Fake family stories: why do people present themselves as descendants of Nazi victims? – culture

Johannes Spohr lives in Berlin as an independent historian. He received his doctorate from the University of Hamburg in Ukraine during the withdrawal of the Wehrmacht in World War II. Clemens Böckmann lives and works as an author, organizer and publisher in Leipzig. Together they wrote the book Fantastic Society. Dialogues on False and Fictional Family Stories about Nazi Persecution” published by Neofelis Verlag.

When Wolfgang Seibert reported on his Jewish ancestors, he described them as resisters and persecutors. His grandfather was a member of the anarchist trade union union CNT, and survived the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp and the death march. None of this was true – yet many have willingly listened to him over the years and thus reinforced his narratives – including us. But what’s behind these stories, aside from apparent individual misconduct?

In recent years, commemorating National Socialism and the Holocaust has once again become the subject of heated debate. The demand to make various forms of colonial crime more present in a culture of remembrance is sometimes tacitly mixed up with the assumption that National Socialism has been “handled successfully” by society as a whole and that it is important to build upon it. This is especially true of the claim of “Catechism” of the Germans made by Australian historian Dirk A. Moses.

Many stand in the way of such an assumption. This includes a phenomenon that occurs somewhat infrequently rather than in focus, but allows a deep insight into the present of the “world champion of remembrance” Germany: people who falsely pretend to be – mostly Jews – victims of National Socialism or their descendants and thus appear in public. The cases of Marie-Sophie Hengst and Wolfgang Seibert, who was president of the local Jewish community in Bainberg for a number of years, have attracted attention in recent years.

Continuing resentment against them

A false and imagined family history of Nazi persecution can certainly be interpreted as a side effect of successful educational work: one desires to belong to the persecutors rather than the perpetrators. However, they ultimately stand above all for a partly misleading, partly simply non-existent examination of the Nazi heritage. As part of the victim-defined culture of remembrance, they do not follow the needs of their former persecutors, but above all the needs of the perpetrators and their offspring. Aside from temporary scandals, this phenomenon provides an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between perpetrator and victim in post-1945 Germany in which it crystallized.

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German accounts of victims can be traced back to the Bismarck and Wilhelminian empires, but they became particularly distinct after 1945. Various accounts of the “Third Reich” in the countries that succeeded it stood in the way of a thorough legal and socio-political examination of what happened and its associated perpetrators and followers Bystanders, beneficiaries and oppressed from the start.

In the post-war decades, Nazi perpetrators – especially in the Federal Republic – were often socially respected, had secure livelihoods and didn’t have to worry about being held accountable for their actions. There was no protest against the legal protections of the perpetrators, or it came from the former persecutors themselves, who had established interest groups in many places. The history of the struggle for recognition and remembrance of the persecuted and survivors in post-National Socialist states is characterized by persistent resentment towards them.

What we need are “good” restorative survivors.

In light of these facts, it seems that the yearning to take the speaker’s position on Nazi victims in Germany especially needs explanation. It has several bases, one of which will be presented in more detail: in the 1980s, in the Federal Republic of Germany, initially in emerging works on memorial sites, in historical workshops and in school lessons, an emphasis was developed on survivors of Nazi persecution, which received little Of attention for a long time, now contemporary witnesses has become.

After the war, the main role of the survivors was to testify to the actions that happened to them and to help prosecute the perpetrators, but they increasingly became witnesses to the supposedly abstract general assembly of National Socialism. After being removed from the legal context, it must provide and warrant publicly understandable and easily accessible statements about contemporary history. The firm hope for this, to get to the core of the incomprehensible (linguistically) essence of the Nazi extermination, fades unilaterally in the encounter with contemporary witnesses.

Fantastic Society, edited by Clemens Buchmann and Johannes Spohr.Photo: Neofelis Verlag

Today, trauma and disability are finding less and less room in them, also according to the media economy. What is required are the tolerant “good guys” of the survivors whose narrative contained a “happy ending”, who (presumably) do well and who do not demand revenge. Less in demand are the stories that tell of a ruined life, especially those that do not want to be forgiven. And the stories of violent resistance and resistance by contemporary witnesses do not meet the expectations of the German public. The identification process is preceded by a very narrow perspective on Nazi persecution: the victims of National Socialism must be Jews who are usually imagined as German Jews, and a certain image of them also prevails. They are expected to have gone to Auschwitz and to have survived.

Avoid historical responsibility

This supposed modification of the “German-Jewish relationship” in post-Nazi Germany is based primarily on non-Jewish sensibilities. This is related to the fact that since the 1990s the dominant German culture of remembering National Socialism has been increasingly given the function of contributing to the legitimacy of domestic and foreign policy moves. Jews are often assigned the role of the main witnesses: they are supposed to testify to the descendants of the perpetrators, accomplices, bystanders, and bystanders that the actions of National Socialism were in the past, that the guilt was atoned and that reparations would be made. accessed. This desire for reconciliation and forgiveness, which ignores the needs of the victims, follows deep Christian motives. Containment of the recognized victim is followed by (above) identification with him.

subordinate great company He succeeded in creating a memory that is supposed to focus on the victims. At the same time, societal knowledge of how anti-Semitism, animosity against Roma, and other forms of group-related hostility operate is marginal, and little about the specific perpetrators. It is assumed that self-identification of victims frees them from dealing with the circumstances of the crime.

It increased the need for victims to be identified by people such as Benjamin Wilkomirsky, Wolfgang Seibert, and Marie-Sophie Hengst. Through their actions, they not only offended widespread openness and trust, but at the same time they fulfilled the need of society as a whole to avoid historical responsibility. Their stories focused on public introductions great company.

The needs of the offspring’s offspring

The closeness to the speaker’s position was sought which was sometimes impossible due to the personal background of the biography. This escalation can be understood as a consequence of political identity differences and as a symbol of the essentially failed quest for authentic subjectivity. In this context, it becomes more attractive to assume certain speaking positions, which can also mean being a victim of social conditions.

Gone are the acts of the day, but not their effectiveness. German society has constituted the Nazi “past” to this day. In the face of irreparable historical events, the need to count oneself among the victims can also be understood as an expression of helplessness. Victims of Nazi crimes were unable to grant her the amnesty that non-Jewish Germans wanted. Instead of resolving this tension by dealing with verb terms, great company Contrasting it by generalizing suffering and placing oneself as a victim.

The conclusion is that the frequently assumed “victim centrism” is in fact a complex type of “criminal centricity” or “autocentrism” to the offender’s descendants. This means that the manner in which victims are treated is directed primarily at meeting the needs of the offender’s descendants, rather than fully engaging in the contradictory experiences of survivors, victims, and descendants, as well as their demands.

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