German guilt and German suffering

 “In a sense, arguing over whose victims can be counted is another way of continuing the war—a war that may truly be over only when we stop feeling the need to deny the Germans their stories of suffering and loss.”  Mark M. Anderson in The Nation Oct. 17, 2005

I have thought a lot about the justification for talking about German suffering when the Germans have caused so much more suffering for millions of innocent victims.  Still I cannot come up with any clear answers, only tentative suggestions: If we accept the notion that we are all responsible for the acts of our government, that we are all politically guilty, we need to learn to become more humane toward all around us and learn to forgive others as well as ourselves. This does not release even my post-war generation from being accountable for what was done during the Third Reich and living with that history. But if love and compassion can help us understand, though not excuse, what happened to people like my grandfather, then perhaps they can help us see and accept our common humanity and appreciate how it binds us all together across nationality, race or gender.

My grandfather’s story not only raises disturbing questions about myself and my family, but it also helps to stitch together some sense of history.  In the end there is only a personal position and the sum of such personal positions makes up the fabric of history. “Truth lies partially in everything.” I might be so bold as to add that truth lies in “the partiality of everything.” In this way my love, my partiality, for my grandfather and the open questions and partial truths become part of this fabric of history.

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