My daughter is dating a grandchild of Nazis


Write for Advice

Dear reader,

I had been thinking about forgiveness, and gratitude, and certain aspects of my own personality that are maddeningly perverse, and how boring I’ve become, and how hard it is to install a new piece of software, and how much we miss the dogs, and novelistic structure, and how we need to fill the January getaway, and the books I’m reading which I have opinions about, and how we are going to enjoy Thanksgiving, and all kinds of things. And now, after writing this column, all that just seems kind of frivolous. For again, as has happened often in the 12 years of writing this column, a reader has proposed a vexing and painful moral problem and I have responded but do not feel at all equal to the task.

The only thing I believe with confidence is that children are born innocent of the crimes of their forbears. This I believe, though even this I cannot prove. Perhaps babies can be criminals. Perhaps I don’t understand evil. Perhaps children bear a historic burden to right the wrongs of their ancestors. Perhaps I don’t have a large enough consciousness to see that. But what I see is the innocence of the child. It seems to me that we must treat children as innocent of the crimes of their forbears.

Dear Cary,

You know how they say that “life can be stranger than fiction”? What I’m about to tell you is no joke, and it’s eating me up inside. About 12 years ago, I returned to college as an adult, and enrolled in a class whose subject matter covered World War II, and the Holocaust in particular. I came away from the class very disturbed.

I’m not sure what disturbed me more, the fact that the Holocaust happened, or seeing my younger classmates casually eating their  lunches while we watched a devastating and graphic film that left me badly shaken. In fact, after the term ended, I became so severely depressed that I could barely get out of bed for months. I had many revelations when I was deeply depressed, and to this day, I’ve never quite seen people, or the world, in the same way.

Fast forward 12 years later, and my daughter has begun dating a boy around her age.  I have recently found verifiable evidence that the boy’s German grandparents participated as Nazis during Hitler’s regime. In addition, the grandfather emigrated to the U.S. and was employed by a highly respected university after the war where he worked in research. All of his children also went to the best schools in the U.S. which makes me sick.

Cary, I’m not Jewish, but I have a strong emotional connection to the Jewish people,  and to anyone who has ever suffered at the hands of another person. My daughter’s boyfriend is now applying to some of the best schools in the country, and I’m very angry that this family can enjoy their advantages like nothing ever happened.  As unbelievable as this sounds, last  week, the boy came over to spend some time with my daughter and handed me some baked goods from his parents. When I unwrapped it I found a piece of challah  bread and a Bavarian pretzel.

I was so shaken when I saw it, that I almost vomited. (I can provide a picture to prove that this actually happened.) For some reason, God or the universe has dropped this into my lap and I don’t know how to deal with it. I want my daughter to be happy, but I feel myself slipping into another depression.

What should I do?



Dear Horrified,

What you should do is meditate on the fact that we are born innocent. We are born innocent to parents not of our choosing. We are born innocent of the crimes of our parents and grandparents and of the state crimes in which they were implicated. A baby knows nothing of its parents’ crimes and later in life is powerless to undo those crimes, not only for the obvious reason that those crimes are now historic facts and cannot be undone but also because the filial bond is so strong that to oppose the parent or grandparent, to condemn them, to sever ties with them is so psychologically difficult that it is rarely attempted and even more rarely accomplished.

Consider your own birth. Consider how many ancestors you have, stretching back into human evolution. Consider the long string of successful births, matings and pregnancies, births, matings and pregnancies, births, matings and pregnancies … that eventually resulted in your own birth, your own mating and your own pregnancy and now the approaching adulthood of your own child, who now meets a child who also is the product of a different but also unfathomably deep chain of being.

Imagine what crimes and also what glorious victories lie in your unknowable lineage and also in his. Imagine all the descendants of all the bloody tyrants of all time. Imagine all the descendants of rapists and murderers and child molesters throughout our long evolution. Where are we to draw the line? Who among us can claim with certainty to have no criminals in his or her lineage? And what importance are we to assign to one’s lineage, anyway? At a certain point does it not sound like the very classifications by lineage that underlay the philosophy that resulted in the Holocaust?

