for Germans, the end of a kind of self-censorship

In an article frustratingly inadequate for the subject, at least on account of its brevity (although it takes 64 inches of NYTimes typespace, including two excellent historical photographs), Richard Bernstein reports on a new German phenomenon.

After sixty years of virtual neglect in Germany, the story of what its civilians suffered at the hands of the Allies during World War II has now become a common subject of discussion at all levels of society, inspiring serious treatment in literature, theatre, film and television.

Ms. John, who witnessed the nighttime firebombing of Dresden by the Royal Air Force on Feb. 13, 1945 — an attack that killed about 35,000 people and destroyed one of the most beautiful cities in Europe — was doing what many Germans have been doing lately: talking about their own suffering in World War II.

For the last few months in fact, television has been showing endless documentaries and discussions of the air war waged by Britain and the United States against Germany in World War II. While this is not exactly a new subject in Germany, there are at least two ways in which the discussion is different from the past.

First, the emphasis in today's articles and discussions is on what Jörg Friedrich, author of a best-selling book on the Allied bombing campaign, calls "Leideform," the form of suffering inflicted on the German civilian population.

In other words, a taboo, by which Germans have remained guiltily silent, at least in public, about their experience of the horrors of war, has been suddenly and rather mysteriously broken.

Second, the new awareness of the Allied bombings and the devastation they wrought has become an important element in German opposition to the expected American war on Iraq. What people like Ms. Lang and Ms. John, both antiwar activists in Dresden, have been saying is something like this: We have direct knowledge of the gruesome effects of war and we don't want anybody else to experience what we have experienced.

For an account of the literary side of this development, see, "War and Remembrance." a review by Hugh Eakin in the current The Nation of two new books dealing with the questions of guilt and "guilt about having too much guilt." Unfortunately the essay is only available in the print edition.

About this Entry

Published on March 15, 2003 3:05 PM.

previous entry: calling a plague a plague

next entry: Bush gone off the deep end