Generational Cohorts and the Shaping of Popular
Attitudes towards the Holocaust

by Prof. Harold Marcuse
(homepage, Presentations page, Publications page)
Dept. of History, University of California
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9410

draft, March 15, 2000

Paper delivered at the 'Remembering for the Future' conference,
Oxford, 17-23 July 2000
(conference/organization website; 2-page abstract of this paper)

Note 6/3/05: the 46 footnotes in the original can be found at the bottom of this web version.
They are NOT hyperlinked, sorry.

published in: John Roth and Elizabeth Maxwell (eds.), Remembering for the Future:
The Holocaust in an Age of Genocide
(London: Palgrave: 2001), vol. 3, pp. 652-663.

D804.18 .R46 2001]

NOTE: much of this text is identical to the introduction to chapter 12 of my book Legacies of Dachau (pages 290-296, go to book page), which was already in copy-editing when I prepared this article. One important difference is that in working more with the individual stories, I decided to embrace an explicit distinction between the terms "cohort" and "generation," whereas in the book I wrote that I would primarily use "cohort" to avoid confusion. See main text, below and note 3.

In commom parlance with regard to survivors of the Holocaust we often speak of 'generations,' with a term such as 'second generation survivor' denoting the children of people who survived the Holocaust. Discussions of education about the Holocaust since the 1990s focus increasingly on what is termed the 'third generation.' These are very rough terms at best, since a child of survivors might have been born in war-torn Europe in the late 1940s, or in more prosperous circumstances a decade or more later, often in Israel or the United States. Survivors of the Holocaust who were themselves children or teens in the early 1940s might not have had children until well into the 1960s. Given the different age-typical ways the wide age-range of survivor parents experienced the Holocaust, and the very different cultural climates in which their children learned of their parents' experiences, we might expect that more precise attention to years of birth of the various generations would better enable us to discern their common traits.

This paper is an attempt to outline a theory that links defining experiences for whole age cohorts of people first with the life outlook of those cohorts, and then with the life outlooks and attitudes of their children. I have attempted this not for Holocaust survivors, but for 'ordinary Germans' who came of age in the first half of the 20th century, and their children who came of age in the second half. Thus my observations are relevant for the bystanders and (potential) perpetrators of trauma, not for its victims. In the context of Holocaust education today, this is the relevant target group.

Many historians and sociologists have observed that crucial experiences between the ages of 16 and 26, in certain circumstances from 14 to 30, are critical in shaping lifetime political attitudes. Momentous historical events such as wars and economic crises may overshadow more personally important events in individuals' lives, thus affecting the political attitudes of a large proportion of the people in the crucial age range at that time. I will refer to these event-defined groups as 'age cohorts.' The term 'generation' is often used in common parlance, but I wish to reserve it for the groups of children of event-defined cohorts, whose political attitudes, in the absence of an epochal historical experience, are shaped more by their mediated relationship to their parents' experience. Thus we will have political cohorts shaped by Nazi-era events, and political generations who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s, when important events were more diffuse than the epochal turning points their parents experienced. (see note 3)

Although I will extend this theory back to the World War I conjuncture, let us begin with a look at Germans who came of age in 1930s and 1940s. Widely experienced epochal turning points might have been the formation of the Nazi state in 1933-34, and the tangible turning point in the war in 1943. The cohorts affected by these events would have been born between approximately 1904 (age 26 in 1930, when Nazism's popularity began to skyrocket) and 1927 (age 16 in 1943, when combat duty began to mean probable death).

Let us take the midpoint of 1915-16 as the transition between these two experiential cohorts (these dates are somewhat arbitrary and must be confirmed on actual cases). The older group (born ca. 1904-1915) would have had children been born ca. 1926-1937, who would have been shaped by events after 1943, such as the end of World War II, the beginning of the Cold War, and the economic recovery after the currency reform of 1948. The group born between 1916 and 1926 would have had children beginning roughly in 1937 (when its oldest members were 21), and trailing off by the mid-1950s.

Before we examine concrete cases, I would like to introduce a terminology that will help to keep track the various cohorts and generations. For the following discussion (summarized in Table 1), it is important to note that the dates of the birth years are approximate, depending as they do on the eccentricities of individual biography. The biographies of the people in the 'examples' column help to draw the dividing lines, but even some of these cases show attitudes characteristic of both groups.

The first politically relevant cohort in the twentieth century, which I will call the 1918ers, is important in this context only inasmuch as its members created the pivotal event that set the whole dynamic to be outlined here in motion: the Nazi accession to unprecedented political and cultural power since 1930. This cohort, born at the end of the nineteenth century (ca. 1890-1902), contributed most of Nazism's founding fathers, such as Hitler, Himmler, Göring, and Goebbels. The political attitudes of these activist visionaries were shaped during their politically formative years by the German defeat in World War I, which they understood as betrayal by the revolutionaries of 1918. Further, the 'shameful injustice' of the Versailles Treaty branded their consciousness. Those who came to support the Nazi party never felt comfortable with the democratic government that signed that treaty. This cohort included, to name a few examples, Hitler (b.1889), Göring (b.1893), Rudolf Hess (b.1894), Josef Goebbels (b.1897), Martin Bormann (b. 1900), Hans Frank (b.1900), and Heinrich Himmler (b.1900).

Given the close succession of formative events in first half of the century in Germany, new cohorts emerged every 10-15 years. Given the usual child-bearing age of 20-30, the succeeding (postwar) generations tend to emerge after every second cohort.

