Reflection is a Two-Fold Process

Jake Rooke

It is intricately difficult to come to terms with one’s own past faults and mistakes. This process of reflection must have been enormous for those involved in the Nazi’s Third Reich, for those that implicitly supported it, for those that turned a blind eye, and finally, for those that were victims of Nazism. Reflecting on trauma is a two-fold process for either a victim of Nazism or a perpetrator. First, there is a need for personal self-reflection for individuals explicitly, implicitly or tacitly involved. These individuals must reflect on their past, however their accounts of events are through the eyes of a perpetrator, and will be largely misdirected and/or downplayed. Thus, there is a need for a second process. The second processs is based on the input of reflections from those that were victims of Nazism. These victim statements and the accounts they give are valued detail to what victims experienced at the hands of those that explicitly, implicitly or tacitly supported Nazism. These victim statements and reflections also hold perpetrators accountable for their actions and their own self-reflections. Moreover, these reflections give critical credibility to the process of historiography, and how we remember the events surrounding Nazism, its perpetrator’s actions, and it’s victims torment.

 In Helmut Walser Smith’s article (2021) it took victims of Nazism, and in particular Jewish individuals that returned to Germany, to create the environment for a genuine level of reflection. This can be compared to the Fragebogen questionnaires (Sollars 2018), that was imposed by Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces German Country Unit (GCU) to tackle the ‘denazification problem’. Although this questionnaire had many tangible benefits tackling issues surrounding denazification in the short-term, it was a largely American bureaucratic process. This is demonstrated by Military Governor Lucius D. Clays, that states ‘perhaps never before in world history has such a mass undertaking to purge society been undertaken’ (Sollars 2018: 140), other observers state that this was ‘revolution by decree’.

The Fragebogen can be compared to the efforts of Holocaust survivor, Hugo Spiegel, and many like him. Spiegel returned to Germany after the war and fought for recognition of crimes against Jews, however, it took until 1970 to build a memorial to both the Jews who lay in the Warendorf cemetery and those ‘who died in the years 1933 to 1945’ (Smith 2021). As Jews began returning in the 1970s, they complained that their local cemetery had no plaque or sign about Kristallnacht. “This was often the moment that the work of commemoration began” (Smith 2021). This created a two-fold process of reflection, for the general German public, but also from the Jewish victims of Nazism. In turn, the German people began a national conservation of reflection, creating national memorials and institutions to fight anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. It is clear that it took more than self-reflection for the German people was needed in order to understand what had happened during Third Reich’s reign. As Smith (2021) concludes, “the work of memory was not a German effort alone” but needed victim statements as well.

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