Chapter One in Confronting Memories of World War II: Recriminations and Reconciliations in Europe and Asia (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014).  Edited by Daniel Chirot, Gi-Wook Shin and Daniel Sneider,

Admitting Guilt Is Neither Common Nor Easy:

Comparing World War II Memories in Europe and East Asia

Daniel Chirot

If we are to discuss remembrances, expressions of guilt, and the possibilities of reconciliation for past wartime and colonial wrongs, we need to cast a wide net, because there are few if any states and nations so free of wrongdoing that they are entitled to propose for themselves perfectly pure appraisals of their histories. Good-faith efforts to obtain as honest as possible a perspective on history not only allows us to better understand important degrees of difference between past wars and occupations but also encourages greater openness among even those who have a greater burden of guilt to bear. Naturally, recovering the meaning of the past is no easy task, and even the most honest appraisals will not settle all conflicts that originated in prior invasions and conflicts; but doing so in as true a way as possible is a good start in that direction. Sometimes, grand historical narratives are the key to better understanding, but at the same time looking at relatively small, more personally affecting examples of the moral complexities of past conflicts may also allow us to better understand how difficult it can really be to make honest appraisals. Take, for example, the following story.

On December 9, 2011, exactly sixty-four years after Dutch troops had shot 430 boys and men in an Indonesian village during that country’s war of independence against Dutch colonial rule (1945-49), “the Dutch Ambassador, Tjeerd de Zwaan, made [an] apology before hundreds of villagers in Rawagede.” Dutch troops had come to the village looking for a resistance leader and “when the villagers said they did not know where he was, the soldiers rounded up nearly all the men and took them to a field where, squatting in rows with both hands placed on the backs of their heads, they were shot one by one.” The apology, however, came only after a Dutch court had declared in September 2011 that the Dutch state was responsible for the massacre.[1]

Frances Gouda’s chapter in this volume eloquently explains the contradictions in Dutch memories of World War II. The virtual canonization of Anne Frank was accompanied for a long time by an unwillingness to face up to the fact that a good many Dutch had collaborated with the German occupiers during World War II and the even greater reluctance to admit to the wrongness of the Dutch government’s attempt to regain control of its Indonesian (the former Dutch East Indies) colony after it was liberated from Japanese occupation in 1945. To this day, as Gouda points out, Sukarno and most of his leading associates are still portrayed as fascist collaborators because they willingly cooperated with the Japanese occupiers in the hopes of obtaining independence from the Netherlands.

Telling this story is not to claim that the atrocities perpetrated by the Dutch in their last colonial war approached the scale of the genocidal behavior of the Germans during World War II or even the enslavement and slaughter of millions by the Japanese in East and Southeast Asia during the wars they conducted from 1931 to 1945, but of course, for the village of Rawagede, the events of December 9, 1947, and for other Indonesians victims of this war, the results were terrible enough.

This New York Times story reminded me of something far more personal. I was born in a French village called Bélâbre in November 1942 in a house on the corner of avenue Jean Jaurès and a little side street now named rue du 10 juillet 1944. Jean Jaurès (1859-1914) was the great French socialist leader murdered at the start of World War I by a nationalist extremist who (quite wrongly) thought that the French socialist party might try to block France’s entry into the war against Germany, and the village of Bélâbre happened to be a mostly socialist village that honored his memory. As for the other street, what happened on July 10, 1944?

During World War II, Vichy France was theoretically independent but actually subservient to Germany, and what little formal autonomy it had after France surrendered to Germany in 1940 was badly eroded when German troops occupied it directly in November 1942 and prompted my father, uncles, and grandfather to flee two weeks before my birth, leaving my grandmother and very pregnant mother in the village. Julian Jackson’s chapter and many of his well-known books discuss the longtime unwillingness of the French to face up to how much of the French establishment and population collaborated quite willingly with the German occupiers and made their rounding up of Jews possible. Socialist Bélâbre, however, was mostly unsympathetic to the Vichy regime, and the mayor of its roughly fifteen hundred people during the war, a man named Anatole Ferrant (1886-1972), helped the resistance. He also protected my grandmother, my mother, and me by providing false papers and ration coupons and making sure we were warned whenever local milices (right-wing militias) or police might come through the village looking for Jews or anti-German resisters, particularly as the resistance movement increased in 1943 and more effectively in early 1944. (From 1948 to 1955, Ferrant was an elected senator in the national parliament, largely in recognition of his war service, because the region as a whole generally voted for more conservative candidates.)

On July 10, 1944, the village was being occupied by parts of the German SS division “Das Reich” that had one month earlier committed the atrocity of Oradour, a village to our south, where 642 inhabitants, including women and children, had been put in the village church and then burned to death. By July, the Germans were in full retreat from this part of France to escape being trapped by the Allied advance that was threatening to break out from Normandy. A battle broke out between the Germans and some resistance fighters near Bélâbre, which the heavily armed Germans easily won on that day, and afterward they immediately executed forty-six prisoners, telling the villagers to bury them. The men in the village, including boys as young as fourteen, were lined up on the village square in front of the church and threatened with execution. Ultimately, the village was spared, though the Germans committed a substantial number of murders, including of civilians, in surrounding villages and towns as they continued to retreat. In Maillé, to the north of my village, for example, they slaughtered 124 inhabitants, mostly women and children, in August.[2] Why Bélâbre was spared this fate I do not know. The SS Das Reich division had earlier served on the eastern front, where they had committed far more atrocities. As they left Bélâbre, elements of the division were strafed and bombed by the British Royal Air Force, and many were killed. The villagers went out and pillaged what was left, and my mother made a little shirt for me out of German parachute silk, which turned out to be a very durable kind of cloth.

What the Germans did in France was relatively mild compared to the far, far more extensive killing they conducted in what Timothy Snyder aptly labeled in his book with that title, the “bloodlands” of Eastern Europe and the western Soviet Union, not only in the death camps they operated in those regions but in the massacres of millions of civilians and prisoners of war and of course vast numbers of Jews who were killed on the spot, as in Babi Yar, Ukraine, without ever being shipped off to camps or even herded into ghettos, where hundreds of thousands more died of starvation and disease. Cases such as Oradour or Maillé were relatively rare in France. But again, for those French villagers killed, it hardly mattered that their country as a whole received a “gentler” treatment than did Poland, Belorussia, or Ukraine.[3]

Here we get to a moral as well as what some would see as a kind of a legal, definitional problem. What happened in my village of Bélâbre and the region as a whole, or for that matter in the Indonesian village of Rawagede, is extremely common in war. Wars have never been, and are not now, fought in nice, orderly ways in which only uniformed combatants line up in neat ranks to kill each other, and after a while, one side decides it has been beaten and surrenders. Civilians always get killed, whether on purpose or as what is now called “collateral damage.”

When an enemy army occupies territory inhabited by populations that do not want to be occupied, some sort of resistance is likely, and if that is conducted by irregular forces, they will be viewed as “terrorists” or in some sense illegal combatants by the occupying army. If these irregular or guerrilla forces are largely inferior in armaments, they will conduct asymmetrical warfare and hide among, or at least be supported by, local civilians. This will lead to reprisals, torture, and the killing of innocents in order to elicit information about the guerrillas and to choke off their sources of supply. Furthermore, some locals will collaborate with the occupiers and be targeted for retribution by the resisters. Colonial wars have almost all been fought in this way as stronger powers tried to conquer and control weaker ones but met stiff guerrilla resistance.

