Am I responsible for the Holocaust?
June 10, 2008 3:27 PM   Subscribe

Am I responsible for the Holocaust?

I met a girl at a party who I happened to have a memorable conversation with and I am not sure what to make of something she said. Perhaps you can help…

I believe we chatted along for about an hour or two and then went outside for a bit more privacy. Fast forward through some light making out, holding hands and further conversation. Then she asked me about “that slight accent” of mine. “I’m german,” I replied. This, apparently, was a mistake. She turned pale white, took a step back, said “oh no, I’m jewish, I hate germans” and walked away never to be seen again. The conversation however has stayed with me.

This all happened a couple years back but I still remember being at first amused (“so that’s how that feels”) and after a few days gradually becoming angrier about this. Of course I know what she means but I find it difficult to accept responsibility for something that ended thirty-two years before I was born. It’s not like I had a say in it.

I do wonder if I'm missing something. Should I feel responsible for the Holocaust in spite of my late birth because I am german or was she wrong to imply I should?

"Gnade der späten Geburt" - wer dieses lesen kann, wird gebeten, diese Runde auszusitzen. Mich interessieren nichtdeutsche Meinungen.
posted by krautland to Human Relations (71 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
No, she's completely fucking insane. Don't worry.
posted by nasreddin at 3:31 PM on June 10, 2008 [12 favorites]

Personal guilt? No way. Are you sure she wasn't just fishing for a reason to ditch you?
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:32 PM on June 10, 2008

No, you should not feel responsible.
posted by iamabot at 3:33 PM on June 10, 2008

That's bullshit. She was completely out of line. If she wanted to blame you for something, she could have blamed you for Heino. Speaking as a Jew, I absolve you of any responsibility for the Holocaust.
posted by adamrice at 3:33 PM on June 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

She's an absolute idiot. (I am Jewish.)
posted by gnutron at 3:33 PM on June 10, 2008

Speaking as a Jew, and the grandson of Holocaust survivors who lost their entire worlds, who lost most of their family and everything they owned... speaking as someone who saw his grandfather break down when describing the months he spent in a labor camp being tortured...

Of course not. She's being an incredibly daft idiot and I frankly feel embarrassed on behalf of Jews everywhere that this girl's attitude exists at all.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:33 PM on June 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

She's dumb. On the positive side, at least you found out early.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 3:34 PM on June 10, 2008 [13 favorites]

Oh, and the Nazis slaughtered a fair number of my family members during the war. So I feel I can speak with some authority. You're not even a little bit responsible.
posted by nasreddin at 3:35 PM on June 10, 2008

I think most Jews recognize that not-yet-born Germans had nothing to do with it, and in fact have made some extra efforts to, y'know, "Never Forget" and all that. Maybe it would be weird if you were like Eichmann's grandson or something, but otherwise it really has nothing to do with you. (And I'm saying this as a Jew who had relatives die in the camps, etc etc.)

On preview: Yeah, most Jews feel the way Tomorrowful does.
posted by leesh at 3:35 PM on June 10, 2008

Were you even alive when the Holocaust was taking place? (I'm making a huge estimation of the average age of a Mefite here...)

Is she to blame for the Crucifixion?
posted by Solomon at 3:35 PM on June 10, 2008 [8 favorites]

I'm of German descent and if this happened to me I would be angry too... German is not the same as Nazi, the two are not synonymous with each other. Even if your ancestors were Nazi's that still does not make you a Nazi. So consider it a blessing that this happened so early with this girl and not after days/weeks/months because she, well she is ridiculous.
posted by pwally at 3:36 PM on June 10, 2008

I literally laughed out loud and then frowned with pity that she's so ridiculous. I can't even think of a convoluted way in which you might be responsible for the Holocaust.
posted by Nattie at 3:40 PM on June 10, 2008

Speaking as a gay man, I, too, absolve you of any responsibility for the Holocaust.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:47 PM on June 10, 2008 [14 favorites]

I think Solomon very succinctly sums up the ridiculousness of the woman's sentiment, she's obviously a loon. Trace anybody's ancestry back far enough and you'll run into terrible oppressors who committed unspeakable acts against their fellow humans. We are not responsible for the sins of our fathers, just to learn from them and try our best not to repeat them.
posted by TungstenChef at 3:52 PM on June 10, 2008 [6 favorites]

Post-war Germany has done more to stop the spread of Fascism within its borders than any other non-communist country. That chick should be Roman Catholic instead of Jewish because she certainly believes in Original Sin.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:57 PM on June 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Possible comebacks:

a) So what's with all the Jews driving German cars?

b) At least we didn't kill Jesus

c) Did I say German? I meant Yiddish. Oy vey.

As a non-Jew and non-German, I too absolve you of any guilt over this matter. But did she specifically mention the Holocaust? Because there's the off chance she's mad about some other German-Jewish wedge issue.
posted by GuyZero at 3:59 PM on June 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

I kind of know where you're coming from. I'm from the American South and have very occasionally had it implied to me that I was in some way responsible for or complicit in slavery or segregation or lynchings. It really ate at me for a couple of years when I was younger. I wanted to deny the southern part of myself, to erase it, so that I wouldn't have to feel such terrible guilt.

Eventually I decided that that was not very productive thinking. I didn't own slaves; I'm no more at fault for it because I was born in Tennessee than any other American born when I was. I sort of figure, if being from there and thus and having a greater or more personal awareness of and sensitivity to inequality and injustice can help me be better at the learning from the mistakes of the past in order not to repeat it, then that is productive thing I can take away.
posted by mostlymartha at 4:00 PM on June 10, 2008

In a word, as a Jew whose grandparents were sole survivors of the Holocaust from each of their respective families, no.

