Minutes of Monthly Meeting
November 10, 1996
Location: Alumni Hall, University of Dayton
Meeting Topic: Forgetting and remembering of the Holocaust in Germany nowadays
Speaker: Dr. Hans Hafner, Department of Catholic Theology, University of Augsburg, Augsburg, Germany; Visiting Professor Department of Religious Studies, University of Dayton
Hosts: Felix and Erika Garfunkel
PRESENT: Connie Breen and Lou Ryterband, Gloria Anticoli, Larry Briskin, Cochairs; Paul Flacks, Shirley Flacks, Erika Garfunkel, Felix Garfunkel, Johann (Hans) Hafner, Sophie Kahn, Steve Kahn, Ken Lotney, Jeff Lubow, Arch McMillan, Bill Rain, Ken Rosenzweig, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Robin Smith, Lois Solganik, Mary Ann Sunshein, Dieter Walk, Suzie Walk, Marianne Weisman, Murray Weisman, William Younkin, Frederick Zollman.
Connie called the meeting to order at about 8:00 PM. She then asked all the new people at the meeting to introduce themselves. On behalf of the attendees, Connie thanked the Garfunkel's for hosting the meeting and providing the refreshments. Jack Kelley was then asked to deliver the invocation. Prior to the invocation, Jack announced that the Marianists are celebrating the beatification of priest and martyr Jakob Gapp. Gapp taught in the Third Reich and was outspoken against the Nazis. He later fled to France and Spain. Eventually, he was arrested in Nazi-controlled France and executed by the Nazis in Berlin. He was a German language speaking Marianist from Austria. Beatification is one of the steps toward canonization. Jack also alerted the group to an excellent article in the New York Times about Cardinal Bernardin. Jack pointed out that Bernardin had been a candidate for Pope. In his invocation Jack asked that God be present with us, and he asked for the devine's blessing on our proceedings.
Paul Flacks then delivered his report on current events. He noted two special events, one tragic and one happy. On this weekend in 1938, Hitler instituted a reign of terror on the Jewish Community known as Kristallnacht (night of broken glass). On a more positive note, the 15th National Workshop on Christian-Jewish Relations was held last week in Stamford, Connecticut. This workshop brought together 1,000 people from 9 countries, including from Dayton: John Kelley and Jerry and Lorraine Kotler. The workshop theme was Seeking God, Being Religious in America. Paul noted that this National Workshop was started right here in Dayton, Ohio, by this very group, the Dayton Christian Jewish Dialogue. We can be proud that we created this movement. Paul showed the group the layout of the site of the first Workshop which was held in Dayton in 1973. The coordinators of that first Workshop were Phil Hoelle, Eileen Moorman, and Paul Flacks.
Ken then introduced the evening's speaker, Hans Hafner. Hans was born in the city of Rain in Bavaria. He studied at universities in Munich and Augsburg. He spent one year in the Philippines working with the SVD Fathers, a missionary congregation, at which he served as a temporary missionary, teaching high school and working in a parish. Hans also spent one year working as a nurse for a multiple sclerosis patient in Germany. This was his substitution for military service. Hans is a visiting professor of theology at the University of Dayton for this academic year (until May, 1997). He is here with his wife Regina and their three children, Fabian, Tobias, and Amira. Hans and Regina showed great hospitality to Ken for two successive summers while Ken was in Augsburg, conducting research and teaching. Ken stated that he enjoyed Hans's friendship, especially the talks they have while taking long-distance speed walks together.
Hans began his talk by saying he was glad to speak to the Dialogue. On November 10, the day after the anniversary of Kristallnacht, it is appropriate that a German speak to a group of Christians and Jews. In Germany, the day is known as Reichspogromnacht. For the Nazis, Reichspogromnacht was not a success. Their own reports indicate they thought it was a failure.
Hans then gave a short history of the Germans forgetting and remembering of the Holocaust. The first phase was in the 1940's, just after the end of World War II, when Germans were forced by the occupying forces to view the sites of the atrocities. This program was associated with the denazification programs. In the 50's, there was a general refusal by Germans to acknowledge what had happened in the Third Reich. No historians in Germany even addressed this topic. There was a blackout, ten years of silence. In the 60's, there was a huge change in consciousness. Auschwitz was the metaphor for this period. It was the time of the trials of Germans who had participated in the genocide of Jews. Editors dealt with the Holocaust in a very abstract way; there were no historical or political thoughts concerning the Holocaust. In the 70's, it was somewhat the same. The student revolts during that decade used Auschwitz as a metaphor for everything fascistic; the Holocaust became a label for every inhuman action. In the early 80's, the broadcasting of the series, Holocaust, was an eyeopener for many in the German population. It provided an opportunity for Germans to identify with an ordinary family which had been involved in the Holocaust, not just the big-shot Nazis.