The United States, for example, conducted exactly this kind of warfare aimed at civilians in order to subdue the Philippines from 1899 to 1902. The U.S. commander, General Franklin Bell, used widespread terror and intimidation of the local population. He wrote that “to combat such a population it is necessary to make a state of war as insupportable as possible . . . by keeping the minds of the people in such a state of anxiety and apprehension that living under such conditions will soon become unbearable.” Men, women, and children were slaughtered in large numbers along with captured prisoners. Between one hundred thousand  and two hundred thousand were killed.[4] An excellent recent history of genocides lists many other examples of this kind of ruthless, sometimes even genocidal, campaign conducted by colonial powers from the Roman Empire to the more recent Europeans colonies in Africa, the Americas, and Australia.[5]

In the wars in which Americans were involved after World War II in Korea and Vietnam large numbers of noncombatants were also killed. In both cases communist and anticommunist forces, local or American, were often ruthless, though of course each side emphasized the killings perpetrated by the other side while underplaying their own actions. The Indonesian war of independence against the Dutch was hardly unique, and it would take far too long to try to catalog recent similar examples from France’s Algerian war to India’s suppression of dissent in Kashmir to Russia’s Chechen war.

It is not just that resistors in occupied territories are part of the local population, but in any war supplies are critically important to maintain a fighting force, so even if there is no guerrilla war, both sides will try to deprive each other of resources while attempting to paralyze civilian production and resistance, which inevitably means that some civilians will be targeted. Whether this involves aerial bombing or large-scale burning and destruction of rear areas as in General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march through the Confederate South during the American Civil War, the results are neither neat nor pretty. American Southerners long held a grudge against Sherman, and of course the Japanese can point to the massive destruction of their cities, up to and most dramatically including the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to justify their claim that they were victims of a cruel and vindictive United States.

So why should apologies be offered for what is, after all is said and done, just common warfare practiced by all warring states? That is a question that can be and is often asked by those of whom apologies are demanded. A major example is the case, supported by overwhelming evidence, that the Ottoman Empire conducted a genocide against Armenians in 1915. But the Turkish government to this day continues to say that the killings were part of a war between Armenian nationalists and the Turkish Ottoman authorities, that both sides suffered great casualties, and that therefore, regrettable as this loss may be, there is no reason for the Turks to be apologetic. Needless to say, Armenians furiously reject this argument and say that what happened was criminal genocide, pure and simple.[6]

Broaching the question of genocide, we begin to see some of what needs to be answered when questions of guilt, apology, and perhaps reconciliation are raised. Here, we need to simplify the dubiously complex ways in which genocide has been interpreted by the United Nations (UN) and the major powers since a genocide convention was introduced as part of international law in 1948 (though the United States only ratified its participation in the convention in 1988 under President Ronald Reagan). Genocide is the deliberate attempt to exterminate any group of people identified by religion, ethnicity, nationality, region inhabited, economic class, or political ideology. (Class and ideology were deliberately excluded from the original 1948 convention because Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union did not want them included, as it had murdered millions on those grounds.) Properly defined, genocide implies that all those in this group–men, women, children, noncombatants, those who resist as well as those who do not–should be eliminated. It goes beyond just defeating an identified enemy, but implies wiping out a whole designated group of people.[7]

We will see below that Germany’s recognition that what it did went beyond ordinary war crimes and was genocidal that made it both easier and more necessary for Germans to face what had happened, though that took some time after 1945. The Jews hunted down by the Nazis were almost all powerless noncombatants (though eventually, in the East, there was some resistance). Indeed, it was for this reason that the term and notion of genocide was first applied, though it was recognized from the start that in retrospect the Armenian case was also genocide.[8]

Unfortunately, in the very large majority of cases where apologies are called for, it is not so simple. If the killing of men captured fighting the Germans near Bélâbre on July 10, 1944, was at most a war crime (prisoners of war are not supposed to be executed), what about the killing of women and children in Oradour? That was not genocide in the sense that the Germans were not intent on exterminating all the French, but in that village they did. And what about the Dutch case in Indonesia when only noncombatant males, including some young boys, were targeted? That was a war crime, and though it came sixty-four years late, the Dutch government was surely right to apologize. But should all colonial powers now apologize to those they colonized by force? Do they owe reparations?

The question can be asked as well of those who fought against outside forces. Should the Vietnamese Communist Party apologize for the massacres it conducted during its war against the Americans and the South Vietnamese government, most notably but certainly not only in Hué, where thousands of civilians, many of them uninvolved with either side, were brutally slaughtered in 1968?[9] Much depends on a different question, one that no legal code or carefully wrought definition of what is right and what is wrong in warfare can ever clarify. Was a particular war morally justified? There is a rich and ancient literature on this question as well, but it comes down to passing judgment on the motives and means with which various parties conduct wars.

Now we enter into the realm of national pride and historical memory, something ably discussed in many of the chapters in this volume, particularly those by Roger Petersen and Igor Torbakov. At the time Western powers conquered their colonies, especially when the liberal governments of France and England extended their empires in the nineteenth century, they typically felt morally justified in their actions because they claimed to be more civilized and acting in the long-term interests of those they were subjugating.[10] The Turkish government claimed that it was justified in what it did to the Armenians because that action was necessary to save the Turkish Muslim population from being destroyed.[11] The government of the United States justified, and still justifies, the use of atomic bombs by saying that they shortened the war and saved countless American and even more Japanese lives.[12] Formerly colonized people, Armenians, and most Japanese do not buy these arguments. Lithuanians, as Petersen’s chapter argues, view Soviet brutality against their people as worse than what Adolf Hitler’s Germans did to them, but Russians, as Torbakov points out, deeply resent having Soviet Russia’s actions equated with Nazi Germany’s or, even more, as something worse.

In order to begin to explain why Germany, or at least West Germany, so profoundly apologized for its World War II actions while Japan’s official apologies have seemed halfhearted, we need to keep in mind the complexities of each country’s changing political contexts. As Daniel Sneider’s, Gi-Wook Shin’s, and Thomas Berger’s chapters demonstrate, it is not that all Japanese refuse to acknowledge what they did during their war, or even that there have been no official apologies, but that many, probably most, Japanese do not really see their country as having been that much more wrong than other powers. On the other hand, most Koreans and Chinese feel that they were terribly wronged by a particularly vicious Japan.

The other side of this comparison is that while Germany’s full admission that it was morally and legally culpable of genocide opened the way for reconciliation in Europe, it also allowed the rest of Europe to evade for a long time, and in many cases to this day, responsibility in sustaining German crimes by providing large numbers of collaborators and allies, while in East Asia China and Korea have not had to face their own record of partial collaboration.


The Historical Context: Germany and Europe compared to Japan and Asia

A few years ago Germany introduced a new schoolbook about the Holocaust for thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds. It is a “comic” (or better, a graphic) book, that is, a series of illustrations in which the characters speak in “bubbles.” The topic is hardly comic, as it features the life of a German Jewish girl saved from death when a kindly policeman intercepts her as she is about to return from school. He tells her that her parents have been arrested and that she should flee. She never sees her parents again and survives Nazism to tell her grandchildren what happened. This book is meant to encourage children to identify with the complexities of moral choice and personal responsibility when faced by the nightmarish regime that ruled their country from 1933 to 1945.[13] It is hard to imagine a Japanese school assigning a book that would be so emotionally troubling to children of that age or one that would call for so much open discussion about a terrible episode in their country’s history.

It is not that there are no Japanese eager to face their brutal World War II record, particularly among those on the left and in the Japanese Teachers Union. Yet it is still possible for right-wing nationalist Japanese, including members of its parliament, to force the banning of a film about the Yasukuni Shrine that commemorates Japanese war dead, including some from World War II who were convicted of war crimes. Right-wing threats can also force the cancellation of a Teachers Union’s meeting by a hotel where it was scheduled to take place.[14] On February 22, 2012, Takashi Kawamure, mayor of Nagoya, the “sister” Japanese city of Nanjing, where a horrible massacre of hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians by the Japanese army had occurred in late 1937, told a visiting delegation from Nanjing that he doubted any such event had taken place. Nanjing promptly broke off its “sister” relations with Nagoya.[15] Clearly, if there were no tolerance for this kind of attitude, and for the sometime intimidation by Japan’s leaders and by public opinion of those who do recognize Japan’s murderous behavior during the war, it would not occur. Germany also has right-wing extremists, but they are considered marginal, and such kinds of publicly repressive occurrences are completely unthinkable in today’s Germany. The idea that a German mayor of a leading city could somehow deny the Holocaust, and not be immediately forced to resign, is inconceivable.