In fact, I think the fact that you two were making out together is a very good sign of the reconciliation of our peoples. Keep at it.
posted by rooftop secrets at 4:00 PM on June 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

If this is still bugging you after two years, imagine how she feels, since she's the one with the irrational hangup about modern-day Germans *and* she put her tongue in your mouth.

I wouldn't worry, honestly.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:05 PM on June 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Were you even alive when the Holocaust was taking place?
no, I was born in 1977.

Is that right? Perhaps not, but it's understandable.
oh, what a coincidence. I got that exact answer once before. didn't quie know what to make of it.
posted by krautland at 4:08 PM on June 10, 2008

I'm a Jew and I have actually worked for BMW. I'm pretty sure they aren't killing my people anymore.

Sounds like that chick was a total idiot. I would go one step further and say you're entitled to feel angry about her reaction. She was exhibiting an anti-German prejudice based not on reality or her observations of you over the previous few hours.
posted by ben242 at 4:23 PM on June 10, 2008

My wife's family still hates the Turks, although the Armenian Genocide (yeah, I capitalized it -- you wanna rumble?) occured a few decades before the Holocaust. Were she to have married a Turk, you can be damn sure that she'd've been disowned -- and these aren't country bumpkin Armenians, either, but rather college-educated Armenians, very liberal, very European. Ask them point blank and they'll claim they aren't anti-Turk, and I think for the most part they aren't, but I've seen my own wife, my beautiful social worker super-liberal progressive wife, actually pick up towels and coo over how much she wants them and then put them back when she sees they're made in Turkey. I made her buy those towels, by the way.

So when Sondrialiac says that it's understandable, that's probably what s/he's referring to.

It should be noted that the Armenian/Turk issue is slightly more complex than the Jewish/German issue, largely because the Turkish nation and people never accepted responsibility for the Genocide or even admitted that it happened and Turkey and Armenia share a border that is currently closed and many Armenians would like to be able to return to their ancestral homes in Turkey but are unable to do so.

P.S. I think the girl might've been drunk and decided just to say something bratty to you.
posted by incessant at 4:24 PM on June 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

My grandfather has close relatives who were in the Holocaust (which means so do I) and he would never buy a German car after that. That was his thing. You butted up against whatever that girl's "thing" was. This is a stretch from saying you were responsible for the Holocaust. People are touchy. For people who have been attacked or oppressed because of something that happened to their people, but not them directly, it's harder to create a direct link between the hurting actions and the hurt feeling, and this complicates things.

People have good examples of other instances here, from all Americans being responsible for slavery (and the racism that is an extension of that) to maybe just people from the South, or you see it in a more race-neutral way with people who hate "the government" because of institutionalized poverty and other awfulness in the US, as an example. You neither caused the Holocaust not are responsible for it. Saying something isn't your fault [in this case, totally true to my mind] isn't totally the same as saying that there is some small cultural way that your people may have benefited in a way from something that caused her people to suffer.

However, that's a huge stretch of logic for casual conversation, and more suited to a college classroom examination and inspection than a good reason to call off a makeout session with someone you are otherwise into.
posted by jessamyn at 4:27 PM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

She's not insane or a loon. Just a bigot. Plain old garden variety bigot.

If the majority of her exposure to German culture is the Holocaust, and she feels the pain of that time very strongly for whatever reason

Imagine the insult you'd have gotten if the only exposure she'd had to German culture had been Scorpions videos.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:28 PM on June 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

For what it's worth, I've known a few American Jews who had a weird, ingrained suspicion against German culture. People who refused to listen to Wagner, or wouldn't let their kids study German in high school, or what have you. I got the sense they felt about it the way some conservative Christians feel about Islam — that it was inherently violent, possibly contagious, and should be avoided at all costs.

Obviously, that's not true — about German culture or Islam. But that sort of xenophobia is easy enough to slip into, and makes more sense than actually blaming you for the Holocaust. (What, does she think you had a time machine?)

And this should go without saying, but obviously you're not to blame for the Holocaust, and shouldn't feel guilty about it in the slightest.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:28 PM on June 10, 2008

Add another Jew (me) to the list of people that doesn't hold you personally responsible for the Holocaust. :)
posted by xotis at 4:29 PM on June 10, 2008

The woman is an idiot.
posted by pompomtom at 4:34 PM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

You should have said "Yeah, but I'm a self-loathing German."

She sounds like a nutjob.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:47 PM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

no, you are not. she has to come to terms with history.

but just fyi, much of postwar judaism is focused on the holocaust, and there is a deep bias against germany that, at least when i was a kid 20 years ago, was never addressed. the first time i visited germany, i had almost physical gut reactions to all the german being spoken around me because i had literally never heard it outside the context of nazis.

now, i'm openminded and let my experience of germany overcome my preconception of it, and had a lovely time and would go back and hold no ill will, etc etc. partly perhaps it's because i'm also a white southerner and have lived with that sort of holdover guilt from slavery and the jim crow laws. so i'm sure that helped give me some perspective.

i don't know how old this girl was, but i find that once people have traveled a little and grown up a little, they lose that suspicion of germany.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:47 PM on June 10, 2008

You might be interested in the novel "How German Is It?" by Walter Abish, which is about this very question. It can be a bit tedious (he wrote a short story version of it first, which is in one of his collections and is easier to read), but it's basically about an American Jew traveling around Germany in the 60s? or 70s trying to come to terms with how he should feel (and what's acceptable to feel). Of course many of the people he's meeting were alive and active during WWII, so it's different in that respect.

