An Anthology of Citations Across Three Generations of Germans

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Book Excerpts and Overview

The book has 116 pages.
It's chapters are presented below, most with one selected quotation. 


About this Translation
Horst-Eberhard Richter
Erhard Roy Wiehn


1. Preface
2. The Story of the Boy Erwin Katz
3. "What Should Never Have Been Allowed to Happen"

The authority of those who suffer
To have a consciousness of history
and to try to live out of this consciousness means
not to avoid the disasters, it also means
never to denounce or make contemptible this one authority:
the authority of the sufferers.
If this applies anywhere in our Christian and German history
then especially for Auschwitz.
The Jewish fate must be remembered morally
– precisely because it already threatens to become historic.
Johann Baptist Metz

Grandparents' Era

4. Antisemitism in Germany Before 1933

Throughout the centuries: Christianity socialized 'instincts of prejudice`
Anti-Semitism is usually sown in the earliest years of childhood.
The child loves his/her Christchild, his/her Savior;
given a representation of the crucified Savior, he/she asks the mother,
who had done this horrible atrocity to the beloved Savior.
"The Jews."
Hatred against and disgust towards the Jews descend into the child's soul.
Years pass, the lost experience transforms
into an artificial instinct.
Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergie

5. Exclusion, Deportation, Murder

"When the heart contracts itself with indignation" (Armin T. Wegner)
On the night of the 9th to the 10th of November 1938,
when in a small village in Germany
its small synagogue, too, was in flames, there was hearty laughter.
For the Jews attempted desperately to rescue the Torah scrolls.
They forced their way into the burning building.
Then, when some Jewish men came out of the house of God
with Torah scrolls in their arms,
the fire marshal of the volunteer fire department commanded, "water!"
Thus, the fire department did not extinguish the fire, but sprayed the Jews.
More exactly: the hard water jet brought them down.
Even lying on the ground, the firemen continued
to direct the water towards them.
So they rolled with the Torah scrolls in their arms across the village street.
And the people who watched found it funny and had a good laugh.
 People told me this and they felt ashamed.
Günter B. Ginzel
(from a conversation with witnesses of the Nazi era)

6. The Few Survivors

"Why have you done this to me?"
Often we cannot sleep.
To this day we hear the cattle cars leaving the stations
and frightened voices of those we love.
To this day we smell the stench of smoke
from the chimneys of the crematoria.
Images of dead bodies haunt us in our memories.
Survivors of the Holocaust

7. About the Perpetrators

So we are commanded to proceed
Since Saturday, the Berlin Jews are being rounded up.
In the evening at 9.15 p.m. they will be picked up
and locked up in a synagogue overnight.
Then it continues on
to Lodz and Smolensk with what they can carry in hand.
They want to spare us the sight of them
simply being left to perish in hunger and cold …
A female friend saw how a Jewish man collapsed in the street;
when she wanted to help him get up, a policeman intervened,
denied her the opportunity to help
and kicked the man lying on the ground
so that he rolled into the gutter.
Then he turned to the lady with a slight sense of shame
and said: "So we are ordered to do."…
If I could only get rid of the horrible feeling
that I had allowed myself to be corrupted,
that I no longer reacted sharply to such things,
that they torture me,
without resulting in spontaneous responses …
Count Helmuth James von Moltke
(from a letter dated October 21, 1941;
von Moltke was arrested in January 1944 and was executed on January 23, 1945,
because he had warned a friend before the friend's impending arrest)

8. Looking Away and Keeping Quiet

"The crime of indifference"  (Hermann Broch)
The imagination of the people may have been insufficient
to grasp the kind and level of extermination that it was.
But in reality, even in my generation, added to the crime itself,
came the attempt of too many
who were young and uninvolved in the planning and execution of the events
not to take notice of what happened …
Who could remain unsuspicious after the fires of the synagogues,
the plundering, the stigmatization with the yellow star,
the continual desecration of human dignity ...
Those who opened their eyes and ears and who wanted to be informed
could not escape the fact that deportation trains rolled …
All of us, whether guilty or not, whether old or young,
must accept the past.
We are all affected by its consequences and are held liable.
Whoever shuts his eyes to the past becomes blind to the present.
Whoever refuses to remember the inhumanity
is susceptible to the risks of new infections.
Richard von Weizsäcker
(excerpt from his speech at the memorial service 40 years after the war
in the plenary hall of the German Bundestag on May 8, 1985)

9. Resistance

Pray for me

I have to tell you the sad news
that I was sentenced to death, I and Gustav G.
We have not signed on to join the SS,
therefore they have condemned us to death.
You had of course written to me that I shouldn't join the SS,
my comrade Gustav G. has not signed on either.
We both want rather to die than to stain our conscience with such atrocities.
I know what the SS has to carry out.
Oh, dear parents, however difficult it is for me and for you,
forgive me everything, if I offended you,
please forgive me and pray for me.
If I would fall in the war and had a bad conscience,
that would also be sad for you.
Still many parents will lose their children ...
I thank you for everything you have done for me since my childhood,
forgive me, pray for me …
Young farmer's son from the Sudetenland
(Farewell letter to his parents, dated February 3, 1944, shortly before his execution)

