Post-War Guilt

Kathleen McKinnon

Post-war Germany was a case that was very difficult, how to deal with so many people that were complicit with the regime even if it was by not doing anything to stop it. How can a nation be rebuilt if it was so much at fault? The fluidity of collective and individual memory makes this an interesting example of where guilt can be laid and how to deal with people just being people and living their lives complicit with a ruling regime just to get some of the benefits that were offered. (Mary Fulbrook, “Voices of the Victims” 405). When the Nazis fell, there was a dichotomy to deal with of who is guilty and who was not into the bad stuff as much. There was a level of success for people in the regime and the achievements that they had now they need to be careful barging about post-war. For example, in the end, what seems to be the issue is how to move on from a past that many were complicit in but not with every evil intent of the regime may be sometimes that includes creating an image of distance between oneself and the past (Mary Fulbrook, “Voices of the Victims” 405).

It is clear that most people just as easily shifted their focus to other things, the liberal left, society/social norms that were frowned upon under the Nazis, etc. (Joachim Häberlen, “(Not) Narrating the History of the Federal Republic: Reflections on the Place of the New Left in West German History and Historiography”,110). So that proves that many were not stuck on Nazi values, meaning then there is a struggle to remember what was thought to be good under the lens of later knowing that there was something wrong participated in, at least wrong for the new liberal standards brought by the west- at the time of East Germany there were other issues to be dealt with.

Mary Fulbrook, “Discomfort Zones” and “Voices of the Victims” in Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice (Oxford University Press, 2018), pp: 314-336, 361-377.

Joachim Häberlen, “(Not) Narrating the History of the Federal Republic: Reflections on the Place of the New Left in West German History and Historiography” Central European History Vol. 52, Issue 1 (March 2019): 107-124.

2 Replies to “Post-War Guilt”

  1. I agree that it is difficult to determine who was aware of the crimes committed by the Nazi’s and who to hold accountable. Should a supporter of the Nazi party face the same consequences as a soldier within the regime? Its also true that many people believe that what they are doing is good and for the better, but is not until they are taken out of the environment that they realize how wrong they truly were. I think this was part of the difficulties of unifying post-war Germany.

  2. I like the idea of the dichotomy with the past. Reading the Moeller article, I found it interesting how the relationship with the past was different in West Germany and East Germany. While West Germany wanted to clearly mark a break with the past (quite understandable), East Germany believed how the past and the present were “inextricably intertwined”.

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