Possible comebacks:

a) ...

b) At least we didn't kill Jesus

Insofar has been (and in some cases continues to be) an excuse offered for anti-Semitism, you know the real kind where people get killed, not the kind where people don't get laid, it's probably not any kind of acceptable "comeback." Jews have been slaughtered for centuries over just this calumny, which should have been laid at the feet of the Romans anyway.
posted by OmieWise at 4:52 PM on June 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

Add another Jew to the list--You're better off without her, trust me!
posted by 6:1 at 5:13 PM on June 10, 2008

Mod note: comment removed - do NOT turn this thread into a meta-argument about ignorance and predjudice - feel free to take that to metatalk, thank you
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:16 PM on June 10, 2008

Am I responsible for the Holocaust?

[ ] Yes
[x] No
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:30 PM on June 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Responsible? No.

And was it a gross overreaction? Yes.

The only counter-argument I can think of is that you may have received some benefit (well, probably have, at some point in your life) from companies or other parties that were complicit or involved in the holocaust. Mainly banks. I don't know a whole lot about it, but I gather that a lot of banks got to just keep all the money in accounts belonging to people who died in the holocaust. Of course this is not isolated to just Germany. By WWII there were plenty of international dealings, and banks all over the US and Europe may have benefited from the holocaust.

The arguments for reparations for slavery are similar here in the US. But, I think there is more of a connection, and it's much more widespread. I mean, slavery contributed directly to the US economy, and many many companies for so long. It's different and had a wider scope than the Holocaust. That's of course not to diminish the Holocaust, which would be absurd. In one cause, millions were murdered, and people profited from the money left over. In another, millions were enslaved, and people profited directly from their labor (for much longer than Holocaust victims were put to work before being killed).

Moral of the story: The world is really effed up. The modern economy is largely build on really nasty heinous disgusting acts of the past, and also slightly less nasty heinous disgusting acts of the present. Most of us in the first world benefit from it. But most of us weren't alive during slavery, the holocaust, past waves of colonialism and imperialism, etc. It's absurd to say we're responsible for that. She might have been thinking somewhat along the lines of what I've argued, but in a really skewed, messed up manner.

Jess, sorry I'm not sure exactly what the removed comment said. I hope this is not too similar. I'm just trying to provide a helpful argument. If people disagree with my arguments, let's just say, well it's just an argument, and maybe something along the lines of what this girl was thinking, and let's not get into a huge debate here.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 5:37 PM on June 10, 2008


Anecdotally, I know an extremely well-educated, extremely well-read Jewish man who became irate when, in 1984, his nine-year old daughter confessed to him that she had a crush on a boy whose last name was "Kratz." Fear isn't always rational, and when one is raised in an atmosphere of lingering fear post-WWII, it may take a little thought and reflection to break out of that. "Idiot" may be a fair assessment, because this woman obviously hasn't given much thought to what may be ingrained prejudices, and you're better off without her. But understand that she may have been raised with the notion that all Germans hate her.
posted by amro at 5:37 PM on June 10, 2008

You butted up against whatever that girl's "thing" was. This is a stretch from saying you were responsible for the Holocaust. People are touchy.

Yeah, exactly. While I sympathize with your having been upset at her reaction, this question is badly framed. Nobody accused you of being responsible for the Holocaust. If you had framed it as "A Jewish girl I met a while back exhibited what seemed an irrationally negative reaction when she found out I was German, what gives?" you might have gotten a less monolithic but more useful set of responses.

FWIW, I'm not Jewish but I harbored irrationally negative feelings about Germans for a long time after reading about WWII and the Holocaust. I got over it, and maybe the girl will too. In any case, it's not fair to paint her as an idiot or a bigot. She's entitled to have strong feelings about the Holocaust, and humans aren't good at keeping their strong feelings between the dotted lines.
posted by languagehat at 5:40 PM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

coo over how much she wants them and then put them back when she sees they're made in Turkey

Which is proper since the modern-day Turks actually deny responsibility for the genocide and their nose gets out of joint if you bring it up (where apropos).
posted by tachikaze at 5:53 PM on June 10, 2008

I had a girlfriend from a suburb of Athens called Nea Smyrni. (I'm guessing at the spelling, which would be in greek letters anyway). It means New Smyrna in Greek. The population, which included her parents, are mostly people who were thrown out of Constantinople by the Turks, and settled in Athens. They hate the Turks. But the Greeks were thrown out of Constantinople in 1927, you say, can't they get over it? No. In fact, their relatives were not thrown out of Constantinople in 1927. They were thrown out in 1553, and they still resent it and want it back.

On the other hand, there are tons of American zionists who believe that everyone who criticizes Israel in any way is an anti-semite, and is in some way complicit in the Holocaust. I think it's goofy, but it's true. I know that I pretty much avoid having close Jewish friends, just because eventually they will discover that I'm not really in favor of everything Israel has done or might do in the future, and it would end in shouting and recriminations. Even if you point out things which are simple, easily verifiable facts, like that Israel is going broke, or that they have a huge problem with poverty and hunger, even among Jewish Israelis, or that the Non-Jewish population of Israel is growing faster than the Jewish population, and that the future is pretty bleak. Israelis talk about this stuff all the time, and if you held these opinions in any place but the United States it would be unremarkable. But in the US, holding these opinions is prima faciae evidence of anti-semitism and holocaust denial. This is why US policitians like Barack Obama and John McCain spend so much time pandering to the Israeli Lobby.