Hans wanted to give a few hints about how people forget and remember the Holocaust. The first tendency is suppression. This was the prevailing reaction in the 50's. Some of the Nazis could not even recall what they had done. This was a period of active forgetting. This phase is now over, although a few people still try to deny what happened. These Holocaust deniers claim the Holocaust is a conspiracy by leftists. Some American evangelicals also deny the Holocaust. These denials represent such a helpless and stupid effort that it is not a danger for our collective memory. One high school teacher in Germany was tried for having denied the Holocaust to his students.
The second technique is to individualize the problem. Here, the tendency is to find the guilty ones. People seek to find someone to demonize, and the rest of population is considered to have had nothing to do with the evil acts. For example, American movies often demonize Nazis who are blond and Arian looking. Hans' father, who is a teacher in Hauptshule (intermediate school), said he is very aware of the manner in which he talks about the Holocaust with his students because students often do not treat these horrific events in a real way; young people often have a fascination with horror. This is sarcography--the infatuation with brutalities. Educators have to be aware of this fact so that the education about cruel acts does not dehumanize the victims of cruelty.
The last strategy is the most common one; it is common for people who have been in the War. This strategy is to explain and to relativize what happened. The Holocaust is seen as not fundamentally different from the cruelties perpetrated by other nations. Germans holding this viewpoint ask the question, "Why should Germans be the only ones to account for their past?" This is the mindset of the Republicaner Party (right wing party) in Germany. At one time, this party obtained 11 percent of the popular vote. The party has now vanished.
Hans then turned the group's attention to the ways history gets told. First is oral history. With respect to the Holocaust, this method of history telling stops roughly within the next five or ten years with the passing of the last people who lived through the period of the Holocaust. We are now at the phase of the break of the oral history. Afterward, we will change to the cultural history. We know from analysis of the Bible that after three generations, history must be remembered through ritual and cultural artifacts. A person that Hans knows who leads groups of people through Dachau reports that many of the young people who visit that site are interested from a historical standpoint, but are not personally involved with what happened. The new generation of Germans will be less compassionate and grieving, but more learned about the history. For young Germans, the gap between what they hear from their grandfathers and what they hear from their fathers is widening. The fathers want to generalize the message of the Holocaust; their analysis is very abstract. The grandfathers tell stories about the events of that time. Students must combine the detailed versions of the grandfathers' generation with the reactions of the parents' generation.
What is the main education that Germans receive on the Holocaust? Hans made copies of a section of a 9th grade book that is obligatory for all German children, which he passed around for the attendees to view. The section is totally dedicated to the period of the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. 50 pages are on the period of the Third Reich. 5 pages are on resistance to the Nazis, 10 pages are on the Nazi terror (including 5 on segregation and persecution of the Jews until 1939), 10 pages are on the Holocaust, and 6 pages are on the suffering of the Germans (e.g., from bombing and expulsion). One could say that the German educational system has shifted from a refusal to acknowledge the Holocaust to a permanent attention to the Third Reich. Germans take this period very seriously and are seeking to make sense of the history of the Third Reich. It is interesting to note that the German parliament has shifted its language concerning the end of World War II from the capitulation of the Germans to the liberation of the Germans.
Question and Discussion Period
The question and discussion period began at about 8:50 PM. Paul asked Hans if he is satisfied with the ninth grade book's coverage of the Holocaust and the general coverage of that event in the German educational system. Hans said that besides describing the events of that time, the book deals also with the responsibility of the German populace for not speaking up. Hans said that in the Third Reich, the word "Jew" was a label attached to everyone considered evil, including the English and American Blacks. Steve maintained that the German public during the Third Reich was well aware of what was going on in Germany. The stench from the crematoria drifted all over the area. Hans replied that the memory suppression concerning the Holocaust was documented in a psychological study from the 60's. One Jewish writer, Victor Klemperer, survived the Holocaust in Germany. He was very intimidated during that time and was frequently spat upon. He reports in his book, Victor Klemperer's Tagebucher, that he did not know anything certain about the camps until 1942. Arthur replied that Klemperer may have had a mental block because he was a loyal German. In 1957, Arthur and Judy Auster went to Dachau to visit the concentration camp. One of the things that offended Arthur on this trip was that, when he asked Germans for directions to the camp, they said they did not know where it was. Hans replied that this is the kind of accusation Hans's generation makes to their parents.