The next cohort, the 1933ers or careerist Nazi cohort, was born roughly from 1901 to 1914. Recent German authors refer to this cohort as the Tätergeneration--the generation of perpetrators. The members of this cohort had neither developed loyalty to the pre-World War I monarchy, nor to the German republic of the 1920s. For many of them, Hitler's assumption of power in 1933 was a vindication of Germany's national pride. They immediately took the opportunity make careers building and consolidating his state. Examples include Leni Riefenstahl (b.1902), Werner Best (b.1903), Reinhard Heydrich (b.1904), Theodor Oberländer (b. 1905), Albert Speer (b.1905), Adolf Eichmann (b.1906), Baldur von Schirach (b.1907), and Hans Filbinger (b. 1913). Rudolf Höss (b.1900) is an example who exhibits elements of both the founding and careerist Nazi cohorts.

The cohort born between 1915 and 1925 also contributed to the 'generation of perpetrators,' but this age group did not have the opportunity to rise to the prominence of the above examples during the Nazi period. Their experience of the elation of the prewar Nazi years was overshadowed by the hopelessness of the situation after 1943, symbolized by the defeat of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad. Thus I refer to them as 1943ers. These 1943ers staffed the offices, schools, and institutions--including the army and concentration camps--of the Nazi Reich during Nazism's stable phase after 1935. This cohort was also the most decimated in World War II. At the end of the war many of its members were able to distance themselves from Nazism. The budding Nazi careers of older members such as Franz Josef Strauss (b.1915) and pollster Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann (b. 1916) were suddenly cut off in 1945, but they were able to re-establish themselves as solid democrats. They were young enough to have had only limited complicity in constructing the Nazi regime, even if their work for Nazism had left its stamp, positively or negatively, on their values.

Richard von Weizsäcker (b.1920) is an example from this cohort who overcame his incipient Nazi complicity. (Weizsäcker, who defended his converted Nazi father Ernst at Nuremberg in 1947, later became one of West Germany's most honest, open and respected democrats.) Irma Grese (b.1921), a notorious Auschwitz and Belsen guard, is an example of a younger woman in this group who was so complicit (and intellectually limited) that she never renounced her allegiance to Nazism.

The next cohort, which I will call the 1948ers, was born from the mid-1920s to the late 1930s (ca. 1926 to 1936). These individuals grew up within the Nazi system, but consciously experienced only that system's depravity, which could no longer be ignored after 1943. These Germans were young enough so that any positive experiences of Nazism's best years prior to 1942-43 was overshadowed by their conscious experience of the devastating phase of the war and its aftermath. They were not complicit, even by apathy or inaction, in Nazi crimes.

Birth Years (approx.)
pivotal events ages 16-26 or parental attitudes during that shaped political behavior
Shorthand name;
descriptive names
1890-1902 1916-1919:
World War I experienced as a profound, disorienting rupture
no loyalty to postwar state
(includes the founders of Nazism);
generation of 1914.
Hitler (1889)
Göring (1893)
Goebbels (1897)
Himmler (1900)
1903-1915 1920-1938:
formed no strong relationship to Weimar republic; experienced Nazism as a positive turning point.
careerist Nazis
reviled generation, generation of the perpetrators
(parents of 1948ers)
Heydrich (1904), Oberländer (1905)
Speer (1905)
Eichmann (1906)
Filbinger (1913)
F. J. Strauss (1915)
1916-1925 1939-1943:
grew up under Nazism, fought for it during World War II; experienced both elation and devastation of war; most decimated by war
World War II cohort;
younger careerist Nazis; Stalingraders;
deceived generation
(parents of 1968ers)
Maschmann (1918)
H. Schmidt (1918)
R.v. Weizsäcker (1920)
1926-1936 1944-1957 (currency reform):
end of Nazism in 1945, economic upturn after 1948 and 'economic miracle' of 50s
1945ers; skeptical, Hitler Youth, betrayed, white, reconstruction generation
M. Broszat (1926)
G. Tempel (1926)
W. Scheffler (1929)
H. Kohl (1930)
1937-1953 1958-1969:
1943er parents' failure to admit Nazi past in early 60s; Vietnam War, political weakness of democratic political system
first postwar generation
(children of 1943ers)
Niklas Frank (1939)
U. Hegi (b. 1939)
B. Klarsfeld (1939)
S. Reichel (1946),
G.v. Arnim (1946)
1954-1966 1970-1980 (Holocaust film):
interest in Nazi background of 1933er grandparents; grew up under more historically open Brandt and Schmidt governments of 1969-1982
Alltagshistoriker (began to research Nazi history in 1980s);
second postwar generation;
(children of 1948ers, grandchildren of 1933ers)
Norbert Frei (1955)
M. Brenner (1958)
A. Rosmus (1960)
M. Heyl (1965)
1967-1976 1983-1993 (post-Bitburg):
learned of Nazi past through media and school; no close relationships with 1933ers
1989ers (1990ers)
third postwar cohort;
(children of 1968ers )
Table 1: German Political Cohorts, 1890-1976

In a phrase made memorable by West German chancellor Helmut Kohl (b.1930) in 1984, this cohort was thus blessed by the 'grace of late birth.' Although they were thoroughly disabused of any positive attitudes towards Nazism, they had still worn the uniforms of the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls (membership was compulsory after 1936), some had served in combat, and they were educated by careerist Nazi teachers right into the 1950s. This created a dissonance within each individual biography, an ambivalence between understanding for those who had been complicit in Nazism, and rejection of all that Nazism stood for.