It's interesting that not all zionists in the US are Jewish. There is a very large population of Christian Zionists, led mostly by the true nut-case John Hagee (John McCain's spiritual adviser). They want Israel to expand into Gaza and the West Bank, throw the Palestinians into the sea, invade Iran, invade Lebanon and Jordan. When the war is at it's peak, the anti-christ will return, then Jesus will return then all the jews will be killed. The Jewish Israelis who embrace Hagee are kind of like Cthulu worshipers. These latter worship Cthulu because when he comes back he will eat them (the worshipers) first. Of course, everybody knows Cthulu is a fictional character, unlike the anti-christ and Jesus himself (I suppose).
posted by vilcxjo_BLANKA at 5:57 PM on June 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm glad that the lesson she learned from the holocaust is that you shouldn't hate people because of their race or religion, but because of their national origin.

On a side note my dad used to work with a jewish guy that wouldn't buy german cars because of the holocaust, but he still drove some very nice Japanese sports cars.
posted by whoaali at 6:02 PM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hi, krautland. There is still the look of incredulity in my grandma's eye when she talks about the Nazi collaborator of the neighbourhood back in 1940 or about the people dragged from their houses never to be seen again u.s.w. When I had a German guest over, she was glad to meet him even though they couldn't communicate.

In my opinion, it's silly to either brag or be ashamed because of something you can't control, like the place of your birth. The culture you share, yes. And that, in my experience, is informed by the Germans after the Nazis who studied how Nazism was born, and not only rebuilt Germany, but took part in the process that defused most of the tension in Europe and led to the EU. The Nazi era of Germany is an easy target for a guilt trip, but that's not your problem. Go have a beer.

Ich konnte die kleinen Buchstaben lesen.

posted by ersatz at 6:51 PM on June 10, 2008

It was dumb of her to assume that you weren't a German Jew. You know, like all those German Jews who were killed during the Holocaust, and all the other German Jews who were able to successfully conceal their Judaism, and all of the descendents of whom are still there to this day.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 7:16 PM on June 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

It was a total and ludicrous overreaction, but unfortunately it happens. I'm Jewish and dating a guy who majored in German in college, and it's just lucky for me that my family has none of that particular baggage for me to deal with and understands that he just loves the language. One of my best friends from the same college was the star of the German department - she's also Jewish, hell, we were in a Jewish a cappella group together - and is more religious than I am. She's had little trouble reconciling her two passions, and studies Holocaust museums for a living, but I know that her family and some of their friends were a little weirded out about her choice of study.

And you should have been there when we sang for Hadassah and they asked what we were majoring in. Hoo boy, awkward silence.
posted by ilana at 7:25 PM on June 10, 2008

Another perspective that I don't think has been raised here yet involves the transitive property. It could be that her reaction is based on the fact that her family hates Germans, and so she knows she'd be heading into a world of turmoil within her family if she were to start dating you. Yes, I know, that's not what she said, but perhaps she just blurted it out when what was really going on was more complex.

Ich bin Amerikaner aber halb-Deutsch via meine einwanderte Mutter. Vor fuenf und zwanzig Jahren war ich fliessend, aber jetzt, leider, ich kann's nicht mehr so gut sprechen.
posted by intermod at 7:27 PM on June 10, 2008

To answer the main question, no, you're not responsible for the holocaust. And as others pointed out, all she said was that she hated Germans, which makes her pretty much a bigot. How others pointed out, give thanks it didn't get any further than some make-out session.

I should add that my Jewish girlfriend occasionally has some weird feelings about Germany--a sort of generalized anxiety or dislike with the idea of the place--but she acknowledges that it is somewhat irrational (and, reasonably speaking, based on her family's history, somewhat understandable too) and more importantly has several good German friends, and plans to visit Germany some time in the next year. So, this woman you were making out with has clearly not figured some things out. Let's hope she does.

Now, vilcxjo_BLANKA, you said

I know that I pretty much avoid having close Jewish friends, just because eventually they will discover that I'm not really in favor of everything Israel has done or might do in the future, and it would end in shouting and recriminations.

The point has been made before, but I must make it again: being Jewish does not equal automatic, blind, uncritical support for Israel and everything the government does. It's an absurd position to take if you think about it for a minute, really.

I know MANY Jews who are critical of various or many things about Israel. Hell, I know ISRAELIS who are critical about things about Israel. This is an important thing to remember.

So, go ahead and try being good friends with some Jews. Maybe you'll be surprised when you find out that...they're just people too, with their own opinions about much of everything. They don't think as one big brain, <sarcasm>despite the fact that they control the media, the U.S. government, and the world's money supply</sarcasm>.

P.S. I'm not a Jew, but I have many good Jewish friends, as well as a Jewish girlfriend, as I mentioned.
posted by dubitable at 7:50 PM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

It happens. A First Nations (aboriginal) Canadian once told me that "we" (whites) were all prejudiced and out to persecute First Nations people. He really believed this and told me that I was racist and biased and that I made decisions every day intended to further his persecution. My ancestry (Metis in the background) and family history (my step-great-grandfather died in the "Indian" hospital) didn't matter -- he just assumed I was white and racist. He just saw a white woman who had to be like all the others and who helped wipe out his people and push them on to reserves.

So, no, you're not responsible. Some people have been made to think a certain way. If you can, you might call the person on it next time.
posted by acoutu at 7:54 PM on June 10, 2008

My maternal family were all Germans and Swiss. During the Holocaust, no less. And guess what? They were all Jewish.

