazi government. One was a high ranking regional official, the other a slave labour “farm” manager. It was a family matter for me, not just a national matter. Yet, when I met Holocaust survivors — I’ve had two experiences — they had no bitterness for me, nothing but kind words and warmth. I was not their enemy, nor should I, could I, ever apologise or feel shame for that. That guilt, that blame was not my own. That was done by others decades before I was born, before my parents were born. To have someone who watched virtually her entire family shot in front of her eyes or starve to death after being worked to the point of immobility shake my hand and say that to me carried more weight than anything. To have a man whose entire family were executed in front of his eyes tell me that I had no need to fear his hatred as he had none to offer was worth more than all the gold in the world.

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Categories: General
  1. April 20, 2011 at 7:53 am

    Powerful stuff, Christopher.

  2. April 20, 2011 at 8:01 am

    Excellent piece of writing, Christopher.

  3. April 20, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Indeed, “powerful stuff”. Yes, an excellent piece of writing and one that I shall keep. Much appreciated Christopher. Perhaps there is a book up your sleeve!

  4. April 20, 2011 at 9:13 am

    For what it is worth, I grew up in a household that was largely free of any anti German sentiment. This despite the fact that my father and uncles had fought in the 2nd War and both my grandparents in the First. All of them lost friends and relatives. Add to that a significant loss of wealth as a result of those two conflicts, there was reason enough to dislike Germany. But I think it takes a maturer society to recognise that the citizens of a country are not responsible for the actions of their politicians. Much of the antagonism directed towards Germany emanates from those twins, Hollywood and the Holocaust Industry. I make no apologies for calling it that.

    Those survivors who you spoke to are not the same as those self-serving individuals who have been capitalizing out of the industry for the last 70 years. Like heroes who do not talk about their deeds, those who have suffered most are often the most forgiving. It is those who escaped the suffering who protest the loudest.

    Just as British films nearly always have to have an American character either in the plot or as one of the stars, in order to attract a US audience, so too do many books and films have to express some anti Nazi/ pro Jewish sentiment, in order to attract the world wide approval. I happen to be reading Stieg Larrson’s Millenium Trilogy. There are several, what I would call totally gratuitous references to Nazis and the Holocaust. They seem to be irrelevant to the plot, though I am only halfway through book two. What it does is show that Larrson is on the side of the ‘goodies’ and thus will be promoted and recommended. It is that sort of thing that perpetuates anti German feelings and prolongs the guilt.

  5. sheona
    April 20, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Thank you Christopher for a very moving post. Germany is a wonderful country, in my opinion, and I particularly enjoy its literature. It has suffered at the hands of France on more than one occasion. I was horrified to learn that France paraded its “grands mutiles de guerre”, its most severely wounded soldiers, in front of those taking part in the peace conference in 1919 at Versailles, in order to ensure that really swingeing reparations were imposed on Germany. And we all know what that led to. Then Mitterrand’s blackmailing Kohl into joinng the euro as the price for accepting the reunification of Germany. There are still some older French people who have bitter memories of the occupation and who do still demonstrate this to German tourists, who as you say have no reason to bear the blame for the deeds of their ancestors.

  6. April 20, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Nicely put Christopher,

    The people who are hardest on the Germans these days are the Germans and one or two nutters who are never happy unless they are blaming someone for stuff their grandparents did.

    During my service I had occasion to visit ‘Da Deusch’ several times. I always came away with a sense of admiration for the people and landscape. Perfect hosts, odd sense of humour, but a genuine love of beer. Any country which came up with Wartsteiner Gold will always get my vote.

    Like you so eloquently say, times change, wounds heal and folk move on. Hopefully the better for experience. It seems the wounds healed for everyone else a lot quicker than it did for der farterland. It does the Germans credit I think, but the time to forgive and move on, (never forget) has long since passed.

  7. Four-eyed English Genius
    April 20, 2011 at 11:09 am

    A very good post, Christopher. I do not see how present day young Germans can be in any way to blame for what went on before, any more than I am to blame for the slave trade that some of our failing politicians have apologised for on behalf of the present British population.

    Personally, I like Germany and have several good German friends.

  8. Boadicea
    April 20, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Thanks for this, Christopher.

    I have a German friend who has told me of the way Germany has dealt with the Holocaust. While I am of the opinion that every country should confront its past, especially its less glorious past, I most certainly do not think that the sins of the fathers should be visited upon the children, nor should those children be made to feel guilt about actions in which they played no part. As FEEG says, I feel no guilt about the slave trade or anything else that England or the UK did in times long before I was born. My German friend, somewhat older than you but born after the War, is, I think, finally beginning to accept that.

