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January 30, 2008

Holocaust at 75

Holocaust_memorial With the marking of the 75th anniversary of the Nazis taking power in Germany, another round of Holocaust stories, memories, and reports are in the offing. Moreover, more monuments to the Nazi victims are going up soon, two in Berlin alone.

This is all to the good, even if some younger Germans have started to plug their ears from hearing too much about German guilt over the course of their lifetimes. Many of them wonder why they should hang their head in shame if they weren't there as perpetrators.

Hopefully, Germans can finally begin to go through the next stage of healing--past denial, past self-hatred and into acceptance. Any human being, not just a German, probably has a limit to the amount of criticism and self-reproach he or she can take at any one time. And if Germany had been forced after World War II not just to reflect on what had happened but to dwell on it to distraction, we might well have had a country filled with nothing but neurotics on our hands.

Some, especially the victims and their families, might well feel that would be just punishment for such a horrific crime against humanity. Maybe so.

But if we wanted the young children from that era to be raised well, then America and the Allies, at least the Western Allies, did the right thing by helping both the victims of the Holocaust and the standers-by.  This proved to be an effective way to get the German people to talk among themselves in a free environment and to come to terms with their collective guilt, their individual guilt as participants, and the guilt of their parents and grandparents.

As one former Israeli ambassador to Germany, Avi Primor, said this past week at an event marking the liberation of Auschwitz, "Where in the world has one ever seen a nation that erects memorials to immortalize its own shame?" 

That's real progress when you consider the darkness that was over Germany from 1933 to 1945.  It is progress that began with General Eisenhower making local Germans march through the liberated concentration camps in their area to get a full picture of the horror of what their elected leaders and their German agents did to the Jews and other victims. 

But the progress was sustained when the German people saw that, for all their mistakes, they were still of value enough for the West to not only feed them but to defend them in the Berlin Airlift a couple of years later.   

While on one level the Holocaust's atrocities can never be redeemed, the Germans as a people have come a long way from many years of reflection on their powerful weaknesses and great strengths. It's great not to have to fear this nation anymore and to see their talents applied in constructive endeavors. Like all of us, they should learn from their mistakes, accept their past, and look to the future with hope and trust in God.

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seems like this is a process that america never went through. You don't see many native American genocide memorials.

Jason Taylor

Well in the first place Americans feel plenty guilty whether or not there are memorials.
In the second place, referring to a "genocide" as a process that took several hundred years, and involved a number of things kind of dilutes the meaning of the word. There were reciprocal atrocities and there was plagues spread to and fro by happenstance(which in fact was the cause of most of the Indians that were killed). There never was any deliberate attempt to annihilate all Indians because of their ancestry which is most definitely what the word implies. Moreover Jews, gypsies, gays, etc, were for the most part killed because their right to live was held in contempt, not because they were enemies. While Indians certainly were often enemies-and often quite vicious ones as well. It was a series of wars of mutual atrocity, which is regretable. But saying that "winning" is the same as genocide, takes away the meaning of the phrase. There are degrees even in such things. In any case I have not heard of many modern Indians eager to live the life their ancestors lived.
But you don't have to go back that far. You could plausibly claim that America carried out a "genocide" against Germany at roughly the same time period, under that logic.
And as far as that goes, Germans don't make many monuments to Celts, Romans, Poles, and many others whom they committed a "genocide" against, or attempted to in a way which really does resemble the fate of the Indians more then it resembles the Holocaust. Who says A, must say B.
But again we are getting into an exchange of, "so's your old mans" again.


A disportionate percent of black children have died in abortion clinics throughout America. Abortion clinics are situated in urban neighborhoods for the purpose of black genocide.


I'd recommend:

"Can It Happen Again?
Chronicles of the Holocaust"

Edited by Roselle K. Chartock and Jack Spencer
Eyewitness Accounts and Articles By:
Robert Ardrey, Lucy Dawidowicz, Ann Frank, Aldous Huxley, Thomas Keneally, Primo Levi, George Orwell, William L. Shirer, B.F. Skinner, Albert Speer, Art Spiegelman, Elie Wiesel, Yevgeny Yevtushenko (and many more)

The meaning of Scapegoat by Gordon Allport

The high priest, robed in linen garments, laid both his hands on the goat's head and confessed over it the iniquities of the children of Israel. The sins of the people thus symbolically transferred to the beast, it was taken out into the wilderness and let go. The people felt purged, and for the time being, guiltless.

The type of thinking here involved is not uncommon. From earliest times the notion has persisted that guilt and misfortune can be shifted from one man's back to another. Animistic thinking confuses what is mental with what is physical. If a load of wood can be shifted, why not a load of sorrow or a load of guilt?

Nowadays we are likely to label this mental process projection. In other people we see the fear, anger, lust that reside primarily in ourselves. It is not we ourselves who are responsible for our misfortunes, but other people. In our common speech we recognize this failing in such phrases as "whipping-boy," "taking it out on the dog," or "scapegoat..."

Jason Taylor

Demanding people be obsessed with guilt for their ancestor's crimes is wrong. Everyone has ancestors who have done dreadful things if you go back far enough-unless their ancestors were simply too weak to do so, which is a misfortune but hardly an excuse for judgement.
And in any case it used to be said that once a boy is spanked, his sin is to be forgotten by his father. If I recall Germany had almost all it's cities fried to a crisp, most of it's young men killed miserably, a good number of it's women raped and was partitioned by it's conquerors and a good part of it enslaved. That is hardly enough to punish the chief Nazis, many of whom did not suffer nearly as much. But it is a good enough reason to forgive the average German, whose crimes were variable and often ambiguous(there is one Wehrmacht officer at the Yad Vashem after all). Probably I would not say that if I was a Jew or a Russian or a Pole. After all MY grandfather came back with a little bit of glory(a thing mostly enjoyed vicariously), and a little bit of PTSD(of which he probably gave more then he received). So it is easier for me to forgive. Still there it is. You cannot make a whole nation a pariah forever.

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