"It is not German guilt that must be eternal,
but the acceptance of moral responsibility."
On May 8, 1945, when
World War II ended, I was an eight-year old Jewish boy who by a sheer
miracle had been smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto and hidden on the
Christian side of the city. I survived the Holocaust, but
my father and most of my relatives did not.
I am now among the youngest of eyewitnesses to German crimes against
Jews, and the youngest German perpetrator must be close to eighty today.
When I realized that
twenty years from now all first-hand, living memory of the Holocaust may
be erased, I decided to take a look at the German peers of my children
and find out what the new generations on both sides may do with their
Several years ago,
I started to film
the story of the
designing and building of Germany's "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of
Europe." It is a memorial that the German government
and it represents united Germany's ultimate apology for the Holocaust.
But I wasn't just a reporter sorting out the controversies that swirled
around this project -- controversies such as "Why apologize only to the
Jews?" "Why build it in the busy center of Berlin?" -- I felt in a way I
was visiting Germany, finally, as the one to accept an apology on behalf
of my murdered family.
So I wanted to know what
young Germans who call themselves "third generation" -- the ones in
their twenties who will live with the memorial -- think about their
parents' ideas. These were the parents who in their youth during the
'60s were young rebels accusing their own parents of Nazi crimes.
My first discovery
was that the former rebels of the '60s saved their children, this "third
generation" of Germans from listening to the horror stories. And,
the Holocaust education
inserted at the very end of German high school, young Germans today see
the Holocaust as a symbol of some universal evil, not as a crime
committed by their grandparents' generation. They think their teachers
are too self-conscious to convey the true meaning of the Holocaust. The
brightest of them see the new memorial as an "aspirin" for the
still-existing Holocaust taboo. They reject the memorial as
institutionalized memory, frozen in stone, and imposed on them by their
I happen to agree with
those young Germans. But here is my worry: With what would they replace
this memorial, this government "fix"? They say: We must do our own
homework to personalize this experience and filter it through our own
morality and ethics. To which their parents respond: National memory
cannot be left to personal devices.
Above all, there is the
question of guilt. "We cannot be guilty of our grandparents' crimes,"
say the young Germans. Again, I agree. I want them to be liberated from
this feeling as much as I want my own children to be liberated from the
prison of my Holocaust memories. But without an emotional quest, how can
the young Germans assure me that the tragic past will not be forgotten
altogether, while for my children, the memories will always be personal?
And I want them to do well together and that they will find each other.
As for myself, I wish
there would be no German celebration of the end of World War II. No
government-approved memorials. No finishing touches. My request to the
German people would be that they create for themselves a concept of good
guilt -- an honorable one. And within it, a proud guardianship of
memory. My father would like that.