At a conversation with, what he called, German “agitators of peace and reconciliation”, Israeli writer a young German woman asked Amos Oz if he thinks that the German people are responsible in a certain way for the tragedy of the Palestinians? “You are right” Oz answered, “if the previous generation of Germans were less careless and did a more thorough job, if the Nazis would not have left a few millions Jews alive, the Palestinians would not have a tragedy”.

Germany in particular and Europe in general, have indeed a certain responsibility for the suffering of both sides of the Israeli-Arab conflict as both have been, in different times and in different ways, victims of Europe: the Arabs through colonialism, imperialism and exploitation; the Jewish people through persecution, discrimination and ultimately through genocide on an unprecedented scale. And yes, the responsibility continues today.

In April 1946, Hans Frank confessed his war crimes in the Nuremberg tribunal, which had been convened by the Allied powers to judge the major Nazi leaders, by declaring: “A thousand years will pass and this guilt of Germany will not be erased.” Ralph Giordano argues that the Germans’ failure to satisfactorily deal with their own wartime sins constituted a ‘second guilt’.1

“This ‘second guilt’ presupposes a ‘first guilt’ of the Germans, or the majority of the Germans under Hitler. The ‘second guilt’ is the denial and repression of the first guilt, and not just in moral terms – it is deeply institutionalized, which I called ‘the great peace with the perpetrators’. We live in a country that committed the biggest crime in history, with millions and millions of victims who were killed like insects behind the frontlines of the war, and most of the perpetrators where not only able to escape without any punishment whatsoever, they were able to continue their careers without any problem. The leadership of the old federal Republic was the same as those working under Hitler in virtually all fields”.2

These days a ‘third guilt’ will form unless the young German generation does not regard Germany’s history as a burden but as a challenge for the future. They must be ready to shoulder their responsibility. But are Germans capable of honestly coming to terms with past? It’s not enough to struggle with an insecure identity, to call one’s nation peace-loving or even pacifist and yet at the same time still be the third largest war profiteers in the world.3

Medinat Weimar provides the opportunity for the Germans to really come to terms with the past, by inviting the Jews to live with and thrive with them. Jews should not only be supported when they are far away in Israel, in the Middle East. Germany supports Jewish nationalism when it is exercised away from Germany. Over seventy percent of the Jews in the world have roots in Europe. So shouldn’t the German people support the expression of Jewish nationalism in Europe? Can we strive for a place in Germany, where proud Jews live as equal neighbors, expressing their language and culture? Would that not give the German people a reason be a proud German again?

***

Part of the short story “Have you ever killed anyone?“, by Medinat Wiemar’s secretary Ronen Eidelman, relating to “Jewish trauma” and “German guilt”.

“How could you live in Germany?” Boy, I hate it when people ask me that question, and especially how it always comes from someone that I barely even know. It’s not that people are bad meaning they just don’t understand how I could live in the country that is responsible for the murder of at least six million of “my people” and probably even some of my family members. When asked older people in Israel, I still hate the question, but I kind of understand, they lived through the war its clear why they would want absolutely no contact to Germany. Also when young Israelis or American Jews ask, it’s upsetting but still relatively understandable because of our upbringing. For many years many Jews boycotted Germany. When I was growing up my parents refused to buy a German car or washing machine and anyone in the neighborhood who drove a Volkswagen was frowned upon. All the kids agreed that German was an ugly sounding language and the only German words we know were Schnell and Raus. In American movies, all the bad guys spoke with German accents and German movies were almost never screened in the cinema even though French, Italian, Yugoslavia, Czech and movies from many other countries were on a regular basis. I don’t think I ever heard a German song on the radio except “99 Luftballons”, but even a proud and strong country like Israel was immune to Nena’s pop-ish power.

But what really upsets me is when I’m asked that question from Germans. By this, I don’t mean fascist Germans whose desire is that no Jews or any non-German live in the Deutschland. With those people I don’t have much dialogue that does not involve the riot police. I’m referring to the good-hearted caring German. The kind that if they were alive during the war would probably have been a tank commander in north Africa or maybe a Luftwaffe fighter pilot, definitely not the type that would hand you a bar of soap and tell you to take a shower. So I have to ask myself what they really mean by posing me this question. Is it not reasonable that I live in Germany? Should I feel uncomfortable? Is there something they know that I’m missing? Are they feeling weird in my presence?