To be sure, in Italy defending Benito Mussolini is not all that unusual on the far right, and when former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi did it in a speech supposed to commemorate the Holocaust on January 27, 2013, it was not the first time. On the other hand, Berlusconi quickly apologized and said that he had been misunderstood, whereas when Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has publicly sided with right-wing ultranationalists who want to glorify Japan’s wartime behavior and reject “apology diplomacy,” he has not felt the need to soft-pedal his views.  How far Abe will be able to push his right wing nationalism remains a question, but the mere fact that it has not damaged his popularity or caused him to publicly backtrack is telling[16]

It is well known that in the case of Germany, the Holocaust has been widely taught in schools for a long time and that the public airing of films and television shows over at least the past three to four decades has deeply marked German thinking. The introduction of more personal, child-oriented graphic textbooks is meant to make children think yet more deeply about how they would react, not to soften or evade German guilt, though it does show that at least some Germans during wartime did not approve of what was being done to Jews. even if there were not enough of them willing to act to have any effect on their government’s policies. West Germans eventually recognized their guilt after World War II, promised to never repeat such crimes, taught their children about the horrors of the Holocaust, and made heroes of those few Germans who resisted Hitler. Germans have therefore been largely accepted as reformed, good Europeans. This fact is reflected in (the now unified) Germany’s schoolbooks that downplay nationalism in favor of appreciation of a “more globalized and diversified world.”[17] Germany’s attitude has contributed greatly to European unity, and this relationship is unlikely to change very much despite the reawakening of some anti-German sentiments during the euro fiscal crisis of the 2010s.

Japan, on the other hand, has generally been evasive about its brutality and is now still being accused by the countries it victimized, particularly Korea and, most stridently, China.[18] It is not that Japanese schoolbooks tell lies but rather that the subject of the war has not been strongly taught, and this shortcoming has produced a public that generally denies Japan’s guilt.[19] Such a position makes it possible for many Japanese, probably a substantial majority, to believe that the war their country conducted was a noble effort to free Asia of European colonialism and that in the end they were victimized rather than having been the victimizers. South Korea, China, Japan, and Southeast Asia may be increasingly economically interdependent, but in some ways the acrimony over war memories seems to be undiminished.

While some Germans have sought to portray themselves as victims rather than perpetrators of the war, or as defenders of European Civilization against “Asian” (by which they really mean Russian!) barbarism, this view has not gained wide acceptance in Germany. This issue was fought out in a very public way in what was called the “historians’ conflict” (Historikerstreit) in the 1980s.[20] In the end there has been no revival of any major effort to exonerate the Nazis, least of all at the elite level. Even the racist skinheads who sometimes use Nazi symbols are no more than marginalized, angry, anti-immigrant, lower-class youths with virtually no major political or intellectual support.[21]

As Fania Oz-Salzberger’s chapter in this volume points out, perhaps even more astonishing is that ultimately in Israel there has been an acceptance of German repentance. Today, Israel’s historical self-image is strongly connected to the Holocaust, as exemplified by the spectacular museum of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, but young Israelis seem to no longer bear a grudge against Germans as a people.

The situation is not, however, as clear cut as it would seem to be. The widely read and cited comparative book on the subject, Ian Buruma’s The Wages of Guilt, is much too sophisticated and subtle to fall into the trap of presenting so simpleminded a contrast.[22] It shows how complicated a story both German and Japanese postwar behavior and attitudes really have been and how, in both cases, they have hardly remained frozen. There have been many strands of opinion in both cases, and some attitudes have changed over time. Furthermore, once the entire story of World War II in Europe is examined, the problem becomes far more complex, and far less dichotomized, because in Europe, too, it has taken many decades for reality to be faced, and that process is far from complete to this day.

Looking in more detail at German memories of the war as a single trajectory toward repentance and admission of wrongdoing runs into several problems. The first of these is that the German story is very much embedded in all of Europe’s interpretation of what happened. For a long time, until some ten to twenty years ago, depending on which European country we are talking about, this was the most troubling aspect of how the world war was remembered. The countries occupied by Germany in Western Europe, without exception, constructed stories that blamed everything bad on Germans and a fairly small number of virtually criminal and deviant collaborators. It was more complicated in Central Europe and the Balkans, where the Germans had various allied states (Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, along with Italy, which occupied parts of the Balkans) and also deliberately exacerbated ethnic tensions in mixed areas, but there, also, similar stories were put forward. Where the Soviet Union set up communist regimes in the East after the war, not only Nazi Germany but also the local “reactionary bourgeoisie” and upper classes were blamed. In all cases, however, the guilty were said to be either outsiders or a relatively small number of treacherous locals who were quickly disposed of after the war. There was therefore no perceived need for any general national self-examination, much less repentance for wrongdoing, in either Western or Eastern Europe, except among Germans.

This story, that the Germans and small numbers of domestic collaborators were the only ones responsible, is mostly a postwar fabrication. It neglects not only that there were in fact many violent, large-scale reprisals after the war against those suspected of collaborating with Germans but also that in many cases once that was settled, the much larger number of collaborators and fascist sympathizers who survived faded into the background and how much help the Germans really had received was forgotten.[23]

The most important country occupied by the Germans in Western Europe was France. France abjectly surrendered in 1940 when it could have continued to fight from its protected colonial holdings in North Africa. Then, the collaborationist, pro-German Vichy government of Marshal Philippe Pétain was both popular and almost wholly supported by the French civil service, police, and military, as Jackson’s chapter in this volume shows. The now famous speech transmitted from London via the BBC by General Charles de Gaulle after the French surrender in 1940, urging France to fight on, was heard by almost no one at the time, and only tiny numbers of French officials, either from France itself or from the unoccupied colonies spread throughout the world, rallied to his cause. The only important colonial governor to join de Gaulle’s Free French movement was also the only black Caribbean French high civil servant, Félix Éboué, governor of Chad, whose dislike of racist ideologies convinced him to abandon Vichy. The only two generals to join de Gaulle from the colonial forces were immediately pushed out of their positions.[24] De Gaulle himself was at the time a fairly obscure brigadier general who had been quickly brought into the last wartime cabinet as a junior minister because he seemed to be the sole French high officer to understand the importance of tank warfare. Today, his BBC speech of 1940 is widely memorialized as the start of a resistance movement, but in fact there was no resistance until a year later when the French Communists turned against Germany at the time Hitler broke his treaty with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Even then, the resistance did not gain much strength until 1943, when, after German defeats in North Africa and at Stalingrad and after the United States began to actively fight in North Africa and then Italy, it became evident that Germany was going to lose the war. In fact, after France’s surrender in 1940, French industrial production, largely for the benefit of the German war effort, actually increased.[25]

