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'Der Mann, den ich vergötterte, hat uns ins Unglück geführt': The Post-war Crisis of Consciousness as Mirrored in Essays and Questionnaires by Nuremberg's Schoolchildren in 1946

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Beate Muller



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Wiley, 2016.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


In 1946, Nuremberg's schools inspector Otto Barthel had local schoolchildren write essays on their wartime experiences. They were also asked to fill in questionnaires which specifically addressed their political attitudes. About 3,000 pupils submitted their work. The texts tell a complex story about the thoughts and feelings of German adolescents in the early post-war period, demonstrating the ideological influence of National Socialism, trauma suffered during the war, and the shock, frustration, and disorientation after the collapse of the Third Reich. Whilst in many of the questionnaires, the wrongs of National Socialism are clearly identified, the essays tend to be more evasive. They display coping strategies such as idealisation of life before the war, denial, withdrawal from politics altogether, turning to religion for ethical and moral orientation, portraying Germans as victims, relativising German atrocities in the face of Allied military actions and occupation policy, as well as devotion to diligence, hard work, and moral fortitude in order to overcome material deprivation and to regain respect in the world. Although the young pointed to their youth to exonerate themselves from political responsibility, they also inscribed themselves into the conflicted world of adult Germans in a defeated Germany, with their narratives and questionnaire responses already containing many of the discursive tenets of German ‘Vergangenheitsbewältigung’.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Müller B

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: German Life and Letters

Year: 2016

Volume: 69

Issue: 4

Pages: 453-467

Print publication date: 01/10/2016

Online publication date: 07/09/2016

Acceptance date: 29/06/2016

Date deposited: 22/09/2016

ISSN (print): 0016-8777

ISSN (electronic): 1468-0483

Publisher: Wiley


DOI: 10.1111/glal.12130


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