You took to heart this film. It scarred you and awakened you. It was both a gift and a burden. You are now vexed by the horrors it bequeathed to you. But maybe there is some gift in this. What gift can you give the world as a result of taking all this to heart? Compassion and forgiveness are gifts. You can give the gift of compassion and forgiveness. For as long as we assign blame to innocent people based not on their behavior and their character but on the acts of their forebears, such social crimes as slavery and the Holocaust will happen again. Only when we greet each individual as an innocent child deserving of love will we eliminate crimes against humanity. Humanity means all humanity, not just those who can claim a lineage unblemished by crimes known at the time or discovered later. We extend our love to the descendants of Nazis and the descendants of slavers and the descendants of murderers and rapists and all whose acts we term foul and repugnant.

Otherwise, we will continue to persecute people for where they come from and who their daddy was and what their people did.

The dream of America is that we start out innocent. Children also start out innocent. This boy your daughter is dating is just as innocent as any child gassed in the Holocaust.

I don’t want to say anything trite. I don’t want to suggest that we all just forgive and forget.

But this child your daughter is dating brought you an innocent gift of bread. Perhaps it was a mistake on his part. But it sounds like an innocent mistake.

Newsletter_NEW_Dec13Consider him innocent.


16 thoughts on “My daughter is dating a grandchild of Nazis”

  1. Excellent post. The Museum is meant to celebrate the richness of 1000 years of Jewish life in Poland. This splendid culture could develop because for many centuries Poland uniquely provided a safe haven for the Jews. Polin in Hebrew also means a place where you come to rest.
    Post Holocaust narrative of Jewish death in occupied Poland and the the perception of the country as huge Jewish graveyard has suppressed that earlier, happier memory which the Museum is meant to recover. A visit should be on the itinerary of every trip to Auschwitz.
    As to the present relations between Poles and Jews they could be best described in terms of a syndrome of the missing arm, the feeling of tingling in the the long detached part of body. Thats why, although there are few Jews in Poland, Poles don’t seem to be able to stop talking about them and thats why for Jews Poland carries strong emotional baggage.

  2. The fixation doesn’t make sense, something else is going on. The Nazis weren’t unique. European settlers from South to North America and in Hawaii were more successful at genocide. We live in their plunder, surrounded by the descendents of the people who were part of the rampage, possibly living on land they took from the original owners. Virtually every European empire has done the same: English, Spanish, French. The Jews themselves are now declaring the place others were living belongs to them, God said so, and pushing them out of their homes. The madness goes on, it’s a very human if not universal disease.

    I dated a man whose father was an SS officer and thrown in prison after WWII. He hated his Nazi father, he hated Germany and what made it vulnerable to Nazi regime. He came here to the US when he could and started over. Nearly got rid of his German accent in 3 years. Ended up marrying a Jewish woman. Is that what you’re looking for? Why should they punish themselves for what ancestor’s did. Do you?

    If I were you, I’d want to spent time getting to know the person your child is dating. Why are you focused on things this person can’t control, didn’t participate in? Should he act in misery like the man I dated? I wouldn’t recommend it. If you dig deep enough, there will be something filthy and disgusting in any person’s lineage. Are you accountable for what your grandparent’s did? Would you want your future mother-in-law to react and judge your viability as a family member based on what your grandparent’s did even as you enjoyed their strong mind or good looking chin, or whatever else you got form them? It’s nonsense, right? That’s one of the best parts of being an American, you get to have an identity apart from your ancestors.

    I have to say, I strongly suggest therapy. There is something solely about you that is trying to manifest. Give the kids a break.

  3. We could all learn from eastern thought and philosophy about karma and collective karma. Very often, when someone is drawn to a particular historical incident, it can indicate that in a past life they were there, or participated, or were a victim of it. Does this mean we are all born innocent? In a way, we are, in that every life is a chance to work thru our karma and become purer, and kinder, and more generous, thoughtful. The karma we bring with us into every life is not good or bad, it is just action and reaction. Like gravity, a force of the universe that just is.
    But what we experience in our present lives, can illuminate where we have been, and open us to where we are going.

