Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrovsky

What is the mind? What is the mind of a human? What is the mind of the one who investigates the human? Can the human mind understand itself? Can a human mind understand the mind of an other? This is psychology.

Re: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrov

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:12 am

8. Sibylle, The Orderly One

I ONCE READ somewhere that people have to be hugged three times a day to survive, six times to keep their feet on the ground, and twelve to grow. I think the people of my generation and that of my parents just got the minimum needed for bare survival, if that much. That's probably how things went on for hundreds of years, from generation to generation. My parents followed the educational methods of my grandparents, and who knows what I would have done had I had children. My father once told me that as a child he never was given the things he wanted, not even the most insignificant things. For example, he wanted to have raspberry soda with his meals, but as a matter of educational principle he never got it.

My three brothers and I also were subjected to a rigid fascist regimen at home. Hidings were routine. If I tore my dress-a beating; if I got poor marks-a beating; if I talked back to my parents-a beating. And if, as sometimes happened, minor transgressions piled up, then there too was a beating. The ritual never varied: we had to fetch the stick ourselves, lie down across a chair, and then it began. There was no point in trying to resist. And no back talk either.

Trying to talk our way out of it or persuade our parents not to hit us only made things worse. Mother was in charge of my punishment, and Father took care of my brothers. The only way out was not to get caught. That was an accepted, even approved method of avoiding the inevitable. As Father used to tell us: "Don't get caught."

Added to this there was the pecking order among the four of us, and so my older brothers also got into the act. I got it from both sides, from my brothers and from my parents.

I'll tell you why I call it fascist. Whatever self-respect we might have had was beaten out of us. They broke our will. Self-confidence and joy of life were trampled on in our family. I still remember when I was little how sore I was at Little Hans, the boy in the nursery rhyme who cried when he got lost in the woods. Why, I asked myself, was he so eager to go back home? Just because his mother was going to be sad? I thought he ought to be glad finally to have gotten away.

All I ever wanted was to escape, preferably to a place where I didn't know anybody and where nobody knew how bad I was. I thought I must be bad, else why would my parents beat me? Recently I talked to my aging mother about these endless beatings. Unfortunately she hasn't changed. She still doesn't feel that she'd ever been unfair. Her only comment was: "If you'd behaved nobody would have punished you." And she added: "Anyway, you liked it." I don't understand what she meant by that.

It took me a long time to break away from my parents. Only in the last two years have I begun to feel that I'm living free and independently. Before that things were very different.

When I was little I didn't react to the story of Abraham's sacrifice of his son the way other children did. I believed that parents had the right to kill their children. My father had also been the unloved child in his family. He had a brother two years older who died at the age of ten; he had been his father's favorite. Grandfather was in the steel industry. He was a heavy drinker and died young. My father also was in the steel business, and during the war he was stationed in Upper Silesia. He was exempted from military duty.

My mother comes from Magdeburg. [i] Her father had worked himself up and owned an oil-processing plant. Her brother was killed in the last days of the war.

Neither my mother's nor my father's family saw much intergenerational harmony. There was a great deal of fighting between parents and grandparents. Consequently I grew up without grandparents.

My mother was born in 1919. She met my father when she was quite young, about nineteen or twenty. At the time he already had an important job in the arms industry. He was a handsome man, tall, slender, and blond. They married soon after they met, and my brothers were born in rapid succession, 1942, 1943, and 1944. I was born in 1946, their only postwar child.

My father joined the SS right in the beginning, while still a student. He told me that he did things like ushering at meetings, and once he even was a bodyguard when Hitler came to Bad Godesberg. He said he wanted to make himself useful.

I wasn't actually all that interested in what he did during the war. I really believe that he didn't do anything. At least he wasn't connected with any concentration or extermination camp. What concerns me is what came afterward, the persistence of his frame of mind after the war. And his eternal sermonizing, that's what was so awful. He didn't let up until the very end, until maybe the last six months of his life when he got so sick.

Just a few days ago, in thinking about our conversation, I tried to pinpoint when I first learned about the crimes of the Nazi era in some detail. I think I must have been around twelve or thirteen. We had a priest who was preparing us for our first communion and he talked to us about it. At school we weren't told a word about anything. When I was thirteen I spent my summer vacation at a boarding school in Switzerland to learn French. Many of the girls there were American Jews. I remember how surprised I was by how friendly they were. I'd thought they'd ignore me.

At any rate, by then I already knew what the score was. But I didn't find out anything more specific until I was seventeen, when I visited relatives in East Germany, and for some reason or other we went to Sachsenhausen. The East German guides always tried to tell us visitors from the West that we were the ones who were responsible. We from the West were the evil ones; they hadn't done a thing. They were the better Germans.

They took us into the cellars and showed us the pictures of the Americans liberating the camp. Afterward I sat down by myself on the lawn outside and couldn't understand how it was possible for the sun still to be shining.

When I got back home I told my mother what I'd seen. Her only comment was: "The things you subject yourself to."

And it was just about then that my parents began with those speeches of theirs, or maybe my memory keeps harping on that time. The more I spoke about the past at school or at home, the more aggressive my father became: "That damn school, befouling their own nest. Things weren't that bad. And that business about the 6 million Jews, that's also exaggerated."

My parents had read Eugen Kogon's The SS State. In it he mentions a concentration camp doctor. It seems that my parents knew him, and according to them the day Kogon places him in the camp he wasn't there at all but at our house delivering one of my brothers. That was all the proof they needed to know that everybody, not only Kogon, was lying.

They always tried to minimize everything. The things that had happened were just accidents. No guilt feelings for them. The crowning touch was their cynicism in naming me Sibylle, having my first name begin with the letter "S," so that my initials now are SS. One of my father's little jokes, ice cold and unfeeling, making me go through life with that burden. I didn't think it very amusing. And when I said so, all they could say was that I had no sense of humor.

Our disagreements grew more and more heated the older I got. Again and again the question arose about how much they'd known and why they hadn't done anything about it.

And sometimes, very rarely, through hints, it became clear that they'd known everything. Once my father told me about waiting at the station at Eisleben [ii] when a train with people in cattle cars pulled in. "Let us out of here," they cried. "They're taking us to Theresienstadt." At that point he knew what fate had in store for these people. But when I asked him what he did about it, he got red in the face and shouted: "What did you expect me to do? With three young children. It's easy for you to talk."

After that I just gave up. I thought to myself, It's no use. Every argument we had about the Third Reich always went hand in hand with other prejudices which in the final analysis had nothing to do with the war. Jews and blacks were subhumans, and there was a whole catalogue of others he couldn't stand, like Indians and Greeks and Spaniards. And he never held back, regardless of where he was, whether in a neighborhood pub or among strangers. He also despised everyone who wasn't like him. He disparaged all who were too cowardly to speak their mind, even though, to hear him tell it, they agreed with him.

He was unsparing in his disdain. In 1967 I was on a Mediterranean cruise with him. It was the last time I spent a vacation in his company, one last attempt to share something pleasant with him. Half of the four hundred passengers were deaf-mutes, and that got him going. I was still stupid enough to try to reason with him. He cut me off by saying that he preferred two hundred deaf-mutes to two hundred blacks. Always that cynicism, that refusal to take me and what I had to say seriously. Things weren't as simple as I thought, I was illogical. One evening he got furious when I danced with an older man, a Jew, and jokingly said that I could imagine marrying someone like that. Yet when we landed in Israel two days later, he became enthusiastic about the uniformed young men and women in the harbor.

A year later, in 1968, came our final break. I turned Red overnight. In Bonn I'd fallen in love with a Communist, and he lent me a book by Ernst Fischer. Now for the first time I began to understand what was going on, and I promptly started to agitate. Of course there was a big row at home. Some weeks later I received a letter from my father. I had refused to spend Christmas at home with my parents. He exploded. He wrote he couldn't understand my extreme selfishness, couldn't understand why I bothered about blacks and Vietnam, that this riffraff was bound to disappear from the face of the earth without leaving a trace. I knew nothing about men, he said, and they don't like to have the things they'd created taken away from them. Men were proud, and I just didn't know what a real man was.

My mother added her signature to the letter. She agreed completely. Just imagine, all this happened nearly twenty-five years after the end of the war. And still that same language, that unchanged frame of mind.

After that letter everything was over. I became isolated, separated from the family. My brothers also knifed me in the back. They never had any problem with Father's past. And the fact is it was difficult to charge him with anything specific as far as the war was concerned. By sheer accident it seems that he was never present at any of the horrendous things that happened. And so he also had no problem with his de-Nazification. Yet a few months before the end of the war, when it seemed that he might be drafted, he wrote a letter to his oldest son, a testament of sorts, couched in the blood-and-soil phraseology typical of that era. I shudder to think that I'm related to its author.

My father remained a fascist to his dying day, and it really doesn't matter what he did or didn't do during the war. You can't imagine the beatings my brothers received. Once one of them was supposed to memorize a poem, and every time he stumbled Father let him have it. I can still hear the screams. Mother took me by the hand and led me out of the room. "Father's going to kill Erich. We better leave," she said to me. Things got really bad later on when we lived in our own house, with no next-door neighbors and no danger of being overheard. After that there was no stopping him. Given a choice I would never again live in a one-family house.

In my early twenties I tried to stand on my own two feet. But many of my own traits also frighten me, above all my lack of compassion. I think my greatest fear was that I would carryon the tradition of my parents and grandparents. I once saw a woman on the street hit her child, but I didn't intervene. I stood by and did nothing. And the real reason was that I didn't like the little girl. She just stood there and didn't defend herself, and that's why I didn't like her.

And later in the feminist movement, when I saw pictures of abused women, my instinctive reaction was: They had it coming, why didn't they defend themselves? If they'd defended themselves they wouldn't have been beaten. My compassion was reserved for people who defended themselves. My brothers and I also never defended ourselves when we were being beaten. We took everything, every conceivable humiliation.

But slowly I began to change. Years later I had a dream about a child that was being mistreated by other children. My first reaction in the dream was, well, they're only playing. I then saw them tie the child to a post upside-down and hit it on the soles with a stick. At that point I thought-still in the dream-these are torture methods. I went over to the child and intervened. That dream was a turning point in my life.

In 1973, six months after his retirement, my father died of cancer. When he became ill our relationship improved somewhat. We called a truce. At the very end he softened somewhat, becoming more gentle and sensitive. I spent much time taking care of him. My mother, on the other hand, paid him back for everything he had done to her. She treated him abominably and refused to have a nurse in the house. My father had intestinal cancer, and she really tortured him. She would give him an enema only if he was obedient. At the end things got so bad that his doctor insisted on calling in a nurse.

I was horrified by the way she treated that dying man. I moved back home, but it was a terrible time. I spent many sleepless nights.

Soon after my father's death I got involved with a man twenty years my senior. I now realize that he was just like my father -- authoritarian, dogmatic, and domineering.

But now, after all those problems over the years, things have finally changed. I am living with a woman, and for the first time in my life I'm happy. I've given up the idea of emigrating. Three years ago I still toyed with the idea of going to South America and buying lots of land. But now that's all over. I'm even beginning to feel comfortable here in Germany; I realize that this is my home, despite or maybe because of everything that has happened here. I see all the ugliness, but also all the beauty, and I realize that I can't change very much, that nothing much has changed, and that it is possible that everything could happen all over again. The great pedagogic enterprises of the past twenty years haven't really changed the people. It can't be done by book learning alone.

I see that in the people I come in contact with. When one of my brothers was temporarily without a job he lashed out against everything around him-the foreigners, the unions, the workers-but as soon as he got a job again he became friendliness personified. The remnants of the past live on in all of us. The slightest disruption and we immediately take out after the others, always blaming others for our own inadequacies. Unfortunately I also see this trait in myself.

Sometimes I try to imagine what it would be like if I'd had children at my mother's age. I'm sure that I would have made them my victims. Now I'm glad that I don't have children and don't plan to have any. I don't want to be like my mother. I know that sounds absurd, but this distancing myself from her is important to me.

She hasn't changed. She's the same way she was thirty or fifty years ago. Once, when I told her about Viktor Frankl's book about Auschwitz, she said: "Oh, he must have been on the staff." She simply can't understand that an eminent doctor could have been an inmate in a concentration camp. The people in the camps were, after all, subhumans. That's what she believed then and that's what she believes still. She had a limited view then and she has a limited view now.

My parents were always-I'm sorry to have to put it so bluntly-limited, uninterested, and stupid. The terrible thing about them was their willingness to be manipulated. That, and their indescribable coldness. It's too bad, but I just have to talk about it. For years I tried to tell myself that they had a hard time, that they'd gone through a lot. Now I no longer have understanding for it. My father could have made a different choice, and so could my mother. At any rate, they could have done so after the war. After all, there's something like free will.

There was a time when I wondered how I would have acted in their place, and feared I might have been no different. But not anymore. I cannot relieve my parents of the choice they made. However, there's one thing I will never understand, what on earth made them decide to have four children.

