Thursday, February 06, 2014

Good Question

I have been asked many times about this because I went to German schools (in Stuttgart, Germany) from the ages 12-17. I would say her account is pretty standard for most German kids.
I was actually living in Germany when the movie Schindler's List came out and we went on a class trip to see it. I had known about the war (though mostly in the nostalgic way that I'd seen in old B&W musical movies that were made to be uplifting to the war torn people of the time) and I'd read The Diary of Anne Frank but Schindler's List, and especially the girl in the red coat, really opened my eyes.

It made visiting with my German Opa and Oma (grandpa and grandma) feel awkward for a while. I was curious but also afraid to find out their own histories. Had they been Nazis? And what about when we visited my Uropa (great grandpa) that one time? I vaguely recall the story he told about when he was a new soldier; something about not taking his spoon out of his metal coffee cup and therefore not getting any refills in the mess hall. Did he fight? Or was that WWI?
And what about my friends and their parents and grandparents? Were they all Nazis? Were they ashamed or proud? The discussion we must've had after movie couldn't have been very revealing because I don't remember it at all (and despite my youth, I'm the kind of person who would've been paying attention for this kind of thing. Should've been an anthropologist)

I wouldn't say the topic was glossed over or sugar coated but the teacher did tread lightly. Maybe because these are just 7th graders and maybe because it really wasn't so long ago.

I moved back to America in 1994. I was 17 and one year behind in the 11th grade  (bc my 1st school yr in Stuttgart was in a class for just learning German and didn't count as a grade yr).

And I discovered something that has shaped much of my sense of America and my american-ness (as well as the fact that I also consider myself to have a good dose of german-ness). Much like the author of this article, certain topics I'd learned about in elementary school were taught again in high school.

I discovered that the Thanksgiving story* is a crock of beans. I learned about America's own "internment" camps for Japanese Americans. I found out that we had let inflammatory ideologues persecute and murder "witches." I read about pre-union child and generally unsafe (at best) labor practices. And then there's that inconvenient slavery thing...oopsies!
Are you picking up what I'm laying down?

So if you really want to know what Germans think and how they feel about the holocaust, take a trip down our very own memory lane of atrocities. Or just read a current newspaper. We're still pretty damn busy treating "others" like dirt.

Also, just to say for the record: yes, many of the German people were Nazis by choice and they knew not all but a good bit about what was happening to the Jews. But many more (probably most, at first) succumbed to the propaganda about "returning Germany to it's former glory"** but didn't truly comprehend or know about the holocaust. And then there were plenty of "Nazis" who were very much against the whole thing but had no choice but join or watch their families starve.

That concludes today's lecture. Please see me in the comments section of you have any questions.

*that's a gross oversimplification of how our ancestors nearly decimated an entire people

**sound familiar? Like kinda very much exactly like Teapublican "take our country back!" Just saying...