Mind-boggling, I know, but it's funny how not every single person in a given country has to be a mindless fanatic subscriber to the whims of the current regime.

So if you ever see her again, you might bring to her attention that she totally dissed the Jewish population that suffered first and longest during the Holocaust.
posted by GardenGal at 8:05 PM on June 10, 2008

If what you're really interested in is understanding why Crazy Reactionary Lady reacted in the crazy way she did, nebulawindphone's comment is probably worth re-reading.

I think it's a sort of knee-jerk reaction for some (predominantly Jewish) people who think German = Threat. While all analogies are flawed, I don't think it's very different than the ignorant Black = Threat reaction that causes some white people to cross a street or lock their car doors.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:50 PM on June 10, 2008

My niece went on a school field trip to the Holocaust Museum. We are Americans of German descent (and a lot of other things, too, basically mutts). The woman leading the school kids on a tour asked if anyone had any German heritage. When my niece and others raised their hands, she looked at them and said, "You are the ones responsible for this." My niece was understandably as upset as you were when the girl ran out on you.*

So, I guess this girl isn't alone in her thinking, but that still doesn't make it right that she basically accused you of being a Nazi. You're much better off without her.

*I am glad to read the responses of Jewish Mefites who don't hold me or my family responsible for the Holocaust, because it pissed me off at the time, and then I felt guilty for being pissed off.
posted by misha at 9:02 PM on June 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm wondering if there's a way to gently call people on their bullshit. And I say it's a bullshit orange alert every time anyone starts making blanket statements about a group of people (like, you Germans, you men, you Blacks, you Jews, you Japanese, you Muslims, you Catholics, you Americans, etc., etc.) rather than focusing on the actions of the individual who they were deep throating just minutes before.

But Krautland, I'm an African American woman, and I'm assuming you're a white, European male, and I've got to tell you, you're in for a whole world of grief if you allow people to unload their ignorance, prejudice, anger and fearful baggage on you...which you're going to keep running into it if you continue to travel. I think it's important acknowledge something from the past (racism, sexism, genocide, cruelty, persecution, violence, colorism, whatever it may be; there's enough to go around)- and even it's lingering effects on the present (like another person's fear or suffering as a result of those actions). But you aren't *responsible* for them.

I wish someone would tell me that I am answerable for the actions of any and all Americans (I didn't vote for George Bush), Black people (Clarence Thomas's rulings make me want to limit judicial appointments), or women (I can't even *begin* to dissect what is going on with Condi Rice's hawkish world view. How such well educated people engage in such jaw droppingly, staggeringly mean spirited, fear mongering smallness day in-day out just stuns me anew on a regular basis). But while I'm not responsible, I do acknowledge the devastating effects their presence has had on the world. I do speak about what I think about it, and how I respond to it. I think that's all you can do. How the other person takes it - well, you're not responsible for that either.

So, rusty German alert: Nein, du bist nicht dran schuld.

posted by anitanita at 9:58 PM on June 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

I'm of the opinion that you are wrong. You should respect that a traumatic event like the killing of 5 million people a mere 60 years ago will have long lasting effects on the children of the victims. This was not a girlfriend, it was just a chick at a party who discovered that she was kissing a son of people who slaughtered her family. Respect her emotions.
posted by ChabonJabon at 1:28 AM on June 11, 2008

As a Jew, I am thoroughly embarrassed by this girl's inability to understand one of the key lessons of the Holocaust - that perpetuating racism and bigotry is wrong, and not doing so begins with each one of us individually. I cannot agree with those saying that she should be excused accusations of bigotry owing to historical circumstances. Her response as reported - 'I'm Jewish, I hate Germans' - is absolutely not defensible in any way, shape or form. I don't care how much of her family perished - if she personally lost family that makes her bigotry worse still.

I'm not saying there isn't a thing. I've had some pretty strange and difficult conversations with Germans over the years on the subject of the Holocaust, largely rather emotional for both of us, and including discussion of whether or not anyone should feel responsible for things happening prior to their birth (in short, you might, but there is no need to as it makes no sense). Closer to home, I've always felt really irrationally weirded out whenever I've spent time in a German-speaking country, especially at railway stations. But that's entirely my problem and would not extend to or even remotely excuse 'hating Germans'.

I wonder if she also hates Romans.
posted by motty at 2:48 AM on June 11, 2008

I don't agree with chabonjabon. MrTaff is Tibetan. We all know what is happening currently in Tibet to Tibetans. He doesn't hate Chinese people. We even eat yum cha (dim sum for the Americans) frequently! He has many Chinese friends. He is angry with the Chinese government, not any Chinese individuals. Considering it's happening to his family/countrymen in Tibet as we speak... I'd take a leaf from his book.

She's immature, that's all.

But all that said, myself and many, many Australians said sorry to our indigenous Australians for past atrocities committed against them by previous Australian order for them to begin the healing process. It made me feel better, and I hope in a teeny weeny way... our indigenous Australians too.
posted by taff at 3:11 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think it might be time to realize there are a lot of idiots in the world. There are a lot of people who don't think critically about whatever BS their parents filled them with. I wonder if that woman hates Poles and Russians too, or if she's defined some sort of line, or if she's just ignorant that a whole lot of countries have fucked with the Jews at one point or another.

Anyway, add my voice to the list of Jews who don't agree with this woman's stupid line of thinking. I personally spent a lovely summer in Chicago in my 20s making out with an adorable German on many occasions. It never occurred to me to blame him for the Holocaust.

Happily, we have a case in point for idiocy in this very thread! See below, if you want to see an example of someone thinking of a group of people as a monolith.