The situation varied from country to country, but generally local authorities and elites worked with Germans quite cooperatively except in cases such as Poland and the Soviet Union, where the population was automatically condemned to eventual enslavement by Nazi racial policies and where officials, intellectuals, and potential leaders were specifically targeted for annihilation.[26] Germany never had enough soldiers or police in most of the countries it occupied to effectively control them alone. Most occupied European countries, and even supposedly neutral Spain, contributed volunteer soldiers to fight with the Germans on the eastern front against the Soviets.[27] On top of this, Germany’s allies–Italy, Finland (which did not participate in the Holocaust and was involved only because it had earlier been invaded by the Soviet Union), Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and the puppet states of Croatia and Slovakia–were mostly cooperative, and only Croatia (as part of the larger Yugoslav communist forces) produced an early resistance of any sort. Though the Communists throughout Eastern and Central Europe later publicized stories of partisan resistance to pro-German governments, most accounts were largely myths except in Poland, Yugoslavia, and occupied parts of the Soviet Union. In Bulgaria, for example, a meaningful partisan movement sprang up only a few months before the arrival of the Soviet army in the summer of 1944, and the same was true for Hungary, while in Romania it was King Michael who overthrew the pro-German dictator Ion Antonescu in August 1944 and turned the country over to the invading Soviet army just as it was entering Romania.[28] Austria, which managed to have itself defined after the war as the first victim of German aggression because it was annexed by Germany in 1938, was actually mostly pro-Nazi.[29] In occupied Greece, the small and rather ineffective resistance was bitterly split between Communists and anti-Communists, while collaborators helped the Germans and Italians keep control. At the end of the war, as Greece was liberated by the British, a civil war broke out between the Greek Communist Party and conservatives, so that ultimately most of the former collaborators were enlisted in the anticommunist cause. To this day, Greeks have not integrated into their national consciousness a realistic appraisal of what happened.[30]

The communist version of what had happened during the war was also taught in East Germany, so that blame was assigned to West Germany, where the old order had supposedly survived. East Germany felt that it had no need to confront Nazism, leaving its people unprepared for the new world in which they found themselves after reunification in 1990.[31] The same story of communist partisan activity was put forward by Communists in Western Europe, especially in Italy and France, where there were very large Communist parties after the war.

Communists did play an important role in the resistances in these countries, but as we have seen, in France that was not significant until 1943, and by then Communists were far from being the only participants. The same happened in Italy. It was only after Mussolini’s overthrow in 1943, followed immediately by the seizure of most of Italy by German troops, that resistance began.[32] In other words, as in most of Europe where there were either governments allied to Germany or puppet regimes beholden to the Germans, it was only the decisive turn of events against Germany that unleashed major resistance.

For decades after World War II, Germans’ acceptance of their guilt allowed the rest of Europe to evade this truth, namely, that they had been mostly quite willing to help the Nazis and close their eyes to gruesome German brutality as long as it seemed that Germany was winning. In official histories and books, what were often minor acts of resistance, or tardy ones that became effective only from 1943 on, were played up; collaboration by broad swaths of officialdom was overlooked; and the need for any kind of remorse or apology to the many victims, including, of course, Jews and Roma (or Gypsies), was not part of remembrance.

The second, somewhat related, problem with the simple contrast between Europeans’ and Asians’ memories of the war is that most of the Central and Eastern European countries, where the worst abuses and the most killing took place, evaded responsibility even more than Western Europe. In part this evasion was because of the communist interpretation of fascism and Nazism as a class phenomenon, the last gasp of a historically condemned bourgeois order. Thus the ultranationalism and ethnic hatreds that had so troubled this part of Europe even before World War I and only grew worse between 1918 and 1939, were brushed off as yet another manifestation of the evils of the corrupt old order, now replaced by healthy socialism. The problems of ethnonationalist conflict were swept under the rug, even though that had been part of the background cause of the rise of fascism and the early success of the Nazi occupations throughout almost the entire region.

By the time Communists took power in Eastern Europe after the war, many ethnic problems actually had been settled by the Nazis (through the extermination of most of the Jewish minorities in Central and Eastern Europe), by the movement of borders after 1945 and mass exchanges of population, or by the largest example of ethnic cleansing in European history when ethnic Germans were expelled from Poland and Czechoslovakia or internally displaced in the Soviet Union. Some 11.5 million Germans whose ancestors had been living in these regions for centuries were forced out. Though the numbers are (naturally) contested, it is likely that well over a million died in the process.[33]

Little of this violent history was incorporated into the official record. In Poland, the bulk of the genuinely large resistance had actually been anticommunist and nationalist. This position was denied by the Communists. At the same time, the suffering of the Jews during the war, Poland’s long-standing anti-Semitism well before 1939, and the continuing violent anti-Semitism after the war were also played down to the point of being practically ignored.[34]

One of the most unfortunate aspects of these fabrications was that even in the case where there was the most genuine, strong, communist resistance movement, Yugoslavia, the story was overused and eventually lost its power as communism’s legitimacy faded. Tito, the leader of the communist partisans during the war and Yugoslavia’s dictator until his death in 1980, based much of his reputation and his party’s legitimacy on the partisan myth that all good Yugoslavs had joined together to fight the bourgeois, treacherous domestic Fascists and foreign invaders. Here we have a perfect example of why schoolbooks are not necessarily effective if they tell a story that loses credibility. In fact, the Yugoslav war from 1941 to 1945 was a complex combination of a struggle against German and Italian occupiers as well as a very nasty, multisided civil war between the country’s various ethnic nationalists. It is true that Tito’s Communists worked hard to overcome ethnic divisions, but the partisan story repeated endlessly in classrooms and in state propaganda did not make people forget the bitter ethnic divisions that had also existed. By emphasizing the myth of class unity over ethnic division, Tito’s state failed to explain the troubling past. Already by the time of Tito’s death, ethnic strains were evident, and in the 1980s they grew out of control. In the 1990s, they exploded into a tragic war that killed hundreds of thousands and broke the country apart into its various ethnonationalist groups.[35]

The third problem with the easy dichotomy contrasting “good” Germany and a reconciled, harmonious Europe to “bad” Japan and a troubled East Asia has to do with what was brought up earlier, the question of genocide and morality raised by the Holocaust. Acceptance in Germany was far from immediate, and though for well over a decade and perhaps as many as two it was accepted elsewhere but not made central to World War II memories, it is now very widely recognized in Europe that Nazi Germany’s genocidal policy toward Jews was a totally inexcusable crime for which it is impossible to find any justification, unless one admits to being an anti-Semite who approves of the eradication of Jews in the world.

Yehuda Bauer, probably Israel’s most prominent analyst of the Holocaust, or the Shoah as it is now generally called in Israel, has emphasized the complete lack of rational realism that lay behind it.[36] How many Jews were there in Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power? How much of a threat were they? In 1933, Jews made up some 0.8 percent of the German population, or just over 500,000 out of 66 million, and most of these considered themselves German patriots. Three hundred seventy-five thousand were left by 1938 before Kristallnacht (the first systematic organized pogrom against Jews in Germany, though already many anti-Semitic laws had been approved and actions occurred). Though Austria’s annexation had added another 185,000 (out of a total population of 6.8 million, or 2.7 percent of the Austrian total), many of these quickly fled. In any case, by then, German Jews had already been excluded from public life, from most professions, and had had much of their property taken away, so this small minority could not, by any rational calculation, have been considered seriously threatening.[37] Yet the persecution intensified and turned into genocide by 1941.

We could go into the fantasies of Jewish control of finance or the press or any of the other anti-Semitic demons conjured up in Europe and elsewhere, but the astonishing fact is how little substance these had in Germany itself or in any of the major Western European countries with Jewish communities. Jews were 0.7 percent of the British population and 0.4 percent of France’s. Only in some of the East-Central European countries, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, and Romania, were they more than 4 percent of the total. In the Soviet Union, there were 3 million Jews, about 1.6 percent of the total, and even in the Ukraine, where most lived, they were only 2.8 percent of the population.[38] Aside from the Soviet Union, none of these eastern countries could have been considered a threat to Germany. Poland, with the largest concentration of Jews in Europe, was anti-Semitic itself and hardly run by Jews. It was, in any case, quickly defeated and conquered in 1939. Hungary and Romania became German allies. As for the Soviet Union, Hitler in 1940 said that the invasion of the Soviet Union would be “child’s play” because Slavs were subhuman inferiors, so no matter how many Jews there were in the East, he could not have felt that their presence was in any sense an immediate threat to German power.[39] There is, of course, the persistence of myths about how this tiny minority secretly ran the affairs of the major powers. The Nazis as well as anti-Semites throughout the world believed, and still believe, in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and new editions are still being printed. Edouard Drumont’s 1886 best-selling French book, La France juive was an earlier version of the same myths. There have been so many refutations of the lies in these works that it is hardly worth going over them. The point is that if someone believes in these stories, then indeed the Jews are a deadly menace, no matter what objective evidence there is to disprove them.

