BORN GUILTY: Children of Nazi Families by Peter Sichrovsky

BORN GUILTY: Children of Nazi Families

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Published earlier this year in Germany, these interviews with the children of former Nazis are an absorbing but unsettling collection. Sichrovsky, a Jewish journalist whose previous book (Strangers in Their Own Land, 1986) provided a forum for the children of Nazi victims, finds in this somewhat haphazard sample that most German and Austrian children growing up in the 50's knew little or nothing about their parents' wartime activities, and that as children they encountered a pattern of ""lies, silence, and dishonesty"" that few questioned until adolescence or even later. In many families, although feelings against Jews and other non-Aryans simmered for years after the war, opinions were rarely expressed directly, certainly not in reference to Nazi doctrines and policies. Once these children challenged adult accounts of wartime participation or attacked denials head-on, they frequently judged the answers unconvincing and found themselves burdened by a guilt that their parents either did not feel or could not acknowledge. ""My generation is the generation of the bad conscience,"" one young man suggests; his stepfather had denounced his grandfather, and the older man spent four years in prison. While a large number as adults became alienated from their parents over such moral abrasions, many have settled into an uneasy cease fire. Sichrovsky listens for but never hears of a parent who admits to a major role and voices regret; instead he finds scattered but strong evidence of the emotional highs Hitler generated among the faithful, and of the deep sense of failure and loss they suffered in the repressive postwar period. Despite a strange similarity of tone and content in these accounts, they provide a valuable record of cover-ups at home, of the difficulties such postures create for children, and of the enduring obstacles such attitudes pose to atonement and reconciliation.

Pub Date: Feb. 24th, 1987
Publisher: Basic Books