  4. This is primal stuff. I think it is precisely because we have generations upon generations of ancestry behind our genes that makes this a sticky one. Yes, I guess we can argue people come innocently into this world. But as we do, we carry our unique genetic baggage with us. We cant help it. Our children, children’s children and so on will carry the same burden. And maybe what’s really terrifying to your writer is the possibility her future family tree will intersect with nazis – that those genes, that DNA will mesh with her own and become a permanent part of her genetic legacy. Primal…. Is that right or wrong? Who knows. Ironic, I suppose, this. But one feels how one feels. I get it.

  5. I go to Germany at least twice a week. I like to buy brerad there, because Germans make great bread. The same family has owned the bakery since many generations. Not in my wildest dreams would I go snooping about and staring at the people I meet or googling them on the internet to see if their parents or great-parents were nazi’s or stasi’s.

    Let me embellish a dear quote from someone who tweets as @TheTweetOfGod:
    ‘America, you were settled via the extermination of one race and the enslavement of another. But please, lecture us more about freedom, … compassion, forgiveness and the evil of nazi’s.’
    You must be soooo smug and happy that you were born in another place and time, because if it had been in nazi-Germany, how would you have fared? Some call it a coincidence, others will say it is but for the grace of God, but anyway it is not because of your own virtue or actions that you happen to be sitting on the top of Moral Heights.

    It could have been you, you know. Not the victim, but the perpetrator. Scary, huh?

    Get help. No child deserves a parent who vomits over a piece of bread and threatens with depression if the kid continues to date her BF.

  6. There are few episodes in human history as horrible and and shameful to our human species as the holocaust.

    I have been aware of this history for as long as I can remember, and have always, always recognized how crucial it is that these events be known and never be forgotten.

    When I was in my 20s, this issue caused me considerable emotional disturbance–as it should–which eventually became distinctly unhealthy. It only began to fade when I recognized that obsessive righteous anger can quickly and easily become distorted into its own pathological form of hate–the exact same hate that allows people to justify revenge and murder, on an individual or mass scale. The very same hate that allowed MILLIONS OF EUROPEANS to support the Nazis and carry out Hitler’s orders.

    Do you see the conundrum here? We must never forget this history, or ignore the hate and racism that still exists today, but we must also guard against allowing these past and present horrors to become so all-consuming to us in the present that they serve only to continue to distort our humanity, turning us into hate-filled beings overly savouring our own fantasies of revenge.

    Many members of the Nazi party were born in the late 1800s. They were influenced by the attitudes and conditions of their own, very different time–the late 19th and early 20th centuries and before. For many of us, that is AT LEAST five, possibly six, or even seven generations before most people living today were born. Yes, the Nazis were (and remain) the very definition of evil, but we must also remember that they came to power because both powerful and ordinary Eurpeans permitted them to, and willingly carried out their murderous orders.

    Now, I want you to keep all this in mind, as I tell you a little personal story.

    When I was an aimless, and at times very angry, 23-year-old, I took a university course from a kindly older professor, who was German. Very German, in his accent, and appearance. All throughout the course, and in his personal conduct, he insisted on ideas of kindness, compassion, equality, democracy, tolerance, dignity and respect for all. He was a wonderful teacher, the very best teacher I have ever had, and we all had great fondness for him.

    One afternoon, he called us all into the seminar room and started telling us about his life, his family, and why he loved Canada so much. He showed us photos from his youth . . . including one of himself as a young teenager–in a Hitler Youth uniform. You cannot imagine the shock we felt.

    He proceded to tell us, with great heaviness, how he was pressured into joining at a young age, how during the war he was captured by the Americans and held as a prisonor before the age of 16, how he felt he fully deserved and expected to be shot, and how much this photo shamed him. He told us all this so that we would understand why it is so important for young people to understand this history, to know that is indeed real, and that we all had a responsibility to never allow it to happen again. As I am sure you can imagine, that afternoon was one of the most influential moments of my university experience, and in my life.