Once the gruesome consequences of this kind of exterminationist anti-Semitism became generally known, and eventually very widely publicized, it became almost impossible for Germans to come up with convincing justifications of the war and genocide that they had begun. It is precisely because of the Shoah that efforts by right-wing German historians to excuse Nazism as a reaction to outside (mostly Soviet) threats fell flat.[40] Cruel as the Japanese were in territories they occupied, and murderous as they were in the many massacres they perpetrated, there is no single, clear-cut program of genocide that can be ascribed to them. Theirs was in some ways an exceptionally brutal colonial war, and even Nanjing, far from being part of a plan to exterminate all Chinese, was in a sense a very large-scale version of many such episodes in many wars of occupation. This is not to excuse Japan’s actions by any means but to point out that it is easier to evade responsibility for such an act by claiming that it was part of a war than it is to try to justify or somehow overlook the Shoah. So, in the end, even though many more non-Jews than Jews died in Europe during World War II, it was the Jewish question that gradually became a central part of the historical memory of German guilt.

In Europe the Jewish problem was for the first two postwar decades relegated to obscurity, even denial, and in some cases this lasted well into the 1990s. This was true at first even in Germany, where, according to Buruma, the full extent of the nightmare was not quite recognized by the general public until the showing of an American television drama on the Holocaust in Germany in 1979. Der Spiegel, a leading West German newspaper, commented at the time: “An American television series, made in a trivial style, produced more for commercial than for moral reasons, more for entertainment than for enlightenment, accomplished what hundreds of [German] books, plays, films, and television programs have failed to do in the more than three decades since the end of the war: to inform the Germans about crimes against Jews committed in their name, so that millions were emotionally touched and moved.”[41] Aside from being well produced, the American television show featured an assimilated middle-class family that was not obviously Jewish in any way, and perhaps this is what so startled the Germans.

As a French Jewish baby who was protected with his mother and grandmother during the war in a small village, and as a professional social scientist, I recall thinking in 1979 that this show was too smooth and not nearly horrible enough. But that may have been the secret of its success in the United States and especially in Germany. It was easier to identify with the family portrayed than with the skeletal, dying concentration camp prisoners one sees in documentaries and pictures. In any case, after this series aired, West German (but not East German) textbooks placed increased emphasis on Nazi crimes that killed some 6 million Jews. Furthermore, the number of monuments and museums featuring the persecution of Jews under Nazi rule has proliferated, so that now German guilt is very solidly established, and new generations come out of school aware of how xenophobic ultranationalism and racist theories resulted in such a catastrophe.

What most of the rest of Europe failed to do for a long time, however, was to admit that the Germans could never have killed so many Jews without the help of the countries they had occupied and to which they were allied. In the few cases where local authorities resisted German demands, very few Jews were caught and killed. So, for example, Bulgarian public and church opinion protected Bulgarian Jews in Bulgaria proper but not in the parts of Greece and Yugoslavia occupied by the Bulgarians during the war. There, Jews were turned over to the Germans.[42] The same was true of Hungary, where the administration of Admiral Miklós Horthy protected its own Jews, particularly those in Budapest, but turned over the ones in the parts of Transylvania it occupied. Elie Wiesel, probably the most famous of all Holocaust survivor writers, was from that Transylvanian Jewish community, almost all of whom perished in the Nazi camps. Only after Horthy was overthrown by the Germans in 1944 for trying to start negotiations for a separate peace with the Allies, and a Hungarian extremist anti-Semitic party was put in power, were Budapest’s Jews arrested and sent to concentration camps in large numbers.[43]

Romania’s pro-German wartime dictator, Marshal Antonescu, had no qualms about slaughtering Jews in Bessarabia (today’s Republic of Moldova) and in Romanian Moldova, where local anti-Semitic feelings were high, but those farther south, and particularly in Bucharest, were more protected because they were thought to be economically useful, and there most survived.[44]

Yet to this day the full extent of these countries’ complicity in the Holocaust and, in cases such as Romania and Hungary, the nature of their particularly vicious native fascist movement remain poorly known and not widely taught in schools. What remains part of the general perception is the help they gave to some selected portions of their Jewish populations, not what happened to the majority of Jews.

In Romania recognition of what had happened to the Jews was partially exposed right after the war but then erased from public discourse. By the time the communist regime was overthrown at the end of 1989, few Romanians had much of a sense of how increasingly racist, xenophobic, and stridently anti-Semitic the atmosphere had been in the 1920s and 1930s and how viciously cruel the Antonescu regime had been from 1940 to 1944, when it was replaced to try to mollify the invading Soviet army. There was almost no serious Romanian scholarship on that period until the 1990s. On the contrary, by the late communist period the regime had begun rehabilitating Antonescu, portraying him as a dedicated, honest, and reform-minded nationalist rather than as a member of the anti-Semitic Iron Guard. It even provided material support for an American scholar, Larry Watts, to spread this story. After the fall of communism, Watts continued to receive ample help from the Romanian military, which was intent on proving that Antonescu had been a hero.[45] Indeed, when the proceedings of the communist-led trial of Antonescu that led to his execution in 1946 were published in Romania in 1996, he was again made out to be a noble, heroic figure.[46] Only more recently has some Romanian scholarship exposed the deep roots of the nasty ideologies espoused by much of Romania’s intellectual and political elite in the pre<->World War II period and during the war itself, and of course by Antonescu.[47]

Despite this long period of denial, in Romania, as elsewhere in some of the former communist parts of East-Central Europe, this perception did start to change in the early 2000s. Largely this reform was in order to gain acceptance into the European Union, where recognition of the extent of widespread guilt had already been under way for at least a decade or more.[48] In Romania a special commission was set up in 2003 to examine the record. Wiesel was made its chairman. The report spelled out the extent of the Antonescu regime’s decisive role in committing atrocities against Jews and how much of this was done by the Romanians themselves. These findings reversed the previous perception that the Holocaust was something done by Germans and of minor importance in Romania. Today, at least in universities, this history is taught along with that of the atrocities committed by the postwar communist regime. It has not eliminated right-wing insistence that Antonescu was a nationalist hero, but it has at least somewhat, if not yet decisively, altered the perception of younger Romanians.[49] Changing the general perception of what really happened, in Romania and elsewhere in the region, will take much longer.

The admission of how much of a role Eastern and Central European xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and general racism contributed to the Nazi Holocaust has had something to do with the fact that a disproportionate number of the communist cadres right after World War II were Jewish. This was partly because Communist parties were originally very small except in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, their leaders consisted largely of marginalized minorities, and Stalin recognized that Jews could be trusted as loyal, subservient henchmen because they were unlikely to be able rely on domestic forces to back them since locals were generally anti-Semitic. Later, these Jewish Communists became some of the main victims of the purges in Eastern Europe as Stalin set out to destroy what was left of Jewish life in the Soviet Empire. These factors contributed first to a systematic downplaying of the Holocaust, and then resulted in a lasting anti-Semitism that in many cases still blames Jews for their countries’ misfortunes.[50] It will take a long time for such popular misconceptions to go away.