Erica wanted to change the subject. If the German government is trying to recognize the Holocaust, why was Reunification Day set on the same day as Kristallnacht--November 9? Is this an attempt to substitute a happy day for a sad one? Hans reported that the government is trying to decide on a Holocaust Remembrance Day. Hans noted that wherever he goes, he has to account for past German cruelties. Murray reported that he experienced that German cruelty as a resident of many of those camps. Murray stated that there were 2,000 camps in Germany. Yet, German people report they did not know anything about what was happening. This is not plausible. Hans replied that many of the Aussenlager were hidden for twenty years as cemeteries. Besides, Hans does not claim that the German population did not know what was going on. Harold stated that what is most important is looking into causation. He asked how much study there is in Germany of why Hitler came to power and why the Jews were selected for oppression. Hans replied that besides other fields of inquiry, this is an especially important question in theology in Germany. Erica reported that high school students she met on a trip to Germany reported that they were taught that Jews were Christ killers. Hans replied that he does not know of a single current book for religious instruction in Germany that refers to Jews as Christ killers. Hans has studied many books that deal with the historical tradition of holding Jews responsible for the death of Jesus.
Hans reported that one of the taboos that has recently been broken is the contention that the German Army was very brave and did not participate in the Holocaust. There is a very striking exhibition in Hamburg that shows that even ordinary soldiers were involved in the killings. German veterans organizations oppose these exhibitions, but the German Defense Department now admits that the Army was a tool of the Third Reich and cannot be held up as a positive model during the Third Reich. Paul asked how Hans can live with the fact that Hitler actually achieved his goal of purifying Germany of Jews. Hans replied that, in fact, Germans are happy that Hitler did not achieve all of his goals: the Third Reich was defeated and Germany is today a functioning democracy. However, Hans cannot imagine the enormous brain drain that Germany suffered during the Holocaust as the result of the loss of Germany's Jewish population. Hans reported that, prior to the Third Reich, 80 percent of German philosophers were Jewish. It is a grief for Hans to recognize the great cultural loss that Germany suffered. Arthur asked, based on Hans's studies in theology, how chaplains in the Army and ministers during the period of the Third Reich were able to convince Germans that Jews, who were the writers of the First Testament and the people who were the antecedents of modern Christians, were evil. Hans replied there were many strategies to rationalize anti-Semitism. One was that a distinction was made between the old (Hebrew Scriptures) and new testaments. The old Testament was not viewed as a Christian testament. Also, it was taught that Jews had rejected the Messiah. Hans reported that, during the period of the Third Reich, the ordinary Catholic priest or Protestant minister was no better or worse than the rest of the German population. During this period, one third of Catholic priests (12,000) had conflicts with the German government; however, these conflicts were over Catholic issues, not about protecting Jews.
Tom said Hans is to be commended for his high quality presentation and that his heart is in the right place. Hans reported that he feels a collective responsibility or a collective shame for what happened 50 years ago, even though he did not live during that time. Steve pointed out that nothing said this evening was meant to be personal. Eileeen said she is in awe of Hans's courage and honesty. The question period ended at about 9:30 PM.
Administrative Matters and Announcements
Lisa stated she has an article summarizing the Catholic Telegraph controversy (scheduled for discussion at the January 12 meeting). Gloria commented on the comparison of the German understanding of the Holocaust with the glorification of violence on television in the United States; people easily become conditioned to violence.
Connie thanked Hans for a wonderful talk. Bill rain reported a $850 balance in the Dialogue treasury. Robin Smith reported the Jewish Book Fair starts tomorrow at Chabad Center. Connie reported on the Dialogue planning meeting held at her house last Wednesday, November 6. About eight Dialogue members attended to work on the Dialogue program for next year. For April, the Dialogue is very fortunate to have scheduled David Dolan, Middle East Correspondent with CBS. He will speak on April 6 at 5:00 PM in the University of Dayton's Kennedy Union Ballroom. We will charge a nominal fee. The Dialogue members should all be responsible for bringing a friend to this important event. Connie passed out a biographical statement about David Dolan and a nice letter of recommendation for Dolan. Shirley recommended the evening. Suzi reported that Dolan is speaking under Judy Clausen's auspices at Judy's church in Cincinnati and that the Dialogue is taking advantage of his presence in the area. Gloria suggested the afternoon. Shirley complained about the late date (March 9) of the reports on the Dialogue members' trips to Jerusalem and Israel. The meeting was adjourned at 9:45 PM.
Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary
Some Clarifications Submitted by Hans Hafner Following the Meeting
Again, I want to thank the members of the Christian Jewish Dialogue for their attention to my talk on "Remembering the Holocaust in Germany nowadays." Although I have written several papers on this topic and have presented an ecumenical seminar on it (which included an excursion to Auschwitz, Poland), it was something very new for me to speak to an audience of both Jews and Christians on this subject. The evening left me with many thoughts and questions which I have tried to answer for myself. I would like to share some of my thoughts and questions with you.