There was a time when a reconciliation with my parents might still have been possible, but they missed the chance. If only once my mother had said to me: "Listen, I've thought about it, basically the worst thing we did was to close our eyes, and I will carry this guilt to my grave. But I hope you'll be different and learn from me."

I could have made peace with a mother like that, even if it turned out that she'd been a guard in a concentration camp.

_______________  

Notes:

i. A commercial center in Saxony.

ii. A city in Saxony.
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Re: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrov

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:13 am

9. Monika, The Believer

IT'S ONLY fairly recently, maybe ten years, that I've gotten up the courage to talk about my father being in the SS. Before that I didn't dare to. I always thought that if people found out they'd shun me, wouldn't want to have anything to do with me, that I'd be ostracized. And that's also how I saw my father, in the role of victim-alone, friendless, isolated-and I thought that's how I'd have to live for the rest of my life. And so I never told anyone.

And even now, when it comes to my father's past, I still get upset. He was in the Waffen-SS. Couldn't he at least have been in the SA [Storm Troopers], I ask myself. That would make it a little better; the SA wasn't quite so bad. Why the Waffen-SS? I never wanted to accept what he was really like. The mind may see things clearly, but the feelings refuse to accept what the mind sees. It's all very ambiguous.

My sister is older than I. I was born in 1947. About a year ago my sister suddenly announced that as far as she was concerned she was the daughter of an executioner. When I heard that everything in me recoiled. I thought to myself, No, I'm not like that, I don't want to be like that. But my sister hated my father, and she'd begun to delve into the past a long time ago. She says she simply has to live with the knowledge that she is the daughter of an executioner.

But I refused to see things in terms of black and white. I always tried to see both the good and the bad in people, and this desperate search for the evil that lies buried in the good, but also for the good within the evil, has always occupied me.

I studied psychology and after graduating got a job in a prison, working on an experimental program of alternative approaches to punishment. I was interested primarily in working with hardened criminals. I had good rapport with them and was completely unafraid. I often found myself in strange situations; big, powerful men, murderers and the like, would become violent, trash their cells, and no one would dare go near them. And there I'd be, the only one brave enough to walk into their cells and talk to them. I was never afraid of any of them. I started out from the premise that there's some good in even the worst, and that I was the one who'd find it. This ability to find the good in people was one of my strengths. The weakness of the strong, the goodness in evil, the soft core in hard people, that's what interested me, and that's what I was looking for in my father.

I refused to acknowledge that my own father had participated in all those crimes, and that's all there was to him. I also wanted to show him through my work that not all people in prison were alike. I wanted to prove to him-or maybe to myself-that I could find something of substance even in a thoroughly evil person.

But it was all in vain. He refused to listen to anything I tried to tell him. He was full of cliches: they were nothing but murderers and criminals, types who didn't want to work. It sounds crazy, but I tried to get him to understand criminals. No use. He was intolerant of the crimes of others and couldn't see anything good in any of these prisoners. It was a topsy-turvy world, for of course he never considered himself a criminal. And I kept on trying to prove to him that criminals were not born that way. But it didn't do any good, for he never saw himself in the same light.

We never talked about what he'd done. Silence and evasions were the rule. For years I knew nothing, unlike my older sister. She'd found out all about it. Certain subjects simply were taboo, and I didn't ask questions. I was obedient and didn't engage in discussion. I kept quiet.

That's how things went along until 1960, when I was thirteen, and my parents told me that Father'd been in the SS. For a long time after the war he lived under another name, probably quite unnecessarily so; he pretended to be my mother's brother. It was a crazy story, because my older sister also was told that he wasn't her father but her Uncle Franz. So for years we were a family in which a child was told that her father was gone but might still return from the war, and that the man living with them was her uncle. Of course my sister kept on waiting for her father to come back, and whenever there was an argument she'd say just wait till Daddy comes back.

Today my father's fear seems almost incomprehensible. On the one hand, I really don't know what he did during the war, but on the other hand I can't believe him when he says he hadn't done anything. Because if that were so, why did he hide for so long after the war, why was he so afraid that he pretended to be the uncle of his own child?

I can still remember the day my sister came to me and said: "Do you know who our father is? It's Uncle Franz." But I was still too young to understand it all.

At the time I learned about my father's SS past I was his favorite. And I loved him. I simply couldn't believe the things I was told about him. They had to be lies.

The explanation I was given went something like this: The 55 was an elite unit of Hitler's forces which was always close to him and which fought for him, and that's why it is dangerous to talk about it.

Everything was shoved under the rug, everything was hidden: the uniform in the basement, the photographs in the linen closet. And always the fear that they might come and arrest my father. To this day I don't know of what or why he was afraid.

But all those disavowals, this hiding, this withdrawing, never leaving the house, never talking to outsiders, have left their mark on me. I remember one day I was walking home from school with some classmates when my father rode by on his bike. As he passed us he called out to me. One of the girls asked who that was, and I said that I didn't know.

I was torn. My father hid out, I hid him; he had no friends and spent his days riding his bike.

It took a long time for my anger against him to mount. Today I know that he'd always been a Nazi, and I no longer see two sides of him, only that one. The older I get the more I become aware of his aggressiveness and brutality.

Things he said that I'd forgotten or repressed keep coming back to me, such as his calling me a cripple when I was clumsy, or saying that I was lazy and that under Hitler I would have ended up in a labor camp. And then his anger, his screaming and rages. Never a calm sentence or a thoughtful answer. I've never once heard him say something positive about anybody. I can't remember him ever praising something or calling it beautiful.

Recently, not so very long ago, when he embarked on one of his tirades about the handicapped and other worthless lives, I called him a misanthrope. For the first time that I can recall he didn't flare up; he looked at me in astonishment and didn't say a word. Since then I've hardly spoken to him. I also told him that I was no longer willing to listen to his drivel. That hit home. For the first time. But it's taken me forty years!

The most important and most troubling thing for me is that basically I don't really know what he did during the war. Whenever I tried to get him to talk about it he dodged my questions, and if my mother was present she would intervene and ask why I keep harping on it.

The only times he gave himself away was when he got angry. A TV documentary about the Third Reich, a comment on the evening news about the Nazis, could set him off. "All lies," he'd shout. All reports and accounts of Nazi crimes were just a pack of lies. And it was during one of his rages that he mentioned for the first time that he'd lived in the Buchenwald personnel housing outside the camp. According to him the people who worked there were well fed and decently dressed, and they came from the camp. That, as far as he was concerned, was proof enough that all those stories about the concentration camps were lies.

And of course there were the Jews, his favorite topic. To hear him tell it they used to own everything, the big department stores, all the money, while the rest had nothing at all, nothing but poverty.

And today, as far as he is concerned, things are again the same. In America the Jews are in control, my teacher is a Red, and it's all propaganda.

He always denied everything. There were no murders, no extermination camps, and certainly no individual guilt. And these senseless outbursts always ended the same way: "One day you'll find out what really happened and then you'll thank me for always having told you the truth."

Yet despite everything, despite all these scenes, it wasn't easy for me to separate things into good and evil. I fought both against him and against myself. I taped some of my discussions with him and listened to them with one of my girlfriends. They always followed the same pattern, always the same phraseology and the same aggressions. I tried to argue with him calmly and logically. For years I kept on trying, never giving up. It's only now that I begin to realize how senseless it all was.

I once had a boyfriend who also was pretty aggressive. He used to shout at me, and when he did I couldn't think straight; my mind became a blank. Just like with Father. I keep on looking for men who aren't aggressive.

As I grew older I began to edge away from my family. I realized that people like my father couldn't be changed or convinced. And so the only solution for me was to get away from home. I stopped bringing my friends to the house. I moved out after finishing high school, and my visits became rarer and rarer. There were big emotional scenes. My parents' favorite saying was that blood was thicker than water. That was supposed to mean that there was something like family solidarity, and that it outweighed anything else. What they didn't see was that this sham closeness was the very thing that had driven me away. They couldn't forgive my sister for not inviting them to a birthday party with her friends. Our so-called family was supposed to take precedence over all others.

It's hard to believe that for years I kept on worrying about it, that I didn't simply turn my back on them and walk away. I took everything they said seriously, and I was taken in by it. But in the final analysis, the pretended warmth, the pleas, the stress on family ties was nothing but a sum total of regulations and norms, not of personal values.

Mother was given to saying that one had to be good, and that good people had no bad sides. It was that simple. And in her eyes Father had only bad traits and no good ones. Yet despite their squabbles they're still living together. They have nothing but contempt for each other but keep up the pretense of being a close-knit family.

They also made me into a nice little girl-noble, helpful, and good. No anger, no trouble making, no irascibility, and too little resistance to parental authority.

But I hadn't always been like that. When I was small I was a little witch who later changed into an angel. I used to throw tantrums, stamp my foot, and fight back. But then sometime later, about 1960, around the time I learned of my father's past, everything changed. At around the age of fourteen I became gentle and kind and obedient, always smiling. I liked myself in the dual role of witch and angel, switching from one to the other. The older I got the more determined I became to show the world how sweet and good I was, never angry. And I'm still like that, even though it bothers me.

Nice people don't fight back, don't raise their voice, and would never admit that something makes them mad. That's how I was brought up. I've been housebroken.

There came that ominous moment when I stopped defending myself. With one stroke they broke my will, supposedly with love. Mother was always so disappointed when I became angry, and then promptly forgave me. She said she'd forget that I'd been so bad. Double torture.

Finding out about my father's past, the deception, the recognition that he wasn't the kind, good person I had thought, also affected my feeling of independence. I changed, became shy and anxious. I also cried a lot, and when I did I'd go down to the basement, sit down on a crate, put on my father's old uniform coat, and stay there until all traces of tears disappeared. I still find it difficult to assert myself, to say what I want and what I don't want. I have inherited much from my parents.

My greatest problem is to avoid becoming like my parents, given their past. I know what I have in common with them. And I wasn't able to change, to make myself over, until I stopped thinking of them as victims. I also saw myself as the victim of their upbringing and their past. But as soon as I stopped seeing my parents as victims I became able to distance myself from them. Having looked at the historical record, the books and films, I have become convinced that they must be counted among the perpetrators. But when I was small, as a child, I saw something altogether different. They were refugees with very little money, frightened people living from hand to mouth. That's not what perpetrators are supposed to look like. They saw themselves as victims and felt like victims, and that's how I saw them as well. And I also began to see myself as their victim. I now know that what they did is also a part of me, but I now handle it differently, and that is the beauty of my life today.
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Re: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrov

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:13 am

10. Herbert (A Telephone Conversation)

PETER S.: Have you come to a decision about talking to me?

HERBERT: No, I haven't.

Why not?

I don't know what you want to know.

I'm interested in your parents.

Why?

Good question.

There's not much to tell.

Well, let's begin with the little there is.

What do you want to know?

Everything and the truth.

Where should I begin?

Wherever you can.

I don't think I can at all.

What?

Talk about my father.

Why not?

Because you probably want to hear that he was a criminal.

Well, was he?

You'd call him that.

What do you call him?

I call him Father.

And what else?

What do you mean "what else"?

What was he before he was your father?

How should I know?

Why don't you ask him?

Why?

Maybe he was a criminal before he became your father.

Are you trying to insult him?

Maybe.

You don't have the faintest idea who he really was.

True.

He was a soldier like thousands of others.

A soldier in Treblinka?

In a Sonderkommando. [i]

What kind?

In the office.

That's what he told you?

Yes.

When?

A long time ago. When I asked him what he did during the war.

How old were you at the time?

I think about fifteen.

Why did you ask him?

We'd talked about the Third Reich in school.

What else did he tell you?

That sometimes he also guarded prisoners.

What kind of prisoners?

The ones that were held there.

Who were they?

Don't ask such stupid questions.

Can't you say that word?

Which one?

What kind of prisoners they were.

Okay, Jews.

Why are you shouting?

You get on my nerves.

So?

I'm going to stop now.

All right, hang up.

Okay.

What did he do with the Jews there?

He didn't kill them, if that's what you mean.

Then what did he do?

Guard them.

How did he do that?

He didn't tell me every little detail.

What did he tell you?

He wasn't in the gas chambers.

Where was he?

In the office.

And that's where he guarded the Jews?

Don't be so aggressive.

Are you surprised?

What do you and I have to do with it?

Not much, except that maybe your father killed my grandmother.

That's ridiculous.

I'm not laughing.

There's nothing he could have done.

What couldn't he have done?

Refuse.

Why not?

Because then they would have killed him.

Who's "they"?

The SS, of course.

But he was in the SS himself.

But not voluntarily.

That's what he told you?

Yes.

Who forced him?

I don't know exactly.

Didn't you ask him?

Get off me. It wasn't my fault.

It wouldn't be if you'd asked him.

He wanted to survive, that's all.

By killing others?

He didn't kill anybody!

You don't believe that yourself. He was there for three years.

He was in the administration.

That makes him a desk murderer.

