Remembering the stories of the Holocaust

The fall of the Nazi regime left many societal questions to be answered. Who was to be deemed a perpetrator? a survivor? How would this be determined? Was society at large ready to self reflect and address the horrors committed?

Werner Sollors article Everybody gets Fragebogened Sooner or Later: The Denazification Questionnaire as Cultural Text, outlines one of the ways that were chosen to attempt to identify those that had supported the Nazi regime. One of the questions required German employment seekers to identify who they had voted for in elections prior to the war. Similarly the “Medelbogen” questionnaire asked for a self classification into one of 5 categories of offenders (major, offender, lesser offender, follower, or persons exonerated). These were just a part of the efforts of identifying perpetrators that were not as prominent as those being tried at the Nuremburg Trials. I question the successfulness of some of these methods, as for example self identification could allow perpetrators to lie or mislead their roles, something that was researched by Mary Fulbrook.

Fulbrook attempts to answer some of these questions by looking at how perpetrators dealt with the actions they had taken under the Nazi regime. Through her research she identified that perpetrators in most cases would use the strategy of self distancing by arguing ignorance or innocence in the crimes committed during the war. Further, this type of self distancing was bot only used by the nazi perpetrators, but those victims who were placed within Primo Levi’s “Gray Zone”. The Gray Zone is a moral zone where victims committed crimes themselves out of self preservation, this was the case of the Jewish Kapos or Sonderkommandos.

This was only half of the story; how would society react to the stories of the victims? Would the victims be able to speak about the horrors of the Holocaust? Fulbrook shows that victims immediately after the war tended to share their experiences amongst themselves. However, overtime this changed for a variety of reasons, but the most important was “not so much a matter of survivors “finding a voice” as of the emergence of audiences willing to listen”. One interesting point Fulbrook raises is the importance of technology in capturing these stories. She argues that technology such as VHS and Betamax meant that “No longer were there just a handful of published, literary representations, penned by a few well-known names; now hundreds of thousands of ordinary people were able to “tell their story”. I was left wondering how things would have gone if it were not for technology that allowed for these stories to be captured and more importantly widely accessible? Would people have been able to reach such a large audience with their stories? History up until this point had always been recorded by historians and therefore required to some extent a barrier to entry for the public, i.e. they had to be interested and have access to the texts. Whereas the ability of historians and groups to record the stories of survivors and distribute to anyone that had a tv meant that the barrier for entry was vastly reduced.

History as Justice: Reckoning with the post -fascist world

 

It is perhaps all too easy to declare that the global political economy exists in a post-fascist world. Not absent of authoritarian regimes or right-wing populism but these elements, often considered a threat to democracy, are reserved to the past; distancing the progressive left that dominates the ordering of our world. It is this tooling of the past that has allowed Hitler’s Nazism and Angela Merkel as the last defender of Western liberal democracy to exist in the same geographical space, separated only by time.

History itself has emerged as an important instrument in constructing a Germany beyond the Third Reich. As Joachim C. Häberlen wrote that narratives of the federal republic were juxtaposed against the extra parliamentary left from 1960 to 1970. It was then that the radical left contributed to the democratization of the Republic and the neo-liberalization of capitalism. In the dramatic historical change of Germany it is interesting to consider how does empire shed its legacy? History and narratives must be constructed to break from the past.

Flashpoints in German history were woven into the historiography that delivered the space for an alternative left to emerge. In 1968 student protests that consumed Germany and the world offered a “refounding of the Republic” as Claus Leggewie stated. Narratives were spun as Häberlen wrote, “ to use Hayden White’s terminology, as a ‘romance,’ a heroic story of overcoming evil for good” (Häberlen, 108). It were these narratives that bifurcated the identity of Germany into the divisive past and the cohesive future. The narratives of bifurcation were woven into the social consciousness of the unified Germany one no longer divided by east and west. Häberlen wrote building on Ulrich Bröckling and Andreas Reckwitz that “individuals in the contemporary, neoliberal world are confronted with cultural scripts that instruct them how to shape their emotional, mental, and bodily selves” (Häberlen, 112). It is was not simply new stories that emerged in a Unified Germany but stories to codify the self, the narrative of the alternative left carved out space in the public sphere for religious and sexual minorities alike. The bifurcating of the past championed an inclusion of identities that would otherwise cease to exist under the Third Reich. It is here that minorities of the post – fascist state have found justice through German historiography.

