Every German knows about the Holocaust. They have grown up with it and have been told about it in schools. Many have also been asked, as adolescents, how they intend to deal with their own guilt. "What guilt?" you may ask. We are talking children of the 1960s here. What did they have to do with the war?
Perhaps the problem concerns what has not been discussed. It seems to me, from my (admittedly only personal) experience, that what has not really been talked about in German families is what grandfathers and great-grandfathers did, or what exactly happened. Perhaps there is still a taboo here. Or perhaps, old people, like the man below, think that most people are not really interested in what they have to say.
This is a shame. A psychologist acquaintance once told me that he had quite a few patients who had been children or young adults during WW2. It seems that, at a certain age, memories of the distant past return of their own accord. This means that through taste, sound or smell, memories bring the past into the present: the air-raid shelters, the bombing raids, the fear of adults, the dead, the wounded, the hanged, the suicides, the bombed houses, images of flight, images of the Russians, feelings of hunger and the taste of chocolate.
There is a wonderful source of information and inspiration for writers and film-makers here. Unfortunately, reticence on the part of the old creates a "zone of silence." And this silence conceals not only deeds and responsibilities but also the suffering of the victims and the role of the spectators - who did nothing. This silence is often passed on to the next generation. For example, soon after I arrived in Germany, I asked a friend why German soldiers taken prisoner by the Russians were not returned home until 1954. He just shrugged his shoulders. Maybe, he just did not know. But did he care? He did not appear to.
Perhaps what I was witnessing is this. Research has shown that trauma can be hereditary. This means that what is not dealt with can be passed on to the next generation... and the next... And it can reach out beyond the individual, beyond the family and into society at large. Maybe this is what I saw. I didn't like it. The problem with silence is that it can be interpreted in many different ways.