Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Kultur der Juden
[Aschkenas: A Journal of Jewish History and Culture]
Ed. by Horch, Hans Otto / Jütte, Robert / Rürup, Miriam / Wenninger, Markus J.
To the best of my recollection, the incentive – conscious or unconscious – for writing this study were the vivid impressions I experienced while watching the encounter between Daniel J. Goldhagen – of Hitler's Willing Executioners fame (or disrepute?) – and German historians on TV before a live audience. Prof. Hans Mommsen, judicious, sensible, clear and well-informed, repeatedly made statements which I thought should have reaped considerable applause, but the audience, in which youngsters appeared to be predominant, had ears only for Goldhagen's accusatory denunciations of whole chapters of German history, and the wilder and more improbable his statements – the more enthusiastic the applause. The youngsters in the audience appeared to be asking him to heap more and more guilt upon them, and in particular, upon their forefathers, and Goldhagen responded in kind. I became aware that I had been watching a generation phenomenon: young Germans, who had not lived through the political and ideological conflicts of the 1960's and 1970's, and appeared to have had been spared serious political and ideological dilemmas of a moral nature altogether, were unbelievably harsh and unforgiving in their judgement of their own nation and of their forefathers. Worse, it appeared to me that they had never given much thought to the problem of evil and were unaware of the ease with which even good people can fall prey to it.