When I’m in a humorous mood I just say that I came to get what is mine, and they should not worry, because after I finish I will go home. But when I’m in a more serious mood I try to understand where they are coming from. I think many who ask sincerely mean well and are genuinely concerned. But I’m still not really sure what are they actually asking? And why does this question upset me so much when it comes from Germans.

A year ago, a few days after Christmas, in a club in Hamburg located in a bankrupt department store I got a small answer to my dilemma. The club was not anything unusual for the German alternative scene with its regular mix of artists, students, media people, musicians and sadly-dressed fashion victims, but what caught my attention was a large number of young scruffy looking Antifa punks wearing hoodies with political badges and clothes in all shades of black. This was an unusual sight at a club with a cover charge and where beer costs more the two and half Euros. The first band that played was an electro cabaret duo that was pretty pretentious and boring but not something you wouldn’t expect from a town where its biggest claim to fame is that the Beatles played covers of Chuck Berry in their clubs before most people had even heard of them. But when the second band started to play then something happened. The Antifa kids got off their asses and joined the hipster crowd. Everyone was dancing. Egotronic, an electropunk duo were shouting over the cheesy sound of Commodore 64 rave tunes, very political, but also very funny lyrics. We were dancing like crazy but also laughing hysterically, while the crowd joined the band yelling “Raven Gegen Deutschland (raving against Germany)”, “Die Partei hat immer rechts (the party is always right/rightwing)” or “Diese bekackten Deutschen, nichts hat sich geändert, bekackte Nazis! (these shitty Germans, nothing has changed, shit Nazis)”. A big crowd was getting their thrills and laughs by being anti-German and saying that Germany is still Nazi. The highlight of the concert is when they sang a song thanking Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris the head of the bombing command during World War 2 for bombing Dresden. The crowd thought it was brilliant.

It was not the first time I came into contact with anti-German Germans. I had heard of these ideas and even felt close to some of them, yet completely disagreeing with their stand on Israel and Zionism, but that’s another story. This time I was not having a theoretical debate but experiencing a mass orgy of self-hatred, a very funny one with a great soundtrack but still pretty disturbing. So this made me wonder if this is what I’m hearing from Germans who ask how I could live in Germany, is their own self hatred; their own distrust of the German people that they know deep inside the Nazi in every German is just waiting to burst out.

The first time I came to Germany I also felt that way. My Zionist education with its emphasis on studies of the Holocaust, made my encounter with the country extremely difficult. I was eighteen and backpacking with a friend through Europe, our big trip of fun before we went back to do our mandatory military service. We were in Switzerland and decided to go to Munich and from there we would travel to what was then West Berlin (we had no possibility to go to the east with our Israeli passports). In Munich we had a hard time enjoying ourselves. People speaking German brought back memories of all the holocaust movies we had to watch as children. I couldn’t help wondering about every old man I saw on the trains and on what he did in during the war. The train to the hostel where we slept was en route to Dachau, so at every station we heard the announcement that we are going in the direction of a place we only knew as a concentration camp. Touring the city we joined a tour group and the guide was telling of all the beautiful buildings that were destroyed by the allies bombing and what I pity it was. I just could not care less about the buildings and the only thing going through my mind was that they deserved it. I probably would also thank “bomber” Harris if I had known who he was at the time. So after a few days in Munich we decided that we are not ready to deal with Germany and decided to continue our travels in Italy.
Since that first time I have been to Germany many times, met many Germans and even befriended some. I have no problems with the Germans as individuals but I do share a dislike and fear of the German collective and society in the same way as the Anti-Germans at the show in Hamburg. The Germans have come a long way in dealing with their past; I feel comfortable with most Germans exactly for this reason. Hey! I’m living here aren’t I? But if I look sincerely into my own feelings maybe I get so upset when I am asked how I could have lived here because I know I can’t. Yes, I’m getting what this rich country provides (a MFA in this case) and then I will probably just get the hell out of here to live with another group of crazy people, but hopefully in a completely different way for a completely different reason.

