By Karin Brennan
My mother was born in Germany in 1931. Her childhood was dictated, literally, by the rise of Hitler and the Nazi regime. Hitler’s Youth organization, which had 50,000 members at the beginning of 1933, had over 2 million members (children) by the end of that year. In 1936, the Nazis systematically shut down or banned all other youth groups, including the Boy Scouts.
Instead, all children had to join the Hitler Youth. Anyone who refused to join was punished, so by 1939, more than 90 percent of German children were members. My mother was 8 at this point, and an official member of the Hitler Youth. Her memory of this time was spotty … she recalls having to take physical fitness tests in the cold lakes of Bavaria, and some marching.
She remembers friends suddenly disappearing from her school and no one would ever say why. She was 13 when her city was bombed, near the end of the war. The city was Munich, and in very close proximity to the city was the longest running concentration camp, Dachau, which operated from 1933 to 1945.
For decades, Germans who lived during that era were stained by the horrors of the Hitler regime, regardless of whether they were willing participants or, as in the case of my mother, a vulnerable child. Heinous acts were done in the name of the German people, so in the world’s eye, a whole people were guilty of silent complacency at the least.
Growing up, I saw firsthand the effect of “generational guilt” on my grandparents and others who were adults at the time. It was a source of sadness, depression, and paranoia, the latter exhibited by a deep distrust of “legitimate” authority and many information sources. So many of them couldn’t answer the questions of “where they were” and “what they did” as their country’s government was arguably descending into a moral hell, taking them with it.
Up to recently, it was difficult to identify with a whole people allowing such a travesty to occur on their watch. Keep in mind that there was no TV, no internet, and virtually no free press. Citizens were fed government propaganda, delivered over the radio, in print, via speeches, and for children, via the Hitler Youth.
But now, America is in danger of learning firsthand what Generational Guilt may someday feel like. This, in the time of 24/7, unfettered access to information and news, and with the advantage of history as a cautionary tale.
Right now, we are all watching our country fester from an internal necrosis of corruption, with intentional attacks on our constitutional norms, laws, and our free press. In plain sight, we are seeing attacks on minorities, immigrants, our environment, our national identity and our standing as a beacon of freedom and safety in an increasingly turbulent world.
There is no excuse that we “couldn’t have known” or we’re trying to survive in a wartime environment. We are in a fight for the soul of our country and patriots are needed to stop the insidious progress of the Trump regime.
In my opinion, it’s not enough to rely on the courts and midterm elections to right the ship. Hitler was able to use the Hitler Youth to infiltrate families with its propaganda, undermining the parents as legitimate role models. Given the “fake news” mantra and public figures stating that “truth is not truth” and other rhetoric designed to confuse the average person, serious conversations need to occur in the home about these concepts.
It’s encouraging to see the “school shooting generation” already changing the dialog across the nation. That’s great, but what about the adults? Will a whole generation again be explaining to their children and grandchildren “where they were” and “what they did” to stop the Trump regime before his destructive agenda causes irreversible harm?
For our sake, I sincerely hope not.
The author is a U.S. Army Cold War veteran who served three years as a German linguist (Army Security Agency) behind the Wall in West Berlin. She has an MBA in Marketing and is retired after a 27-year career at IBM as a Senior Marketing Manager. She’s married and lives in Carlsbad, CA.