Nowhere is this situation more evident than in Poland, where Jan Gross’s best-selling 2001 book, Neighbors, caused a sensational debate to break out. Gross, a Polish American historian at Princeton, documented how in 1941 in a Polish town that was half Jewish and half Christian, the Christians turned on their sixteen hundred Jewish neighbors and slaughtered almost all of them–beating them to death, herding them into buildings and burning them, or hunting them down in the fields as they tried to escape, all without any prompting by the Germans who were occupying the area but not that particular town. Only seven Jews survived. Poland had generally portrayed itself solely as a victim of the Germans and therefore free of any possible guilt. Indeed, Poles were deemed part of an inferior race by the Nazis, their intellectuals and leaders were killed in large numbers, and every effort was made to wipe out Polish culture. Poles, along with Yugoslavs, proportionately suffered the highest casualties in Europe during the war; yet Poland was also one of the most anti-Semitic countries in Europe, and some Poles helped the Germans round up Jews. Some other Poles did hide Jews or help them, but most did not, and in some cases, as in the town Gross studied, they took the initiative in killing Jews. Gross’s book woke the country up to what had really happened, but it was also bitterly attacked by Polish nationalists and by many parts of the Catholic Church, which is particularly powerful in Poland. Even Lech Walesa, Poland’s heroic anticommunist leader and its first postcommunist president, accused Gross of just being another greedy Jew spreading lies to make money. Still, the book finally led to an official apology by the Polish government and a new monument erected to commemorate the massacre described by Gross. Subsequently, in 2006, Gross published a new book, Fear, in which he described how some of the few surviving Jews (over 85 percent of the roughly 3 million Polish Jews were killed) who returned to their homes after World War II were set upon by Christian Poles and massacred. This account produced another burst of nationalist outrage in Poland, where the debate about the whole issue remains bitterly divisive. It is not just in East Asia where descriptions of massacres that took place more than seventy years ago are still contentious and subject to nationalist distortions.[51]

In Lithuania, once home to a Jewish community of some 160,000 (7.6 percent of the population, the second-largest percentage after Poland) some two-thirds were wiped out. As Petersen’s chapter in this volume points out, though Lithuania had traditionally had much anti-Semitism, it had not been as bad before the war as in neighboring Poland. On the other hand, Lithuania was traumatized by a very brutal Soviet occupation from 1939 to 1941, during the period when the Nazi-Soviet treaty of 1939 had divided up Eastern Europe between Hitler and Stalin. So, when the Germans broke the treaty by invading in 1941, they were seen as liberators by the Lithuanians, many of whom blamed Jews for the Soviet occupation. Many Lithuanian collaborators helped the Nazis between 1941 and 1944. During the time from World War II until 1991 when Lithuania was under Soviet communist rule, collaboration with the Germans was officially deemed to have been a “bourgeois nationalist” phenomenon, though the killing of Jews itself was downplayed. It is no surprise, then, that the period since independence in 1991 has seen a confused conflict between various political factions over what happened. This situation is complicated, as elsewhere in Eastern Europe, by the fact that Jews are often blamed for having worked with the Communists, not once more to murderous repression and mass deportations of its citizens by a new Soviet occupation that lasted until 1991. The myth that confounded “Jews” with “Communists” made it difficult to come to grips with what had happened during the German occupation. It is only now that some efforts are being made to clarify the historical record, but it will take a long time before this becomes absorbed into school teaching or general public perception.[52]

In Austria, also, the fact that in 1938 the population and state officials rallied to the Nazi cause and instituted large-scale expulsion and killing of the substantial Jewish population was for a long time largely overlooked except by a few scholars. Austria’s former president Kurt Waldheim, who had previously served as the UN’s secretary-general before returning to Austria to run for president, was exposed as a significant participant in Nazi war crimes in the Balkans during the war, against Greek Jews and Yugoslavs. Both the U.S. and the Soviet intelligence services knew of his record before he became UN secretary-general, but both countries had backed him for this post, perhaps because they felt that he could easily be blackmailed and would therefore be more compliant. The deceitfulness of his public biography was openly revealed only after his UN term, while he was running for Austria’s presidency. The revelation, however, had little impact. The Austrians still chose him as their president.[53] Berger’s chapter in this volume actually makes a convincing case that Japan’s and Austria’s evasions about their records during World War II long had many common elements. In Austria, however, starting in the 1990s there have been changes, including the erection of monuments commemorating the tragedy of the Holocaust and admissions that Austrians were willing participants. Recently, in January 2013, the Vienna Philharmonic promised at last to open its archives that reveal how sympathetic its musicians were to the Nazi cause.[54] Almost seventy years of evasion had to pass before this admission occurred, but that is not so different from what has happened elsewhere in Europe, except in Germany.

In the Soviet Union, official anti-Semitism blocked out most of the story of the persecution and destruction of Jews. After the war, Stalin became increasingly anti-Semitic, and this attitude remained part of a policy of discrimination until the fall of communism in 1991. Even now, however, Russian anti-Semitism is too omnipresent to produce much official acknowledgment of the massive suffering of Jews during the German occupation, and schoolbooks that are not even willing to admit anything close to the full extent of Stalin’s own crimes are hardly likely to dwell on the unfortunate situation of the Jews during and after World War II. Though Hitler’s crimes are taught in Russian schools, what happened to the Jews is not.[55]

Nor has this kind of evasiveness been limited to the Soviet Union or Central or Eastern Europe. Few French Jews would have been sent to concentration camps without the cooperation of the French police and denunciations by French citizens. To be sure, about three-quarters of French Jews survived, a higher number than in countries farther east, and a much higher proportion than in the Netherlands. Their survival was partly because France is a relatively large country, and the Germans had few occupying troops to devote to running it. At the same time, this very fact meant that it would have been easier for the French to protect all of their Jews, and in parts of France that were more left-wing, as well as in more Protestants towns and villages (Protestants are only about 3 percent of France’s population but have played a disproportionately large role in the economy and politics), Jews were better protected than in right-wing areas, though this was not uniformly so. Where local authorities did not cooperate with orders from the Germans and from the Vichy government to turn in Jews, relatively few were caught.[56]

After the war, France compensated few of its Jews whose property had been looted during the war, mostly by other French citizens, and it was not until July 1995 that a French president apologized for what had happened. Now it is different, as Jackson’s chapter explains. In Paris there are plaques commemorating the arrest of French Jews, as well as a new Holocaust museum in what used to be the old Jewish quarter of the city. But it took a long time for this recognition to happen.[57] France only began to include materials on the Holocaust in its schools in the late 1970s, and the way to best do so remains a subject of controversy. In February 2008, President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested that every child in school be assigned the biography of one of the French Jewish Holocaust victims, a proposal that was widely deemed excessive, though it was admitted that it was necessary to somehow revive the study of this topic to make it more relevant.[58] This treatment shows once more that it is Germany that has taken the lead in addressing the subject and that other European countries have consistently lagged behind. The controversy raised by the French president’s remark shows also how much the contestation over memories now seventy years old remains alive.

The Netherlands, Buruma’s home country, also had a somewhat darker record than most of its citizens were willing to acknowledge after the war when everything was blamed on the Germans and the small domestic Dutch Nazi Party. Anne Frank was probably turned in by Dutch neighbors. While the majority of the Dutch did not like the German occupation, and local Nazis were a minority, there were enough willing collaborators to run a dependent Dutch civil service. Partly because of this collaboration, but also largely because of the Netherlands’ small size, over 70 percent of the 140,000 Dutch Jews were killed.[59]

Policy toward Jews was largely a secondary consideration for most Western Europeans during World War II. Though Jews had made up less than 1 percent of any West European country before the war (most European Jews lived in the East), there was generally enough anti-Semitism to make most people in the occupied countries indifferent to their fate or, in the case of many officials, to cooperate with German orders.

Compared to countries farther east, and also to Russia, Western Europe has finally admitted that it was not just Germans who committed crimes, but this acceptance has taken decades of work by historians and filmmakers and organized efforts to bring about such recognition. In all these cases, it took a new generation that came to the fore twenty-five years after the war to start the process of admission. Their elders preferred to forget as much as possible and to keep quiet, except for the Communists who distorted history to vilify their bourgeois enemies in order to better conceal communism’s own crimes. That recognition and admission is just beginning in the eastern parts of Europe, even though the overwhelming majority of Jews killed were in the East.