While other scholars call this cohort the '1945ers,' I prefer to refer to them as 1948ers, since the currency reform of 1948 and Marshall Plan aid gave them their first positive political orientation, as opposed to the total disorientation in 1945. For some, their unhesitating embrace of the new democratic state prevented them from recognizing its flaws. For instance, many harbored fears of non-institutional politics, and thus overlooked the state's attempts to repress grass-roots activism. The first German historians to investigate brown-collar crimes belong to this cohort-for example Martin Broszat (1926-1989) and Wolfgang Scheffler (b.1929). In the early 1960s members of this cohort initiated an implicit challenge to the public silence about Germany's Nazi past. Authors such as Siegfried Lenz (b. 1926), Günther Grass (b. 1927) and Martin Walser (b. 1927), whose writings attempted to force a public engagement with the Nazi past, are also 1948ers.

The next group, the 1968ers, is best defined as a generation, not a cohort. They were the first not to have consciously experienced 1948 as a defining moment for the future. Instead, this group came of age in the prosperous years of the late 1950s and early 1960s. This first postwar generation was born from the late 1930s to the early 1950s (ca. 1937 to 1953). In rebellions culminating in the watershed year 1968, some members of this generation stridently rebelled against their presumptively complicit 1943er parents. On the other hand, other members of this generation aligned themselves with the conventional obedience-and-order mentality of their Nazi-socialized parents and boosted the neo-Nazi party NPD into several state parliaments in the late 1960s. The political attitudes of most members of this postwar generation lay somewhere in between these extremes, but as individual biographies show, their confrontation with their parents' Nazi past decisively influenced their identity. This first postwar generation is commonly referred to as the 1968ers, because the anti-establishment movement culminating that year left a lasting stamp on their political attitudes, positively or negatively.

[web bonus: For a detailed discussion of this generation's formative experiences during the early 1960s, see my article: "The Revival of Holocaust Awareness in West Germany, Israel, and the United States" in: Carole Fink, Philipp Gassert, Detlef Junker (eds.), 1968: The World Transformed (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 421-38. text without notes]

In 1964 the returned German-Jewish emigré philosopher Günther Anders coined the phrase 'we children of Eichmann' to express the 68er generation's legacy of upbringing by 1933ers. The 1968ers did not begin to articulate this themselves until the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1979 a number of important literary works dealing with the conflict between the 1968ers and the 1933ers were published. They include: Sigfrid Gauch (b. 1945), Vaterspuren (Königstein: Athenäum, 1979, 1990, 1997); Peter Härtling (b. 1933), Nachgetragene Liebe (Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1980,1982), Paul Kersten (b. 1943), Der alltägliche Tod meines Vaters (Cologne: Kiepenhauer & Witsch, 1978); Christoph Meckel (b. 1935), Suchbild: Über meinen Vater (Dusseldorf: Claassen, 1980); Ernst Rauter, Brief an meine Erzieher (Munich: Weismann, 1979, 1980); Ruth Rehmann (b. 1922), Der Mann auf der Kanzel: Fragen an einen Vater (Munich: Hanser, 1979); The Man in the Pulpit (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1997); Brigitte Schwaiger (b. 1949), Lange Abwesenheit (Hamburg: Zsolnay, 1980; Rowohlt, 1982); Bernward Vesper (1938-1971), Die Reise (Frankfurt: Zweitausendeins, 1979); and Heinrich Wiesner (b. 1925), Der Riese am Tisch (Basel: Lenos, 1979).

This first round of literary publications was followed by a more explicit and analytical second round in the 1980s. It includes works such as: Dörte von Westernhagen (b. 1943), Die Kinder der Täter: Das Dritte Reich und die Generation danach (Munich: Kösel, 1987); Niklas Frank (b. 1939), Der Vater: Eine Abrechnung (Munich: Bertelsmann, 1987), and Gabriele von Arnim (b. 1943), Das grosse Schweigen (Munich: Kindler, 1989).

Other members of this first postwar generation, who had left Germany for the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, published their record of dealing with their parents' legacy somewhat later in the 1980s and into the 1990s. German-American writers Sabine Reichel (b.1946, What did you do in the War, Daddy?, 1989), Ursula Duba (b. 1939, Tales from a Child of the Enemy, 1995), and Ursula Hegi (b.1939, Tearing the Silence, 1997) are examples of émigrés of this generation who dealt with their parental cohort's past.

The attitudes of these 1968ers can be characterized as follows: they felt that they had somehow been victimized by the silence of their 1943er parents, and they were determined to teach about it themselves. They also identified strongly with the victims of Holocaust and showed great solidarity with oppressed peoples in the third world (for instance, during the Vietnam War, but also with the Palestinians once Israel had won the June 1967 Six-Day War). The left-wing terrorists of the Red Army Faction during the 1970s are the most extreme and notorious examples of this behaviour, but many showed more moderate, if still obsessive behaviours as well. TV talk show hostess Lea Rosh (b. 1937) would be another example. Rosh participated in the propagation of information about Nazism's crimes by narrating a nationally televised documentary series entitled 'Death is a Master from Germany.' In 1987 she started a private initiative to establish a national German memorial 'for the murdered Jews of Europe' in Berlin. Rosh had changed her name from Edith Rohs to express the Jewish identity she felt (one of her grandparents had been Jewish). Bernhard Schlink (b. 1944), author of the best-selling semi-autobiographical novel 'The Reader' (1995), is another example.

The next generation to emerge was what I will call the 1979ers. The name derives from the year of the first German broadcast of the TV miniseries 'Holocaust,' although, in contrast to the events defining the cohorts in the first half of the century, that 'event' was as much a result of a common attitude, as it was a cause. Rather, this second postwar generation, born between about 1954 and 1966, had only remotely mediated experience of the Nazi era. Its parents were mostly 1948ers, who had never confronted their 1933er parents about the Nazi past, and now basically kept silent about their childhood experiences. When the 1979er children began to ask questions of their aging 1933er grandparents, however, this older generation began to speak, more or less candidly, about the Nazi past. Yielding to their own desire to make sense of their own lives and pass them on to posterity before passing on themselves, they were much more willing to talk to the relatively naïve 1979ers in the late 1970s and early 1980s than they had been in earlier decades, especially in the confrontational climate created by the accusatorial 1968ers.

