Is Reconciliation Posssible?

     �Is reconciliation possible?� was a question Dorit B. Whiteman asked former German and Austrian Jews who escaped from those Nazi occupied countries before the Final Solution.  Since World War II, has there been any amelioration of the resentment and revulsion they had uniformly felt against Austria and Germany?  Did the years lessen the anger towards the perpetrators and the nations that produced and shielded them?  If so, what precipitated these changes?  Was it simply the passing of time itself or were there special circumstances and events which facilitated a softening of spirit? 

     Dr. Whiteman submitted a questionnaire to 45 former refugees.  Among many others, questions covered the escapees� feelings towards Germany and Austria and whether in spite of their aversion, they had maintained some identification with the country of their birth.  Did they visit the places of their youth and if so, what emotions did these occasions produce?  Had the traumatic events under the Nazis caused the former refugees to lose trust in people and hope for mankind?  Had it made them cynical and adverse to making new friends?  Were their religious convictions altered by the Nazi experience?  Did they ever overcome the losses of family and friends and had they ever stopped grieving?

     The findings, briefly summarized here, indicate that the former refugees are a thoughtful and fair lot.  They clearly differentiate between generations.  They do not hate �Germans� or �Austrians,� but only those who were perpetrators or their followers.   They might feel that children have been tainted by their parents beliefs, but most escapees are comfortable with the perpetrators� grandchildren.  

     Escapees' visits to their own former homes are filled with much nostalgia, but total comfort in their former countries is harder to obtain.  Too many reminders of the dark days tend to interfere.   Yet  the pull of the culture of their youth is amazingly ingrained even for those who left when very young.  Many never broke entirely with their cultural roots � love for the scenery, the food, the music remained a part of their fond memories.  A typical answer: �I am identified with the country I live in, but culturally I am still identified with my Austrian background.�  Or: �I hated the people while longing for the forests and mountains, flowers, ski slopes, for the happy childhood.�

     In many ways, the escapees overcame their former trauma.  They do not feel uniformly depressed, anxious, or isolated.  As one escapee notes: �I never reached the social and financial standing I would have had [had I not been a refugee], but I feel satisfied with the goals I reached.  I had many compensations.�  While remaining somewhat cynical, they were able to restore their trust in people because of those who extended help during their long ordeal, now past.  In contrast, their outlook on the international scene is grimmer and far less optimistic, but that is probably true these days for non-refugees also.

     Probably, their most shared perspective is in regard to the young non-Jewish Austrians and Germans (members of the Gedenkdienst) who have dedicated themselves to making amends for the older generation�s misdeeds.  These young men and women serve in various Holocaust Institutions such as the Anna Frank house.  They research and publish the contributions the Jews made to Austrian and German culture and they try to acquaint the present German and Austrian population of their countries� dark history. 

     While the escapees will never be free of sorrows dating back to the Nazi period, they have a positive outlook on life and an amazing openness to shifts in attitudes.  The answer to �Is reconciliation possible?� on the whole is a qualified �yes.�

     The above is a summary of an longer article.  If you want a copy of the full article, click here to request it from Dorit Whiteman.

      If you are an escapee and want to share your views with Dorit Whiteman, click here to write to her.