It's terrible, the way you talk about him.

How do I talk about him?

Like a common criminal.

Well, and?

But he's my father.

So?

Hundreds of people worked in the administration there.

In that case there were hundreds of murderers.

You're bitter.

That's true.

I ask myself what do I have to do with all this?

Nothing.

Then why do you attack me?

Because you're protecting your father.

Do you want me to attack him?

Makes no difference to me.

What do you want me to do?

Find out the truth.

And when I do?

Then attack him, if that's what he deserves.

My own father?

If he was a criminal then tell him so to his face.

My own father?

I feel sorry for you.

What do you mean by that?

You're pitiful.

Why?

With a father like that.

You're insulting him again.

I don't like him.

But you don't even know him.

I know enough about him.

But he also has a very different side.

Which one?

He can be kind and friendly and nice; and also funny.

What's that got to do with it?

Damn it, you have to deal with your hatred yourself.

And you?

I don't hate him.

He's a murderer!

There you go again.

I'll never stop.

Can't you forget?

Some things, no.

Neither can he.

Poor guy.

He went through a lot.

Like what?

He was persecuted and tried after the war.

Yes, I know, and he was acquitted.

As he should have been.

How do you know that?

I believe him.

What? That he didn't do anything?

Yes.

You're lying to yourself.

And you with your hatred also aren't bringing anyone back to life.

I'm not so much interested in your father as in you.

How come?

How you can live with it.

I'm not living with him now.

Do you love him as a father?

No.

When did you stop loving him?

I never loved him, but I respected him.

And now?

Now I only feel sorry for him.

Why?

He's old and shaky and can't walk without help; he can't even feed himself.

Why didn't you love him?

Maybe I even hated him.

Do you feel indifferent about him?

No, not that.

Are you different from him?

Yes and no.

What do you mean?

There's too much of him, things I don't like, in me, and vice versa.

And what else?

Nothing.

Tell me more about yourself and your father.

Leave me alone.

Do you find our conversation unpleasant?

Yes, very.

Why?

You have an unpleasant way of questioning.

You think so?

You're pushing me over to his side.

I don't want to do that.

But you are.

With you and me there are no two sides.

And in my father's case?

There they exist.

And you are pushing me in that direction.

I didn't want that.

You're using guilt.

How?

If I don't hate him I share in the guilt.

No, no.

Oh, yes. You're making it easy for yourself.

No, that's not what I mean.

Oh, yes.

What am I doing wrong?

You're playing a nasty game.

Now you're going too far.

You're going too far with your hatred.

I don't understand.

I can't help your hatred.

I know that.

That's why you'll be left with your hatred.

How come?

Because I won't help you.

And I don't need you.

I doubt that.

Why?

I can forget, but you can't.

You've already said this.

Now I feel sorry for you.

Thanks a lot.

You're the sorry creature.

Now just a moment!

You're desperate, like a dog who barks and nobody hears him.

You can kiss my ass.

Nobody will help you.

Forget it.

Your hatred will consume you, but I'll live.

Lots of luck to you.

Ridiculous, the way you're carrying on.

That's brave talk on the part of the son of a hangman.

You can't insult me.

I know that.

Let's stop. This doesn't make any sense.

Yes, let's stop so that you can bring that old shit his hot tea.

Now you're going too far.

Yes, you're right, let's stop.

There's nothing more we can say to each other.

Alas, yes.

I'm not going to give you any interview.

I no longer want you to.

You don't ask questions. All you do is swear at people.

That's true, at least in your case.

Too bad, because maybe we missed an opportunity.

Maybe you're right.

Does that mean that we're now enemies?

Of course not.

What then?

I don't know.

Actually, it's all very sad.

Yes.

Do you really think my father is a murderer?

I no longer know.

I just can't imagine it.

Neither can I.

It's mind-boggling.

You're right.

All right.

Yes.

I don't think I'll give you that interview.

As you wish.

Are you sorry?

No.

Neither am I.

I believe you.

I wish you luck.

So do I.

Maybe we'll run into each other by accident.

I don't even know what you look like.

That's true.

Well, lots of luck.

Yes, to you, too.

________________

Notes:

i. The "special detail," a euphemism for the extermination squads.
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Re: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrov

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:35 am

11. Egon, A Dweller in the Past

THE DAY AFTER finishing high school I told my mother that I was going to study medicine. I think it came as a shock to her. She looked at me, very frail and shaky, and only said: "Child, please don't do this to me!"

She just didn't want it. Under no circumstances. I told her that there was no use in arguing, that I'd made up my mind that I wanted to become a good doctor like my father. Never mind what he'd been charged with.

Mother just didn't want to believe me. She was unhappy, cried, mumbled to herself. I couldn't understand a word, but I guess that was just as well. I didn't really want to hear what she had to say. I knew that whole litany, that my father, because of his profession, had brought nothing but misery on the family. It's been a bone of contention for years.

Father's profession wasn't a disaster, nor what he did and for whom he did it. And at the time my mother didn't object. She was young and probably didn't mind being the respectable wife of the young SS doctor. But all of a sudden, when things came crashing down, and it became a crime to have been involved, Father alone was supposed to be responsible for the misfortune of our family. Ridiculous. My father was a physician and scientist and a dedicated National Socialist.

Mother maintains he didn't have to volunteer for Dachau in order to make himself useful. But at the time she was glad that he didn't have to serve at the front. And all she does now is complain that he would have spared the family much unhappiness if he'd just remained an ordinary doctor. There wouldn't have been all those troubles after the war, but he had to mix into everything, be part of everything. That's all I hear day in, day out, year after year, particularly since his death. When my older sister is here, she's sixteen years older than I and was born during the war, the two of them join forces. They really get me mad, trying to put all the blame on Father. If only he hadn't, if only he had. Father died six years ago, and he's been dying daily ever since. They won't let him rest in peace. The fact that my sister, Susanne, is on her third marriage-all his fault, the way he brought her up. Moreover, with his past he didn't set her a good example, except negatively. I guess it's all an attempt to put distance between him and herself. I don't know what all that is supposed to mean. He's dead. How much distance can she put between him and herself? That Mother can't make ends meet -his fault, because he didn't leave enough and couldn't get a decent position after the war. That I'm so hard to get along with-his fault, because he never paid any attention to me. I think they also blame him if they get constipated.

But when he was still alive there wasn't a peep out of them. It was Daddy this, and Daddy that, and aren't you too tired, and don't you want to rest, and bring Daddy the paper and slippers, ~nd how do you like the soup, and did you have a hard day. Susanne hugged him when he came home from the office, and Mother kissed him on the cheek, but with clenched lips. When I was little I was struck by the way they kissed, never really touching each other with the lips. When my mother hugged me I felt disgust. She'd press her clenched lips against my cheek, and I felt the few hairs on her upper lips brush my skin. I shuddered when she caressed me.

When we went out for a walk Father would walk in the middle, my mother and my sister to either side of him, arms linked, moving in unison, with me tagging along. The three of them ignored me. My mother and sister hated him, I worshipped him, but he was indifferent toward me. Unbelievable. When he played with me he was just doing his duty. When I showed him something he didn't see it, even if he was looking straight at it. He forgot my birthday and hundreds of promises to play with me or go biking with me.

And I admired him so, and defended him whenever anybody tried to besmirch him. I was a child of his later years, an unwanted child. Actually everything that makes for a family was already destroyed by the time I was born, in 1960. At the time my father was fifty-six, my mother thirty-eight. My sister was born in 1944. My parents met in the camp, but of course not as prisoners. Quite early in the war my father returned from the front with a leg injury, which left him with a permanent limp. It wasn't a battle wound but the result of a car accident. There was something fishy about it. Perhaps he was drunk. At any rate, after being released from the hospital he volunteered for Dachau. That's what he told me.

My mother was the daughter of one of his colleagues. I don't know what more I can tell you. He joined the National Socialists in the very beginning, as a student in Berlin, back in 1933, when they ttied to prevent the Jewish students from entering the university and took their IDs from them. He used to tell me about it. On graduation from medical school he immediately joined the SS. He often said that the doctors kept faith with the party from the very beginning. Rumor even has it that the Voelkische Beobachter, the official paper, was given to the party by a group of doctors. He was proud of his role in the war to the very end. His favorite saying was that doctors protect and prolong the lives of people. Doctors who are nationalists do that, if need be even at the cost of the lives of others. That, he said, was the difference between a doctor who has political convictions and one who doesn't.

He believed that it was his duty to help and work "selectively." He did not think that all lives were equally valuable. He did not, like some others, become an SS doctor in order to advance his career. After all, enough places had opened up through the expulsion of Jewish doctors. He despised these careerist toadies, and he also blamed them for the catastrophic end of the movement.

He used to say that basically all people act the same, except that some actions are justified and others aren't. Take a soldier and a murderer. Both kill. But one is honored and the other is executed. When he talked like that I would sit there and just listen to him. He didn't tolerate interruptions or interjections. Perhaps he wasn't even aware that I was listening. He considered himself part of the elite of the Third Reich, an individualist in the mass movement. In his eyes the German nation was an organism, a body, and as a doctor it was his duty to shield that body against sickness and disaster, to remove the diseased part and to conduct research to prepare this body for the future. That was his constant refrain.

What a feeling it must be, being responsible for millions of people, yes, for the future of the entire German nation. At the time he was very young, barely older than I am now. What, I ask myself, do I have to show? To be entrusted with such tasks -- what more can a young scientist ask for? Say what you will about National Socialism, but basically it rested on a philosophy of medicine. Concepts like race, nation, living space, race hygiene, race preservation, and race philosophy are unambiguous. No new society can be built without doctors. These conclusions largely reflect the views of my father.

I'm certainly not a neo-Nazi. I don't even know what that's supposed to mean. Those days are gone, and you'd have to be stupid to want to see them return. It would mean that I'd also want to see a replay of the defeat. The system failed not in its ideas but in its execution. Well, maybe in some of its ideas, but not in the basic ones. I always spoke up when I heard the Nazi era being indiscriminately attacked. At school I was often the only one to get so involved. We had a history teacher who called himself a confirmed antifascist. But he'd been just a child during the war. Now, when fascism no longer exists, it's easy for him to be against it. It doesn't affect his life. At first I used to keep quiet at school, thinking to myself, Let him talk, I know what I know. But it got worse and worse. If what he said was true, we Germans were a nation of criminals and madmen. And we now know that's not so. Our former enemies have become our closest allies.

Once we had to write a composition on the topic "The Role of the Medical Profession in the Crimes of National Socialism." I said to myself, That's it. I'm not going to let them run my father down. I wrote a paper defending the doctors, using the arguments I'd heard from my father. You can't imagine what happened then. I was called to the principal, and so were my parents. They threatened to expel me, to report my parents to the authorities, and I don't know what else. But they could find no arguments to counter mine. They accused me of being a neo-Nazi. That was odd. A few years ago you probably couldn't even become a postman without belonging to the party, and now membership in it is a term of abuse. Then they tried to catch me with all sorts of sly questions, whether I had feelings about the Turks or belonged to any organization or had painted swastikas on walls. I decided to keep my mouth shut, and I did. I didn't say a word. Only when they asked me whether my father was behind it all did I become mad. I had a mind of my own, I told them. Then I shut up again. There were the usual reprimands from the principal's office and the matter was dropped.

One evening my father had a talk with me, maybe the only time in my life that he spoke to me calmly and not past me. He looked straight at me, man to man. It was wild. And he wasn't mad at me. On the contrary. He tried to explain to me that nowadays opinions like mine can't be aired openly. He criticized me, but I had the feeling that he was proud of me.

After the war he could no longer work as a doctor. Some friends offered him a job in the pharmaceutical industry, and that's what he did until his death. He also changed his profession. When people asked him what he was he told them he was a research chemist. I think he was ashamed of being a doctor who wasn't practicing medicine.

We always lived in Berlin. That's where I went to school. I expect to be finished with my studies soon and plan to specialize in internal medicine. That's what interests me most. My sister also lives here in Berlin. She's a teacher. She's been married twice before, once even to a Jew. The things she's tried and experimented with! I am very different. We've lost touch with each other. I look forward to the day when I don't have to see Mother or her anymore.

We see each other only at Christmas. And even then she starts on me. I no longer react. Soon after entering medical school I joined a student group dedicated to the protection of Germanhood. We try to preserve the positive aspects of the past and to prepare for the future, to make us proud once more of being German. We meet every Tuesday. But we are not a dueling fraternity. That's not for us. We don't want to live in a museum, and we are not museum custodians. We're mainly concerned with creating a new national identity, a German nation that is proud, without resorting to a dictatorship, at least not one like National Socialism. Back then it was important to prevent Communism, or by now we would probably be part of the Eastern bloc.

Too bad that Father talked so little of those days. He was a very quiet person. In all those years he told us very little of his work at Dachau, except for an occasional remark about experiments, or the treatment of inmates, or about the death of thousands, or the sudden collapse, which no one in the camp expected.