Mary Fullbrook’s chapter “hearing the voices of victims” speaks directly to the minority groups that were subjected to a hierarchal form of victimhood. She wrote that:

Heated discussions arose over which non-Jewish groups should receive a mention—should the exhibition include Gypsies, homosexuals, and others or focus purely on the “final solution of the Jewish question”? And which other genocides might be mentioned for purposes of comparison? (Fullbrook, 365)

The debate that Fallbrook wrote about were post-1968, in attempt to memorialize the victims of the Third Reich. It is important to consider when such debate could truly emerge as it demonstrates that there is a coming of age that takes place before history can intervene. The historical narratives that shed light on the past and return agency to individuals that were targets in Hitler’s Germany is the restorative justice mechanism of the applied aspects of the historic discipline. It is in this way that history reckons with the post -fascist world.

 

Sources

Fulbrook, M. (2018). Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Häberlen, Joachim C. “(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 52, no. 1 (2019): 107-124.

Shifting Attitudes Toward the Holocaust in the Postwar Period – Andrew Devenish

The postwar decades of the 20th century were a time of great change, both in how perpetrators and victims were viewed by the public. As Germany split into a capitalist side and a communist side, its approach to justice also fractured, changing further once the two halves were reunited in the 1990s. As Fulbrook points out, East and West Germany took very different approaches to prosecuting Nazis that remained in their borders as well as abroad. West Germany was more lenient – it considered “I was just following orders” a valid defense and it prided itself on the ability to show mercy to perpetrators and move on from the horrors of the Holocaust and the war. However, East Germany took a hardline stance against those who committed crimes for the Nazi party, with harsher sentences and no credibility given to the defense of following orders. However, in their own way East Germany also valued the ability to move on from what had happened in the past, as “due consideration” as given to Zimmerman’s change as he became a productive member of society, as well as the apparently real remorse he expressed in his confessions of guilt. Then, once Germany was reunified and a brand-new system had to contend with trials of Nazi perpetrators, there was a renewed desire to see them brought to justice, despite the fact that there were so few left to prosecute after so long.

We can also see shifts in the public perception of such trials over time from audience reactions to Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg as outlined by Moeller, in addition to the insights into the justice systems of Germany explained by Fulbrook. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was great public interest in Germany for things like Anne Frank’s diary and the Eichmann trial in Israel, and Kramer’s film also assisted in bringing these issues back to the forefront of the public consciousness in Germany. Many German critics focused on the lack of authentic details in the film while praising its bravery and important subject matter, whereas in the years immediately following the war, many Germans were too occupied with their own hardships to take a proper look at what hap happened with the Nuremberg Trials. As time went on, the issues of the Holocaust and Nazi perpetrators became more important in the minds of Germans.

The Complexities of Justice

The readings for this week make clear that the pursuit of justice for victims of the Holocaust expanded beyond the legal system. In his article “Everybody Gets Fragebogened Sooner or Later’: The Denazification Questionnaire as Cultural Text,” Werner Sollors displays the wide reach that the project of denazification had to have as well as somewhat of its unrealistic expectations to altogether purge Nazism. The reading begs questions of what defines a Nazi and Nazism. While the questionnaire attempted to make perpetration of Nazi violence straightforward by establishing different levels of offenders, this very system actually took too narrow a focus on Nazi perpetration rather than seeing its various forms and levels. It was also contingent on people answering truthfully. This relates to an overall theme of Holocaust memory that I picked up on throughout several of the readings. This memory was something that had to be confronted by all those who experienced the Holocaust in addition to the next generation who lived under the shadow of the Holocaust as Mary Fulbrook contends. Memory was also imperative in seeking justice for victims which is something that Fulbrook complicates.

