Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On Being German - So NOT 'Done With It.'

I've done you the favor of NOT posting my last three blogs on what I REALLY think.

Offending everyone is not going to get my message across.

Technically in the Czech Republic.

But my friend's comment this morning in Prep School showed me, once again, that something IS wrong with Germany's attitude of their role in WWI and especially WWII and what I personally think SHOULD be shared collective guilt for the Holocaust.

It started when Aidan brought home this week's school library book on Monday.  The story was about a young Australian soldier rescuing an injured sparrow from the no-man's land between the Australian and the German front during WWI.  On Christmas Day. 

It was well done.  (I SHOULD have gotten the title.  Sorry.)  There wasn't a lot of blood and gore - but the trenches and the front was depicted.  The young soldier raises the white silk scarf he received that day from his family as a Christmas present as a flag of truce and bravely heads out to rescue the bird.  The German snipers watch warily.  There is no blame placed on either side - just the sadness that is war - but as the bird flies free, the soldier says "Merry Christmas Little Bird."  And the sniper, who you only realize NOW for sure is actually German, says "Frohe Weihnachten Digger."  (What the Aussies and New Zealanders were known as after digging in at Gallipolli against the Turks.)  And then the Germans start to sing "Stille Nacht" on their side.  And the page flips to the Aussies continuing the verse in English.

Of course I cried.

And when I told the teacher this morning that I actually thought it was a GOOD book for children, she told me she had had misgivings when Aidan brought it to her to check out.  Especially with his German background.  I explained that my children were aware of my feelings about war - that I am essentially a pacifist - and that they need to KNOW about the horrors of war in order to prevent them.  They've seen Dresden.  (They do have a slight preoccupation with building up towns and then knocking them down - the bombs came, Mom, they tell me - but other than that no harm done.)

Andrew in Stuttgart

They know that they are lucky and safe from harm.  But they also know that evil has happened - even when we were living in a country it happened in - and that it continues to happen to children today.

How are we going to STOP evil if we don't teach our children what it is?

My friend - who is German, living in Australia 10 years - overheard my conversation with the teacher and said, "Oh that.  I heard it three times in school.  I am so sick of hearing about it.  I am done with that."

I didn't say anything.  Conspiracy of silence?  Well, other than that I didn't think a heated discussion on German collective guilt was appropriate in a Prep School classroom at 8:30 in the morning as the kids were coming in, she is my friend, the only friend here I have from Germany.   I like her and I don't want to lose her.  Conspiracy of silence then, yes.

But I do feel I owe it to my country - Germany - to speak out. 

My new goal is going to try to do that without anger and without offense.

Because the German education system obviously isn't getting the message through even to these younger generations.  Possibly because the kids are being taught by adults who don't really feel the guilt and shame themselves.  So that they are being hit over the head with it (once they are older, this  is not appropriate material for younger kids) but not really seeing WHY it is important to acknowledge it.  The majority of Germans do tell me they are sick and tired of hearing about it.  That they had all that crap in school and would now like folks to get over it and move on please.

If you can sit through lessons on the Holocaust three times (over and over and over the Germans tell me) and not feel any remorse and sadness, then those lessons are not being taught properly.

I am not blaming my friend for the Holocaust.  But I am blaming Germans as a nation for not teaching their children to grieve for that broken past.  Germans, as a nation, are still looking for excuses for themselves, they are still talking about the good things that Hitler did for them , still telling us we don't understand and still reminding us about Schiller and Goethe and Mozart, still comparing their actions to the US atom bombs in Japan. 

Ryan in Heidelberg

When I hear this latest nuclear crisis in Japan declared the worst since WWII I can't help but feel guilt that MY NATION, America, dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Uh yeah, other countries have done wrong too.

But German attitude reminds me of a spoiled (possibly autistic?) child trying to get away with something.  Because that kid over there did this and that too.  And because I didn't really.  And because......

I am trying to teach my children right from wrong.  I am trying to teach them to take responsibility for their actions when they do wrong.  Only when they take responsibility - admit to themselves that they even did something they shouldn't have - can they change their actions in the future and move forward.

I don't place blame for imperfect behavior.  We are all of us human.  But I do get beside myself when the kids won't acknowledge and correct it.  THAT is when the $#*$& hits the fan in MY house.  (And then I have to apologize to the kids for my inappropriate behavior later!)

Maybe because I am part of a nation that hasn't taught its children to accept responsibility.

German-American-Australian kids

"I am so done with that."  Over and over and over again from adults in Germany. 

I grieve FOR Germany, because they cannot grieve for themselves.  They will never ever be truly 'done with that' until they stop being Hitler's Germany.  (Another essay I need to 'desensify' which argues that Hitler has won until Germany admits its collective guilt.)

My children are learning (age appropriately) that great evil not only occurs, but that it has been done by people who are no different than they are.  Our only defense against evil is teaching our children about it, pointing out where it exists (or existed), explaining why it is evil, and encouraging them to abhore it in all forms.

It doesn't mean placing blame on generations that weren't alive when the evil occurred, but it does mean acknowledging that the evil occurred in the first place.  (And not talk about Hitler's damn Autobahns and about how they didn't know and.......excuses Leute, you will not be let out of the corner and back into the classroom until you know what you have done.)

Moving to Australia won't change the past or make you any less German.

I can grieve for the Holocaust's 10 million innocent victims.

And I can grieve for Germany.  Because you not only lost the war Leute (something which still pisses many of you off more than the Holocaust) but you are still letting Hitler win every single time you don't open your hearts and realize that, no, you are not 'so done with it.'


  1. Hey girl,
    Been a while since I left a comment.
    I am in Dominica, enjoying the tropics.
    Enjoyed this post.

  2. Thanks! I needed that. Am so worried about offending people that I get scared to post. You should read the ones I DIDN'T post! Funny enough, I offended Germans less (they just sadly shake their hands and say, that's just the way it is!) but I offended people MARRIED to Germans! So thanks. Goal would be to work this all into a novel like Ursula Hegi is able to do - Stones From the River - and put it in the silent backdrop. Eerie.

    ENJOY DOMINICA. We are struggling to start over here - NEVER AGAIN - so I am not keeping up as well as I should. DO enjoy knowing you are on the other end though! Hugs to Kevin - CHristine

  3. I think I agree that the Germans haven't learned properly how to deal - they've had it hammered into their heads their whole lives how evil it all was and they are still haunted. But my theory is that the German identity has never really been established and so they don't have a past (pre-WWII) to fall back on, only a future to build. Which we ALL know is no easy task.
    Have you read "Doktor Faustus" by Thomas Mann? I lovedlovedloved this story and it is a direct reflection on this.
    Another thing I want to teach my kids is that evil exists. It is real and we have to deal with it every day. And this is why it is not something we have to hide from or fear or fight, but something we have to incorporate into our world view - however we can.
    And now I fear I have exhausted my allotted writing time this morning. The natives are not only restless, they are destroying the house.

  4. You know what, I am going to have to revisit Mann. I don't think my 20 year old self did him justice! Thanks!

    Oh yeah. That whole being barbarians in the middle of the Roman Empire thing. Any wonder I am still trying to figure out who I am?!!!!