Would I have acted the same way then? I think so. It was war and everybody was so enthusiastic. And the war was fought not only at the front between two enemies, it was also fought at home. The enemies were not only Russians or Americans, but also Communists, Jews, and Gypsies. Is that so absurd? There is something absurd about every enemy, every hostile person. Someone is standing in front of me, a man who looks exactly like me, and suddenly he's my enemy.

I either believe that or I don't. And if I believe it, then I accept the idea of an enemy. An enemy soldier or an enemy race. That was the ideology back then. I don't understand why we now see this in such a different light. Why should a soldier who for years had shot at people, thrown hand grenades into buildings, sunk ships, dynamited bridges, killed women and children, be allowed to return home after the war and to live in peace, while my father is considered a criminal? Both were ordered to kill, each in his way. Both were convinced that what they were doing was right.

As I've already told you I would have acted the same way. I can imagine that this disturbs you. But I'm not going to stand here as a man who denies his father. On the contrary, I'm proud of him.

For years he lived with the awareness that he might be indicted, but he wasn't afraid. I admired him, but he ignored me. That's really the bad part of his story. Those scenes at Christmas, terrible. He'd spend hours with my sister unwrapping her gifts, admiring her as she tried on her new clothes and necklace. He adored her and ignored me. He was never unkind and he never hit me. Only his looking past me, that's what was so terrible. When I talked to him I had to repeat things three or four times before he reacted. Why? I just don't know. He hated his own son, or at the very least was indifferent toward him.

My mother keeps telling me that I look exactly like he did when he was young. Shortly before the end of the war he fled to Berlin. Afterward, when everything was over, he went on living like everyone else.

At the moment I don't know what to do. Everything is so confusing. Sometimes when I talk about him I feel as though he were a stranger I'd never laid eyes on but knew from hearsay. And so I pass on the things I've been told, not my own impressions. If you were to ask me today what he looked like I'd have to look at a picture to bring him to mind. What color were his eyes? Blue, I think, but maybe gray. He was stocky, not very tall, a little pudgy, a little like myself. We're no beauties. My sister also isn't very attractive. Maybe that's why she has such problems with men. I don't have a steady girlfriend now and never did. I once dated the daughter of friends of my parents, but it didn't last long. I have problems with today's women. How should I describe it? They don't interest me. Maybe I should try it with an older one. The young ones and those my age don't understand me. And the things that interest them don't interest me. I'm dreaming of a real companion, someone who'll stand by me through thick and thin. And, of course, political agreement is also important. But there are hardly any women in our group, and those few are already taken. But I suppose somebody is bound to come along eventually. There are plenty of women around, so I guess I'll find one.

No, I'm not afraid of them, that's not it. But when I see all these young men chasing after women, I prefer to hang back. My sister had a succession of men. She even brought them home and spent the night with them. She has no shame. But it doesn't do her any good. She's as lonely as I. I'd rather wait.

I do have friends. My comrades. They stick by me. We all stick together. When one of us needs help we're all there. No fear of being left stranded.

Two years ago I moved away from home. I rented a room from the widow of a friend of Father's. She has a huge apartment and lives alone. She also looks after me, prepares my breakfast and does my laundry. Actually I'm very well taken care of there, better than at home. Also she likes to talk about the past. She knew my father before the war. I think her husband was also a doctor. From her I found out what my father was like when he was young, how he looked, how he met my mother, and also some details about his work during the war. She also told me that my father enjoyed a good reputation also among the prisoners. He wasn't one of those slaughterers, one of those murderous sadists. These labels are also too simplistic. It's even said he helped some prisoners escape, but maybe that's just a rumor.

My landlady has a daughter who's a little older than I. She lives in another city, and once a month she visits her mother. What happens on these occasions I can tell you only if you promise not to mention any names. I'm no Casanova, but when she visits she sleeps with me. She just comes into my room, lies down in my bed without much ado. Nothing like that's ever happened to me before. And her mother knows about it but doesn't say anything. Maybe she hopes that I'll marry her daughter. I've thought about it, but I fear she's a rather loose young woman. Does she do the same thing with other men? I ask myself. She is so shameless that I have to admire her. Completely uninhibited, always laughing and cheerful. When I tell her of my worries she just laughs. And strangely enough, my worries then don't seem quite so overwhelming anymore.

Perhaps one day we'll become the new elite. I'm certain that times will change and some aspects of the past will return. Things will be different, but they will also be different than now. People can't live without symbols and leaders, at least not in the long run. The new leaders will be different. The goal won't be war or the destruction of others, but power without war. Survival won't be predicated on the death of others. There will be sovereignty without victims, but through subjugation, positive subjugation. Nowadays it's no longer so simple to mobilize the masses. People have become more critical. And critical people can be stirred up only if they have an enemy who corresponds to their critical consciousness. The peace movement has demonstrated this. We've studied it closely. It proved that Germans can still be mobilized, only it's got to be the right enemy.

My friends and I-most of them are doctors-are ready. We have time. Unlike our fathers, we won't let any old idiot use us. As doctors we're indispensable to any political change. The nation, being a living entity, needs doctors. If need be they can also kill, not out of joy in killing but out of necessity. It's part of the job. Just as a doctor can save the life of a patient by removing an appendix he can save the body politic by excising big tumors. The extinction of life also forms the basis of the survival of others. This is where personal conviction comes in. My father serves as a model in this respect.

I know who you are, and I can imagine how you now feel about me. But I am an honest man and I don't want to pretend to be something I'm not. The matter is too important for that. My father killed, yes, that's true. Maybe he has hundreds of inmates on his conscience. He conducted experiments on people, he failed to help sick prisoners, and he did nothing to bring down the death rate in the camp. But keep in mind: whatever he did he did out of deeply held convictions, not out of a lust for murder. He wasn't a pervert but a political animal who accidentally found himself on the wrong side. If not for that he would probably have retired as a highly respected professor instead of spending the rest of his life after the war hiding out as a chemist in a research laboratory.

I will do things differently yet without being different.
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Re: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrov

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:36 am

12. Ingeborg, The Conciliator

I WAS BORN in 1945 in Carinthia [Austria]. My father is also from Carinthia. He comes from a poor family. After World War I his father made his way from a prisoner-of-war camp in Siberia all the way back to Carinthia. That must have been quite a trip. But somewhere in the Slovenian region he was recaptured and was beaten so badly in prison that he died of a ruptured kidney. That probably made my father into a German nationalist. His mother was then left to fend for herself.

I once went to look at the house in which he grew up-a one-room stone cottage alongside a brook, with only a little stove to heat it. It was a kind of poverty which today seems almost unimaginable. Winter and summer my father went around in wooden clogs without socks. The bread spread was beef fat, and his mother earned a few pennies doing sewing for the local farmers.

That also explains my father's dislike of Catholicism. The farmers with whom he had to stay mistreated him terribly, but on the outside they were pious. My father was very athletic and daring. He once did a handstand on a factory smokestack and walked across a river on the railing of a bridge, and many other stunts like that. I heard lots of such stories about him. But as I mentioned before, always that dreadful poverty. He told me that he used to look into the window of a local candy store and dream about one day being able to buy all those wonderful things there. Those were his fantasies.

Maybe it was through his sports club, or maybe he was fired by the idea of a German national purity and ethic, I don't really know, but he joined the National Socialists very early. He was always politically na'ive, but that movement must have fascinated him. He was a so-called Illegal, [i] and long before the Germans marched into Austria he was sentenced to two years.

When he was released he immediately went to Germany. The mass movement there inspired him. He was accepted at the sports academy in Berlin and finished the course successfully. That must have been his finest hour, before the war in Berlin, when the Olympics and the entire fascist movement were at their height. He personified the National Socialist ideal -- young, wiry, clean, fanatical, and without any doubts. He then returned to Carinthia and became something like a regional athletics chief, opened a sports academy, and was very active in the party organization.

When the war broke out Father immediately volunteered. He could have been exempted, but he didn't want that. He believed that one couldn't let others fight for one's ideals. He served in Poland and Russia. That's all I know about that. From what he told me he always fought alongside his men on the front lines. At the end of the war he returned to Carinthia and hid out from the British in the mountains. They were looking for him. I never found out why. He was said to have been decorated with something like the Order of the Blood. Toward the end of the war he served in Italy and was supposed to execute partisans. He told me that he refused. But how he got from the Eastern front to Italy and then back to Austria, and the whole business with his decoration, I don't really know.

I was born in 1945. He sent the British word that they could stop looking for him and that he would turn himself in after the birth of his child. Which he did.

The British sentenced him to two years, and he served the full term. A few years ago when I visited Israel with my husband, Alex, we ran into a relative of Alex's who'd worked in the prison where my father was interned. I must say that was a strange situation for me. You know that my husband is Jewish. But more about that later.

When I was around seventeen or eighteen I began to stand up to him. There were two topics: the Nazi era and the Jews. I wanted him to be critical of the past or talk about his mistakes. But he was defensive. He simply wasn't ready to bad-mouth the commitment of his youth.

When the talk turned to Jews, he naturally got to Israel: "Just look what they're doing in Syria today and with the Palestinians." And then came all those unbelievable cliches about the Jews being just as militaristic and sticking together, that we are the only ones who are so self-critical, that they can do whatever they please, and so on, and so on.

And then one day he told me that when he was in prison he was beaten by a British Jew who screamed at him and called him a Nazi swine. That was supposed to prove that they weren't any better. I tried to tell him that this sort of personal anger couldn't be compared to the crimes of the Nazis, but it was useless. Taking on such a father wasn't all that simple. When I still lived at home we were an ideal family. Father was very family-minded; he didn't drink, didn't smoke-no vices. Sports were important; we hiked, sang, and always did everything together.

If only he'd been a drinker or a womanizer. But as far as I could tell he was unblemished, until I discovered politics. Then everything collapsed. All that respectability suddenly was gone.

Mother came from a more prosperous family, but as far as the Nazis are concerned she went along with him. She was head counselor in a League of German Girls camp, where everything supposedly was so carefree and beautiful, with everybody helping one another. Only when the synagogues went up in flames things weren't all that beautiful. Then Mother even became a little sad. And long after the war was over I remember her mother talking about how one mustn't intermarry with Jews.

I can't tell you how often I tried over the years to get them to say even a single word of regret. All my father managed was that every regime has its victims. And as to the extermination of the Jews, he once called it a mistake that had done more harm than good.

Later, after I'd left home, I got very interested in Jews. I developed a sort of reverse prejudice. I read everything there was about the concentration camps, about "medical science without humaneness," about the persecutions and exterminations. For a time I identified with the victims. I was so fascinated by every account of survival that I almost felt as though it had happened to me. I had an almost erotic relationship with the victims, and above all the survivors. And then there were the stories about Jews, people who in every respect were the exact opposite of my father-his political na'ivete, his compulsive neatness, his moral obtuseness, his intellectual rigidity, his narrowmindedness -- traits completely at odds with my preconceptions of Jews.

When I met Alex I promptly told my parents about him. I casually mentioned that I'd met a nice guy, a Jew, and asked them whether they wouldn't like to meet him. Their automatic response was: "But please, no children." When they met him all my mother could say was that he wasn't athletic. That was the most important thing. They did notice that he had brains, but they were afraid of impure children, because those poor little things had such a hard time.

I have an older sister, and my parents didn't have such an easy time with her either. She had a child by a Spaniard, married an American, and at college she dated an African.

At any rate, I continued going with Alex. We now have two children, and I think my parents like him a lot. Still, basically they haven't changed. But Alex helped me rid myself of my tradition. He also refuses to indulge my parents' preconceptions. He questions the things they say, talks to them openly, and he has never shown my kind of acceptance of authority. Many of his traits fascinated me, and others annoyed me. I was a child of nature, liked hiking and the outdoors. When we went on walks I wanted to look at trees, but Alex wasn't particularly interested. He preferred talking. Or when we visited friends who bored him he'd simply get up and leave, something I never would have dared. I was brought up to suffer in silence. In the final analysis I'm something like a footloose traveler between two camps, the National Socialists and the Jews. I wear a Star of David charm, not that I have gone over to Judaism, but I have a stronger kinship to Judaism than any other faith. We celebrate Hanukkah and Passover with Alex's mother, and I feel very close to her. She accepts me without reservation and without prejudice.

Still there is much that remains strange to me. One of Alex's good friends is a Jew, and when the two of them get together I can hardly understand them. Something goes on between the two of them that I just can't follow. Today I am neither a Carinthian nor a Jew. For a while my relationship with my parents was very strained, but it's gradually improved. I think when they began to realize how deeply attached I was to Alex and that I wasn't going to give him up they relented.

I too went through some changes with regard to Alex. At first everything was strange. For two years I had what might be called the open-mouth syndrome. At first I thought it was due to anti-Jewish prejudices that I had to overcome. Now I know better. These cultural differences do in fact exist, and I try to accept them. Jews are different.