I know that I pretty much avoid having close Jewish friends, just because eventually they will discover that I'm not really in favor of everything Israel has done or might do in the future, and it would end in shouting and recriminations.
posted by miss tea at 3:40 AM on June 11, 2008

The direct answer is that no, you (who were born in the 1970s) are not responsible for the holocaust.

But the bigger answer is that of course you come from a country that is responsible for the holocaust, and she is allowed to feel uncomfortable about that. German culture has, by and large, come to terms with its history. Individual Germans have not universally done so, particularly the generation that actually lived through (and bears responsibility for) the Nazi era. You don't have to hear very many people give those weaselly responses like "Oh, we had no idea what was happening" or "Yes, there were excesses, but the Jews had done such evil to the country" to walk away with a pretty bad taste in your mouth. That doesn't mean you would say those things, but that history -- the idea that you may have grown up in a household where people say those things, and probably knew parents or grandparents of friends who felt that way -- is what she sees when she sees you. Unfair, but not unreal.

Some of my extended family are Jewish, and some of them share, at some level, that girl's feelings. They won't buy German cars, they avoid German cultural products, they would never dream of dating a person from Germany. Of course it isn't entirely rational, and they are happy to own products from Ford and other companies that collaborated with the Nazis, so there are no shortage of contradictions involved. But those feelings remain very strong for some people, and are resurrected every time there is a news report of far-right or anti-semitic violence in Europe.
posted by Forktine at 6:36 AM on June 11, 2008 [5 favorites]

Nthing the idea that she's wrong and out of line. But her way of thinking isn't necessarily all that rare, sadly. My wife was in a screenwriting workshop with a woman whose screenplay was about an (American) Jewish woman who lived on a farm, who lived next door to a man who was intent on killing her, and the big reveal at the end was that he wanted to kill her because (gasp) he was BORN IN GERMANY! When my wife tried to explain that this wasn't really a workable motivation (or a good story), the woman would have none of it and insisted that history proved that Germans were just programmed to kill Jews on sight.
posted by COBRA! at 7:25 AM on June 11, 2008

Just in case it wasn't clear, I should add another vote for her been nuts.

I'm English/British and white, and male so don't have to deal with much persecution beyond the occasional jaunt from teens because I have long hair and a beard.

However, in a historical context the British Empire did quiet a good job of taking over half the world in the past, fighting wars, embracing slave labor and so on, so my social group is far from innocent. If you choose to look at it like that.

Of course, holding people personally responsible for the sins of their forefathers is ridicules. And to be honest I think people apologizing for their forefathers sins is just as stupid a concept but I digress.

Half the problems the world faces are because people continue to hold on to emotional responses handed down to them and nations have enough problems in the here and now without needing to further complicate things by bringing up historical issues. Now I'd agree at the time Germany as a whole was responsible for the Holocaust, and due to the numbers of people affected it sticks out in history and still exists in living memory, but continuing to assign blame to individuals, or even nations isn't a healthy way to move forward in life.
posted by paulfreeman at 8:57 AM on June 11, 2008

I'm Dutch (not Jewish, if it matters), and I can attest to the fact that yeah, this sort of sentiment lingers. In jokes, in public discourse... hell, let's not forget, in football.

Probably, if Germans were privy of the kind of casual jabs we take at them among our own you would probably be offended indeed, and rightly so. So I don't intend to somehow justify this kind of behaviour - in which I admittedly participate - nor do I plan to apologise for it: it's part of our cultural framework, for better or for worse.

And at the end of the day, while Germans and Dutch of your generation and mine may have had nothing to do with the war, it still did happen, and as it's perhaps the single must influential and costly event of the past century (in Europe, at least), its lingering presence is a little hard to ignore.

That said, when it comes down to it I find I treat Germans no different than Brits or French or Americans, when I actually meet and interact with them. That is to say, I have no qualms with you as a people (or any nation's people, really), and I do not envy Germans for growing up with a shame they did not choose.

All this to say I understand it's a touchy subject, and as a Dutchman I encounter these sentiments from time to time - in a different form and from the other side, but from very close by.

But this woman - if she was being sincere - is prejudiced against a people, and this is not a desirable trait in any person. As far as I'm concerned it is misguided, deplorable, and perversely ironic - and your doubt is completely unfounded: the mercy of late birth is only merciful if it is a two-way street.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:26 AM on June 11, 2008

"I am not my grandfather's keeper."
posted by lalochezia at 10:07 AM on June 11, 2008

When people are hurt by something of this magnitude that happened in the past (e.g., the Holocaust), they are powerless to go back in time and counteract it. They can't stand in front of a tank in Tiananmen, they can't write their congressman, they can't stop buying a specific product to drive down profits; in short, there is no act they can do to stop the thing that hurts them. So they cling to irrational methods in an attempt to make themselves feel they are, in some way, retroactively taking a stand against the thing that hurts them. It's akin to a defense mechanism.

Essentially, it's a misguided attempt to channel their anger and outrage and pain into something beneficial; they think it's noble to be outraged against anything or anyone that reminds them of the negative situation. But people who engage in this type of irrational channeling are directing their pain at the wrong entity (in this case, namely, YOU) and not effectively addressing the status quo. If they were rational about their pain, they'd stop and think: What can I do to ameliorate the situation? Can I volunteer for a German/Jewish organization that promotes healing and understanding? Can I become a history teacher to research and educate the next generation about the Holocaust?

