A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction

By Ruth Franklin | Go to book overview

10
Willing Executioners: Bernhard Schlink

State Attorney Kügler: “Did you investigate who was responsible for the
killings?”

Former SS Judge Wiebeck: “Back then that did not interest us. Those
were supreme acts beyond justice (justizfreie Hoheitsakte)”

—Hermann Langbein, Der Auschwitz-Prozess, quoted by Rebecca
Wittmann

Near the end of 1995, the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps and the end of World War II, the New York Times Magazine published a long article by Peter Schneider, the German playwright and novelist, titled “The Sins of the Grandfathers.” During that year of memorial services and symbolic commemorations, Schneider interviewed roughly three hundred Germans between the ages of fifteen and twenty-two, asking them what they knew about the Holocaust and what that chapter of their country’s history meant to them. He found them to be open to his questions and well informed about the events of the war, thanks to a comprehensive school curriculum that often introduces the Holocaust by the fifth or sixth grade. But when it came to the moral implications, they ranged from tone-deaf to entirely oblivious.

One boy, speaking of the memorial site at Ravensbrück, near his hometown, told Schneider, “You know, that oven, where they used to burn ‘em— it’s cool, it’s kind of funny.” Another teenager who lived near Sachsenhausen

-199-

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