WW2 Remembrance

“I do not believe in collective guilt. The children of the killers are not killers. We  must never blame them for what the elders did, but we can hold them responsible for what they do with the memory of their elders crime.”

Auschwitz survivor Sabina Wolanski in her inauguration speech for the Berlin Memorial

When I was young it never struck me as being unusual to have a photograph of a German General sitting on my mother’s writing desk. It was only much later that I began to realize the impact being half-German had had on me and how much I had been affected by my mother’s childhood stories of growing up in Nazi Germany, fleeing from the Soviet army and losing everything that meant “home”.

Researching my family’s story has been an exciting, terrifying and emotional journey. I have developed a fascination of the impact the war had on German women and children whose own traumas were deemed irrelevant in the face of the traumas Germany had inflicted on others. And equally how, unchecked, this trauma can get passed on through the generations as now verified by new findings in psychology and science. I have tried to imagine what it was like for my grandfather, a decorated Wehrmacht General who fought in the bitter campaign on the Eastern Front and was later taken prisoner – What did he think as he marched into Russia in 1941, what did he know of the atrocities, how did he feel when the war was lost and his activities as a soldier were associated with guilt and shame?

As an artist I find it interesting that my own personal journey of coming to terms with my family’s past largely mirrors Germany’s national and collective one. The post-war years were initially shrouded in silence until the artists of the 1980s began to confront the past and start a culture of apology for it. German WW2 Remembrance thus differs massively from Britain’s in form, aim and outcome.

What I once experienced as a hindrance and a burden I now treasure as a gift. Being Anglo-German has enabled me to look at and experience World War 2 and its aftermath from the sides of both the winners and the losers. There are never any real winners to wars, just destruction, loss, death and victims. The message of Germany’s memorial culture is consistent with their politics. Everything is designed to ensure that “it must never happen again”. Maybe that is the gift of being the losers.

MY TALK - The other side: The Second World War through the eyes of an ordinary German family
MY TALK - The other side: Counter memorials – Germany’s post-WW2 culture of apology and atonement
Read my monthly blogs - relating to Criminal Justice, Germany’s and Britain’s differing cultures of World War 2 Remembrance, and art as a tool for change