In short, you are absolutely in no way responsible for the Holocaust, but she is responsible for proliferating the attitudes that made the Holocaust flourish: prejudice, narrowmindedness, and an unwillingness to understand a culture that differs from hers.
posted by December at 10:12 AM on June 11, 2008

Very late to the thread which you may not even be following anymore but I thought I'd add my own 2 cents of "of course she's bigoted, YOU are not responsible for the Holocaust, but I can sort of see where the sentiment comes from" - which may help understand where her (violent version of it) comes from.

I was sort of brought up on a general underlying sentiment of anti-Germanism (Im not Jewish and I'm from Luxembourg). I'd say there was a time... probably until my late teens, where I didn't hate the Germans, but didn't "like them" either. It was a diffuse feeling - I had German friends, watched German TV, heck my only regular read was Der Spiegel... but deep down I distrusted them. THEY HAD PERPEPTRATED THE HOLOCAUST!!! They had helped Hitler to power, they had supported him in committing this unspeakable atrocity. You know the term Kadavergehorsam - that was the main thing "we" reproached "them". And that was a national trait, something "typically German." Hence all Germans were guilty - even those born later because who knows, wouldn't they have reacted the same way?

I have now moved on to a more differentiated view of Nazism and the Holocaust (or, depending on my mood, to a more cynical one of "wouldn't we all have done it"). I am still bothered by Germans who say "this guilt has been heaped upon me all my life, lay off me already." I remain a fan of the "Moralkeule Auschwitz" in a way - having something that horrific in your past you should never be made to forget. You should feel "guilty" as a nation, as an "entity" so to speak.

I do take an extreme stance on this - I also feel sort of personally guilty towards a black person for what "my race" has done to them, even though none of my forefathers were in the slave trade, or were in any way responsible for oppression later. Were a black person to "play the race card" on me, I would feel guilty and may well apologize, rather than calling their bullshit. (I'll admit I don't feel personal guilt about, say, the crusades though. but maybe because I don't consider myself a Christian)
posted by ClarissaWAM at 10:22 AM on June 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I envy you.

Well what do you expect? I'm fabulous! har har

Yes, people have their reasons for being small-minded/ignorant/bigoted/evil - whatever word you want to use. Yes, we should try to understand the root of bigotry if we truly want to overcome it. However while we should seek to understand it, that's not the same as accepting it and agreeing with it. Speaking for myself, while I will sometimes try to cross the chasm, sometimes it's simply not possible or worth my time. Sometimes you just tell bigots to fuck off and move on.

There is a lot of anti-German sentiment out there, but frankly my impression is that even with the EU most Europeans pretty much hate one another. Or at least they're all willing to cling to outdated stereotypes and make pretty offensive jokes about each other. For anti-German sentiment in particular, it pre-dates WWII - there were anti-German riots in Kitchener (nee Berlin) Ontario around the first world war. (How hated do you have to be to name a town after the worst British Admiral in history because you didn't like the previous name?) The French didn't build the Maginot Line in response to the Holocaust (OK, yeah, they built in in response to Germany arming itself to the teeth. But it's not like they were all buddy-buddy before that) . People have feared and loathed Germans for quite a while - at least as long as the concept of Germany as a nation has existed.

And if you look at the dual-identities of American immigrants you still see lots of hyphenated-Americans to this day: Chinese-Americans, African-Americans, Italian-Americans; but do you every see German-Americans? German ancestry, in spite of the fact that they were one of the largest ethnic groups to settle Canada and the US is the one ethnic origin that dare not speak its name. In Canada you have English & French as the two dominant cultural axes, you have "visible minorities" and then you have "invisible minorities": Irish, Scottish, Polish, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese. You see people from these countries who are now third-generation Canadians still proudly identifying with their grand-parents and great-grandparents places of birth. But Germany? Even in Kitchener-Waterloo, the city with the largest German-language newspaper in North America, people are pretty low-key about their German-ness.

So, sure, the horrors of WWII have a lot to do with it. But, honestly, a lot of people just don't like Germans. I have certainly observed it but I really can't explain why it is as deep-rooted as it is. If this was the one and only time someone gave the OP a hard time about being German I'd be surprised.

FWIW, I'm not German.
posted by GuyZero at 11:06 AM on June 11, 2008

Mod note: STOP with the derails and the shit-talking and take it to metatalk or email.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:31 AM on June 11, 2008

nthing what most others have said; Should you feel responsible? No. No more than average Americans our age should feel responsible about the Japanese interment camps during the same time, or those of us who have emigrated to the States in the past couple of generations should feel personally responsible for slavery.

There is a difference between Vergangenheitsbewaltigung and accepting personal responsibility for events that happened over a generation before our birth (you're only a couple of years younger than I am). The whole "sins of the father" concept is ludicrous.

That said, people suck and kids learn what they're taught. We all have prejudices to some degree. I was taught that all Southerners are backwards morons, and on some level believed it until I worked in the south and met the real thing. On the German side, I was raised with the belief that Bavarians were elitist, arrogant and believed only they spoke "correct" German (ich bin Hesse). I've met several Münchners and some of them are lovely.
posted by geckoinpdx at 1:08 PM on June 11, 2008

Response by poster: there was a rather long metatalk thread on this that I missed before it got closed, so just briefly for all who are wondering: I asked this question because I couldn't possibly imagine what her rationale for this might have been. the whole thing did strike me as silly but I couldn't vouch that I wasn't just missing something completely because I am german. there was an obvious conclusion for me but no way to verify whether this was the right one.

and to those suggesting my last name might be hitler and all that jazz... ah, nevermind.
posted by krautland at 1:37 PM on June 11, 2008

She was probably just echoing what she was taught. She probably doesn't have a rational reason for not liking Germans herself, unless one bit her as a child.
posted by geckoinpdx at 1:47 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is just such an interesting thread for me. ClarissaWAM, I had to let your comments percolate around in my head a moment, particularly about your comment if someone played the race card, you would feel guilty.