There is a certain duality in the expectation of Holocaust victims to at once relieve memories of the Holocaust, memories that are deeply entrenched with trauma, while looking into their futures and the future of their children. Fulbrook gets to the heart of how complex fair justice for all victims of the Holocaust has been. If we think of victimhood in terms of singularity rather than variation, we risk erasing certain victim groups. Fulbrook illustrates this by shedding light on the way that gay men struggled to be recognized as victims of the Holocaust. This element of the reading brought to mind our discussion of Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism and the absence of commemoration to lesbian victims of the Holocaust.

Ultimately, when considering the path to justice after the Holocaust, we need to think in terms of variation and nuance so as to properly recognize complexities.

“The good self” and the Fragebogened

It the face of self-defensive accounts and the construction of a “good self” what does this this have to say about the Fragebogened?

Sollors writes that these questionnaires were a failed experiment as they were widely unreliable. There is one question that was discussed on the German only Meldebogen that stuck out. It was in which category would they place themselves on the spectrum of the offenders? Did these people actually believe that they were not to blame because they were unaware of what was going on, if they did would that not affect the outcome of their answers to many of these questions? How much would that have altered the way in which Post-war Germany viewed these questionaries?

Also what constitutes the severity of the action by the offender?

What is known from Fulbrook is that not all victims were accepted as victims and encouraged to speak about their experiences. Roma and Sinti, as well as those experiences of gay men were not met with a willingness or sympathetic audience. What does that say about these questionnaires? They were produced for a society that came almost directly after the war. Not many Germans were willing to talk about the atrocities that happened during the war. This questionnaire was distributed by Americans, were they concerned with what happened to these people? Would what happened to these populations during the war be considered a crime? If they were confessed to would they have even been grounds for refusal of occupation?

Though, like Sollors writes, these questionnaires did not leave room for personal accounts of the war. Or the reasons in which Germans participated actively or passively, some of their answers being coercion, or opportunism. Regardless, in the attempt for the denazification of a post war Germany, by the Americans, there are many ways in which these questionnaires would have failed. Though, what these questionaries do illustrate is the lack of voice, whether it be the voice of the victim or the voice of the Germans being questioned.

After the End

By Daniel Williams


We often consider the end of a way of life, of a mindset, to be apocalyptic. We make films about the collapse of society we know it and label them apocalyptic, dystopian. It’s hard for us to comprehend a life after our understanding of society.

Perhaps that is part of why it is so difficult for us to understand how people came to grips with the end of Nazism. Nazism’s collapse was, as detailed in the Reckonings reading, a very difficult matter for regular people, many of whom had enjoyed their years living with the Nazis. Even writing this, I found I had to correct myself in writing “living *under* the Nazis”. But the truth is that many people were glad to live with the Nazi government in power, many were happy to live with its regulations, and happy to turn a blind eye to its many faults.

The article deals primarily with the concept of guilt compared to victimhood. It’s interesting when comparing this article to the previous week’s discussion on victimhood, namely whether it is possible for multiple different sorts of victims to coexist in a space, and if different victims had differing degrees of importance. In this case, we add another layer to the discussion, guilt. Who is and is not guilty, whether it is important to determine this so broadly, and how different groups and individuals managed their guilt.

Could victims also be guilty? Could nazi sympathizers still have suffered from the regime? Can we claim that those who are ‘guilty’ of sympathizing with the regime truly understood what it was they supported, even if the crimes of the regime were many and on relatively public display? Must everyone who did not engage in direct resistance be labeled guilty?

These are all problematic questions, and the segment Discomfort Zones approaches this from trying to explain how the perpetrators of supporting the Nazi regime felt like they had to defend themselves from unspoken accusations of guilt. But it also mentions a lack of closure, and that is the most important factor. There is no good answer to the above questions. Indeed, trying to understand life after a way of life is cripplingly difficult.

