Guilt

Owen Billo

The denazification questionnaires from the Everybody Gets Fragebogened Sooner or Later article raise a question that I want to use the other articles from this week to explore: how do we qualify guilt? We already know that the American occupation authority used 131 questions to answer this, but of course this was not effective. Its true ineffectiveness becomes even more clear upon considering the Hearing the Voices of the Victims article, where it points out that non-Jewish Holocaust victims were often still stigmatized and oppressed long after the end of the war. Evidently, Nazi beliefs against these groups were not stamped out by denazification. The Discomfort Zones article further proves this observation, as it notes the flaws in Germans’ excuses for not knowing. In the case of Marianne B., the Holocaust was just down the road, but she -along with many other Germans- exercised willful ignorance despite incredibly obvious signs. She would not be criminally guilty, but she is morally guilty.

The article on Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg goes beyond German guilt, but then also returns to it. Moeller’s theory (which I agree with) is that Kramer was using the film as a way to hold up a mirror to America’s own sins by focusing on victims that could just as easily be victims of American McCarthyism or segregation. Kramer was using German guilt to illicit American guilt. However, this approach also contributed to reducing German feelings of guilt and emboldening the Nazi sympathizers that denazification had failed to get rid of. In that way, Kramer himself became a guilty part of German guilt. Not criminally guilty by any stretch, but, perhaps like Marianne B., morally guilty. In the end, I think the difference between moral guilt and criminal guilt is the best way to qualify and understand guilt.

2 Replies to “Guilt”

  1. Guilt is something that I don’t think should be a very difficult thing to qualify. As you mentioned there is certainly a fine line between being criminally guilty and morally guilty, and being able to qualify which an individual falls under really just comes down to which lines on the piece of paper that says “don’t do this” they broke. That said, It’s a shame it took us 2 world wars to even start to really enforce rules of war, and even to this day they are all too often just seen as guidelines, primarily due to the difficulties that come with enforcing them in a warzone.

  2. Hello Owen,

    I think that considering what it means to be ‘guilty’ is particularly important because, as you rightfully pointed out, there is a line between legally guilty and morally guilty, the former playing a large role in how historical processes, such as denazification, have unfolded. However, I think that the binary between legal and moral is complicated by personal definitions of guilt, which can simultaneously embody/apply themselves to legal and moral histories. As we saw in Fullbrook’s articles, people, especially perpetrators of Nazi violence, had various understandings of what it meant to be guilty. As such, we need to make room between the institutionalized concepts of moral and legal guilt.

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