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Anisfeld, L.S. (1999). The Collective Silence: German Identity and the Legacy of Shame Edited by Barbara Heimannsberg and Christoph J. Schmidt: Translated by Cynthia Oudejans Harris and Gordon Wheeler. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass / Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, 1992, 254 pp., $36.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(1):282-284.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(1):282-284

The Collective Silence: German Identity and the Legacy of Shame Edited by Barbara Heimannsberg and Christoph J. Schmidt: Translated by Cynthia Oudejans Harris and Gordon Wheeler. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass / Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, 1992, 254 pp., $36.00.

Review by:
Leon S. Anisfeld

It is not possible to declare oneself innocent of a crime on the basis of not having participated directly in its execution. For example, a person who sits downstairs while her lover is being murdered upstairs may be charged with being an accomplice even though she was not physically involved in the crime; it would suffice that she knew of the plot to kill the victim and did nothing to inform anyone of what was about to happen. Similarly, the mother of a young girl might be considered as guilty of her daughter's trauma as the father who sexually molests her—perhaps even more guilty—if that mother does nothing to stop the abuse.

An analogous logic may be used to explain the attribution of guilt to all—Germans and non-Germans alike—accused of being Nazis, though they never killed anyone and though their membership in the party never went farther than their being onlookers at Nazi attacks on others, or being admirers of the party's strength, or advocating its political philosophy. These people were not directly involved in implementing the Nazis' attacks on their victims between 1933 and 1945. The guilt of many such people is not based on what they themselves did to injure or endanger others. Nor did they break the laws or ordinances of the German State. Rather, their inhumanity lay in the disappointment of a reasonable community expectation that they act as an individual or group of last resort, without whose intervention the victims would be killed.

A continuing collective silence about the Nazi era has led to a pervasive sense of guilt among the German people—a sense apparent not only in those who were themselves Nazi persecutors but in their sons and daughters. Not only the victims and their children but this second generation of Germans have borne the moral, ethical, and physical consequences of the persecutors' behavior, and they are outraged and deeply ashamed.

The essays collected in this volume were aptly chosen by the editors, Barbara Heimannsberg and Christoph J.

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