The Social Impacts of Nazism’s Legacies

By Christine Collins

Leading up to and during World War II, Germans faced an “us vs. them” mentality. We saw this in Hitler’s drive East in order to secure lebensraum the German people had a right to claim. Further, as discussed in previous weeks, there was strong characterization of the superiority of the Aryan, German race. This attitude was embodied by Rudolf Zimmerman, a Gestapo officer convicted of war crimes under an East German trail. A partially literate ethnic German from the farming community of Hohenbach, Fulbrook notes that Zimmerman likely enjoyed his newfound authority in the Nazi regime. Under non-war circumstances, the better educated Jews of Mielec were individuals he would have previously felt inferior to. Given the chance to gain relative power, Zimmerman took it. 

Why then, would an individual like Zimmerman feel such remorse during this war crimes trial? I believe we find the answer in comparing social factors leading up to and following the war. Prior to World War II, the German government worked hard to build up sentiments of superiority in the German people. We saw this demonstrated in Nazi leisure-time organization Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy). This program used travel to other, less prosperous countries to contrast low living standards elsewhere to the superiority of Germany’s way of life under Hitler. This is one of many ways that German’s supremacy was pushed on society. It was through social factors like this that individuals like Zimmerman were exposed to ideas of superiority that led them to embrace Nazism.

By contrast, post-war Germany was much more socially introspective. West Berlin’s Social Democratic Mayor, Willy Brandt, saw the broadcast of the of Adolf Eichmann’s trial (a high-ranking Nazi and SS official known as one of the “masterminds” behind the Holocaust) as an important lesson for Germans. Häberlan further describes the German student protests of the 1960s and 1970s as the “foundation for a democratic political culture ingrained in everyday life” and not an internal conflict to be hidden from the world. 

The film Judgement at Nuremburg further fictionalized monumental trials such as Eichmann’s for broader public consumption. While Moeller notes that reception from American and German critics varied, I think what is most striking is the fact that German audiences accepted a film written and directed by Americans. Speaking at the film premiere in Berlin, Mayor Brandy notes that while the world may judge Germany by its past actions “today it judged [them]…by their behaviour in the present.” Fulbrook further uses the example of Holocaust, a television show staring American actors, as an example where Western interpretations of the war were viewed and accepted by a German audience. 

Through these readings, we see that the legacies from World War II have dramatically transformed the values and outlooks of German people today. The retelling of German’s past has shifted from the post World War I rhetoric of “Deutschland über alles” to a more socially open society today. It is through this newfound openness that, according to Häberlan, Germany now presented as a defender of Western liberalism, a sentiment that certainly would be hard to believe some years ago.

The Fragebogen: Denazification Questionnaire

BY Vadzim Malatok

At the end of the World War II, the Allies implemented a program that was intended to cleanse Germany and all remaining elements of Nazism from its public life. The term ‘denazification’ was coined to reflect the program’s objective, which consisted of nine different policies that varied from holding the leaders of the NSDAP accountable for the regime’s atrocities to “changing names of parks, streets, and public ways.” In 1945, the Allies created a questionnaire, known as the ‘Fragebogen’, which consisted of 131 questions that the Western Germans were required to fill out. The questionnaire was a part of the denazification program and contained questions ranging from the individual’s pre-Nazi voting record to his or her weight and height. 

In addition, however, the questionnaire went as far as to inquire about the person’s implicated relatives – the maneuver that had been previously attempted by the NSDAP. When Adolf Hitler came to power, one of his main goals was to indoctrinate citizens into Nazism by modifying public opinions and beliefs. As a result, a notion of an ‘exemplary citizen’ was invented to depict one who reported on his or her neighbours or relatives for their supposed anti-Nazi actions. The number of reports was staggering, and evidently, the Allies decided to incorporate the same approach to help identify the remnants of the National Socialist Party. However, the drawback of the questionnaire was that it was to be completed ‘under oath of honesty’, which meant that the accuracy of answers was often questionable. The only available resources that the Allies had to investigate the factuality of answers were the NSDAP, SS, and SA documents that remained in their possession after the war. As a result, many answers could not be scrutinized and were thus accepted in the hope that the respondent answered the questions truthfully. However, according to Hannah Arendt, “Europeans do not always believe in telling the absolute truth when an official body asks embarrassing questions.”