    I know that unless you knew this man, this story might ring hollow and meaningless in the face of the overwhelming historical context, but I would like to emphasize that for all of us who were his students, knowing him was a profoundly heart-opening experience. To this day, he is a reminder of how we must stand firm against all that is wrong, we must hold criminals accountable for their crimes, we must protect the innocent, we must fight tyranny . . . but we must never allow ourselves to be consumed by hate, because hate is a toxic acid that serves only to eat away at our soul from within.

    We all have darkness, shame, or evil somewhere in our heritage, sometimes it is mercifully distant, sometimes it is much closer than we realize or admit. Some people are carrying unfathomably heavy burdens. We can only use this knowledge of the past so that we can be vigilant about evil today. But we must also be equally vigilant about fighting the hate that can so easily grow like a cancer within ourselves.

    Dear LW, please try to meet your daughter’s friend as an individual first, not a nationality, a race, or a language, and evaluate his character based on his own beliefs and actions, not on the actions of his grandparents or his great-grandparents.

    Oh, one other thing: I know that sometimes words like “love” and “peace” get tossed around so that they often sound “pushover words,” weak or trite. One word I have started to rely on instead is “compassion” because it refers to kindness but also recognizes ideas of boundaries, integrity, and strength. Perhaps that is a good place to start.

  7. Emotion, feeling, passion, reaction. Or – wasted emotion, feeling, passion, reaction. You can’t SAVE anyone from the Holocaust anymore. It’s over. However, you CAN use the intense energy of your emotion, feeling, passion, reactions – to save someone now. It’s true. You can save someone’s life, someone who’s endangered, at risk, threatened – they are all over the world. Maybe you’ll have to risk something – maybe risk a lot – to save someone. Or maybe you’ll just write a check, or send emails, or in some way, help to get something necessary to someone RIGHT NOW, in the world NOW, who needs help.

    The Holocaust is OVER. If you care so much about those people that you cannot save from the past, do what you can to save someone NOW. Otherwise, you’re just experiencing an emotional “high,” an emotional peak, based on someone else’s tragedy. Perhaps contemplate how it is Nazis themselves got an emotional “high,” experienced a peak of emotional intensity, by inflicting genocide and military invasion on others. Think also about WWI, the trauma of WWI, and how that led, in combination with longstanding antisemitism, to WWII and the Holocaust. Think and reason, don’t just feel. Good luck.

  8. I personally commend HORRIFIED for her sensitivity about ANY/ALL people being killed so systematically as the Nazis did to nearly 12 million people…six million Jewish people, Gypsies, the disabled, homosexuals, and others that makes the total very scary, because the world watched and many knew Exactly what was going on. Non-action can be the most evil of choices. Hitler’s evilness lies in his clever realization of the world’s hatred of the Jewish people. FDR, who I admired for many of his positive accomplishments, during his tenure as a U.S. president. But, he Knowingly refused to admit/allow the ships carrying fleeing Jewish people , and turned their ships back to Germany, as So Many countries did the same thing. Hitler knew this would happen…that is why he allowed the German Jewish people to leave, without being allowed to take any valuables with them. The world had an anti-Semetic Pope at the time, who supported Hitler and the Nazi movement. The Vichy, the Polish people with their guns and baseball bats, killing their Jewish neighbors, whose common ancestors dated back over 400 years. Their hatred festered in their bellies for a long time. I highly recommend the movie/documentary named PAPER CLIPS and Dr. Victor Frankel’s book named MAN’s SEARCH for MEANING, plus any/all writings by Eli Weizel…known as a Nazi hunter, among other attributes/accomplishments.
    Jewish people, the world over…in my opinion, must ALWAYS remember that they are the world’s canaries that are sent out to help decipher how deep prejudice is, at a given time. Plus, ALWAYS to give their trust and loyalty First to being a Jew, not a member of the Fatherland First, as the German Jews fatally did. It is best to accept this reality, and perhaps another Holocaust will hopefully never happen again. Look at the plight of the Armenian people, who had their own Diaspora, partly due to their own Holocaust. They still, have not been apologized to, or their horrible chaotic loss, never officially recognized as ever happening. Their Holocaust has never been officially given its due, or forgiveness asked for or offered.
    It feels as though HORRIFIED’s intense sensitivity to cruelty to the world’s underdogs was sharply awakened, thru her viewing the film she saw in her class. She has become terribly frightened to the world’s ability to allow so much pain and suffering. Perhaps a kind Jewish therapist can help her to cope with some terrible truths, so she can also accept the beauty of the world. And, perhaps, if she can stomach it, without returning to a form of PTSD, contributing her time to a cause that will give her peace and satisfaction, definitely not terror! Bravo to such a caring human being that wanted to learn more about the issues that permeated WWII. That act alone, took extraordinary caring, curiosity and bravery.

