Postwar Hurdles to Confronting Germany’s Past

Something that really stood out for me in the Sollors reading was the assertion that the Fragebogen originated in the ideas of the Frankfurt School. I found this rather peculiar, because my interpretation of the Frankfurt School is that it views human behaviour as being influenced mainly by societal and cultural forces more so than by an individual’s free will. So it seemed quite odd to me that a simple questionnaire could have the power to determine one’s fate in post-war Germany, because the answers given on the form did not necessarily paint an accurate picture of someone’s past, let alone the circumstances under which they may have been forced to make such a decision. I found the passage from the book The Steeper Cliff to be highly relevant to this point, stating “there were no blank spaces for fears, no dotted lines for the detailing of agonies and inner misfortunes.” It is almost like the creators of the Fragebogen forgot about the coercive power wielded by the authoritarian Nazi regime and the psychological trauma experienced by so many Germans, knowing that they could face the wrath of the state if they dared step out of line.

            It was also thought-provoking to read, in Smith’s article, about the efforts of German Jews to commemorate Holocaust victims upon returning to their hometowns after the war. In my opinion, their struggles to gain the approval of locals reflects a pervasive unwillingness to confront the past and even a preference to distort history. I think this stems from a sense of guilt among many Germans for not doing anything to prevent the persecution of Jews or for serving as an accomplice to the atrocities. Some of history’s wounds will never be healed. But the simple act of establishing tangible and permanent tributes to targets of politically and racially motivated violence can hopefully serve as a grave reminder not to repeat the mistakes of the past, hence the motto “never forget.”     

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