Germans said to increasingly view themselves as victims of WWII

Most now regard Allied victory as liberation from the Nazis, and only 9% as a defeat for Germany

Nazi book-burning incident during the 1930s. (screen capture: YouTube/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)
Nazi book-burning incident during the 1930s. (screen capture: YouTube/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Germany’s perception of World War II is rapidly changing, as cultural attitudes and literature are beginning to paint Germans as victims of a cruel Nazi regime rather than accomplices to it.

Following an increased focus on WWII’s alleged Allied atrocities, the deaths of an estimated 7-9 million German people, and the displacement of an additional 14 million, statistics have shown that Germans’ perceptions of the Nazi era have changed, according to a Thursday report by the London Times.

A recent survey conducted by the Forsa Institute, a German polling and market research firm, found that the majority perceived the Allies’ victory as a liberation for Germany from the Nazi regime, with only 9 percent of Germans viewing World War II as a defeat — dramatically down from 34% in 2005.

Florian Huber, the author of Child, Promise Me You Will Shoot Yourself, a literary examination of the mass suicide phenomenon that plagued Germany in the aftermath of the war, claimed history has paid little attention to the suffering of ordinary Germans during and after the Nazi regime.

“There were literally tens of thousands of cases of suicide. Many people have told me they felt relief that someone had opened up Pandora’s box. It has been forgotten for 70 years. All this time, we have been talking about history focused on Nazi killers and concentration camp victims.

“I am writing about ordinary German people who threw themselves in rivers or hanged themselves… it has been taboo for a long time,” Huber told The Times.

Huber, however, added that the notion of a German victimization is still highly contentious, as the dichotomous narrative of the war still reigns supreme throughout the western world: “German journalists are interested in my book, but they keep asking me whether I am doing something to make Germans out as victims, which is not allowed, it seems. We have to think of ourselves as the bad guys, and it is still a controversial thing to suggest otherwise.”

“Germans have had an understandable problem addressing their own victims in the light of the atrocities committed by the Nazis,” German author and historian Miriam Gebhart told the newspaper.

One of Gebhart’s books, When the Soldiers Came, details the rape of German women by the Allies, a subject she said has largely been ignored.

The British report follows a separate survey conducted last month that indicates four out of ten Germans feel their country has done enough to atone for its Nazi past. According to German-language Stern magazine, Bloomberg News reported, 42% of Germans felt their country has made amends with its past, with 42% of west Germans and 41% of east Germans expressing their desire to move on from atrocities committed by the Nazis — down from a respective 48% and 39% from the same survey in 2000.

That poll also found that most Germans do not wish their country to take on a more leading role in the global arena, with only 16% saying Germany should play a more active role.

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