Written before the fall of the Berlin wall, Born Guilty by Jewish Austrian writer, Peter Sichrovsky, is a collection of narrative interviews with the children of German nazis. There is no wallowing in the crimes their fathers potentially committed, no gruesome detailing to shift the focus back to the horrors of the Holocaust. This book deals entirely with the actions and reactions of those who grew up under the shadow of being a child of the defeated and, by some, the despised.
And it would seem that the sins of the nazi fathers are borne in as many different ways as there are children; the only common denominator being none of them remained unscathed. While all German children grew up acutely aware of their country’s defeat, many children in this book also grew up in a household buried under an oppressive silence that reeked of dark secrets. Others faced the faced the mind-blowing dilemma of defending beloved murderers. And endless questions such as what was truth? And what was propaganda? Lies?
These children comprise a group of forgotten victims. An innocent, blighted generation that struggled to regain a little dignity when others have questioned their right to do so. Some felt guilty by proxy. Others defiant. Or defensive. Some siblings reacted differently between themselves. But each individual story is as equally valid.
I shall now regard post-war Germans with new eyes. And thinking: Were you a ‘Born Guilty’ child? How did you cope? And how amazing that your generation found the strength to rebuild Germany into the country she is today.
Try and read this book. It changes things.
Quotes from Born Guilty:
‘I must not have children. The line must come to an end with me. What should I tell the little ones about Grandpa?’
‘With a father like that I was doomed to fail. There’s no escape. I’d trade him for anyone.’
‘I didn’t murder anyone, I didn’t mistreat anyone, I didn’t cheer Hitler… I’m sick and tired of it. Germans are always the bad ones, that we have constantly to be reminded of it. What does that mean – we started the war, we gassed the Jews, we devastated Russia. It sure as hell wasn’t me.’