Mentored by 1948er professors and guided by 1968er schoolteachers (who had mellowed during what left-wing 1968er leader Rudi Dutschke [1940-1979] had called the 'long march through the institutions'), these 1979ers supplied the footsoldiers of the German version of the international history workshop movement, known as Alltagsgeschichte. Beginning in 1980 and in part prompted by the interest in the TV miniseries Holocaust, the presidential competition for the best high school history essay focused on life under Nazism.

Anna Rosmus (b. 1960), about whom Michael Verhoeven's film 'Nasty Girl' was made in 1989, is perhaps the best-known representative of this generation. While researching the history of anti-Nazi resistance in Passau for the history essay competition, she discovered many of the town's leading citizens had not been the anti-Nazis they claimed to have been. Although some 1933ers were willing to talk to her, others, once they realized she was finding out the real background to their stories, quickly reversed their openness. Rosmus was denied access to documents, defamed, sued and denounced. Ultimately, her study was published in 1984 with a preface by one of the justices of the West German supreme court. That same year she received the prestigious 'Scholl Siblings Prize' in memory of the Munich student resisters, and in 1987 Kurt Tucholsky's widow bequeathed a death mask of the famous author to her in recognition of her steadfastness. Rosmus went on to write several other historical books about Passau's Nazi past before leaving for Boston University to write a dissertation on the history of the Jews in Passau with Elie Wiesel. She continued to raise a great deal of local ire by unearthing the unsavory past activities of her fellow townsfolk. One doctor successfully sued her in a local court to remove information about him from her 1993 book about the treatment of pregnant slave laborers in the town-even though he could not disprove her allegations.

Michael Brenner (b. 1964), whose case study of Jewish life in the town of Weiden during the Nazi period won a first prize in the 1982-83 essay competition, went on to become an acclaimed historian. Brenner lectured at Brandeis University, and, when he accepted the University of Munich's brand new chair in Jewish History and Culture in 1997, became one of the youngest full professors in the country. His institute at the University of Munich has rapidly become a center for research and education about German-Jewish history. Brenner's success is just one example of the mushrooming German interest in learning about its eradicated Jewish culture. Whereas in the two decades prior to 1984 about 270 German studies of Jewish communities had been published, by 1990 about 1700 more had appeared-an eightfold increase in average annual output!

In the 1980s there were several vitriolic conflicts over what West German historian Norbert Frei (b. 1955), himself a 1979er, has called the 'politics of the past.' These included the discussion of the TV film epic Heimat (1984), which was produced as a response to the Holocaust miniseries; the controversy over US president Reagan's visit to the Bitburg cemetery with Chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1985; the so-called Historians' Debate of 1986ff; and the commemoration of Kristallnacht in November 1988, which included the resignation of the West German parliamentary president Jenninger. These controversial public events can be interpreted as a split between members of the 1948er cohort over whether they should ally backwards with their 1933er parents, or forwards with the younger 1968er generation.

During and since the 1990s, the 1948ers began to leave the political arena, with 1968ers to replace them. This is symbolized at the top level of politics with the election of Gerhard Schröder (b. 1944) to replace Helmut Kohl (b. 1930). At the same time, 1979ers are acceding to positions in the cultural elite. Another generation, which I will call the 1989ers, has begun their formative political years. Their attitudes towards the Nazi era will have been shaped by events of the 1990s, such as the German release of the film 'Schindler's List' in 1993, the nationally televised and widely discussed reception of Daniel Goldhagen's book Hitler's Willing Executioners in 1996, the creation of a national Holocaust remembrance day that same year, and the controversy surrounding the 1995 exhibition 'Crimes of the German Army,' which began in 1997. When we design Holocaust curricula in the year 2000, we should keep in mind that our audience has moved beyond simple victim identification, and wants and needs to learn about the perpetrators: How they came to be as they were and do what they did.

Notes (back to top)

