Historian Moritz Pfeiffer asked his grandfather about the Nazi era and was struck by the former soldier’s lack of empathy for the victims of the Third Reich. His book has aroused the interest of aging Germans mystified by what made their parents follow Hitler. It’s a question that leaves younger generations cold.
German historian Moritz Pfeiffer broke new ground this year with a book analyzing why his grandparents supported the Nazi regime, based on an interview with his grandfather and systematic fact-checking of his statements.
His approach was unprecedented. The roles played by parents and grandparents during the Nazi era have been a taboo subject in many German families.
In the book, “My Grandfather in the War 1939-1945,” published in March, Pfeiffer said his grandparents had suffered the same “moral insanity” that gripped many Germans of their generation — an emotional coldness, a lack of self-criticism and a “strong deficit of moral judgment.”
He said he hoped others of his generation would follow suit and start questioning relatives of that generation before the Third Reich passes out of living memory.
Judging by the reaction to his book in recent months, that call has fallen on deaf ears as far as younger Germans are concerned. But it has struck a chord with older people born during or shortly after the war, many of whom feel that they were left in the dark about what their parents did and thought, Pfeiffer told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Of the hundreds of people who have attended his book readings this year, the majority has been aged 50 to 70.
“At each of my readings, people from that generation said they weren’t told anything by their parents,” said Pfeiffer, a historian at a museum on the SS at Wewelsburg Castle. “Family life was marked by silence, evasion and suppression relating to the experiences during the 1933-1945 period. In addition, people told me they regretted not having learned much about it in school either.”