German Guilt, and Why It’s a Good Thing

I try not to get preachy or philosophical on this blog (I have another blog for that). But I feel compelled on this subject, and it also came about because of a film I saw at the film festival.

Finsterworld. A German film about a group of random and loosely connected Germans, each doing their own thing one day. But actually about the guilt Germans feel about World War II.

I’m not going to pretend I can imagine what it feels like to belong to the nation that perpetrated the event that many people label as the most evil event in all of human history. Let’s put aside the numbers of deaths in Russian concentration camps or the invention of the atomic bomb and just go with the popular belief that Hitler was the most evil man to ever live.

There is a conversation in the film about how there is nothing desirable or unifying from Germany. Sure, they have great cars and other engineering accomplishments. But they’ve never produced anything that the whole world recognizes or deems worthy of attention (Mickey Mouse was the example given in the film). Except Hitler.

Some facts were thrown out, such as that Germans spend more on traveling than any other nation (and I guarantee if you are anywhere tourist worthy, you will probably hear German at one point. I think this fact may actually be true). The characters said this is because they don’t want to stay in their ugly country.

And the characters postulated that the German flag is so hideous as a punishment, as a reminder that trying to achieve something perfect or free from blemish is not necessarily a good thing.

From the perspective of the film, I’d say that the German football team is about the only thing most Germans can agree to be proud of out of their country. Interestingly, I fell in love with the German football team when I lived there because they played so passionately, but not perfectly (like the Spanish robots, at least at the time).

What I’ve noticed in my interaction with Germans, which has been quite a bit, is that they are some of the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever met. They work hard. They figure out how to make something work from nothing. That’s why they have such a good economy right now when much of Europe is struggling. That’s why they can make vehicles that can crash at 200 kmph but the driver remains uninjured. They’re careful. They think about what they are doing and saying.

In fact, regardless of what they personally believe, I have observed Germans to be one of the most Christian-acting cultures I’m aware of. I’m talking about ground roots Christian: love, acceptance, forgiveness.

When I lived in Germany, I had no problem walking home at 3 a.m. or talking to strangers on the train or going anywhere alone. I never felt unsafe there. I felt safer there than I did in small-town Idaho where I went to university, or in my highly Christian home city, and WAY more safe there than I feel here in Scotland.


You cannot spend more than a day in any major German city without seeing a reminder. A memorial to the Jews and others who died in concentration camps. A museum on Jewish culture. Plaques on buildings that say “This person lived here and died in Dachau in 1942” or “Nazis burned books in this square.” Buildings that are beautifully ornate next door to a cold, concrete building that had to be quickly re-erected after it had been bombed.

Germans remember.

They don’t want to let themselves become extreme again. They want to do their best and quietly go about their work. They want to smile and help their neighbor. They are watching out for each other, and the community as a whole, rather than mowing down everyone in their own interest.

This is a nation that understands violence. They’ve seen how wretched a person or nation can become because they embrace violence as a means to get what they want.

I’d like to see what would happen if other nations stopped riding on the spoils of past victories and looked around to see the heartache and horror they’ve caused on the path to that victory. Is it still a victory after that? In our forward and progressive society, do we still believe that then ends justifies the means? Has anyone learned anything?

I believe that Germany has. It’s absolutely tragic that they feel this guilt. But guilt is a great motivator. It tells you: no, you will never let that happen again.

Humility, and guilt without shame, that’s what changes history. Not pride, or gloating, or even victory.

I wish more of us were able to recognize our wayward paths and be willing to spend whatever it takes to rectify it. And of course, there are wounds that nothing will compensate for. But trying counts for something, I think.

This is just my observation. I could be completely wrong. I could be offending everyone on the planet right now. That’s fine.

A lot of people are unsettled about governments, economy, disasters all over the world right now. You can see it anywhere. Every bad thing is getting worse. There are some people who say the Holocaust is the worst thing that’s ever happened, that it was so significantly evil it could never be matched. I personally doubt they’ll be saying that within the next few decades. But every small triumph of good over evil is worth counting.

Anyway, it was the best made film I’ve seen at the festival so far, and I think it changed my perspective on life for good.



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