    I suspect that some might find Sipu’s comment a little harsh – but I recall listening to a young Israeli professor some years ago. His parents had lost most of their family in the Holocaust, but they had survived. He said much the same as Sipu – that those who experienced it did not talk about it, and that there were many who did not live through it who were using it as a stick to beat the rest of the world. He then went on to say that he had lost his job and could not find another post in Israel because of his opinions.

    I’m not certain that it is only Hollywood and Israel that has perpetuated anti-German feeling. I find it strange that some of my parents’ generation seem able to dismiss Japan’s atrocities, but are still unable to come to terms with Germany. I tend to think that there is more than a grain of truth in what APJ Taylor said, that the rest of Europe has never faced up to its own pre-war anti-Semitism.

  9. April 20, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Good post, Christopher.

  10. christinaosborne
    April 20, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Over a lifetime of knowing many German individuals and Jewish individuals, (NOT the same people!)
    I have never been offered anything but open, honest, disinterested friendship from Germans. My current husband is of German descent and my best friends here are German born emigrees to Canada.

    I cannot say the same about the jews. I have had nothing but dishonesty, currying, creeping machinations and personal violation from them and refuse now to have anything to do with them. I find both them and their country quite disgusting from personal experience.

    Frankly, if this is anything to go by and this is the standards of their behaviour in 1930s Germany I can quite see why it happened. I acknowledge that the solution was a tad too final but I cannot see that the German population at large should have any guilt about it whatsoever.

    I have always thought that Europe is rife with anti-Semitism, then and now. This is very obvious when European society is compared to that in the USA. There but by the Grace of God we in the UK didn’t do it too in the 30s. After all, it was us that invented concentration camps! There were many Nazi sympathisers in the UK, a fact now conveniently pushed aside. ( I do so hate revisionist history)

    One really does have to wonder what it is about the jews that so many differing societies throughout history have turned against them? Resulting in persecution, banishment and finally killing them? I’ve always thought that most of the denizens of the middle east actually really rather deserve each other. The most quarrelsome people in the world, one just wishes they would stay there and kill each other quietly!
    Middle East peace process!
    When will Western politicians wake up to the fact that they don’t actually want peace?

    I am sick and tired of the anti defamation gang stirring up their holocaust days everywhere they can. I personally find it so irritating 65 years later! When are they going to stop?
    Does it take another pogrom to get them to desist?

  11. April 20, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Sipu: anything involving WWII usually results in good profits. It was “the last good war”, so to say. Perhaps the reason why those who did not live through it are the most vocal is because they, if they lived at that time, did not try to do anything to stop it or afterwards because they did not think that their parents/grandparents did something to stop it. (The children assuming the burden of the parents)

    Boadicea: Israel has in many ways been pressured into it. It is European country in the Middle East, a modern state in a sea of backwardness. It is also a country that was essentially created when the rest of the world didn’t know what to do as things had got well out of hand. Whatever ones personal views on Israel are, it is a fact and it exists as it does because of WWII and the Holocaust. Even so, there have always been questions (in my opinion, usually ill-founded) about the legitimacy of Israel, hence the need for the Israelis to have to legitimise themselves at all times.

  12. cuprum426
    April 22, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Christopher – thank you for your interesting and thought provoking post. It is great to hear how things are from the ‘other side’ as it were.

    I certainly have no issues over the Germans, I have briefly visited the country and found it very beautiful. Every nation has so called ‘characteristcs’ and both the Germans and English I’m sure relish teasing each other with them.

    I have always been conscious that history is written by the victors, and although a simplified thing to say, it is invariably true. However, I was very lucky to meet a wonderful man Henry Mettleman via my communist step grandmother who had become his closest friend. He was a panzer driver in WWII and has written two books on what is was like to be s simple German soldier. A very personal and moving account, the first about life on the Eastern Front and his second about his childhood and the Hitler Youth. Having met the man and seen first hand that an ‘enemy’ was in fact a fascinating, kind gentle man was a real eye opener for me as a child.

    He was captured at the end of the war and sent to work on the land in Sussex as a POW. When the opportunity came to be re-patriated he declined as he had met an English girl and was amazed at the kindness of the English people. He then had a full career on the railways as a signalman I beleive.

    If anyone comes across his books, do read them, you will shed a tear to two I’m sure. He’s still alive somewhere in Surrey I believe.

    As for Jews and Israel I see them as two very separate animals. I lived in a small suburb of London called Childs Hill right next to Golders Green in the early 90′s. The Jewish community were fine and friendly to me as an outsider, but the Israelis were rude, ignorant and intolerant and in a word, racist to me in my own country. I still haven’t quite got over it.