    I had a unique experience some years ago. I was working in an academic environment, using my skillset that was much more developed thru my graduate studies and credentialing. I worked in a room that had some cubicles…my desk was more out in the open. I worked with students on career questions, and some presenting problems, where I moved, with a particular student to a private room with a door, to allow for appropriate confidentiality. One day, an international student wandered in to our office, needing some help with some directions. After his questions were respected and attended to, instead of leaving to go to his requested destination, he chose to remain seated in a chair next to a desk in the middle of this fairly open space. I felt his eyes on me, as I was working with another student. He did not say, “Excuse me.” He just directed a verbal tirade at me….I must have looked Jewish to this German exchange student. He chose not to speak to me privately, to confirm his pre-conceived notion that, indeed, I was Jewish, which I am. Instead, he loudly proclaimed, “When were the Jews going to stop blaming the German people, for what the Nazis did? Now, please realize, this matter he spoke to me about, was totally out of the blue, he chose me to interrogate with his questions. I chose to answer him publically, as well. I told him my impressions of many famous German “qualities” that many people the world recognize…these qualities can belong to other groups as well. But, the choice of the Nazis were to use exacting bookkeeping methods, on how many gold teeth they pulled (without any pain killers) from Jewish mouths, how much skin it took to make various sizes of lampshades from Jewish skin, to be proudly displayed and used in many German homes, how much Jewish skin it took to make soap, the exact recording of how many pairs of shoes they took from Jewish feet, how much Jewish hair it took to stuff various sizes of pillows, etc. I believe readers get my drift. How all these supposed ‘attributes” were implemented for evil purposes….punctuality was seen as an attribute. So, at the extermination camps “X” number of Jews were gassed to death at precise times. ALL OF THIS needs to be remembered Forever. Those supposed good qualities can ‘rot on the vine” very easily. So, as this anti-semetic German, no more than 19-20 years old, was reminded of his relatives/ancestors roles, that ALL German people bear the responsibility of “ownership and awareness of past atrocities”, so they Never can happen again. Taking so called good qualities and using them as vehicles of torture, should Always be remembered by the perpetrating people…most of all! Instead, this young person whined ignorant complaints, in my opinion. After I calmly answered his questions, and gave him my opinion, since he asked for it, he looked surprised and embarrassed and then left our office space. I have my voice as a Jew, and feel I used it well, under these particular circumstances. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Something I taught all of the students in the classes that I taught, is that steps need to be taken…peacefully and by abiding law…that kindness should never be confused with weakness. It is a good thing to use one’s words well, and stand up to any bullying, at the same time keeping yourself SAFE! Sometimes, in particular situations, walking away, safely, respecting yourself, if a negative “mob mentality” starts to form. We must use our judgment wisely, in the moment.
    HORRIFIED, I would not like my daughter related to Nazis either. It’s more relevant to listen to how this fellow thinks. Do you have a MUSEUM OF TOLERANCE in your town? If you do, go all together, as an outing, and afterwards, perhaps during a meal together, discuss everyone’s reaction, opinions, etc. If not, watch PAPER CLIPS as a family movie night. Hear his reactions. I feel the label of Nazis and what they are guilty of, frightens you. Has your family done its job teaching Tolerance for All, to your kids? These acts may help to empower you!! Use your goodness in ways to help educate others. You may find some answers to some of your fears and questions! Good Luck!! NIGHTQUEEN

    1. Thank you for your comment. It was perhaps, the most sensitive comment in reply to my post, many of which berated me, or accused me of being “mentally ill”, which is not the case. I am simply not comfortable with my daughter getting close to this family. I will take your advice and read the books that you have suggested, and appreciate your wisdom and sensitivity. Thank you.

