March 2016: Pending updates!

In January and April 2009 I undertook the German into English translation of academic papers on the subject of “civic (or citizenship) education”: on dealing with the perpetrators of war crimes and on how to set up appropriate public memorials to these crimes. The following extracts represent the first couple of paragraphs from three of these papers.

Teaching and learning about perpetrators in schools

To start with, some background information on teaching about National Socialism:

Generally, history is taught in Germany in 2 two weekly lessons at secondary level I (approximately grade 5-10) , although often not every full school year but in alternation (or even integrated) with geography and sociology. During the essentially chronologically applied progression through history, National Socialism is dealt with in grade 8, 9 or 10. In most German federal states, topically based curricula are prevalent at secondary level II ([non-vocational] secondary school education), providing options between various topical areas and subject combinations. The topical areas of National Socialism, fascism, totalitarianism are offered during history and sociology courses. The present statement refers primarily to teaching – which follows relatively uniform structures – at secondary level I (compulsory school) without differentiation according to school variants (vocational, technical or non-vocational).

Findings of the educational media analysis

Perpetrator profiles are still rarely to be found in German history and sociology text books that deal with the National Socialism period. However, there are clear statements and detailed, often source-based accounts concerning the mass crimes. Individual perpetrators or groups of perpetrators are named; the question of responsibility and shared responsibility, along with the role of accessories and accomplices to the crimes, is also addressed.

Brief personal data presented in table form, but also longer extracts from autobiographies, biographical reports etc., which can be used to construct personal backgrounds, are a consistent feature of the teaching material; however, in the chapters that deal with NS, the teaching material is devoted almost exclusively to the victims of persecution or to members of the resistance.

Perpetrator experience is expressed in relative detail in soldiers’ letters that are found in many text books. Both fanatically national socialistic and sceptical or despairing voices express themselves here. This is one of the few places where pupils gain an insight into perpetrators’ underlying motives and judgement categories; however, as a rule these extracts are not concerned with individual perpetrators or crimes, but with participation in war in general. The question of how one, as a soldier or policeman, can become a criminal on assignment from the State is barely raised in educational material at secondary level I, even though sufficient material for this exists from research and pupils have shown lively interest in the public debate concerning Daniel Goldhagen’s positions. The question of co-perpetrator status and hangers-on from broad sections of the population is generally answered with a reference to societal pressure to conform. Perpetrator profiles are not drawn up.

Perpetrators during the Yugoslav War of the 1990s

The brutal disintegration of Yugoslavia produced the most serious breaches of human rights, which became known under the umbrella term “ethnic cleansing.” From the beginning of the 1990s, fleeing and persecution uprooted almost four million people in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, tens of thousands were killed, cities and cultural monuments systematically destroyed. ‘Yugoslavia’ became the byword for a brutalisation of war driven to the extreme – and for the uneasy conscience of the community of states.

Ethnic cleansing

Most crimes were committed within the context of so-called “ethnic cleansing.” The UN defines such a phenomen as a “purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.” The objective was to legitimise and assert territorial aims and to build up ethnocratic power structures. The siege and bombardment of cities, the systematic destruction of churches, mosques and other cultural edifices, deportations, rapes, torture, mutilation and mass executions were instrumented purposively for the furtherance of homogenisation. Proceedings at the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia have proven that political and military players carried out “ethnic cleansing” deliberately and methodically; as indicated not only by the regional context, but also by typical patterns of violence. And, nearly always, military associations and parliamentary groups played a part in the measures of displacement and destruction. The excessive violence exercised by all parties and the extremely degrading conduct towards the victims were part of the psychological warfare aimed at intimidating the opposing population and breaking their resistance. Not only attacks on life and limb, but also degrading treatment, were designed to undermine the male combatants in particular in their roles as soldiers, defenders and heads of families.

The Portrayal of NS Perpetrators at Memorial Sites in the Federal Republic of Germany – Introductory Thoughts and Hypotheses

In Germany, memorial sites are the central locations of remembrance of the victims of the National Socialist terror. The memorial sites were often the outcome of citizen-sponsored initiatives which in many cases originated from former internees and which – often during a long process of debate and against major societal resistance – were taken over by the State. Initially, the first and, to this day, most important memorial sites were created in the former concentration camps; in many cases they were initially big cemeteries in the 1950s, before exhibitions or documentation were added that provided at least basic information about the National Socialist crimes of violence on location.

Just like the memorial sites in the former GDR (Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrück), the big concentration camp memorial sites in the Federal Republic (Dachau, Flossenbürg, Neuengamme, Bergen-Belsen) documented the victims’ story above all. In the west of Germany the story of the persecution formed the focus of the portrayal; in the east of Germany, the mythologically transfigured “Struggle against fascism”. The portrayal of the victims remained necessarily dominant, in order to be able to provide any remembrance of the NS crimes at all. The internee associations – at least in the Federal Republic – were also clear and emphatic proponents for having the victims’ story shown in the former concentration camps and setting up a memorial to the victims. The deed, the crime that was committed here, was so great, so violent that, in many cases, the necessity of its portrayal was not even queried once. This is why Ruth Klüger’s characterisation of concentration camp memorial sites as “anti-museums with an aura of death” must always be kept in mind.

A short German into English translation from January 2009:

New dawn – Demolition – Collapse:

What was 1989 and to whom does it belong?

