Coming to terms

By Jim Dagg

From “Discomfort Zone” we know that most Germans were insistent that they didn’t “really” know what was going on in the death camps. Marianne B’s memoir shows the conflict between pride at her achievements, and willful blindness to what was going on. People did this to save their own self-image and sanity for the rest of their lives.

In both “Hearing Voices” and “Judgment” we see that the West was keen to find and prosecute leading figures in the late forties. By the early 50s, West German were focusing more on their own suffering and re-building. In the late 50s, they developed a new desire to examine the guilt of the German people for the Nazi era. This was prompted partly by a high-profile trial of a “mobile killing squad”. Willie Brandt’s speeches emphasized that shame and guilt were appropriate.

The “Fragebogen” article shows how the 131-item questionnaire could never be up to the task. But was there an alternative? None comes to hand. Its use in literature helped show its weakness at subtlety. There was no “why” around choices that individuals made in the Nazi era. Filtering was necessary and this tool was chosen. The idea may have come from Germans (Marxists!) working in the Office of Strategic Services. Considering the level of intrusion and stress caused by the survey, how well were the results used? We know from “Judgment” that many Nazi judges sat on the courts.

“Not Narrating” argues that informal self-emancipation groups were experimenting, and not trying to drive democratic change. Such groups in fact produced their own internal tyranny.  Rather than driving change, activist groups were interested only in the rush of the moment, which had to be genuine, and non-planned.

2 Replies to “Coming to terms”

  1. I think that you raise a good point point about the dearth of alternatives to the Fragebogen. As the article describes, its weaknesses were legion. But what to do instead? Confronted with the enormity of the task of dealing with a war-devastated, post-genocidal society, I would have no clue about how to proceed.

  2. You’ve made me give more consideration to something I got from all the articles this week: a lot of Germans were incredibly selfish when you think about it. As you say, “Marianne B.’s memoir shows the conflict between pride at her achievements, and willful blindness to what was going on.” She knew what was going on, even if she refused to consciously acknowledge it, and she did so because she just couldn’t pass up a job opportunity. What a dumb, selfish reason to make yourself (very mildly) complicit in a genocide. And then the absolute audacity to be upset with the Fragebogen, even though it was ineffective. They were bystanders to a genocide but god forbid they have to do some paperwork. This is where I agree with your “but was there an alternative [to the Fragebogen]?”

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