My life with Alex undoubtedly has helped me loosen my emotional ties to my parents. Just leaving them physically was not enough. The more important step was removing myself from their ideological sphere. I now have an entirely different attitude toward authority than I used to. I no longer feel that I have to be perfect; I now know it is more important to act instead of waiting for ideal conditions. I am no longer nearly so worried about what others might think. I feel freer and more independent, even though it might seem that being married to a Jew in Austria would be constricting, not liberating. In my case the contrary is true.

Still, it took a long time before we were ready to marry. Then there came the question of conversion for me, which I didn't want, because I'm not religious. And then of course there was the matter of how the children should be raised. And there, too, we haven't come up with an answer yet. Perhaps it will be up to them to decide which road they'll want to take. Basically it works only when both traditions are kept as far in the background as possible. And so we had a marriage without either priest or rabbi, and the children are not instructed in either the one or the other religion. Whether or not that's a good thing I can't say. Leaving the world of my parents does not necessarily mean becoming completely immersed in Alex's world. Too much there is still strange to me.

When he is together with his Jewish friends I still feel like an outsider. I often get the feeling that an invisible wall has gone up behind which they retreat, leaving me on the outside. Despite all the years I've been with Alex there's still a distance. I've learned to accept it and no longer pretend it doesn't exist. Of course there are times when it's bothered me, but in the final analysis I've been enriched through my life with Alex.

But the tragic part of this expansion of my horizons is that it has meant the loss of my home. And that's what I hold against my parents. I could not go on being a part of the family play they were acting out. But my decision to live with Alex was a decision for isolation. The place I'd grown up in became alien and intolerable. I have hardly any friends; people of my age don't interest me. More and more I have withdrawn into my own little family.

I do, however, think that in our marriage I have given more than Alex. I've become estranged from my parents, but not he from his. Through me he has gotten in touch with this country, with nature, with the landscape, with the beauty of flowers and meadows. What I've gotten is inner turmoil, being torn out of my setting without finding a new one, living with a man who in every respect is the direct opposite of my father. And within the space of a single generation the German nationalist union of a blue-eyed, blond woman and an athletic, slender, Aryan Carinthian youth has produced grandchildren with a foreign, Jewish father. And so perhaps my marriage to Alex is proof of the stupidity and also the transitoriness of ideologies like National Socialism. Perhaps my life here in Austria with a Jew is also my personal contribution to reconciliation and restitution. I couldn't change my parents, but I could get them to accept a Jewish son-in-law. At our wedding they told everybody that they were very happy and that they liked Alex a lot. Fifty years after Auschwitz that must be seen as a step forward, and not such a small one at that.

_______________

Notes:

i. The National Socialist party was officially banned in Austria between 1934 and 1938.
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Re: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrov

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:37 am

13. Stefan, The Sufferer

I'M IN the same boat as you. I was the Jew in my family. Father, Mother, Grandmother-all of them conspired to perpetuate the terror in the family. And I was their target. No, they weren't out to kill me, because that would have been too easy. They just wanted to make me suffer, like tearing the wings off a fly and watching it writhe in agony, trying to escape.

I tried to shrug it off, not to let it get me, pretend that it didn't bother me. When something threatened to bother me I wouldn't let my feelings get the upper hand. My parents had a sixth sense for it. They only had to suspect that they had touched a raw nerve and they moved in. They smelled every wound and delighted in finding my weak spot. When I was little I thought the only way I could survive was to hide from them, because all they had to do was see a wound and they'd pour salt into it. If I came home with scraped knees they beat me because I'd dirtied my pants. And if I cried they hit me because I didn't behave like a man. And if I tried to get help they laughed at me. They wore out their shoe leather stepping on me.

There's all that talk about you Jews being the victims of the war. But for those of you who survived, the suffering ended with Hitler's death. But for us, the children of the Nazis, it didn't end. When their world collapsed in ruins and ashes, the heroes of the Third Reich staked out another battleground-the family.

With their invaluable help I developed an inferiority complex of unimaginable dimensions. As a child I was a real idiot, afraid of everything that came my way. In school the other kids beat me up, and it didn't occur to me that I could defend myself. And that's still so. Confronted with authority, I become insecure and tense.

Well, when my first affair broke up I was still stupid enough to confide in my mother, hoping for tenderness and understanding. But all my mother had to say was that I probably had myself to blame. They always did everything in their power to belittle me, regardless of what I asked of them.

Tenderness didn't exist. I can't remember ever being held on my mother's lap or being hugged by her or having my father show any affection. And, of course, no kisses ever.

Later I developed such a confused view of women. In my imagination there existed only two kinds-goddesses and whores. Ninety-nine percent were whores, and the rare goddesses were nowhere to be found. I thought that if I gave them whatever their hearts desired they'd love me. And I did give them whatever I could. I spoiled them, showered them with presents, anticipated all their wishes, but they cheated on me. When I was eighteen I wanted to take my girlfriend-my first one-to Italy, and I saved up for the trip for half a year. I gave her the money for the fare, and that's the last I saw of her. And that was only the beginning.

And then the business of religion. At fourteen I became very religious, going to church regularly, not eating meat on Fridays, and praying all the time. But I soon gave it up when I found that didn't help either. Then I became interested in Buddhism, such a gentle religion, everything is love and touching. It appealed to me. I guess I could have converted, but I was afraid. My parents had robbed me of my willpower. Everything was taboo. I took all they dished out, and it certainly never occurred to me to question them, let alone assert myself.

When I was around twenty I began to feel that nothing was going right, and I started to lose a lot of weight. My whole life was turning into one big setback. I once confided in my father that I wasn't doing so well in the woman department, and all the advice he had to offer was to try a brothel. That's the kind of support I got from him. I think that the only time I was strong was when I was little. But the older I got the weaker I became. Other people as they grow older mature and gradually become independent and able to cope, but I became more insecure and fearful. More and more I looked for protection and security. But who's there now to protect me? Today I'm as endangered as the Jews. That's what I have in common with you. And that's also the reason I find you so sympathetic. I'm sure that in the old days my father brutalized Jews, but after the war there weren't any left. There was only me.

He was proud of what he'd done. He showed them, he used to say. They trembled before him. At first he was in the SA, but he changed over in time. He despised everybody-Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, Communists-and he still does, except he's too much of a coward to say so out loud. Only behind closed doors, in the safety of his own four walls, does he still dare to play the hero. And after the war I became his chosen victim. I'm not responsible for what my father did. I wasn't born then and have nothing to do with it. And I don't feel responsible for it. And I think that words like "complicity" and "shared responsibility" or "continuing to mourn" are inappropriate. I can't apologize for what my father did. It's he who did it, not I. I have as little to do with what he did as with him. I am an entirely different person, perhaps even his exact opposite. I think of myself as being in the other camp, someone who is suffering under him just as all those others during the Third Reich. Today his brutality and aggressiveness threaten me, not those others against whom he keeps on ranting, but that's only talk.

But I've been mistreated by him all my life! Why am I now supposed to feel any special compassion for the victims of National Socialism? For them it's over, and those who survived got lots of assistance. But nobody takes us, the descendants of the Nazis, seriously. On the contrary! Some people even claim that we're just like our fathers. How often did I have to listen to a teacher who saw me fight tell me that that's just what he'd expect of me. Always those allusions to my father.

For a time he was the local SS chief, and the Socialists here really hate him. He sent quite a few of them to prison. None of the Jews returned after the war. Maybe none of them survived, I don't know.

I'm sure I wouldn't have joined the SS if I'd been around then. I would probably have been one of the first to be arrested. I'm not the activist type, not like some of those tough, crude friends of Father's. They can drink beer by the gallon and not get drunk. I get sick after only a glass or two. They can probably sleep with any woman, whether they love her or not. They stuff themselves, guzzle and whore their way through life, and anyone who gets in their way is shoved aside, squashed like a pesky fly.

With a father like that I was doomed to fail. There's no escape. I'd trade him for anybody. And my mother isn't any better. She took up where he left off. Of course I made even greater demands on her as regards affection. But she was always one of those upright German women, big and fat, with hands like a butcher. When I was little she'd take my hand as we crossed the street, and when she let go my hand would be white, drained of all blood.

My mother was illegitimate. Her mother worked in her father's grocery. I think my mother never knew who her father was. My grandmother is still alive, a nasty old woman, always in a bad mood, with a beard like a Gypsy.

Grandmother also is still an enthusiastic Nazi. Her favorite saying is that under the next Hitler it won't end like the last time. The next one won't let others bring him down. She's convinced that there'll be another Hitler. And when I try to argue with her or talk of the horrors of the Nazis, she screams at me that I don't know anything about what really happened, that I'd been listening to the propaganda of all the Jews and Communists who are in power today. Once I told her that I was like the Jews, persecuted by the criminals in our society, like the kind she is, and she threw a slipper at me. She can't walk so well anymore.

My father's parents are also still alive. My grandfather was a worker, a mason, and Grandmother stayed at home. My father had two brothers, but both of them died in the war. My father and grandfather can't stand each other. Grandfather always says that my father got out of army service. His brothers at least had fought, against real soldiers. But Father, so he says, made war on defenseless people. But don't misunderstand me, Grandfather was also a confirmed Nazi, except he couldn't stand the SS. He blames them for losing the war. If instead of staying in the hinterland they'd fought at the front, Ivan would be dead today, he says. He hates the Russians, but also the Americans, and of course Jews and blacks. My father's parents live nearby, maybe a half hour's walk from here.

All of them spewed hate and contempt. That's the environment in which I grew up. And it wasn't just politics or views on particular problems. Their attitude encompassed almost all aspects of life. Food, sexuality, and race were permanent fixtures of their catalogue of hatreds. They believe that all those fat cats and whoremongers and everything that isn't German ought to be weeded out.

But isn't sexuality more than that? Doesn't it mean love for another person, the relationship itself, and of course love of nature and of oneself? People like my parents and grandparents can't love anybody or anything. They probably don't even know what it means to love somebody.

I'm entirely different. I think love is the most important thing there is. I also can forgive and even love somebody who has contempt for me. I think that's the most important difference between my parents and me-my ability to feel and give free rein to emotions. My relatives don't know the meaning of sensitivity.

Other than that there's not much to tell about myself. I lived at home until ten years ago, when I graduated from high school. I then moved to Frankfurt to go to college. In school I was always one of the smallest kids and could never assert myself. The other kids used to beat me up, and I was always an outsider, maybe also because I was so pudgy and unathletic. With my dark hair I really looked like a little Jew. And all that macho stuff of the boys also disgusted me. They smoked on the sly, played soccer, and chased girls. I used to go to the playground with them, but I never joined in their games. They let me sit behind the goalpost so that I could chase the ball in case it went past the goalie. One time, I must have been around eleven or twelve, some of the boys went into the bushes with a girl. They pulled down her panties, lifted her skirt, and they all looked. I stood near them and wanted to run away when Gerhard, he was the leader, called me and said I should stick my finger in. I tried to run away, but the others held me and dragged me over to where the girl was. She wasn't scared at all and only laughed. Come on, do it, they all yelled at me and pushed me toward her. I threw myself on the ground and cried and begged them to let me go. They did, but for a long time afterward the boys kept kidding me about it. And what's even worse was that the girls did, too.

I was always alone-at college, too. I lived with an aunt of my mother's, had my own room, but things were no better there than at home. She was just like my parents.

A year ago I met my present girlfriend and moved in with her. She's a little older than I, divorced, and has two children. But she accepts me, isn't aggressive, and for the first time I feel that I can be myself. I'm not doing so well with my studies. All the professors seem to want is rote learning. Comprehension or debate isn't in demand. Here, too, the strong ones take over. It's the same everywhere. One of the professors, by the way, is Jewish, but he is no different either. He was my greatest disappointment. I thought that here's someone I could talk to, who'd understand. But he's so completely assimilated that you couldn't tell that he isn't really one of them. At one of my exams I tried to explain to him that it's not as easy for me as for the others to just sit down and study like an automaton. Do you know what he told me? He said that if thinking poses too great a problem I should go work for a bank. Nice, eh? There's a man whose people were persecuted by the Nazis and almost completely exterminated, and he's learned nothing from that, shows the same sort of authoritarian mentality as my father.

I visit my folks only rarely, at most once a month. Nothing has changed there, always the same speeches and attitudes, the same thing year in, year out. Father abuses the Russians; Mother, the woman who sells vegetables; and neither of them ever asks me anything, except maybe the usual meaningless question about how I'm doing at school. But before I can even answer they're already talking about something else.

Father is retired. After the war he worked for a construction firm as a purchasing agent. His boss was the same sort of Nazi as he. When the two of them got together they talked only about the war and arrests. They both were in the SS and used to arrest people in their apartments, and they're still proud of it. They'd laugh when they told how grown men cried and begged them to let them take some things with them. They were always so proud of their crimes. And these stories didn't upset Mother either. She'd sit there and knit and smile. If I got up and left the room she'd call after me to look at Father, what a hero he was, not a sad sap like me.