To this day, sometimes hefty debates exist concerning the nature and the significance, the causes and the players of the upheaval of 1989. Entirely differing interpretations are doing the rounds: did the events of 1989 represent a self-liberation of citizens who overcame the Communist regime during a – more or less – peaceful revolution? Were glasnost and perestroika under Gorbachev the deciding factors? Or was the end of the Communist dictators primarily a result of an economic collapse? What was the role of artists and intellectuals during the revolutions and the time before them? On the search for answers, account needs to be taken of the various forms and the extremely varying length of the political and societal transformation processes in the individual countries of the Eastern bloc; these are also of significance for today’s perspective regarding these events. Finally, these questions are also about sovereignty of interpretation concerning a central event in German and European contemporary history, an event that assumes a major position in ongoing historico-political and remembrance-culture debates.

Myths and Visions: European Identity in the 21st century

What meaning does perception of the past have for Europeans’ ability to shape the future together? The ability of any collective to act presupposes a minimum of consensus concerning what the community wants to achieve and what the community is made up of – this includes taking a look at one’s own history. What tales of the past create ties between Europeans in east and west, north and south? What stories divide Europe and thus obstruct a common European identity? Is there a canon of historical experiences that define Europe, that characterise Europe’s way of dealing with current world events? Is there a canon of indisputable lessons from the past, which has to accept who aspires to be or to become a European? And if the answer is yes, what lessons would these be? Is a shared memory necessary for a common identity, or can a vision also serve the purpose? And is taking a look into the past at all suitable for sketching such a common identity, or does history harbour too much potential for dispute and too many divisive elements? Or are we concerned not with a common identity, but rather with permitting the difference and variety of interpretations, assessments and historical self-perceptions? Finally: who weaves the myths and visions? Who decides whether the topic under discussion is yesterday or tomorrow – and how?


Various texts addressed to new students, translated from German into English for the European Business School in Wiesbaden, July/August 2009 (extracts from three of these):

The European Business School in the Future

Many of you have heard or read the good news, or been following the television news over the past few days: with Law School, university establishment and the Center for Automotive Business Studies, EBS is going to continue to grow in great bounds – and what is more, we are already planning new projects again.

One thing is clear: the European Business School brand, which has been a shaping element of our identity for almost 40 years, will continue to exist for the business studies faculty at any event. Our ties with this brand are just as close as those with our site at Schloss Reichartshausen, and we will be holding on to both of them in the future. More than this, even: we want to see the spirit embodied by the EBS brand live on in our university’s new umbrella brand.

Dear EBS students,

You have an exciting, if not THE most exciting time ahead of you in the Rheingau region and at the EBS!

Not only because, with the commencement of your Bachelor studies, you’re embarking on a new phase in your life, are completing your education as Master students or, as international students, will be spending an interesting few months in the Rheingau region. No, but also because the EBS is developing into a university and you are university year 1!

This is why we have made a few changes at the start of this year, to infuse you with the EBS spirit right from day 1.


Slide presentation, German into English, through an agency for the University of Education in Vienna, October 2009:

Language advancement through imaginative grasping

2nd slide: “How does a scientist/tutor in art education come to be dealing with language advancement?”

Allow me to put a counter-question to you: “What do you see here?”

That’s right – a jug of water. The majority of people would provide that answer. However, what we can actually see is some moulded material in which water can be found.

The fact that we recognise this object as a jug filled with water is the result of work done by the brain, which in this case functions in a similar way to the spell-check on a computer. It compares the characteristic shape of the jug with outlines of shapes already memorised, to see whether it already knows the meaning of this object. This is because seeing is what the eye does; recognising, however, is what the brain does.

Let’s go right back to the beginning of a person’s development: a baby starts to perceive his environment through his sensory organs. He arranges these first sensory impressions into “A” and “B” and thus begins to build up a picture of his world from the very start – long before he is able to speak!

Through “stranger anxiety” – when the baby turns away from unknown people – it is clear to see that the mother has already become a concept for the baby – long before he has grasped the semanteme “Mama” for her. He is already associating her characteristic shape with her voice, her smell, with being cared for, fed and cleaned.

Allow me quote one of the world’s oldest books – the Bible:

3rd slide: In the beginning was the Word

– and forgive me for being bold and questioning this statement here!

4th slide: In the beginning was the Word (line struck through Word)

If a child is already forming a picture of the world, so is recognising his mama long before he can say the word, then this means that the image is right at the beginning of all thinking!

5th slide: In the beginning was the Image

And this brings me right to the middle of my specialist field!

6th slide: Even if a baby has not yet grasped the meaning of the words his parents are saying to him, he is already registering more than we think via mimicry and gestures – body language, but also via language melody and the voice’s rising and falling tones.

The meanings of these visual signals which can be read from body language are innate – throughout the world, people laugh the same, they cry the same, they show love, grief and anger in the same way. These are the signs that are biologically programmed into our genes.

We need to learn the meaning of objects first. When, for example, a baby is weaned and is switched to the bottle, at first he won’t have a clue what to make of the shape of the bottle and will continue to cry when the bottle is shown to him. However, if the mother purses her lips and licks them, she will bring the child to perform mirroring: he will copy the action and be ready to suck from the bottle’s teat.

As soon as the child has learned that food comes out of the bottle, though, he will – as soon as he recognises the characteristic shape of the bottle – show his anticipation and delight by kicking his legs and drooling.

We shouldn’t view taught courses too narrowly – we should broaden our horizons.