  1. Karl Mannheim is the seminal theorist on this issue. See esp. his 1927 essay "The Sociological Problem of Generations," in Paul Kecskemeti (ed.), Karl Mannheim: Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge (London: Routledge, 1952, 1972), 276-320.
  2. For discussions of how age cohorts are shaped by pivotal experiences, see Hans Jaeger, "Generationen in der Geschichte: Überlegungen zu einer umstrittenen Konzeption," Geschichte und Gesellschaft 3(1977), 429ff.; Heinz Bude, "Die Erinnerung der Generationen," in: Helmut König, Michael Kohlstruck and Andreas Wöll (eds.), Vergangenheitsbewältigung am Ende des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts (Opladen: Westdeutscher, 1998), 69-85; Norbert Frei, "Farewell to the Era of Contemporaries: National Socialism and its Historical Examination en route into History," in: Gulie Ne'eman Arad (ed.), Passing into History: Nazism and the Holocaust beyond Memory: In Honor of Saul Friedlander on his Sixty-fifth Birthday (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997) (History & Memory 9:1/2[Fall 1997]), 59-79; Kristin Platt and Mihran Dabag, Generation und Gedachtnis: Erinnerungen und kollektive Identitäten (Opladen: Leske & Buderich, 1995).
    I am indebted to A. D. Moses for his incisive and insightful comments on the question of cohorts, esp. with regard to the group that I call the 48ers.
  3. Note that this does not follow Mannheim's distinction between "generation" and "cohort." For a discussion of Mannheim's thoughts on the two terms, see: Peter Loewenberg, "The Psychohistorical Origins of the Nazi Youth Cohort," AHR 76:5(Dec. 1971), 1457-1502, 1465. For an excellent discussion of the literature in general, see Helmut Fogt, Politische Generationen: Empirische Bedeutung und theoretisches Modell (Opladen: Westdeutscher, 1982), 6-25. (return to reference in main text)
  4. In 1934 Columbia University sociology professor Theodore Abel conducted an essay competition for "the best personal life history of an adherent of the Hitler movement." Close to 70% of the 683 Nazis who responded were born between 1895 and 1916. For an excellent analysis of this material, see Peter Merkl, Political Violence under the Swastika: 581 Early Nazis (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975).
  5. For a sophisticated five-country examination of the 1918er cohort, see Robert Wohl, The Generation of 1914 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1979). See pp. 239f for references to the literature.
  6. For a detailed discussion of seminal experiences of the cohort born between 1900 and 1915, see Loewenberg, "The Psychohistorical Origins of the Nazi Youth Cohort," passim. The experiences are diagramatically illustrated on p. 1462. See also Ulrich Herbert's discussion of this cohort, including an examination of contemporary 1930s literature that discerned the phenomenon, in his: Arbeit, Volkstum, Weltanschauung: Über Fremde und Deutsche im 20. Jahrhundert (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1995), 31-58, with bibliographic notes on p. 234. For the most detailed intellectual biography of a member of this cohort, see Herbert's Best: Biographishe Studien über Radikalismus, Weltanschauung und Vernunft, 1903-1989 (Bonn: Dietz, 1996). Johannes Steinhoff, Peter Bechel and Dennis Showalter (eds.), Voices from the third Reich: An Oral History (New York: Da Capo, 1994 [1989]) offers a collection of 157 interviews, the vast majority taken from people with birth years between 1909 and 1925.
  7. See Gesine Schwan, Politik und Schuld: Die zerstörerische Macht des Schweigens (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1997), 133, 147. Schwan uses the cutoff date 1925. As an example of the common use of the term, see Jürgen Habermas, "Der Zeigefinger: Die Deutschen und ihr Denkmal," Zeit 31 Mar. 1999. The term Tätergeneration, while accurate, contains a collective reproach that belies its coining by 1968ers. I prefer the term "careerist Nazis" because it characterizes the activity of this cohort more neutrally without branding everyone as criminally guilty.
  8. For concise biographical interviews with numerous 1943ers , see Henry Ries, Abschied meiner Generation (Berlin: Argon, 1992)(37 interviews range from birth years 1899 to 1924, with most between 1917 and 1924); also Karl Heinz Jahnke, Hitlers letztes Aufgebot: Deutsche Jugend im sechsten Kriegsjahr 1944/45 (Essen: Klartext, 1993); Ludwig Marcuse (ed.), War ich ein Nazi? Politik—Anfechtung des Gewissens (Munich: Rütten & Loening, 1968) (nine authors whose birth years range from 1903 to 1922). On women, see Trude Unruh, Trummerfrauen: Biografien einer betrogenen Generation (Essen: Klartext, 1987).
    For typical "victim's" perspectives: Siegfried Knappe (b. 1916) and Ted Brusaw, Soldat: Reflections of a German Soldier, 1936-1949 (New York, Orion, 1992); Heinz Edler, Die missbrauchte Generation: Erlebnisse, Erfahrungen, Erkenntnisse eines Unbekannten aus sechs Jahrzehnten (Frankfurt: R.G. Fischer, 1989); G.R. Karl Rammelt, Die Gescholtenen: Die Generation zwischen 1918 und 1933 (Leoni: Druffel, 1991); Anton Braunstätter, Die verratene Generation (Vienna: Lagerkreis REWDA, 1996).
  9. This is especially evident in the examples collected in Steinhoff, Bechel, Showalter, Voices.
  10. On Strauss see: Bernt Engelmann, Das neue Schwarzbuch: Franz Josef Strauss (Cologne: Kiepenhauer & Witsch, 1980). Strauss never contested Engelmann's portrayal. See also Joachim Schoeps, Die Spiegelaffäre des Franz Josef Strauss (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1983), 27-42.
    On Noelle-Neumann's Nazi-era career see: Christopher Shea, "Nazi Apologist or Distinguished Scholar?" Chronicle of Higher Education 8 Aug. 1997.