Father also shot some people. He said they wanted to run away to avoid military service. He described in detail how he did it. Today he hates the conscientious objectors, but also the officers. The first are nothing but malingerers, and the others sit around in their club and let others do the fighting.

My father's boss, who served with him in the war, also has a son. I often used to talk with him about our situation. We're the victims of the Nazis who're still alive, the victims of the survivors. Nobody really understands this. Hitler may have died, but most of his henchmen survived and looked for fresh victims. I now feel drawn to the Gypsies, homosexuals, and Jews. I really feel that I'm one of them. Except for our two cats nobody at home ever showed me any affection. And my father also mistreated the cats. He kicked them and tried to grab them by the tail. Nobody was safe from his brutality.

I can find no allies. I'm also disappointed in the Jews. They wouldn't admit me into their student group, and I have the feeling that they don't want to have anything to do with me. Well, yes, when I think of Israel I can see why. They're no longer the victims. Now the Jews have joined the ranks of the aggressors. Especially the students here are unbelievably supercilious. Solidarity means nothing to them, and they don't see the suffering of others. They can only see themselves and the Holocaust. But that's over and done with. Today others are suffering. The Jews now are better off than anybody else. They're being pampered, just like the blacks.

Only we, the children of the Nazis, are ignored and overlooked. We're the true heirs of the Nazi ideology, the product of the union of the Devil and the tortured creatures of fascism. I no longer feel pity for anybody. All those groups that have sprung up at the university, for South Africa, for Chile, for Soviet Jews. The hell with' em. They pick their victims as far away as possible so that they don't have to come into contact with them. They demonstrate on behalf of some trees and against rockets only because they're afraid they might be killed. It's all selfishness or pretended compassion to make themselves important. But nobody sees the real victims, the disadvantaged right here at home.

Sensibility and feeling are not in demand in this country. I'm not the victor type and I won't get very far here. Nobody except my new girlfriend knows anything about devotion and sacrifice. I'm a cripple among athletes who talk of nothing but setting records. But they don't even see me, sitting among them in a wheelchair. This world is not my world.
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Re: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrov

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:37 am

14. Werner, The Mediator

I AM SOMETHING like a connecting link between the guilty and the guiltless, the son of the guilty and the father of the guiltless. I feel obligated to give the guiltless a chance. The guilty had theirs. My generation is the generation of the bad conscience. Perhaps my daughters will one day be proud of me, not only because I'm their father but because I'd been a decent human being, and perhaps they'll even look on me as someone they want to emulate. What a difference between that and my relationship to my father.

But let's get to our story. My father was born in 1902. His parents were North German landowners. Theirs wasn't a big estate, but it did afford them a very good living. My grandfather was killed in World War I, and the manager who took over ran the farm into the ground. My grandmother was then still relatively young. She was only sixteen when my father was born. She moved to Hamburg with the children and remarried. Her second husband was a simple worker. My father, by then in his upper teens, hated him. He was an active Communist and the exact opposite of my father and also of my real grandfather, whose pictures show him on horseback, every inch the landowner. When World War I broke out he volunteered immediately. My grandmother's second husband, on the other hand, was a bookworm, a little sloppy-looking, and you couldn't imagine him riding a horse. My father was very much like his father; he didn't know what to make of his stepfather. During the last war he spent three years in prison as a Communist. But he survived and died in 1975.

I loved him. He was the most important person in my life, next to Grandmother, because it wasn't an accident that she married him after that landowner.

When my grandmother remarried, my father moved away from home. He'd visit his mother only when her husband wasn't at home. My father enlisted in the army in his early youth. The farm was gone, and he wasn't interested in anything else. During the 1930s he joined the SS, I don't know exactly when. There he worked his way up rapidly, was enrolled in the SS cadet training school in Brunswick, and became an officer even though he hadn't taken his college entrance exam.

The two years prior to the outbreak of the war were really my father's best years. He was in the thick of things-at the smashing of the SA, the waves of arrests, the anti-Jewish campaigns. Still he wasn't the sort of monster you might think. When the war broke out he operated behind the front, in the occupied territories, on the Eastern front. He periodically came back to Hamburg, always for a few days, visited his mother, and then was gone again.

I've become convinced beyond a doubt that he was transferred to Auschwitz in mid-1944, a promotion of sorts, a special assignment. He stayed there exactly one day and then volunteered for the front. Maybe his refusal to speak dates back to that time. He was wounded in early 1945 and returned home at the end of the war minus one leg.

I was born in 1946. My mother is fifteen years younger than my father. She met my father 'toward the end of the war in an army hospital. They married when the war ended and have lived in Hamburg ever since.

Because my father had volunteered for front-line service at the last moment he wasn't investigated or prosecuted after the war. He became a civil servant; they waived the university entrance exam requirement. And even though he was an invalid, he advanced in his job and reached a fairly high level. My mother stayed at home.

My father was a strange man, the most taciturn person I've ever known. It must have been the war and his experiences before his active front-line service that made him that way. That was his real handicap. There were crutches for his legs, but there were none for his silence. He had powerful arms and was very agile, and he used to go on long walks. But that silence of his was terrible.

If it hadn't been for my mother he might have committed suicide. She is such a blend of German sternness and Slavic warmth, tall and rangy, with perpetually damp hands which she keeps wiping on her apron. Actually, she had two children, my father and me-the one small with two legs, and the other grown up with only one leg. Mother ignored my father's silences; she talked incessantly. She'd ask a question and promptly answer it herself. I think Father liked it. He'd sit next to her quietly, nod every now and then, and look relaxed, unlike his usual tense and nervous manner, particularly when I talked to him.

I grew up in Hamburg, attended school there, and also the university. But the most influential person during my childhood was my grandfather. Even though he wasn't my real grandfather, still that's what I called him. He was always in a good mood, despite the three years in a Nazi prison. He used to wear a beret, even indoors. And he was never without his pipe, which he chewed on when it went out. He was a hippie and a dropout long before the sixties.

He and my grandmother lived near us, a few minutes by bike, in a tiny apartment in the rear of an old building-kitchen, living room, and bedroom. The living room was unbelievable. Books and newspapers were piled up everywhere, on every chair, on the floor, on every available surface. If I wanted to sit down, Grandpa tilted the chair forward so that everything slid down, pushed the papers away with his foot, and offered me the chair. A big dining table covered by a heavy rug instead of a tablecloth stood in the center of the room. Overflowing bookshelves lined the walls. And in the midst of all this sat Grandpa at the table. In front of him a pile of newspapers, pipe in mouth, elbows propped on the table. That's why he liked the rug so much.

Grandma sat either in the kitchen or in an easy chair in the living room, an old, worn-out chair which at one time may have been green, but now the covering was threadbare and had badly mended tears. And Grandma sat there, smoking and knitting. She always knitted, but I never saw her finish a sweater or socks.

Since both of them smoked, the air in the apartment was vile. The first thing I did when I came in was to open the windows. And then Grandpa would pound the table and say, "Yes, yes, our Werner, he wants us to live forever."

These two old people were my real home. I went there every day after school. First I went to my house to eat, because Grandma was a terrible cook, got rid of my book bag, and immediately rushed off to Grandpa. He'd already read all the morning papers and clipped the things he wanted to discuss with me.

His comments on the important events of the day went something like this: "Just look at this idiot, you can see how stupid he looks. And just listen to all that nonsense of his." And while he was talking he'd hold the clipping in his hand, and with his free hand bang on the table, laughing all the while. He amused himself by ridiculing these types. He talked to me man to man. I never had the feeling of being just a child. Grandpa discussed important matters with me, and I was proud.

Afterward Grandma would bring in cookies and coffee for both of us. It would never have occurred to her to give me hot chocolate instead of coffee.

Of course Grandpa influenced my politics. All the things that Father should have told me I learned from Grandpa, and naturally the conversation often turned to the Nazis, usually with very dramatic gestures and no theoretical discourses. He did it in his typical fashion, pointing to a picture of somebody in the paper with these words: "Look, Werner. That's how somebody looks who's murdered thousands of people. No! Not with his own hands. Heaven forbid! After all, he's no monster. He was a high official and signed documents and handed them to somebody. These others then read them, and because they were drawn in such simple, clear language they understood them. And then these people ordered others to murder still others. That's how simple it all was. Everyone had his special assignment."

He used to tell me about life in prison, about the tortures and the daily executions. In the three years he spent there he met thirty-seven other prisoners. Of these, twenty-four were executed.

The older I got the more questions I asked. I didn't just sit there quietly and listen to him. And naturally we once also talked about my father. I knew that the two were not on good terms and that my father visited his mother only when Grandpa wasn't around. But that was more my father's doing. Never once did I hear Grandpa say one word of criticism about my father. On the contrary. He usually said that my father was one of the few who realized in time that he had gotten involved with criminals, and that was laudable, but that it had destroyed him and that today he's a broken man.

Everything that I know about my father I learned from Grandpa-his early enthusiasm, his fanatical allegiance to the Nazis, and his hatred and contempt of Grandpa.

When I was fourteen something crucial happened. I was sitting with Grandpa reading the papers, and as usual he went on about this idiot and that criminal and the dangerous stupidity of still another one-his usual commentary on politicians. And once again we began to talk about my father. Grandpa was trying to explain the role of the SS to me when Grandma came in with our coffee. She set the cups on the table, spilling some of the coffee with her trembling hands, and some of the cookies also slid off the plate. But this time she didn't go back to her easy chair but kept on standing in front of us, waiting. Grandpa said nothing and kept on stirring his coffee.

"Go on," she said. Grandpa said nothing. "You can't keep the truth from him forever." Grandpa stuffed a handful of cookies into his mouth and gulped his coffee.

"If you won't tell him, I will," Grandma persisted, still standing. Grandpa went on eating his cookies.

"It was your father," she said. "He denounced Grandpa. That's why he had to spend three years in prison."

I didn't understand anything, didn't know who denounced whom and why, and why Grandpa therefore had to go to prison. I probably knew more about the Nazis than most others my age. Still I didn't understand what this was supposed to mean. It turned into a long afternoon. I didn't get home until late.

Grandpa told me that during the war he'd worked in a munitions plant, and there he became part of a resistance group made up of Communists, Socialists, and some Catholics. They tried to sabotage production, but their most important job was to pass on information about arms shipments to the Allies via secret channels. Grandpa called his role in the group small potatoes. He distributed leaflets, painted anti-Nazi slogans on walls at night, and occasionally delivered letters whose contents he didn't know. Once he hid a comrade the SS was looking for. But the big things, he told me, he found out only after they were over.

Once my father returned home on leave and visited his mother when Grandpa wasn't home and came upon an anti- Nazi leaflet. Grandpa was always very careless and left things lying about. It's a miracle that his carelessness hadn't gotten him in trouble sooner. At any rate, my father didn't say anything while he was in the apartment, but the very next day Grandpa was arrested. Only much later, long after the war was over, did he confess to his mother that he was the one who'd denounced Grandpa.

Grandpa was very composed when he told me the whole story. There was no hatred, no reproach, no bitterness. Grandma was much more excited. She kept on interrupting, saying, "My own son, can you imagine such a thing." Then the two of them almost got into a fight. It was the first time I saw them arguing. But Grandpa found excuses for my father. He tried to explain to me how things were at the time and the situation my father was in. He wouldn't listen to criticism about him.

I was devastated and said nothing. Somehow I couldn't understand it all. Someone denounces somebody else, and they all belong to the same family. On that day I found it difficult to look Grandpa in the eye, as though I too was responsible for what my father had done, sitting there in his place, filled with shame and a bad conscience. All I wanted to do was go home and confront my father and ask him: "How could you do this to me? Yes, to me. From now on I can no longer feel free and uninhibited with Grandpa."

For the first time the story of my father was more than just a story. I suddenly became aware of the possibility that my father's deed could also be part of me, even though I wasn't even born at the time. This feeling guilty for something one hadn't done oneself yet which also hadn't been done by just anybody but by one's own father hit me unexpectedly and took me by surprise.

Much later I also drew another lesson from this situation. Of course I'd also known before what had happened under the Nazis and that denunciations within families were not unheard of. But until this time these were only stories, things that had happened in other places to other people. Only the involvement of my father and Grandpa made it personal. There no longer was a way out, no escape into the stories of others, no shaking of the head over the barbarity of strangers. My own father had suddenly become one of them.

I tell my classes about this episode as an example of how the personal fate of a person close to you can turn theoretical explanations into reality. It brought me awareness of the triteness of fascism, of the cruelty and also the banality of everyday life with Nazis and Communists in one and the same family.

What sort of a family was this? A man denounces his stepfather, the husband of his own mother, knowing that he might be passing a death sentence, a man who is so fanatical a Nazi that he denounces his own family. After that he's assigned to a concentration camp as an officer, perhaps even as a reward for his betrayal, and after only a day he volunteers for the front, where he loses a leg and survives only through a stroke of luck.