Overall, the ‘Fragebogen’ was subjected to much criticism, for its “wide scope, uneven implementation, and emphasis on party membership rather than on individual criminal acts.” As a result, it is considered to be a failed project on the part of the Allies despite its massive circulation.

Were They Victims or Perpetrators?

How do we understand perpetrators? Who are they and are some more significant than others? Mary Fulbrook, in her book Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi  Persecution and the Quest for Justice, expands on the minor perpetrators in the trials of the 60s and 70s as being part of a larger group of people who were never tried even though they actively participated in the daily acts of violence that allowed the genocide to happen. She brings up a curious point: West German judges, with allocation of lesser sentences, seemed to have more compassion for the former Nazis than for their victims, why? This brings up the concept of victimhood. Were former Nazis simply considered the victims of the system? Or were the West German judges simply more inclined to the Nazi ways? The Nazi guilt surely played a part in this as the horrors of the war made the line between perpetrator and victim very blurred.

The chapter certainly left more questions than answers. Why were survivor meet-ups seen as a problem, when perpetrators and their witnesses were known to corroborate stories in West German courts? Is this because anti-Semitic feelings or homophobia were still very much a part of cultural and societal norms? Joachim Häberlen shows the overcompensation for this hatred by the Left with the creation of groups where men, women or homosexuals would share their experiences, but again the extreme push for sharing of feelings and experiences, similarly to the push for representing oneself as a victim in the trials, adhere to the opposite effects of what they intended. The groups were supposed to be a free environment, but become riddled with peer-pressure and the trials, which were supposed to bring to justice the perpetrators of the holocaust, only bring a small portion to the stand and fewer are convicted or punished.

Voices of The Past : Their Long Journey to Recognition

How much place was given to the voices of the Holocaust survivors in history and how was it presented to the general public ? This question rises many more interrogations about the trials conducted in the after-war period and how the then politically divided Germany reacted to testimonies of survivors and perpetrators. It all comes down to the different treatment of the information brought to light and how the de-Nazification process differed between Eastern and Western Germany.

If Eastern Germany proved to be harsher in sentencing perpetrators and accomplices, it appears that the Western Germany showed some leniency in their interpretation of the law, resulting in delayed pursuits of criminals and lesser sentences. The rationale often presented was that former perpetrators were now well integrated into a new society, that they were much older and weaker or with some farfetched logic that crimes committed without the victim being aware of, were a lesser offense.

What about the testimonies ? Right after the war, they were sometime doubtfully perceived, and many judges questioned their validity. Evidences started to weigh more in the 1960s and 70s as more modern technology allowed survivors to record their stories. Although oral history could be transcribed in writing, it still rose questions of authenticity. Ghost writers have accentuated events or contextualized them in an attempt to make a testimony stronger .

At the same time, a hierarchy between survivors emerged leading to a new state of marginalization. For example, homosexuals, Roma and prisoner functionaries found themselves in the midst of a controversial debate about victimhood and belonging to the “holocaust survivor” category. The terms holocaust and genocide are deeply connected words to the point where debates about memorials rise questions as well.

The later recognition of the testimonies paralleled a need to give a voice to the victims before it is too late. The difficulty of Germany to accept and live with this dark past is progressively fading as a new generation of historians and scholars bring these testimonies to the public. The use of videos and movies contributed to this exposition and benefitted from cultural changes starting in the 1970s. In parallel with a search for a political identity that many Western countries sake ( USA, France…), movies displayed accounts of what victims experienced. Although the American view of early movies such as “ Judgment at Nuremberg”  from Stanley Kramer was biased with the choice of the director to represent specific victims,  it nevertheless generated many significant movies in the 80s and 90s which tended for a public from a different generation.

How can we explain the different application of the law between Eastern and Western Germany before the reunification ? As we have seen how complicated and gray the classification between accomplices and perpetrators can be, why do you think the lower ranked Nazis received harsher sentences than the commanding officers who signed the orders to kill thousand of people?

Works cited:

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.

Robert Moeller, “How to Judge Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg” German History Vol. 31, Issue 4 (December 2013): 497-522.