    I am tempted to feel guilt as an Englishman for all the shit we caused in Palestine, Iraq and everywhere else it seems, but it wasn’t me or my father who did any of it so I just get on with it.

    I am a bit disturbed by comments above that say that it can’t be a coincidence that Jews are always persecuted. That sort of attitude is rather accepting of much evil done in the world today as it ever was.

    Sorry to rabbit on a bit, so just thank you Christopher.

  13. Boadicea
    April 22, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Christopher

    Having been brought up with the horrors of the Holocaust, the ‘myth’ that the land given to form Israel was ‘vacant’ and the ‘legitimacy’ of Israel, it has taken me many years to revise my opinion about the last.

    No one can deny the validity of the Holocaust. I would suggest that those who are appalled by Christina’s comments re the Jews in Germany in the 1930s read “Hitler’s Willing Executioners”, written by a Jew, son of at least one Holocaust survivor. I was stunned to read that many long-term German Jews were so horrified by those Jews who had left Russia that they wanted nothing to do with them.

    I was even more stunned by a young Jew who sat next to me on my return to the UK from Israel with whom I had a flight-long conversation. He spent some time talking about the Orthodox Jews and their role in present Israel. He finished his diatribe with the comment that if the Jews in Germany in the 1930s had been anything like the Orthodox Jews in Israel he could understand why the Germans turned against them. This was a young man who had served in the Israeli military (as all of them must) who had been brought up with the Holocaust as his guiding light, the belief that Israel had been ‘vacant’ and that the only “Good” Palestinian was a dead Palestinian.

    In some ways, Christopher, you are right. Israel was founded to be a European country in the Middle East – but there are many Orthodox Jews in that country who have a Middle Eastern mind-set. And it is that ‘mind-set’ that they have the right to that particular piece of land because of their religion that I find so dangerous – and unacceptable.

    The acceptance of the whole world – except of course the Arabs and what did they matter in the 1940s? – that ‘religion’ could and should dictate world policy is what has lead to the world having to kowtow to all religious beliefs…

    Christina and Cuprum

    It is true that Jews have been persecuted for many years – but it is not accurate to claim that they have always been treated thus. One must remember that for over 1500 years Europe has been fearsomely and intolerantly Christian. Much has been made of the Catholic Church’s condemnation of the Jews for ‘murdering’ Jesus… although if they hadn’t there would be no Christianity. Their ‘real’ crime was that having been sent a “Messiah” they persistently refused to acknowledge him. That they have always followed a way of life outside of the normal way of European life was not a matter of choice, but of necessity since so many ‘normal’ avenues were not available to them.

  14. April 22, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    Cuprum: in South East Asia there are frequently signs put up in front of pubs and hostels which say “No Israelis Allowed”. Immediately after the end of their IDF service a number of young Israelis, full of piss and vinegar, travel overseas and cause trouble. I actually like Israelis — in fact, I really like Israelis. Although they can be difficult, I know exactly what they think and where I stand with them. Once one gets to know them, they’re actually some of the best people to know — it just takes a bit of getting over their obnoxious exteriors.

    Boadicea: I have some sympathy for The Jordanians and Egyptians (as the West Bank and Gaza were parts of Jordan and Egypt before 1967) caught up in this, but they were their own worst enemies and have done their own bit in making things worse. Israel was the first country in which Arab women had the right to vote and Arabs have a better life there than they do in their own countries. Israel has been at a near-constant state of war since 1948. That is bound to cause a lot of nastiness on both sides. Israel is a fact, its creation was poorly executed, but it is a fact. The Orthodox Jews are also not well liked in Israel. One of my Israeli friends could go on for hours about how much she loathes and disdains their influence over the country and how bad they smell — they only wash once weekly. It is, in a way, like the Wahhabi Muslims in Indonesia — they make up only 10pc of the population, but hold the balance of power in parliament. (An interesting fact, in my opinion, is that the Israeli airline, El Al, has to be grounded on the Sabbath because of them — even if it costs a fortune)

  15. cuprum426
    April 23, 2011 at 10:14 am

    I guess there’s good and bad in every nation state, every religion, every group, team and collective. I have only recently realised that even the wonderful BBC has a anti-Isreal pro Palestinian bias and I acknowledge I simply don’t have the facts.

    Funnily enough, as an atheist I object to any group being persecuted because of their views and beliefs, a fact I believe no theist could honestly agree with. I can’t judge agnositics of course.

    Interesting Christopher that you use the word obnoxious, that is exactly how I’d descibe them Isrealis from Golders Green.

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