When I finally confronted my father with what I'd learned, he looked at me with his tired eyes, got up, and left the room. And I never again brought up the subject. My father wasn't able to talk about it at all. A speechless figure. He'd say a few words about the weather, about food, but when the conversation turned to politics he stopped talking, as did Mother, who otherwise was such a great talker. A wall went up which I couldn't break through, and probably also didn't want to. In some way I understood that I wouldn't get very far. The two of them apparently had agreed not to talk about certain matters. And even if I approached my mother when Father wasn't at home, the only thing she'd say was: "There's no use, Werner. Leave us alone. And if you try to force him, he'll grow even more silent."

And so I let it lie. I finished high school and went on to study sociology and political science. Of course the education I'd gotten through Grandpa proved valuable, and the student uprisings of the sixties came as no surprise. I joined the Trotskyists, demonstrated, distributed leaflets, contributed political articles to obscure magazines, and was determined to bring about the historic union between workers and revolutionary students. Unfortunately the oppressed masses we wanted to liberate weren't interested and beat us up when we came to their plants.

I was still living with my parents. They never criticized me. I visited my grandfather as often as time permitted. He wasn't all that enthusiastic about my political engagement and said I should finish my studies before making revolution. The other way around wasn't quite so good.

Grandpa grew old and feeble. He had difficulty reading and waited for me to come and read the papers to him. But the fact that he couldn't read himself didn't stop him from commenting.

Grandpa died in 1975. He was almost ninety. And a few months after that Grandma also died. And in 1976 my father died. Within the space of a year I lost all my relatives except my mother. She's still alive.

I finished my studies, married Ulrike, and got a teaching position at the university at Frankfurt, where we live with our two daughters.

I devote all my energy to teaching. Seminars on fascism, lectures about the resistance movement, excursions to concentration camps, and so on. I try everything. And even the shift to the right in recent years has not deterred me. Here at the university we can tell that the wind has shifted. Nobody hampers us and nobody interferes with our curriculum, but when it comes to the funding of research programs it becomes clear which projects are considered worthwhile and which aren't. What bothers me most is the tendency to put Nazis and Communists in the same boat. In the discussions with students I can see how widespread this view has become. They even justify the murder of the Communists. I've often heard this in my seminars. The majority of today's twenty-year-olds certainly aren't right-wingers, and most definitely not neo-Nazis. But they are skeptical about the resistance movement. Resistance to the state seems somehow dirty, unclean, something decent people oughtn't to do. It almost looks as though the young people today feared that someday they might have to defend themselves. Some students once even lodged a complaint against me. They didn't want to be taught by a Communist; that wasn't sufficiently objective for them. In answer to the question why they thought I was a Communist they said that I keep on stressing the role of the Communists in the anti-Nazi resistance. This historic fact was more than they were willing to accept. And it made no difference that in that very seminar we'd discussed the executed resistance fighters, namely those murdered by the Stalinists in the 1950s.

But there are also others, those who want to know everything, who come to me after class and ask me to recommend books and who are determined to bury the past. They give me hope. They remind me of my role as a connecting link. And I was privileged to grow up among survivors, and that privilege obliges me to hand on everything I know.

In retrospect I of course know that I am the child of an SS officer, that I come from a family that played a direct role in the greatest crime in human history. My father's leaving the SS and his voluntary front-line service came very late and in my opinion doesn't offset the things he'd done before. The denunciation of a member of his family still troubles me when I think of him.

But in a way the varied fate of my family also typifies twentieth-century Germany. One grandfather is killed in World War I, the other one becomes a Communist, the father becomes an SS officer and denounces his stepfather, the son sees the Communist grandfather as his model and becomes a left-winger -an improbable, checkered history.

And then the women: a grandmother who led two diametrically opposed lives, going from a landowner and a twenty-room house with maids and cooks and nursemaids to a leftist worker in a three-room apartment, and a mother of unimaginable gentleness living with a desperate husband.

Grandpa, who incidentally had never been a Stalinist and had no use for the Eastern bloc bureaucrats, has remained my example and my positive German model. And I stress "German." I was spared the fate of many of my generation of having hate drive a wedge between me and the older generation. I loved that old man, and he remains a symbol for me, proof that that "other" Germany has always existed as well.
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Re: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrov

Postby admin » Fri May 18, 2018 12:37 am

Postscript: The Misfortune of Being Born Too Late

IN FEBRUARY 1987 portions of this book were serialized in three consecutive issues of the German news magazine Der Spiegel. Initially the editors had some misgivings about running the series, wondering whether their magazine was the appropriate forum for treating this theme in this form, and also whether reminiscences about the Third Reich and its aftermath hadn't reached the saturation point. However, the response to the publication exceeded all expectations. The phones never stopped ringing in the editor's office, nor in the office of the book's publisher or in my home. The calls came from all over the world, from journalists, from people who identified with some of the persons interviewed, from numerous ordinary readers who found these stories compelling.

After the appearance of the last installment, Der Spiegel published a selection of the letters that had poured in, among them one by a teacher who was born in 1940, the son of an SS officer who was sentenced to death and executed. This now fortyseven- year-old man addressed his letter to the nineteen-year-old Stefanie:

Dear Stefanie,

I was born in 1940, the son of an Oberregierungsrat [chief administrative officer] and SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer who was executed in 1948 for his Nazi crimes. I'm a teacher (though to listen to my students not a typical one) of math, science, economics, and history.

You ask who knows whether things were really so bad back then.

Believe me: they were worse. I have original death lists of prisoners exterminated in a labor camp in Brunswick. My father signed many death warrants. His depositions on these "violations" are in my possession.

You ask how about all the happy faces on the photos.

Well, what kind of photos were taken and made public and what kind weren't? Who took the pictures? Who and which photos were considered "harmful, demoralizing, inciting," and more such insane nonsense?

To judge by the elections, about half of our nation welcomed Hitler. You ask why.

Well, many had really been having a bad time of it for too long, and then there were those who could gain power, success, and importance only in such a system.

My father, for example, with his low score on his law exam. That took care of his ever becoming a juvenile judge. So he went into the party, and through it into government service, and on to the criminal police, to the Gestapo, and ultimately to the SS (automatic), and a rapid rise to high position.

Other "victors," doctors and professors, got rid of the Jewish competition (and with that many a clinic deteriorated). And all those street fighters, all those bums and drinking buddies, who didn't want to or couldn't learn. They were suddenly wanted, were allowed to harass intellectuals. That was something! What a feeling! And the military! For years they had had to hide because the others had won. Now they were needed.

Just imagine if a campaign were launched today to "toughen up" all those softies, crybabies, and religious types by forcing them to work. Wouldn't you want to participate -- as an "expert," so to speak-for the cause, good pay, and acceptance? You could forget about not having finished school and being unemployed! Well? Be honest. There you are.

Do you have any idea how many fancy stores in Dusseldorf were "bought" from enemies of the regime and Jews for ridiculous sums? Today these are the fat cats who mistreat their employees, "bend" the laws and cheat on taxes, and don't give you a job because you don't know how to cringe.

You ask should we Germans continue to cringe?

No, and I don't do it, and your sweater-wearing teacher is an idiot. We should mourn occasionally, and we shouldn't have any illusions, and shouldn't blame everything on past "evils." For that's not what matters. What matters are all the petty meannesses and corruptions.

And that's true for everyone! Also for the French and the Eskimos.

You'd like to belong to the "victors." With your background that's very understandable. But what's a victor? Every victor has his vanquisher. After the Six-Day War in Israel I saw victors by the dozen. Disgusting. They thought they could do anything to anybody. (The really brave ones, on the other hand, were shaken and very quiet!)

And now to the "great" looks. Uniforms do a lot for self-esteem. But the only ones afraid of them are those who are scared shitless anyway.

So one makes a negative choice if one hopes to impress with bravado and guts. Smart people know that the guy in the uniform needs it, just like the guy who's impotent needs his Porsche.

My old man also looked fantastic, especially because his cap covered his incipient bald spot. He died standing tall and brave.

Has it occurred to you that maybe you and your friends are making things too easy for yourselves with your contempt and spite, and maybe that that's not enough in the long run?

With affection, Dirk Kuhl,

Remscheid (Northrhine- Westphalia)


I received a similar letter with the request to forward it to Stefanie.

Also shortly after the publication of the book, there appeared an article by the well-known Swiss writer Adolf Muschg in the Frankfurter Rundschau, a liberal Frankfurt daily. He called his essay "The Misfortune of Being Born Too Late," an allusion to something Chancellor Helmut Kohl had said on a visit to Israel. Kohl had spoken of the "good fortune of being born too late," meaning that because of his age he was spared involvement in the crimes of the Nazis. Kohl's formulation came to symbolize a feeling of innocence in Germany, and various political groupings and political scientists employed it in trying to define the newly developing sense of German self-worth.

But Adolf Muschg's intention was to examine the education of these new Germans, and he used the interview with the nineteen-year-old Stefanie as his starting point, above all her account of what happened in her school, how her teacher reacted to the provocative question whether things had really been so bad in the Third Reich.

Muschg posed an interesting question, namely, whether the teachers weren't using the horrors of the Nazi era as a club against the children. The teachers, born during the war or shortly thereafter, pose as the messengers of the horrors, and they do so in a way that denies that they themselves may share in the responsibility. They claim to be the good people, the decent ones. Some of them even identify with the persecuted of the Nazi era, only because they are now in opposition to the government. Or they contend that those who disagree with them on issues like atomic energy, disarmament, or environmental pollution display a quasi-fascist political mentality. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that those who today think differently would also have been among the persecuted "back then." Divergence in political opinion in Germany today can thus be subsumed in the categories of "victim" and "perpetrator."

Many teachers see themselves as belonging to this category of potential "victims." They therefore present the history of the Nazi era as a potential threat to them here and now. In this scenario the students become possible "perpetrators" if they are not ready to condemn what they are shown in the documentaries. And so these teachers conclude that they themselves can never be counted among the perpetrators, whereas the students may.

And Adolf Muschg concluded: "The teacher wants the students to freeze before the authority of Auschwitz, but what they feel instead is that they are being deprived of their freedom of movement."

The students feel that they have the same right as the teacher to consider themselves as part of a generation that did not participate. And more and more they defend themselves, often instinctively, against the schools' use of the Nazi crimes just to put pressure on them. They tend to react with a blatant display of callousness, indifference, and sympathy with the perpetrators. Their objective is provocation, not neo-Nazism.

An editor of Der Spiegel showed the interview with Stefanie to his eighteen-year-old son. He was astonished by the boy's reaction. About half of his class, he said, would react the same. In Germany, the response to the book focused overwhelmingly on the interview with Stefanie. In countless forums and discussions forty- and fifty-year-old men and women asked what they had done wrong, how it was possible for young people to arrive at so uncritical a stance on the Nazi era, particularly since today's teachers and pedagogues consider themselves dyed-in-the- wool antifascists. A majority of the teachers were themselves students during the turbulent 1960s and were influenced by the student movement, and they are convinced not only that they are different but also that they teach differently.

In the discussions the question was raised whether it makes any sense to continue to show the youngsters films about the Nazi crimes, to urge them to read about it, and to take them on tours of concentration camps-indeed, whether it is right to reduce the history of the Third Reich simply to one of the murder and slaughter of innocent people. One ought to have the courage, it was suggested by some, to talk as well about the enthusiasm, about all those to whom the end of the war meant not liberation but defeat.

In the forty years since the war ended, the problems facing the pedagogues have changed radically. While those who came of age during that time complain that when they were young they were told next to nothing about the Nazi era, today's youth complain that all they hear is that they were, and perhaps still are, a nation of murderers and accomplices.

A passage of the book on this very problem, something Anna said, is often mentioned in this context:

Of course I knew that there had been concentration camps and that 6 million Jews had been murdered. We'd been told about it in school. But I had also been told fairy tales in school, stories like Little Red Riding Hood. And we learned about the Crusades and later, when I was older, about the French Revolution. And still later, about World War II and the gas chambers. But who, for God's sake, had ever told us that our own parents had been there?


The two generations of teachers and pedagogues that have been active in the schools since the end of the war reject all complicity and guilt. The first ignored this chapter of Germany's history because they grew up during the Nazi reign, and they reduced these years to a compilation of dates and battles, and the second presented the horrors of the war as proof of the guilt of others and of their own innocence. But this ignored the fear and uncertainty that one's own father or mother may possibly have played an active role in the crimes of the Nazis. The postwar Germans could not expect help from any quarter. The parents either remained silent or did not tell the truth. The teachers either minimized what had happened or roundly blamed all who were living then. And the official agencies, with their wonted objectivity and detachment, proclaimed that the investigation of the history of one's own family posed almost insuperable problems.

