The Question of German Guilt

The Question of German Guilt

series editor John D. Caputo
Copyright Date: 1965
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 117
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  • Book Info
    The Question of German Guilt
    Book Description:

    Shortly after the Nazi government fell, a philosophy professor at Heidelberg University lectured on a subject that burned the consciousness and conscience of thinking Germans. Are the German people guilty?These lectures by Karl Jaspers, an outstanding European philosopher, attracted wide attention among German intellectuals and students; they seemed to offer a path to sanity and morality in a disordered world. Jaspers, a life-long liberal, attempted in this book to discuss rationally a problem that had thus far evoked only heat and fury. Neither an evasive apology nor a wholesome condemnation, his book distinguished between types of guilt and degrees of responsibility. He listed four categories of guilt: criminal guilt (the commitment of overt acts), political guilt (the degree of political acquiescence in the Nazi regime), moral guilt (a matter of private judgment among one's friends), and metaphysical guilt (a universally shared responsibility of those who chose to remain alive rather than die in protest against Nazi atrocities). Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) took his degree in medicine but soon became interested in psychiatry. He is the author of a standard work of psychopathology, as well as special studies on Strindberg, Van Gogh and Nietsche. After World War I he became Professor of Philosophy at Heidelberg, where he achieved fame as a brilliant teacher and an early exponent of existentialism. He was among the first to acquaint German readers with the works of Kierkegaard. Jaspers had to resign from his post in 1935. From the total isolation into which the Hitler regime forced him, Jaspers returned in 1945 to a position of central intellectual leadership of the younger liberal elements of Germany. In his first lecture in 1945, he forcefully reminded his audience of the fate of the German Jews. Jaspers's unblemished record as an anti-Nazi, as well as his sentient mind, have made him a rallying point center for those of his compatriots who wish to reconstruct a free and democratic Germany.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6056-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction to the 2000 Edition
    (pp. vii-xxiv)
    W. Joseph and S.J. Koterski

    More than half a century has gone by since the fall of the Nazi government, but neither the simple passage of time nor the crossing of a threshold as symbolic as the new millennium has yet extinguished the question of responsibility for the carnage of the Second World War.¹ Certain Swiss banks are only now disclosing the records of looted gold, and we still hear of attempts to extradite and prosecute some war criminals. In all likelihood, even when the last of those then alive have passed away, the echoes of the tragedy will linger, in much the way that...

  4. “Ladies and Gentlemen”:
    (pp. 1-20)

    Those of you who sat in these rooms as students in recent years are now thinking, perhaps, Everything suddenly sounds altogether different; the cast has changed; the course of political events presents the figures—now these, now those—as puppets; as organs of power they recite their little verses; whichever way they talk, none can be trusted, for professors do not bite the hand that feeds them, either.

    I can understand this distrust in all young people awakened to full consciousness during the past twelve years, in this environment. But I beg you in the course of your studies to...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. 21-24)

    Almost the entire world indicts Germany and the Germans. Our guilt is discussed in terms of outrage, horror, hatred and scorn. Punishment and retribution are desired, not by the victors alone but also by some of the German emigres and even by citizens of neutral countries. In Germany there are some who admit guilt, including their own, and many who hold themselves guiltless but pronounce others guilty.

    The temptation to evade this question is obvious; we live in distress—large parts of our population are in so great, such acute distress that they seem to have become insensitive to such...

  6. Scheme of Distinctions
    (pp. 25-40)

    We must distinguish between:

    (1)Criminal guilt:Crimes are acts capable of objective proof and violate unequivocal laws. Jurisdiction rests with the court, which in formal proceedings can be relied upon to find the facts and apply the law.

    (2)Political guilt:This, involving the deeds of statesmen and of the citizenry of a state, results in my having to bear the consequences of the deeds of the state whose power governs me and under whose order I live. Everybody is coresponsible for the way he is governed. Jurisdiction rests with the power and the will of the victor, in...

  7. The German Questions
    (pp. 41-44)

    The guilt question received its universal impact from the charges brought against us Germans by the victors and the world. In the summer of 1945, when in all towns and villages the posters hung with the pictures and stories from Belsen and the crucial statement, “You are the guilty! ” consciences grew uneasy, horror gripped many who had indeed not known this, and something rebelled: who indicts me there? No signature, no authority—the poster came as though from empty space, It is only human that the accused, whether justly or unjustly charged, tries to defend himself.

    The guilt question...

  8. Differentiation of German Guilt
    (pp. 45-75)

    Unlike the case in World War I when we Germans did not need to admit specific crimes committed by one side only (a fact eventually recognized by scientific historic research even on the part of Germany’s enemies), today the crimes committed by the Nazi government—in Germany before the war, everywhere during the war—are evident.

    Unlike the case in World War I when the war-guilt question was not decided against one side by the historians of all nations, this war was begun by Hitler Germany.

    Unlike World War I, finally, this war really became a world war. It struck...

  9. Possible Excuses
    (pp. 76-95)

    Both we ourselves and those who wish us well are ready with ideas to alleviate our guilt. There can be no question of nullifying such guilt as we, distinguishing and reassembling, have developed here; but there are points of view which, by suggesting a more lenient judgment, simultaneously sharpen and characterize the type of guilt referred to at each time.

    Germany under the Nazi régime was a prison. The guilt of getting into it is political guilt. Once the gates were shut, however, a prison break from within was no longer possible. Any discussion of what responsibility and guilt of...

  10. Our Purification
    (pp. 96-117)

    The self-analysis of a people in historical reflection and the personal self-analysis of the individual are two different things. But the first can happen only by way of the second. What individuals accomplish jointly in communication may, if true, become the spreading consciousness of many and then is called national consciousness.

    Again we must reject collective thinking, as fictitious thinking. Any real metamorphosis occurs through individuals—in the individual, in many individuals independent of or mutually inspiring one another.

    We Germans, no matter how differently or even contrastingly, all ponder our guilt or guiltlessness. All of us do, National-Socialists and...