A Jew Among the Germans
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"our generation should do what the former generation failed to do
A summary of the views of Jens Pieper, the 24 year-old editor of Nobody Asked Us, a recent book written by a group of young "third generation" Germans who are students at Humboldt University. It represents this third generation's thinking on how the Holocaust should be confronted and remembered and why they have declared their distance from how their parents' and grandparents' generations have dealt with the Holocaust. This summary was written by Peter Rigny, associate producer of this FRONTLINE film, "A Jew Among the Germans." It is drawn from Rigny's discussions with Jens Pieper.

• The second generation of Germans has not overcome the taboo of talking about the Holocaust, despite the '68 student movement and its rightful attacks on former Nazis still in high positions in the German federal government. This holds a great danger for the future.

• If it is still taboo to talk about the meaning of the Holocaust, its central importance to German and human society cannot be conveyed to future generations which will no longer have direct contact with eyewitnesses to the Holocaust.

• Our generation should do what the former generation failed to do: to tackle the Holocaust on a personal, emotional basis, to allow on an individual level the sentiments of moral responsibility for the crimes committed in the name of the Third Reich, even though none of us (the generation of our parents and our generation) has committed any of these crimes.

• We are sufficiently informed about the facts of the Holocaust, but we are critical of our schoolteachers (as primary "informers") for failing to convey to us (or perhaps they were psychologically unable to do so) the level of meaning of the Holocaust that could be of use today and in the future when direct contact with eyewitnesses will no longer be possible.

• The second generation of Germans, our parents, pass on to us their message about the Holocaust in an imposing manner, i.e. without allowing any questions or responses or criticism from their children. They want to cement the message as it is seen by them, and in this way they declare us dependent, minor, underage. And yet "they" expect us to actively come to our own understanding about the Holocaust. This is self-contradictory, we say.

• We are not totally sure what we are searching for, but we know that the Holocaust still has a central importance to us. And one thing we know is that the second generation's message may simply not be working today in a more individualistic society where some of us are descendants of both survivors and perpetrators/bystanders.

• It could well be that, in the end, we arrive at the same fundamental meaning of the Holocaust as did the preceding generation. However, today, the way this must happen is by each individual understanding the Holocaust through a personal quest -- not triggered by a forced confrontation with pictures from Auschwitz but from an education that makes us understand that Germans carry a particular responsibility because of a horrible past.

• We are conscious that this might involve the risk that some young people do not get the message. However, the other way -- to force a ready-made meaning of the Holocaust onto generations that will soon not have direct contact with eyewitnesses -- runs the greater risk of forgetting the Holocaust altogether. The new message must be based on one's own understanding, on making personal connections to one's own questions and own concerns about morality, ethics, the human condition.

• The second generation says that all of what we deem necessary has already been achieved by them. We disagree.

• The few Jews who chose to live in the GDR [Communist East Germany] in the years after the war were convinced communists. They did not only downplay their Jewish identity, but helped the government to downplay (if not negate) the Jewish character of the Holocaust. In the GDR, the Holocaust was part of a communist and anti-fascist narrative of class struggle which made all Holocaust victims into anti-fascists. The fact that they were Jewish was only of very secondary importance. Up until the later years of the GDR, the government, for the most part, avoided mention of Jewish topics and all Jewish aspects of the Holocaust were integrated into the anti-fascist ideological rhetoric.


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posted may 31, 2005

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