———-

1 Ralph Giordano, Die Zweite Schuld – the second guilt on the Burden of being German (1987).
2 An interview with Ralph Giordano. Exberliner, Germany still hasn’t come to terms with the history of the Third Reich, April 2008
3 Study Reveals Germany Is World’s Third Largest Defense Exporter, Der Spiegel,  16.5.2008.

COMMENTS / 6 COMMENTS

I am researching the topic of “German Guilt” for a writing class. This website has some really interesting viewpoints.

Rebecca added these pithy words on Dec 13 09 at 21:33

I hear you. I am getting my MA in Germany for free. I will be leave Germany soon, because finding a job here is impossible for me.

Rather than making music and poetry my focus here like I should have earlier on, I mistakenly made political activism my intial focus in Germany and ran into the same German guilt problem. As a US-american citizen living here was alone enough reason to have run-ins with the German guilt complex. I have some Jewish relatives but am not Jewish myself. However, I am from a country where people here defend as the “savior from Nazism” (see Bomber Harris, etc.) which is only partially true. And I always say the World War Two was the only war that I can think of off the top of my head where the US should have been involved in and should have been involved with early, hell 1933 might have been a good date to start it! But when I criticize the country I’m from, I am met with accusations of being “anti-American” (what my anti-US sentiments have to do with the rest of America, I don’t know-I have spent enough time in Latin America to learn to differentiate.) I have even been accused of being “anti-Semitic” for opposing capitalism and being against corporate globalisation! What that has to do with Jews, I don’t know, but shows that there is still a lot of anti-Jewish sentiments implicitly in a lot of Germans’ minds (leads me to believe that many Germans still have associations in their minds with Jews and capital, money, banking, etc). So they jump to the conclusion that because I am against the G8, IMF, and company, that I must be against Jews!

Anyway, to make a long story short, being a left person from the US is very hard here on many fronts. Most of the people I work with here politically now are non-Germans, Latin Americans mostly, and I have very few associations with Germans politically.

Rebecca added these pithy words on May 18 10 at 15:06

Isn’t it enough to be human or speak German, why be German? Identity only prevents one from fully living life. And what a hell of an identity…

Schuldabspaltung added these pithy words on Jan 27 12 at 04:42

So jewish nationalism in Germany should be supported by the germans in their own country, while at the same time german (and also european) nationalism is agressively sanctioned? You have the nerve to speak these insolent words! I’m of both german and swedish decent, and I refuse to feel any of your so called “guilt”! A jewish state in Germany? No thank you.

Bruno added these pithy words on Jul 12 12 at 07:17

What the hell, do you want to create a second Palestinia? Armes Deutschland!! USA.

bender added these pithy words on Jul 20 12 at 06:04

Interesting article for sure, but I can’t understand the premise.

Why should Germans born in the last few decades feel any guilt? How about those born now? Most of them will never know anyone who was even alive during the war, much less benefit from the related atrocities in any discernible way.

While I do agree that there is a responsibility not to let anything comparable to the Hitler Years happen ever again, I strongly disagree on the point that people not involved with the events of that time are guilty in any way, shape or form*.

Yes, companies and persons who benefited from slave labor should compensate the laborers (or their heirs).
Yes, people still alive who perpetrated these atrocities should be tried in a court of law.
Yes, Fascism, especially the racist kind, is an abomination.
Yes, we Germans have a moral obligation, along with the rest of the world, to never let another holocaust happen.

NO, we who neither have had influence on the holocaust or profited from it are not guilty.

*Except those who, conscious of what happened, want it to happen again.

Full disclosure: I personally know three people from back then well enough to have had long talks with them about it. One sabotaged the U-boat engines he built, one surrendered his coastal defense battery in functional condition and without a fight (to the russians), and the last one is a sad, old man (who still believes in Nazism) I’m never speaking to again.

That one guy added these pithy words on Apr 19 13 at 13:32

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