  11. See, for example, Hans Filbinger, Die geschmähte Generation (Munich: Universitas, 1987), esp. 167 for remarks on this cohort.
  12. See Ian Buruma, Wages of Guilt, 142ff; Dubiel, "Niemand ist frei von der Geschichte"; also the brief autobiographical sketch: Richard von Weiszäcker, "'Nobody Could Foresee the Horrors'" Newsweek (international ed.), 15 Mar. 1999.
  13. See also the biography of the concentration camp guard Anna Fest (b. 1920) in: Alison Owings, Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich (New Brunswick: Rutgers, 1993), 313-41. See also the case of Melita Maschmann (b. 1918), discussed below.
  14. For examples and discussions of this cohort, see Alfons Heck (b. 1928), The Burden of Hitler's Legacy (Frederick, CO: Renaissance House, 1988); Rolf Schörken, Jugend 1945: Politisches Denken und Lebensgeschichte (Opladen: Leske + Budrich, 1990; Frankfurt: Fischer, 1994); Gabriele Rosenthal and Claudia Gather, Die Hitlerjugend-Generation: Biographische Thematisierung als Vergangenheitsbewaltigung (Essen: Blaue Eule, 1986); Heinz Bude, Deutsche Karrieren: Lebenskonstruktionen sozialer Aufsteiger aus der Flakhelfer-Generation (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1987); Friedhelm Boll, "Hitler-Jugend und "skeptische Generation:" Sozialdemokratie und Jugend nach 1945," in Dieter Dowe (ed.), Partei und soziale Bewegung: Kritische Beiträge zur Entwicklung der SPD seit 1945 (Bonn: Dietz, 1993), 33-58.
  15. The phrase may actually have first been used by Günter Gaus.
  16. An excellent example of this ambivalence can be found in the 1997-98 revelation that 1933er historians Werner Conze (b. 1910) and Theodor Schieder (b. 1904) were heavily complicit in producing historical justification for Nazi policies. Their 1948er students during the 1950s, for example Hans-Ulrich Wehler (b. 1931), were chastized by even younger German historians for defending the 1933ers. A superb documentation of this discussion can be found at This includes the text of Michael Fahlbusch's presentation at the Sept. 1998 Frankfurt Historikertag, and Fahlbusch's review of Peter Schoettler (ed.), Geschichtsschreibung als Legitimationswissenschaft 1918-1945 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1997). See also Jürgen Kocka's commentary and Hans-Ulrich Wehler's interview in the Berlin Tagesspiegel, 8 Dec. 1998. For a fascinating series of interviews with German historians born in the 1930s, see:
  17. Oral history projects such as Lutz Niethammer's Lebensgeschichte und Sozialkultur im Ruhrgebiet, and scholarly works such as Von Stalingrad zur Währungsreform also found that 1948 was a more important subjective turning point than 1945. Memoirs such as those by Alfons Heck and Melita Maschmann emphasize the gradual reorientation after 1945
    The term forty-fiver is used by A. D. Moses, "The Forty-Fivers: A Generation between Fascism and Democracy,"German Politics and Society 17:1(Spring 1999), 94-126. Moses takes the term from Joachim Kaiser (b. 1928), "Phasenverschiebungen und Einschnitte in der kulturellen Entwicklung," in: Martin Broszat (ed.), Zäsuren nach 1945: Essays zur Periodisierung der deutschen Nachkriegsgeschichte (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1990), 69-74. Using the designation 1945ers would be equivalent to calling my 1918ers 1914ers (emphasizing the start of World War I, not its end), or my 1933ers 1929ers (using the dissolution of Weimar as the defining moment, not the start of Nazism). I am not completely consistent in that I bow to common usage and ease of pronunciation in calling the youngest cohort 1989ers instead of 1990ers.
  18. For a number of reflections on their schooling by members of the 48er and 43er cohorts who became leading public figures in the 1960s and 1970s, see Geert Platner and Students of the Gerhart-Hauptmann-Schule in Kassel (eds.), Schule im Dritten Reich: Erziehung zum Tod (Cologne: Pahl-Rügenstein, fourth augmented ed. 1988), 79-126. The contributors include Karl Carstens (b. 1914), Alfred Dregger, Helmut Kohl, Manfred Rommel (the general's son), Franz Josef Strauss (1915-1988), and Richard von Weiszäcker (b. 1920). Their generally neutral and distanced recollections stand in sharp contrast to the documentary evidence in the same collection.
  19. Typically, however, the 1948er cohort of historians did not confront their mentors directly. This is superbly documented in the 1999 interview project conducted by researchers at the Berlin Humboldt University: "Fragen, die nicht gestellt wurden! Oder gab es ein Schweigegelübde der zweiten Generation?" ("Second generation" refers to the 1948ers.) The interviews are archived at: See also Winfried Schulze and Otto Gerhard Oexle (eds.), Deutsche Historiker im Nationalsozialismus (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1999).
  20. Further examples of authors from this generation who were concerned with legacies of Nazism are: Hans Magnus Enzensberger (b. 1930), Rolf Hochhuth (b. 1931), and Walter Kempowski (b. 1929), Jakov Lind (b. 1927). Walter Jens (b. 1923), although slightly older, might be counted among this group.
    On Walser's 11 Oct. 1998 acceptance speech for the peace prize of German book dealers in St. Paul's Church in Frankfurt, see Frank Schirrmacher (ed.), Die Walser-Bubis-Debatte: Eine Dokumentation (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1999), and Joachim von Klotz et al, Geistige Brandstiftung? Die Walser-Bubis-Debatte (Cologne: Papyrossa, 1999).
  21. For examples from this cohort see: Heinz Bude, Das Altern einer Generation: Die Jahrgänge 1938-1948 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1995).
  22. Günther Anders, Wir Eichmannsohne: Offener Brief an Klaus Eichmann (Munich: Beck, 1964). Dörte von Westernhagen, for instance, uses the term.