The contrast between Germany and to some extent (belatedly) much of Western Europe and Japan or East Asia in general, therefore, stands. But the reluctance of almost all of Europe to face its nationals’ participation as well as the widespread feigned ignorance and indifference to the horrors that occurred during and right after World War II should serve to remind us that there is nothing easy about confronting such moral evil. Europe’s admissions of guilt and acceptance of historical truth did not surface quickly and the process of reconciliation with the past remains problematic and has barely begun in some countries.

If we turn back to Germany itself, a fourth problem appears in the effort to explain the contrast between its behavior and Japan’s. It is obviously true that West Germany’s acceptance of its guilt contributed to the reconciliation with the rest of Europe, while Japan’s ambiguous and in some cases blatantly evasive treatment of the issue has continued to sour relations with its neighbors despite the development of close economic links. But did West Germany really have any choice? A key difference between Germany and Japan was the international situation in which they found themselves in the years immediately following the war.[60]

France, humbled and in terrible economic shape by 1945, was, nevertheless, the most powerful country on the West European mainland (excluding island Britain), and the French wanted to see Germany dismantled and permanently crippled. The other formerly occupied West Europe countries were bitterly hostile to Germany as well and deeply embarrassed about the fact that so many of their citizens had collaborated with the Germans. The United States and the Soviet Union, however, did not want to fragment Germany into little pieces. Stalin hoped to be able to milk postwar Germany for reparations that his country desperately needed, and the United States, along with Britain, understood that a punitive peace after World War I had set the stage for Hitler’s rise and so did not want to repeat the same mistake. The creation of an occupied but economically more united Germany served their purposes better than the kind of revenge France wanted.[61]

As the Cold War developed, and especially in 1948, with strong Communist parties in France and Italy, and the final, complete subjugation of Eastern Europe by the Soviets, the Americans began to think of West Germany as a possible bulwark against communism, while the Soviets formally set up a separate East German state in 1949. But without French and general West European acceptance of West Germany as a legitimate, trustworthy state, it would have been impossible to construct a strong, united North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and probably very difficult to bring about the kind of West European economic recovery able to dampen pro-communist sentiment where it was already strong. It took years of difficult negotiations and the participation of some farsighted French and German diplomats to bring reconciliation about, but helped by the dire international situation and U.S. pressure, it happened. France and Germany began to take steps to cooperate economically, first in the coal and steel industries and then more broadly. Political leaders Maurice Schuman and Jean Monnet of France led the way, starting in 1950, in changing French attitudes. In West Germany, the elderly Konrad Adenauer had become head of his country. Adenauer had a history of being friendly to France and Britain in the early 1920s, when he was mayor of Cologne. Jailed several times by the Nazis, he had barely survived the war, but as the leader of the new Christian Democratic Party he was also fervently anticommunist. He was therefore receptive to overtures from France. A patient, diplomatic, and generous United States greatly helped the process along. What was required was for West Germany to make it clear that it would not fall back into the same aggressive ultranationalism that had dominated it in the first half of the twentieth century.[62]

Franco-German friendship and mutual confidence thus grew and became the basis of united Europe, first through the Common Market and then eventually in the European Union. This alliance remains the bedrock of European unity, even after the collapse of East Germany and its reunification with West Germany in 1990.[63]

Part of the bargain was that Germany had to firmly renounce its aggressive past. Slowly, German schools changed the way they taught history, and with the rise of new postwar generations attitudes changed. Programs were set up in the 1950s and 1960s to exchange high school students between the two countries. Those who took part in these exchanges still remember them as being among the more significant events of their youth. A German friend born just after the war told me how he was sent on such an exchange program and met his first love, a French girl his age. She had to keep it a secret for fear that if her father found out she was involved with a German, he would kill both of them. To these youths, this attitude made no sense at all, but that was how some in the older generation that had actually experienced the war still felt. In France, also, the teaching of history changed, though much more slowly. Since the mid-1980s, French textbooks have gradually shifted away from a nationalist perspective toward a more pan-European and even global emphasis, whereas in Germany the process began earlier and has gone much farther.[64]

Such a process was either necessary or even possible in East Asia. First of all, the Americans agreed to maintain the Japanese emperor (something that would have been totally unthinkable with Hitler, had he not committed suicide) in order to better control Japan, so it became far easier for the Japanese to evade the issue of responsibility.[65] Just as importantly, the countries that had been occupied by Japan had almost no say at all in determining Japan’s fate. China was embroiled in civil war until 1949, and then, especially in 1950, China became a direct enemy of the United States. Korea was weak and divided, and after the Korean War, it was in ruins.[66] In Southeast Asia the main issues were a set of anticolonial wars and the dissolution of the French, British, and Dutch empires. Influencing policy toward defeated Japan was neither possible nor particularly important.[67]

Thailand skillfully extricated itself from its wartime association with the Japanese and became pro-American. Perhaps only someone born in France still notices that the Victory Monument in Bangkok celebrates a Thai victory over the French in Laos in 1941, at a time when French Indochina was dominated by the Japanese and France itself was helpless.[68]

In short, there were no hostile Asians the Japanese needed to placate or listen to until much later when a recovered South Korea and an emergent China began to make demands for apologies. By then, the pattern of Japanese weak official apologies combined with evasion had been fixed for a long time. To be sure, Japanese leftists did seek to expose their country’s brutality and aggression during the war, but they tacked this on to a strong anti-Americanism unlikely to win much sympathy from the United States. The dominant Japanese conservatives were, at first, very much the same elites who had run Japan before and during the war, except for a few top people who were purged, and today’s elite made its way in the same Japanese conservative circles that ruled in the 1950s and 1960s. So, there is little pressure for Japan to change, and since both the Japanese Left and Right can agree that they were the innocent victims of the nuclear bombings and Western aggression, the situation has not changed much.[69] This is all the more so because China and South Korea have been perfectly willing to cooperate economically with Japan, even as they complain about its refusal to make official apologies or change its textbooks. And in addition, whatever claims may be made against it, it is certainly not as completely clear that Japan committed genocide, unlike Germany. Massive killings and brutality, yes, but there is no Asian Judenfrage (Jewish question).

Finally, there is the question of collaboration. In Europe, as the Germans took the blame for what had happened, it was easy for a full generation to evade the fact that so many other Europeans had helped the Nazis. By the time this began to change in the 1970s and 1980s, West European unity was a solidly established fact, and few felt endangered by the gradual admission in other countries that they too may have been partially at fault. But what about in East Asia? How many Koreans worked willingly with the Japanese? To what extent have Koreans faced up to this? Undoubtedly, the fact that Park Chung Hee, the longtime military dictator of South Korea, was trained as a Japanese military officer and had once taken a Japanese name kept South Korean complaints about Japan to a minimum during his rule until his 1979 assassination and also helped South Korean economic cooperation with the Japanese.[70] There were many Chinese who also worked with the Japanese, but during Mao Tse-tung’s rule, this was mostly blamed on bad class elements as in communist Eastern Europe. Thus the early postwar decades put little pressure on Japan itself to apologize. As post-Mao Chinese reforms weakened the legitimacy of socialist ideology, and the Communist Party replaced this by emphasizing nationalism, however, hostility toward Japan and the cultivation of memories of Japanese atrocities came to the fore once more in the 1980s and 1990s.[71] This occurrence is something a Japanese public and its conservative politicians have had a hard time understanding or accepting because, unlike in West Germany, there was so little pressure to face the facts in the immediate postwar decades.


Guilt, Shame, and the Reality of Human Frailty When Faced with Evil

Some previous analysts have suggested that perhaps another difference between Germany and Japan, not yet mentioned here, has something to do with a difference between the two cultures, with the former being one that emphasizes “confession” while the latter stresses “guilt” and “shame.” Buruma correctly dismisses this explanation as rather dubious and shallow.[72] Even if one were to try to delve more deeply into the differences between the two cultures, it would be very difficult to prove that these played a major role because there are far more obvious and convincing explanations.