I can only speak for myself and say that I would like people to acknowledge and understand past horrors like slavery within the US, and be conscious of what priviledge they may (still) have access to because of past actions. I like the ones who try to live a consciously as they can and affect change in their small way.

But sometimes, you don't have any privilege at all. You're just part of the group. It's sort of like if someone lets it 'slip' to me that they were once mugged by an African American person. I'm not quite sure what value guilt has here (because I'm not giving you my wallet), unless it's to encourage more understanding, or some action on your part. I don't feel guilty - I feel curious, and empathetic - I acknowledge that must be difficult, ask them how that experience effects them today.

I totally get what you're saying about empathy and 'getting their sentiments'. I guess because some African American mugged that person a few years ago means they might feel suspicious of me. Or perhaps nothing happened to them at all but their friend got mugged, and their friends told them all that African American women steal, and I'm the first one they've met. That's a feeling, and nothing one can do about that except accept it.

But It's how they act - and how this girl acted - that's the issue for me. Being a 'person of color' has taught me that bearing the brunt of other people's hate doesn't actually intuitively bring on empathy and understanding. Even after everything, I can hear the most racist, misogynistic, homophobic, etc. ickiness come out of the mouths of people who are still living with consequences of other people's racist, misogyny, etc. directed towards them. Goodnewsfortheinsane is spot on: it's perversely ironic.

But in the end, I think there are two type of people in the world: people understand that whether they've been discriminated against or not, that just is not the optimal world to live in, so they don't perpetuate it and try to engage and build a better world, and people who still don't get it.

I try not to let my frustration and hate the second kind spill into my actions. And it's quite hard.
posted by anitanita at 1:53 PM on June 11, 2008

I'm of German descent and something similar happened to me once. I was walking through the mall down here in Brisbane years ago and there was a rabbi there who was basically handing out pamphlets and stuff and talking to people about Judaism. I was about 15 years old or so at the time and curious about the world and even though I was (and still am) an atheist I was, at the time, trying to learn as much about all religions as I could. So I went over to the rabbi and started asking questions about his faith, Judaism and so on and had a delightful old conversation with him.

About 10 minutes in he asked me my name, which I won't say here but sufficed to say is a very German name. And then this man who had been very animated and happy and delightful to speak with over the last 10-odd minutes suddenly became very quiet and turned to others nearby and started speaking with them, basically ignoring me. I was confused as to why this had happened and asked him what was wrong; still he ignored me. So I walked off, kind of dazed and confused. It didn't take me long to guess what the problem probably was.

The incident has stuck with me for a long, long time and at first I was kind of angry it had happened. I didn't do anything wrong, I thought, so why would he be treating me as though I had? But in the years since then, and as I've matured and read more about what happened to those poor people during the war, I've come to forgive and indeed, accept what happened. Obviously someone very close to him had been affected by the holocaust in some way (most likely many people close to him had, in fact) and he had not yet found a way to move beyond that. He was a rabbi but he was human and who am I to deny him his grief? Perhaps by now, 15 years later, his attitude has changed? Perhaps not. Either way, I can totally understand his reaction and, as I've said, won't begrudge him that.

This girl is much the same. Perhaps one day her attitude will change, but for now she's young, perhaps still learning about the world and acting on what she knows about it. She's in the minority of Jewish people who act like this though, as this thread clearly shows, and you should keep that in mind. You're not responsible for the holocaust, or her actions, but you should try, I think, to understand and accept where this is coming from because it's the best thing for your own mental health.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:39 PM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Should I feel responsible for the Holocaust in spite of my late birth because I am german or was she wrong to imply I should?

I'm an American, yet I do not feel responsible for slavery.

My wife is Jewish, yet she does not feel responsible for the killing of Christ.

Those that would sweep a broad brush over a group of people for something that a small subset of them did (especially in the past) are not the kind of people you'd want to be hanging out with. Unfortunately, that's what happens in a world full of ignorance and hatred and intolerance. Sometimes it grows directly from the ignorance and hatred and intolerance, as when people do terrible things because of it, and sometimes it is the result of the wounds (real or imagined, physical or emotional) caused by such terrible things.

You need only feel responsible for those bad things that you do, or enable through your actions or inaction, and so if you live a good, thoughtful and attentive life you shouldn't need to feel responsible for much that is bad in the world -- and certainly not this.
posted by davejay at 5:07 PM on June 11, 2008

I'm an American, yet I do not feel responsible for slavery.
My wife is Jewish, yet she does not feel responsible for the killing of Christ

This analysis is faulty. Some Americans did own slaves. The Jews did not kill Christ.
posted by redfisch at 8:50 PM on June 11, 2008

I know people who are reluctant to visit Germany because of the Holocaust, but no rational individual would hold the views you describe... nor would any well-mannered individual express them in that way. Maybe she was drunk or having a shitty day.

Rather than wasting your anger on this incident, you could simply resolve to do whatever is in your power to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past if, God forbid, you should one day face a similar choice. It's an honourable response to an undeserved attack.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:00 PM on June 11, 2008

Looks like it's all in her mind. You're not really involved in her relationship with "German people". BTW, do you know this ? Barbara's biography : German, English.
posted by nicolin at 2:24 AM on June 13, 2008

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