  23. For a collection of biographical interviews, see Peter Sichrovsky, Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families (New York: Basic, 1988), Schuldig geboren: Kinder aus Nazifamilien (Cologne: Kiepenhauer und Witsch, 1987). See also Dan Bar-On (b. 1938), Legacy of Silence: Encounters with Children of the Third Reich (Cambridge: Harvard, 1989); Gerald Posener, Hitler's Children: Sons and Daughters of Leaders of the Third Reich Talk about Their Fathers and Themselves (New York: Random House, 1991).
  24. They were recognized in a review essay by Michael Schneider (b. 1943), "Väter und Söhne, posthum: Das beschädigte Verhältnis zweier Generationen," in idem, Den Kopf verkehrt aufgesetzt (Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1981), 8-64; translated as: "Fathers and Sons, Retrospectively: The Damaged Relationship between Two Generations," New German Critique 31(Winter 1984), 3-52.
  25. Translated as: In the Shadow of the Reich (New York: Knopf, 1991).
  26. For a relevant biographical sketch of another member who rose to prominence after 1998 in the debate about the Berlin national monument to the murdered Jews of Europe, see: Michael Jürgs, "Ein 68er am Weg zur Hölle: Michael Naumann, Kulturbeauftragter des Kanzlers: Früher schrieb er gegen das Vergessen—heute finanziert er das Erinnern," SZ 16 Oct. 1999.
  27. Sabine Reichel, What did you do in the War, Daddy? Growing up German (New York: Hill and Wang, 1989); Zwischen Trümmern und Träumen: Aufgewachsen im Schatten der Schuld (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1991); Ursula Duba, Tales from a Child of the Enemy (New York: Penguin, 1997 [Twin Soul, 1995]); Ursula Hegi, Tearing the Silence: On Being German in America (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1997).
  28. The series in talk show format is documented in Eberhard Jäckel and Lea Rosh, Der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland (Hamburg: Hoffmann & Campe, 1990).
  29. For a detailed discussion of Rosh's involvement in the project, see: Uta Andresen, "Allein unter Tätern," taz 12 Oct. 1999.
  30. Bernhard Schlink, Der Vorleser (Zurich: Diogenes, 1995), translated as The Reader by Carol Brown Janeway (New York: Random House, 1998).
  31. See the special report "20 Jahre Schülerwettbewerb," in: Spuren Suchen 7(1993), 48-62. This journal is published by the Körber Foundation in Hamburg-Bergedorf. See also Körber Foundation (ed.), Remembering the Holocaust: Some Experiences of the German President's History Competition for Young People (Hamburg: Körber, 1995), 58f. on the selection of themes and the impact of Holocaust. The late industrialist Kurt Körber co-founded the history competition with his close friend Federal President Heinemann in 1973.
    Entries to the 1980 competition were published in: Dieter Galinski and Ulla Lachauer (eds.), Alltag im Nationalsozialismus, 1933-1939 (Braunschweig, 1982), and D. Galinski, Ulrich Herbert, and U. Lachauer (eds.), Nazis und Nachbarn: Schüler erforschen den Alltag im Nationalsozialismus (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1982).
  32. For the film, see: Michael Verhoeven, Das schreckliche Mädchen (1989); The Nasty Girl (New York: HBO video, 1990). On Rosmus herself: See Hans-Dieter Schutt, Anna Rosmus, die "Hexe" von Passau (Berlin: Dietz, 1994); also Körber Foundation (ed.), Remembering, 37f.; Die Zeit 6 Aug. 1993, p. 36, and Emma (Sept./Oct. 1993), 24.
  33. The original publication was: Anja Rosmus-Wenninger, Widerstand und Verfolgung am Beispiel Passaus, 1933-1939 (Passau: Andreas Haller, 1983). See also Rosmus' later publications: Exodus--im Schatten der Gnade Aspekte zur Geschichte der Juden im Raum Passau (Tittling: Dorfmeister, 1988); Gedenkstatten fur die Opfer des Nationalsozialismus in der Region Passau (M.A. Thesis, Univ. of Passau, 1993).
  34. Anna Rosmus, Wintergrün: Verdrangte Morde (Constance: Labhard, 1993).
  35. Körber Foundation (ed.), Remembering, 31f.
  36. Sven Siedenberg, "Über die Opfer reden—aber nicht nur: Michael Brenner lehrt jüdische Geschichte und Kultur an der Münchner Universität," SZ 25 July 1997. Brenner's main publications are: Nach dem Holocaust: Juden in Deutschland 1945-1950 (Munich: Beck, 1995); The Renaissance of Jewish Culture in Weimar Germany (New Haven: Yale, 1996); Rebuilding Jewish Lives in Postwar Germany trans. Barbara Harshav (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).
  37. For the activities of Brenner's Institute of Jewish History and Culture, see its website:
  38. See Monica Richarz, "Luftaufnahme—oder die Schwierigkeiten der Heimatforscher mit der jüdischen Geschichte," Babylon no.8(1991), 27-33, 29. The 270 studies were reviewed by Ernst Lowenthal in the Leo Baeck Yearbook from 1966 to 1984; the Cologne "Germania Judaica" institute's collection of local publications about German-Jewish history cataloged about 2000 studies published between 1965 and 1990.
  39. See Anton Kaes, From Hitler to Heimat: The Return of History as Film (Cambridge: Harvard, 1989), 163-192, esp. 183ff. See also James Markham, "West German TV Specials Spark Debate on Reconciliation with Nazi Era," NYT 24 Apr. 1985, and Dagmar Stern, "A German History Lesson: Edgar Reitz's Heimat" Film and History 17:1(1987), 9ff.
  40. See Geoffrey Hartmann (ed.), Bitburg in Moral and Political Perspective (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1986), and Ilya Levkov (ed.) Bitburg and Beyond: Encounters in American, German and Jewish History (New York: Shapolsky, 1987). In German: Werner Bergmann, "Die Bitburg-Affärre in der deutschen Presse: Rechtskonservative und linksliberale Interpretationen," in Bergmann/Erb/Lichtblau (eds.) Schwieriges Erbe (Frankfurt: Campus, 1995), 408-28; also Bergmann, Antisemitismus in öffentlichen Konflikten (Frankfurt: Campus, 1998), 419-24.