Parents' Era

10. The 'Second Guilt' of the Germans

Perpetrators declared they were seduced, collaborators as being victims
The Germans found an apologetic explanation
by presenting the oppressors as barbarians, as wild animals, as satanic seducers,
who had approached the innocent and gullible nation of Germany
and deprived it of its own will as with a drug,
a disease or a diabolical possession.
The obsession with the crime had to be pathological, inevitable and fateful,
the people of Germany had been 'blinded and seduced,
innocent and unsuspecting.'
This demonization of Nazi rule
divested the nation not only of its responsibility and guilt,
but made it even appear as the real victim of Nazism.
Bernhard Giesen

11. Remembering Truthfully

Defense and displacement
The charm of knowledge would be small
if it would not have to overcome so much shame on its path:
'I did that,' says my memory.
'I can not have done this,' says my pride
and remains inexorable.
Finally –
memory concedes.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Attempts at Interpretation

12. Historical Roots of the Disaster

´Prussian virtues`:
Performance of duty, willingness to make sacrifices, decent behavior

In Prussia, performance of one's duty
was the first and paramount commandment
and also the doctrine of justification.
Whoever did his duty, did not sin whatever he might want to do.
A second commandment was to kindly not be sniveling;
and a third, compared to the others even weaker:
to behave towards others
 – perhaps not totally unselfishly as that would be an exaggeration –
 rather decently.
Performance of one's duty in relation to the state came first.
One could live with this substitute for religion,
and even live properly and decently,
as long as the state which one served remained proper and decent.
Sebastian Haffner

13. Auschwitz, a Phenomenon of Modern Civilisation?

Buchenwald adjacent to Weimar
"Does humanism then not protect against anything?"

All my work revolves around the pressing question:
Do the roots of the inhumanity intertwine with those of high civilization?
Auschwitz did not come out of the jungle, nor from the prairies.
Barbarity attacked modern man in the center of culture, the arts,
of universal education and the scientific miracle.
Only a few kilometers away from some of the finest museums,
libraries, concert halls, Buchenwald polluted the air.
Men who tortured during the day, hanged children –
read Rilke in the evening, listened to Schubert.
This is an ontological puzzle, the mystery of the civilized ennui or of evil,
and for me it puts the future of mankind in general into question.
If the humanities contribute nothing to humanization,
if the same man playing Bach can set fire to the Vilna Ghetto,
where then is civilization?
Why educate, why read?
Is it possible that in classical humanism itself,
in its tendency toward abstraction and its aesthetic value judgment,
a radical failure is already determined?
Could it be that mass murder and indifference to the horrors
that abetted Nazism are not enemies or negations of civilization,
but rather its ghastly, although natural accomplice?
George Steiner

14. From a Social Psychological Perspective

'Education for Humanity'
(At the beginning of every school year the director of an American lyceum
used to write to the teachers at his school the following:)
Dear colleague, I have survived the concentration camp.
My eyes have seen what no man should ever see:
Gas chambers, built by educated engineers,
children poisoned by doctors who knew what they were doing,
infants killed by experienced nurses,
women and children killed and burned by people
who had completed high school and university.
That is why I am suspicious of education.
My concern is: Help your students to become human.
The result of your efforts may not be well-trained monsters
qualified psychopaths, learned Eichmanns.
Reading, writing and arithmetic are not important if they do not serve
to lead our children towards more humanity.
The Director

Later Generations

15. Yearning for Reconciliation and Redemption

Grieving remembrance

What happened in Auschwitz
superimposes itself on all my political thinking and acting
and causes – often unconsciously – a grief that cannot be suppressed.
Today this context is clearer to me than it was fifty years ago:
The darkest chapter of our history
can only be manageable through grieving remembrance,
that is, in congruent thoughts and actions.
The millennia-old Jewish wisdom,
that remembrance is the secret of liberating relief
while forgetting prolongs the exile,
holds true in our dealing with this difficult legacy.
Hildegard Hamm-Brücher

16. Responsibility for Freedom and Democracy

"Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom" (Robert Kempner)

(The Jewish couple Langer got to know each other after the war
in an orphanage in Krakow and emigrated to Israel in1950;
40 years later they moved to their son living in Germany:)
We had just arrived in Germany.
And of course we had seen it.
"The swastika," big and ugly,
painted on the wall of the supermarket.
We were shocked and almost stunned.
At night, we headed out
with spray bottles in the bag,
because we couldn't tolerate it any longer.
But when we arrived at the supermarket,
we saw a "sun" beaming at us.
Someone else had already done it.
We were happy.
adapted from Felicia and Mieciu Langer


17. Chronology of the National Socialist Persecution of the Jews
18. Bibliography