German Inability to Accept Guilt and Two World Wars

Two recent works explore a dangerous theme in German history about dealing with guilt.

First, the first World War.

Most Germans refused to accept the blame for starting the war, seeing Germany as having reacted defensively to French and Russian “encirclement” and believed the Kaiser’s deception that he declared war in response to Russian mobilisation. This is what made the famous “war guilt” clause at Versailles, a statement of plain fact, such a bitter a pill to swallow. It was from this starting premise, established in 1914, that many of the other pathological ideas that spread in 1920s and 1930s Germany logically followed.

Second, the second World War.

Schwarz discovered that in 1938, her grandfather, a member of the Nazi Party, exploited anti-Semitic policies and the persecution of Jews to underpay for a business owned by a Jewish family. In later letters to the family’s only survivor, her grandfather refused to pay reparations. “You can see that he’s in total denial of his responsibility as a Mitläufer under the Third Reich,” said Schwarz. “And most of German society, after the war, was in total denial of their responsibility to the point that they considered themselves as victims.”

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