Shortly after the publication of the book I received numerous, almost identically worded letters. In sparse sentences the writers told of the history of their parents-of fathers who died some time ago, that all they knew about them was that they'd been in the SS, that they'd never questioned them, but that they now were curious about what their fathers had actually done. They wanted to know whether Germany had archives or a documentation center where they could find out more about their fathers. Many were consumed by the fear that their fathers might not have been the ordinary soldiers they'd always claimed to have been. For many of them the link between the terrible pictures of that time and the possible direct participation of their fathers is a source of acute anxiety. Naturally what they hope to learn is that their fathers hadn't done anything; still, they want to know the truth.

Of course others also were heard from. Der Spiegel published letters heaping abuse on both the publisher and myself. Then there were the usual anonymous letters and telephone calls, often in the middle of the night. But the negative responses were comparatively few, almost minuscule. The same holds true for critical reviews. A small daily paper in Salzburg, Austria, rejected the book with the argument that it indicts the innocent children of those who have no share in the collective guilt.

Nonetheless, this does not mean that the general reaction in Germany and Austria was overwhelmingly positive. Most of the reviewers seemed too apprehensive or too careful to reveal their true feelings. There is a reaction of silence, and it is an interesting one. Even though Austrians were disproportionately well represented in the SS command of concentration camps and other centers of extermination, the reaction to the book in Austria can be summed up in one word: silence. Whereas the interest in the book, above all in Europe, was great-it is being translated into almost every European language-Austrian journalists ignored it. Except for the previously cited negative review in Salzburg, no paper or TV or radio station has mentioned it. The repressive mechanism continues to operate effectively in Austria to this day. In Germany I couldn't keep up with all the requests for lectures and discussions, but only two such events were planned in Austria. They took place in Graz; the first drew a crowd of twenty people at most. The second, scheduled for that same afternoon for students in a youth center, drew an audience of ten, and even they seemed to be there by accident. I later learned that the schools had not bothered to publicize it.

The same mentality that underlies the Waldheim affair is at work here: we weren't the ones and it's not our problem. It is a strange feeling indeed to be living in a country and writing about its history-and about the effects of that history on contemporary problems and on the "new" Austrians-and to be boycotted and ignored by all the political camps and groups.

In Germany the reaction was altogether different. In numerous meetings I had the opportunity to talk with representatives of both the older and younger generations. Many of them were curricula, but they did not change their allegiance. In the safety of their own homes they continued to celebrate the ideals of the Nazi era, or at least refused to reject them or to acknowledge errors.

On the whole, the descendants of the perpetrators and their fellow travelers could not make a positive identification with their parents. During my many discussions in Germany, men and women again and again talked of the problem they had accepting their parents as models. The only way they could do so was to accept them as they were, without questioning them or doubting them. Another alternative was to wait for the age factor to come into play. Many said that the death of their parents finally brought them the longed-for liberation. Once they no longer felt they had to protect their parents and make excuses for them, they were able to break away from them without having to face up to them directly. Denying the existence of problems invariably went hand-in-hand with a detachment and defensiveness that made life and contact with their parents possible.

A forty-year-old man, a doctor by profession, wrote to me that he struggled all his life to break with his parents but never managed to. As a young man he found out by accident that his father had been an SS officer directly involved in Nazi crimes. He tried to question him about it but desisted when his father reacted very aggressively and denied all guilt. He wrestled with the problem of whether to break with his parents or simply to ignore it. He decided on the latter course. In his letter he told me that he just wasn't able to break with his parents and never see them again. His father died two years ago and now his relationship with his mother is much better and more honest as well. Now both of them often talk about his father, and his mother also talks about the war more readily.

Other communications I have received testify to the enormous influence of parental behavior on their children's efforts to develop a feeling of self-worth. In order to develop pride, these new Germans have had to reject their parents, breaking with them completely. The only other alternative open to them was to follow in their parents' footsteps. Either decision is made with misgivings. The one seems unfair because it means standing up to one's parents, and the other excuses or even sanctions parental misdeeds.

Another reaction may be described as "disappointment over irreconcilability." Many complain that their hope for reconciliation is not respected or accepted by the victims and their descendants. So much has been done since the end of the war, they say, and still it is not enough. What more can they do to finally make peace? Even those who condemn the crimes of the Nazis and take an unambiguous stand on the attitude of their parents are bitter because they are still met with rejection. They cannot understand that reconciliation can only be a reaching out, and it is the prerogative of the victim either to accept or reject it. They feel rejected and are hurt when their outstretched hand is not immediately taken in gratitude. One review in a German paper included this passage: "For years we have supported Israel, have tried to make financial restitution, thousands of tourists visit the country of the Jews, but everything seems to be in vain. We Germans are still treated as if nothing has changed."

From these arguments it appears that the Germans expect an end to expiation and repentance. The yearning for a sort of "zero hour," for an unencumbered rapprochement, frequently leads to irritation that these expectations are not met. A young German at one of our meetings said that she is tired of always being asked about the Nazis when she travels. She wasn't around then and detests what the Nazis did, but she, a young German, feels that she is being treated unfairly when she is constantly taxed with that chapter of German history. These discussions have been known to culminate in a new anti-Semitism, in which references to "Jewish vengefulness" are heard, frequently in combination with critical comments about present-day Israel, its policy in Lebanon, and the conduct of Jews in South Africa.

Comparisons are drawn between the Jews in Israel today and the Germans back then. They say that we can now see that Jews can also behave aggressively and unfairly, and they don't always see themselves as perpetrators vis-a-vis the victims. Many young Germans feel frustrated, they say, because whatever they do isn't enough and it is all useless.

An interesting question touched on by a number of reviewers was how I, a Jew, came to write this book. Some Jews have maintained that this is a topic that would be better left to a descendant of a Nazi family. Others, on the other hand, believe that only a Jew could write about it, and that the interviewees certainly would have responded differently to someone else. Some have been struck by the fact that it has taken so many years for a book like this to be written, and by a Jew to boot. In the meantime a third generation has almost reached adulthood, and some who were born after the war are now grandparents. But it is part of the repressive process of the postwar era that up to now nothing has been written about the children of the perpetrators. And so it is no accident that I, a Jew, someone not burdened by past guilt, should have tackled the question of how these descendants of the perpetrators come to terms with the problem. In some of the discussions I was asked whether I hadn't attacked some of my subjects rather aggressively and thereby hampered an objective view of their attitudes.

Of course it wasn't a "normal situation" for the interviewees, nor for me as a Jew to be talking with the children of Nazis. But the problems of distortion or of truthfulness or openness never arose. Many with similar histories told me that in all these years they could not get themselves to confide in anyone who shared their background but that they could imagine doing so with someone altogether different. And the assertion that a Jew should not concern himself with these questions was roundly rejected. Just as Jews cannot be the only ones to write about Jews, one cannot expect Nazis or the children of Nazis to be the only ones to write about themselves.

Both my books of interviews, with the children of the perpetrators and the children of the victims, brought on a generational conflict. The older generation does not want to hear or read about their past; but the second generation is gradually beginning to investigate and absorb the influence of that era into their own lives. Recently, the grandson of the Austrian Nazi leader Seyss-Inquart, the former Reich Commissar for the Netherlands, offered the Jewish museum in Amsterdam his financial and personal support for an exhibition. His offer gave rise to heated debate. It was rejected, but after a wave of demonstrations in support of young Seyss-Inquart, the sponsors reconsidered and decided that this young man's gesture might possibly make a valuable contribution to a renewal-perhaps a more important one than many a financial contribution.

A new generation is trying to put the problems of guilt, complicity, and responsibility behind them. In the new climate of openness we hear expressions of both perplexity and indifference. Consideration of the parents and grandparents perhaps is no longer as crucial as ten or twenty years ago. For those between the ages of twenty and forty, the history of the Third Reich is not a living presence. The last rubble heaps have been cleared away, the old Nazis are either in retirement or dead. High public office is now held by people who were then either still unborn or very young. The "old ones" are bewildered by the open rejection of and curiosity about the past of these "young ones."

In trying to sum up the German reaction to this book I would have to say that doubt is the dominant factor: doubt whether they, the new Germans, are really so different from their parents and grandparents, whether a residue of the perpetrator mentality is not part of their psychological baggage. That doubt holds enormous hope. Until now the people in Germany were convinced that what happened in the past could never happen again. That is no longer true today. Now they say that they want to see the threat in time and defend themselves against it. They say that anything is possible and that therefore they have to be vigilant. And this vigilance is a greater safeguard against a possible fascist resurgence in Germany than the conviction that it cannot happen again.

But Germany is not the only country in which this book has stirred up a debate about the past. Thus in Holland, for instance, the publisher plans to append a chapter dealing with the children of Dutch Nazis. The French edition will carry an introduction discussing the role of French collaborators, at a time when the trial of Klaus Barbie is in the news. The Greek-language edition makes reference to its former military dictatorship.

Thus these interviews with the children of German and Austrian Nazis have led to an examination of the past in other European countries, and the effects of the deeds of the parents on their children counteract the efforts of those who would rather let things slide into a memory hole. Today, fifty years after the Kristallnacht, the history of the Nazi era is more alive than ever. Perhaps Hans Frank ("The Slaughterer of Poles," the Nazi governor of Poland, who was implicated in the murder of millions) wasn't all that wrong when he said in one of his interrogations that "a thousand years will pass and they will not take away this guilt of Germany." (However, in his final words he retracted this statement.)

Still, there is no denying that the years separating us from the Third Reich grow longer. A third generation stands on the threshold of adulthood, and some who are children now are the great-grandchildren of the perpetrators. The last surviving activists of that era are at least sixty-five years old, and very few of the most culpable are still alive. More and more, the Nazi terror is becoming part of history, like World War I. And it is also becoming more and more improbable that the experiences and personal histories of the perpetrators and their henchmen will be handed on within the families.

That is what makes the response to this book in and outside of Germany so astonishing. It demonstrates that despite the years that have passed since the Nazis came to power in 1933, and since their defeat in 1945, interest in that era by the successor generation has not abated. "How could it have happened?" is a question that continues to be asked by the grandchildren of the Nazis. The hope of so many old activists-that time will bring forgetfulness and that Germans will be accepted by the democratic world without being reminded of their dark past-has been disappointed. There can be no new Germany without the remembrance of its history. There can be no new German democrats if they do not accept the National Socialist era as part of their own history.

I came away from these interviews convinced that the next generation will also grow up burdened by the knowledge that their forebears were involved in the greatest mass murder in history, or at the very least had done nothing to stop it. And those who are convinced that their fathers or mothers or grandparents or even great-grandparents were implicated in the murder of innocent people will have to live with it. It will not get easier for them, for it seems that time does not heal these wounds. On the contrary: a new generation has achieved positions of eminence throughout the world and refuses to accept the proposition that those crimes, committed before they were born, should therefore be forgotten. The fact that Nazi war criminals are being extradited from the United States to the Soviet Union, the fact that the concern about the possible involvement in a Nazi crime can induce a friendly country to bar a head of state, are indicative of this attitude. True, more and more members of the younger generation say that none of this is their business and that they do not feel responsible for the acts of their grandparents. But even in these cases the frequently desperate defensiveness bespeaks a feeling of guilt or shame about something that concerns them but in which they had no part and shows the effect of the past on the next generation.

Both reactions, defensiveness and acceptance, indicate that young Germans are indeed preoccupied with the past. Indifference is rare.

These talks with the children of the Nazis helped me to understand them better. I now know why they never talked about their parents and their role during the war. They knew so little about it. I now understand that it must be terrible to grow up not knowing whether one's father was a direct participant in a crime, that it is possible to be afraid of questioning him and finding out what happened. I can also understand that many do not want to burden their parents with recriminations. Their parents are old and feeble and no longer able to defend themselves. I can imagine all of that without, however, feeling pity. I can imagine how difficult it must be to have a Nazi for a father, but I cannot imagine defending him. I can imagine that it is not easy to grow up with a mother who keeps on defending the father and seeks to prevent a clash between the child and the father, but I cannot understand applauding her. I now understand that it takes an enormous amount of strength and self-assurance to criticize one's parents, to question them, let alone to break with them.

Yet I have no understanding for someone who does not do it. I do not reproach those who defend their parents, and in extreme instances even admire them. They are beyond help, and they are also in a minority. But those who know exactly what their fathers had done and say they oppose them, yet feel sorry for themselves because they have parents like that-I have no understanding for them. Nor for those who do not want to accept what they see or what has been pointed out to them.

Despite all the obstacles they face, I expect young Germans who want to become new democrats to break with their parents and confront them with the crucial question: Why did you do it?

A new German generation that does not question its parents would be the ideal matrix for a new fascism. In this instance love of parents, the cornerstone of civilized life, cannot be permitted to override all other considerations; it must almost turn into its opposite. For the children of Nazis the unconditional love of parents is an indulgence they cannot afford. History has condemned them to find out what their parents did, why they did it, and above all, why almost none of them ever felt guilt or shame after the war had ended. Only then can we believe that the Germans, the new Germans, are really different from their parents or grandparents.  
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