Tag Archives: Auschwitz

National identity

Magda: ‘Who else was on your tour of Auschwitz? What nationalities?’

Ilana: ‘Israelis, Americans, Czechs, Spaniards, Australians, Poles, and Germans, I think.’

Magda: ‘Germans should be ashamed of themselves, visiting Auschwitz!’

Ilana: ‘Isn’t it actually more important for Germany and Germans to understand and remember the Holocaust and WWII? Shouldn’t they, rather than avoiding such sites, make an effort to visit them?’

Magda and I had to agree to disagree. My grandmother and I have had similar arguments about whether you can hold contemporary Germany (or even contemporary Germans) responsible for the country’s past. What determines national identity? Can a country be responsible for something it did historically, even when most of the individuals who were involved have died? How should Germany’s past shape its current policies and its citizens’ behavior?

I don’t know. I tend to be of the ‘clean slate’ view, but clearly there are many people who disagree.