The refusal to acknowledge responsibility and the inability to recall events. Here, I refer you to Mitscherlich's famous book, Die Unfaehigkeit zu trauern, in which he tries to explain the reasons why the Germans did not remember during the 50's their Nazi past. Mitscherlich had been a member of the resistance. He wondered why there were so few ex-Nazis among the 4,000 patients in the psychiatric hospital in Heidelberg. As a scientist, he had expected to see masses of melancholic people as soon as those people acknowledged having witnessed or participated in cruelties. Since this did not happen, he investigated the files of the few Nazis who suffered from depression and any kind of psychological pain. In his case studies, he found that these patients began to suffer when their "psychological immune systems" broke down, i.e., when they were no longer able to reject, forget, minimize or justify their guilt. He found a wide spectrum of idealizations and self-persuasions (such as, obedience, Fuehrer, superiority, defense against evil). His sociological conclusion was that, if the German people really would have addressed the problem of their guilt, they would have fallen into a collective melancholy. Instead, the Germans put all of their efforts into the material rebuilding of the country (with all of its new idealizations, such as free trade, D-Mark, and effectiveness). This explains the economic success of these years. The spiritual rebuilding of Germany only started in the 60's. Repression of memory is not a danger nowadays; the current problem is how to deal with relativizing the horrible events by comparing them with other events.
My warning not to glamorize the cruelties (sarcography) and not to demonize the perpetrators. This was not meant as an excuse to water down the realities, but it is an attempt to avoid any kind of spectacularity and fascination with violence, keeping in mind that we live in a generation which is somewhat inured to violence due to its constant presence on TV, the movies and other media. Besides, the more we demonize something, the less we can learn from it.
Is reunification a convenient means to replace the shame of Reichskristallnacht with the joy of Mauerfall (fall of the Berlin Wall)? The ninth of November is already associated with four very different historical events: the end of World War I in 1918, Hitler's unsuccessful coup d'etat in 1923, Reichspogromnacht in 1938, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Yesterday, I called friends in Germany to ask them what the news coverage was on November 9. They reported that the news covered many rallies commemorating Reichspogramnacht. These included official rallies in Dachau, Cologne, and Berlin. On the main TV news, the reunification was mentioned in only one small segment: the German President stated that the German people is also thankful for the reunification.
Christian antijudaism in schoolbooks. I called my father to ask him to examine all the books for religious education for children in the fifth to the ninth grade. He reported to me that he found absolutely no remnants of the doctrine of supercessionism in those books. Supercessionism is associated with the view that the Church has replaced Judaism which has lost God's grace, and the Jews are guilty of the murder of Christ. Furthermore, my father found in those books many warnings against the traditional concepts like collective guilt, Jews as Christ murderers, and Christian superiority, which have frequently been used in the past to justify anti-Semitism. My father reported that the Jewish religion was discussed in these books more than all the other world religions, taken together. I feel that, although Christian antijudaism was an ingredient within Nazi anti-Semitism, it is definitely not responsible for the mindset of modern neo-Nazis.
Unfortunately, I forgot to talk about a very exciting chapter in recent German history. A few years ago, warnings by conservative German politicians not to allow so many refugees to enter Germany led to the irrational reaction of neo-Nazis and vandalizers who attempted to burn down several residences of foreign refugees. This happened especially in areas with high youth unemployment. All official German institutions were very concerned about the potential for violence and disruption and reacted promptly and strictly. More important than official reaction was the reaction of the public. In all major cities, people formed watch groups to guard the residences of foreign refugees. Several million Germans participated spontaneously in Lichterketten (quiet rallies of people who carried candles) in order to show their solidarity with the victims and to oppose violence. Although there are many shortcomings in German society, these rallies are one thing I am quite proud of as a German.
All in all, my personal and academic opinion is that the German media, the German government, and the German educational system nowadays are very attentive to any nationalistic, neo-Nazi tendencies, and are very sensitive in remembering the past.
This may seem too optimistic, but the main challenge now is to find ways to translate the oral history of survivors and others who lived during the Third Reich into a cultural memory which is permanent. This cultural memory might be perpetuated by means of monuments, memorial days, and secular and religious rituals. It will be the task of the churches to prevent a pure pedagogical form of commemoration. The tendency right now is to remember only in order to learn from history so that it never happens again. If we overemphasize this aspect of the Holocaust, it will become merely an instrument of moral improvement, a piece of history with an abstract message. Jewish and Christian traditions have always emphasized that the suffering of those who died has a meaning for the victims themselves as well as for future generations. This latter meaning cannot be given to them by humans, only by God. Commemorating the dead must therefore always include two dimensions: the ethical (remember the dead for our sake, i.e., never again) and the anamnetic (remember the dead for their own sake). Even a society with good intentions will forget the anamnetic dimension as soon as there are no more oral histories and no more emotional, biographical connections to the Holocaust. This will happen within the next ten years. The temptation of the German memory is not to forget the Holocaust, but rather to remember the Holocaust as a whole and to forget the individual persons, families, and groups who were affected by it.
I am looking forward to seeing you again for the discussion of the Goldhagen book in December.