  41. Even the English language literature on this debate is voluminous, See: Charles Maier, The Unmasterable Past: History, Holocaust, and German National Identity (Cambridge: Harvard, 1988). Richard Evans, In Hitler's Shadow: West German Historians and the Attempt to Escape from the Nazi Past (New York: Pantheon, 1989) offers a monographic interpretation; Peter Baldwin (ed.), Reworking the Past: Hitler, the Holocaust, and the Historians' Debate (Boston: Beacon, 1990) a collection of interpretative essays.
  42. See: Armin Laschet and Heinz Malangré (eds.), Philipp Jenninger: Rede und Reaktion (Koblenz: Rheinischer Merkur, 1989), and Lutz Niethammer, "Jenninger: Vorzeitiges Exposé zur Erforschung eines ungewöhnlich schnellen Rücktritts," Babylon 5(1989), 40-46.
  43. On the German reception of Schindler's List, see: Schneider, Fetisch Holocaust, 207-36; "Der Holocaust aus Hollywood?" Deutsches Allgemeines Sonntagsblatt 25 Mar. 1994, p. 3; Leopold Glaser, "Die Zumutung des Erinnerns: Zur deutschen Rezeption von 'Schindlers Liste'" Neue Gesellschaft/Frankfurter Hefte 41(May 1994), 400-2; Eike Geisel, "E.T. bei den Deutschen oder Nationalsozialismus mit menschlichem Antlitz," in: Initiative Sozialistisches Forum (ed.), Schindlerdeutsche: Ein Kinotraum vom Dritten Reich (Freiburg: Ca Ira, 1994), 107-33, cited in Geoff Eley and Atina Grossmann, "Watching Schindler's List: Not the Last Word," NGC 71(Spr.-Sum. 1997), 41-62.
    For examples of didactic materials based on the film, see: Herbert Schultze, Schindlers Liste: Materialien zum Film (Loccum: Religionspädagogisches Institut, 1994); Christine Hesse et al, Zum Film Schindlers Liste (Bonn: Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung, 1995); Wolf-Rüdiger Wagner and Matthias Günther, Schindlers Liste (Hannover: Landesmedienstelle, 1995).
  44. See: Julius Schoeps (ed.), Ein Volk von Mördern? Die Dokumentation zur Goldhagen-Kontroverse um die Rolle der Deutschen im Holocaust (Hamburg: Hoffmann & Campe, 1996). Some of these reviews are published in translation in: Robert Shandley (ed.), Unwilling Germans?: The Goldhagen Debate (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1998). A scholarly discussion of the reviews on H-German is archived at:
    On the German debate, see: On the reception in Germany, see: Josef Joffe, "Goldhagen in Germany, New York Review of Books 43:19(28 Nov. 1996), 18-21; Amos Elon, "The Antagonist as Liberator," New York Times Magazine (26 Jan. 1997), 40-44; Michael Schneider, "Die "Goldhagen-Debatte': Ein Historikerstreit in der Mediengesellschaft," AfS 37(1997); Schneider, Fetisch Holocaust, 19-98; Angelika Königseder, "Streitkulturen und Gefühlslagen: Die Goldhagen-Debatte und der Streit um die Wehrmachtsausstellung," in Heil and Erb (eds.), Geschichtswissenschaft und Öffentlichkeit, 295-311, 308.
  45. This decision emerged from the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in 1995. See: Michael Naumann (b. 1949), Der Krieg als Text: Das Jahr 1945 im kulturellen Gedächtnis der Presse (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 1998).
  46. The exhibition was shown in March 1995 in Hamburg, then Berlin, Potsdam, Stuttgart, and Vienna; see Karl-Heinz Janßen, "Als Soldaten Mörder wurden," Zeit, 24 Mar. 1995, 13f. It is accompanied by a catalog: Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung (ed.), Vernichtungskrieg: Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941 bis 1944 (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 1996), 222 pp; translated by Scott Abbott with a foreword by Omer Bartov as: Hannes Heer, The German Army and Genocide: Crimes against War Prisoners, Jews, and other Civilians in the East, 1939-1944 (Providence: Berghahn, 2000).
    See also the volume of essays: Hannes Heer and Klaus Naumann (eds.), Vernichtungskrieg: Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941 bis 1944 (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 1995), 685 pp. An additional volume of essays about the reception of the exhibition is scheduled for publication in 1999.
    The Hamburg Institute maintains a large web page about the exhibtion: The Shoah Foundation in Munich also maintains a web page with links to current exhibition sites:
    On the reception of the exhibition, see: Klaus Naumann, "Die 'saubere' Wehrmacht: Gesellschaftsgeschichte einer Legende," Mittelweg 36 7:4(1998), 8-18; On the reception, see: Hans-Günther Thiele (ed.), Die Wehrmachtsausstellung: Dokumentation einer Kontroverse: Dokumentation der Fachtagung in Bremen am 26. Februar 1997 und der Bundestagsdebatten am 13. März und 24. April 1997 (Bremen: Temmen, 1997; Bonn: Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung, 1997); Hannes Heer, "Von der Schwierigkeit, einen Krieg zu beenden: Reaktionen auf die Ausstellung 'Vernichtungskrieg: Verbrechen der Wehrmacht, 1941 bis 1944,'" Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft 45(1997), 1086-1100; Hans Arnold, "Das Ende einer Legende: Anmerkungen zur Wehrmachtsausstellung," Neue Gesellschaft/Frankfurter Hefte 44(May 1997), 399-403; Omer Bartov, "German Soldiers and the Holocaust," in Arad (ed.), Passing into History, 162-188; Reinhard Kannonier/Brigitte Kepplinger, "Irritationen:" Wehrmachtsausstellung in Linz (Grünbach: Franz Steinmaßl, 1997); Heribert Prantl (ed.) "Wehrmachtsverbrechen:" Eine deutsche Kontroverse (Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1997); Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung (ed.), Besucher einer Ausstellung: Die Ausstellung "Vernichtungskrieg: Verbrechen der Wehrmacht 1941 bis 1944" in Interview und Gespräch (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 1998).

uploaded Spring 2000, formatting updated 3/17/05, footnotes added 6/3/05
back to top, to Presentations page, to H. Marcuse homepage