Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Nazi Descendants

I've just read a fascinating and thought provoking BBC website article on the subject of Nazi descendants. The articles explores the opinions and feelings of modern day Germans whose ancestors were prominent Nazis such as Himmler, Goering, Goeth, and Hoess. 

The events of World World II are still relatively recent in historical terms, and as a result the wounds caused by the atrocities perpetrated by these men are still fresh. What I found so interesting and moving about this article was the guilt felt by the subjects based on the acts of their ancestors - acts that they personally had no involvement in.

I imagine it is the same sort of feeling as when a genealogist discovers that their ancestor was a slave owner. The guilt is irrational due to the time that has elapsed, and yet completely understandable. I have not as yet found an ancestor who has done anything particularly heinous. I am sure that if and when I do, I will feel exactly the same way.

The descendants of Nazis in the BBC article all speak of guilt, shame, and carrying a burden. For one woman and her brother, the descendants of Hermann Goering, that burden was so great that they had themselves sterilised to ensure that the Goering name would end with them. It is chilling that the Holocaust continues to affect lives in this way seventy years after it occurred.

Although fascinating from a genealogical perspective, ultimately I found the article to be uplifting. These people feel guilt, and yet they do not share the sins of their forefathers. They struggle to understand how people who are related to them could be so completely wrong about humanity. This, to me, shows the advancements that we have made since the time of the Nazis. 

My favourite part of the article related to Rainer Hoess, who was the descendant of Rudolf Hoess, the commandant at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Rainer had been prevented from going on school trips to Auschwitz as a result of this association, but as an adult he felt it important for him to witness the former camp firsthand. While there he met an Auschwitz survivor, who embraced him and told him that the burden was not his to carry. 

His response was to let go of the shame, and to feel inner joy.

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