      1. I am so very touched by India’s kind reply, and HORRIFIED…your reaction, in my opinion, is so easy for me to understand!
        I have found good, sensitive and reality-based answers in my recommendations. I am glad my comment verified, via my reply that you ARE SO MUCH MORE THAN OK!!!! Thank You for sharing this most human dilemma with us. You are BRAVE, NOT anything but a real and lovely human being! And, that YOU ARE NOT MENTALLY ILL!! NO WAY!!
        Perhaps all the judgemental responders will perhaps take the time to check out my recommendations.
        But that is not our problem, is it?
        No, because they probably just will never get it.
        Blessings to you both, and true sensitivity is something WE ALL can work on in 2014 and beyond! It warms my heart, that my reply touched you. You are a wonderful and special person!
        India, this sentiment goes to you, too! I thank you and let sensitivity, kindness, awareness, letting our hearts and heads combine into beauty and soulfulness for everyone and more understanding of the human condition rule our lives and worlds!!, HAPPY HOLIDAYS to EVERYONE, including those who don’t agree with my reply. We can all agree to disagree, I hope!

        Cary and Norma, YOU ARE THE BEST!!
        Cary, SO MANY of us are SO HAPPY that you are up and running! BRAVO to your ongoing wisdom and Bravery! HAPPY NEW YEAR and HEALTH, and PROSPERITY to all!

  9. I agree with the first poster. The letter-writer seems to have fixated on the horror of the Holocaust in a skewed way that’s interfering with her present day relationship with reality. Have you spoken with the young man about why he brought the bread? What is going through his mind? Who, in fact, is he? In Aboriginal Australia we often have to encounter not only vicious racism, but also the traumatised responses of non-Aboriginal people who are all fucked up about their whiteness and our countries’ history. Their emotions, and I suspect the LW’s, are as much about mental health and submerged rage as the politics of race. Some self-reflection into your own family and circumstances might be appropriate here.

  10. The letter writer needs counseling. First, is she doing family tree research on her daughter’s dates? Weird. I agree with the previous poster – yes to awareness, yes to disgust, but her obsession seems to have crossed a line.

  11. I can’t say what the LW “must do” and I can’t make demands of another moral agent… I realize that some people are defined by acts of cowardice and cruelty (and also heroism and selflessness) tracing deep into the past, and each person (i.e. the LW) has to act on their own moral prerogative. However, I can speak to what I think is healthy.

    I think the LW’s deep emotional involvement in this historical abomination is unhealthy. It’s as simple as that. You can have a moral reaction, a sense of disgust at the evils that perforate history, a justified anger at the prospect of living in a morally compromised world, but to internalize that pain, inflicted so mercilessly and directly upon a whole culture and a lot of actual corporeal historical humans, so much that it defines your relationships with real-world, present-day humans? To enact that suffering in such a way that it makes you physically ill when seeing certain people and objects, based entirely on third- and fourth-degree associations? This sounds like it’s something that might interfere significantly with the LW’s life and functioning.

    There are lots of passing mentions and references to the events of WWII, after all. There are traces of that conflict all throughout our historical record, our present-day contexts, and our pop culture. If the LW can’t deal with it in an acquaintance who is obviously disconnected from it and (from this account, at least) has nothing but good intentions, then I would suggest (s)he put some serious effort into dealing with that crippling knowledge in a more healthy way. It may involve introspection, meditation, and/or therapy. But the world must go on, and the LW must participate in the lifeworld of today, rather than merely echoing the pain of recent history.

    Maybe what I’m trying to say is: don’t try to remedy history, or erase its traces. For now, treat your own depression, figure out its triggers, and embark on a quest for perspective on the world.

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