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Anti-semitism in Germany today and the intergenerational transmission of guilt and shame

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Abstract

Anti-Semitism is a worldwide phenomenon whose continuity in Germany cannot be understood without analyzing the aftermaths of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. This is one of the central findings of a qualitative and psychoanalytically oriented study of the psychical aftermaths in non-Jewish Germans as a result of the National Socialist extermination of the Jews. The background of the research project was the 1941 deportation of Jews from a German city to the ghetto of Minsk (Belarus), where about 135,000 Jews were murdered between 1941 and 1943. In a group discussion, non-Jewish Germans who had witnessed this deportation as schoolboys in 1941 were asked to speak about their memories of the deportation. This discussion was followed by interviews with most of the participants and some of their children. The interpretation of the qualitative material is discussed in relation to psychoanalytic concepts on the defenses of guilt and shame and their intergenerational transmission.

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Notes

  1. http://www.taz.de/1/debatte/kommentar/artikel/1/pilgerfahrt-nach-auschwitz/.

  2. This equalization not only involves a relativization of the Holocaust but also evokes an inversion of perpetrators and victims. By contrast, the authors distinguish anti-Semitic from non-anti-Semitic criticism of Israeli politics; the latter does not base its criticism on hatred of Jews nor does it involve regarding ‘the Israelis’ as perpetrators (Heyder et al, 2005, p. 149).

  3. Refers to the line number references of the original transcription.

  4. The material was amongst others analyzed in different group settings that allowed different feelings of countertransference to be (re)produced and to be analyzed systematically.

  5. Other studies also show that non-Jewish German families did not speak about the persecution of the Jews (Rosenthal, 1994), which corresponded with an imperative not to do so (Treu, 2003, p. 59).

  6. Using the present tense while recalling, marks the acute involvement of the speaker in the reminiscence.

  7. The use of the German expression ‘to wet one's pants’ adds to the scene a sexualized connection between the daughter and the Jewish victims.

  8. Mrs. Radke probably is referring to a Jewish classmate she mentioned earlier. On an unconscious level of meaning, however, she might also be expressing her identification with the Jewish victims.

  9. A reaction against a ‘pointing at us’ has also been expressed in public by the German author Martin Walser (1998). In his speech at the Peace Prize Ceremony of the German Book Trade in 1998, he criticized a ‘continuous presentation of our blemish’ (p. 11; my translation) and received standing ovations by the audience.

  10. This trope brings to mind the argument of Ernst Nolte (1986) in the Historians’ Dispute when he considered the Holocaust as ‘Asian barbarism’ and the Soviet Gulag as prior to the ‘racial murder of the National-Socialists’ (my translation).

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Rothe, K. Anti-semitism in Germany today and the intergenerational transmission of guilt and shame. Psychoanal Cult Soc 17, 16–34 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1057/pcs.2011.6

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