all-round nice guy, aka Uncle Joe Kardashian
- Oct 22, 2010
It is too easy, philosopher Susan Neiman argues, to believe that as soon as the second world war ended, Germany set about the process of atoning for its crimes. It simply isn’t so: after all, 10% of the country’s population had been members of the Nazi party, “and the most shocking, but also important thing, is they were not the uneducated masses. The majority had academic degrees. We like to think that education provides immunity to racist and fascist ideology. And it doesn’t.”
What, then, heralded the start of Germans en masse beginning to face the past? Although some of it can be explained generationally, she replies, as people died off, “that won’t do the trick, as we’ve seen in the United States. And as we’ve seen in Britain where, you know, time has gone by, and people like falling back on national myths of greatness.” In part, she believes the Auschwitz trials marked a moment of change in which the burgeoning of mass travel connected ordinary Germans with other worldviews and there was an emergence of books by Holocaust survivors. She also notes the importance of 1968, “a moment for confronting parents and teachers … and there was a sense of a sudden real wave of disgust and rebellion: what have you done?”
More:Neiman's mother campaigned for the desegregation of Atlanta’s public schools – an activity that earned her, as Neiman recalls, several late-night phone calls from the Ku Klux Klan. One hot summer’s day, her mother invited an African American friend and her children over for the afternoon, and Neiman asked if they could all go to the outdoor swimming pool. No, came the answer. The lake, then? Still no. Imploring and questioning did not change the answer. In the end, the children played beneath the garden sprinklers; only years later did Neiman realise that it would have been against the law for them to have swum together.