On the other hand, Petersen’s chapter in this book is much more perceptive in explaining the psychological difference between “guilt” and “shame.” He points out that guilt attaches to specific actions, whereas shame is connected to overall character, and if this explanation is applied to a nation as a whole, the effects are quite different. Germans, in effect, were allowed to admit that they had been guilty of crimes but that compensation and certain changes in their education would expiate this guilt. It would certainly seem that as China and South Korea have since the 1980s turned to trying to shame Japan, there has been growing resistance by the Japanese, who do not want to demean their entire national culture. The difference between “guilt” and “shame” may seem subtle, but as Petersen explains, those who confess when being shamed are most likely to do so in a formalistic, emotionless way, which is exactly what Japanese officials have done. It is telling that even in the school lesson prepared for German children that was mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, it is a kindly policeman who saves the Jewish child. Many Germans were guilty, but there were also some who were not, so that it is possible to feel redemption by looking at those who behaved better.

In 2009, a Chinese film called City of Life and Death about the Nanjing massacre was released. While it is unsparing in portraying Japanese brutality, it was heavily criticized by many Chinese because one of the Japanese characters is actually kindly and ultimately commits suicide because he cannot bear what his army has done. Those who made such complaints wanted to shame Japan by suggesting that all Japanese are monsters. In fact, as Buruma’s review of this film explains, Nanjing itself has long been discussed in Japan, though again right-wing nationalists deny the massacre took place. Still, saying that all Japanese culture is inherently evil makes it less likely that the Japanese will change their views. The Japanese army was guilty of a major moral crime, without a doubt, killing over a hundred thousand civilians (though probably not as many as the three hundred thousand Iris Chang and the Nanjing Memorial museum’s “Wall of Calamity” claim). but the controversy in China and Japan about this film shows how unresolvable the issue of Japan’s wartime guilt can be if no way is found to move toward a more realistic version of history.[73] Trying to shame Japan into seeing itself as a nation of monsters will not do that.

In short, West Germany has been exceptional in its admission of guilt, even if it ultimately had little choice because of the genocide the Nazis committed and because of Germany’s international situation after World War II. Most European countries that had significant numbers of collaborators, and some of whom had quite terrible records of ultranationalism and vicious treatment of their Jews, were very slow to admit this guilt to themselves and to the rest of the world, while some still remain ambivalent. Seen in that light, it begins to seem that the Japanese public’s reluctance to face the past, and its continuing view of Japan as a victim rather than as an instigator of morally repugnant aggression, is normal if unfortunate. That is what is to be expected, and there is nothing uniquely Japanese about it.

We should not be surprised by this conclusion. White American Southerners long evaded and, to some extent, still fail to come to grips with the fact that they fought a bloody civil war not for “states’ rights” but to preserve slavery. The Russian government today is busy trying to urge Russians to forget how cruel and needlessly bloody Stalin really was. China downplays Mao’s crimes, and as Gil Rozman’s chapter in this volume shows, it is actively rewriting history to exonerate itself from any past wrongdoing and to portray Japan and the United States as inherently shameful. The Turkish government denies that its Ottoman predecessors conducted a genocide against Armenians, though historians have more than adequately documented what happened. The Catholic Church has spent decades trying to avoid admitting the sexual scandals that have besmirched its reputation, though when forced to do so, it has relented somewhat.

Because history is after all usually meant to serve the present rather than the past, we should be surprised. As professional scholars, however, some of us can help accelerate the process of recognition, admission, and therefore reconciliation by providing the raw material that honest intellectuals and political leaders will use when they finally come to accept the necessity of facing the past.

As a final note, I should point out that a few hundred meters from our house in Bélâbre there was a small hotel. Because the village was very close to the border between theoretically more benign Vichy France and the territory occupied directly by the Germans, refugees, some of whom were undoubtedly Jews, would walk across the poorly guarded border and, once in the village, would be directed to the hotel, where they could eat and sleep. The next morning, they would be turned over to the police, and for many, probably most, that meant prison and often death. We were never turned in because my mother and grandmother had arrived from Paris before the horror of it all had been fully felt, so people knew us and could therefore let their sympathies overcome their fears. We do not need to take a scholarly approach to understand that the closer one gets to reality, the more complex and contradictory human reactions to extreme stress really are. There are those who are purely evil, and there are saints, but both are really quite rare. Accepting this may be the first essential step that needs to be taken if historical reconciliation about war memories is ever to take place.




1. Admitting Guilt Is Neither Common Nor Easy

[1] New York Times, “Indonesia: Dutch Apologize for 1947 Massacre.”

[2] Most of this information can be found through See also Rakotoarison, “Carnage de Maillé”; and “Ferrant, Anatole.” Part of the story was told to me by my late mother, Hélène Chirot (1920-2008). For a detailed analysis of what happened in the much more famous village of Oradour, today the site of a major museum, see Farmer, Martyred Village.

[3] Snyder, Bloodlands.

[4] Bell quoted in Valentino, Final Solutions, 201-2; Jones, Honor in the Dust.

[5] Kiernan, Blood and Soil.

[6] Akçam, A Shameful Act.

[7] Chirot and McCauley, Why Not Kill Them All?

[8] Power, A Problem from Hell.

[9] Karnow, Vietnam: A History, 521-31.

[10] Pitts, A Turn to Empire.

[11] On why many Turks have always perceived the Western insistence on an admission of genocide to be an example of Western hypocrisy, see Akçam, A Shameful Act, 368-76.

[12] Miscamble, The Most Controversial Decision.

[13] Kimmelman, “No Laughs, No Thrills.”

[14] McCurry, “Far Right Closes Yasukuni Screening.”

[15] Fackler, “Japanese Mayor’s Comments.”

[16] Mackenzie, “Berlusconi Defends Mussolini”; Economist, “Back to the Future”; Lind, “The Limits on Nationalism in Japan.”

[17] Soysal, Bertilotti, and Mannitz in Schissler and Soysal, eds. The Nation, Europe, and the World, 13-34.

[18] He, “Remembering and Forgetting the War”; He, The Search for Reconciliation.

[19] Mitani in Shin and Sneider, eds., History Textbooks and the Wars in Asia. For more on this topic, see other chapters in Shin and Sneider.

[20] Maier, The Unmasterable Past.

[21] Craig, Politics and Culture in Modern Germany, 339.

[22] Buruma, The Wages of Guilt.

[23] Deák’s introduction, in Deák, Gross, and Judt, eds., The Politics of Retribution in Europe, 3-14. In the same volume, see also Deák’s chapter.

[24] de Gaulle, The Complete War Memoirs, 86, 108.

[25] Jackson, France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944.

[26] Gross, Polish Society under German Occupation.

[27] Payne, Franco and Hitler.

[28] Crampton, A Concise History of Bulgaria, 175; Deák, Gross, and Judt, eds., The Politics of Retribution in Europe, 55, 67.

[29] Beller, A Concise History of Austria, 231-48.

[30] Mazower, Inside Hitler’s Greece; Mazower in Deák, Gross, and Judt, eds., The Politics of Retribution in Europe.

[31] Judt in Deák, Gross, and Judt, eds., The Politics of Retribution in Europe, 307-8.

[32] Wilhelm, The Other Italy.

[33] Naimark, Fires of Hatred, 14, 108-38; Snyder, Bloodlands, 313-37.

[34] Gross, Polish Society under German Occupation; Gross in Deák, Gross, and Judt, eds., The Politics of Retribution in Europe.

[35] Glenny, The Balkans, 570-93, 622-62.

[36] Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, 266.

[37] Holborn, A History of Modern Germany; Mitchell, European Historical Statistics, 3-4.

[38] Gilbert, Jewish History Atlas.

[39] Speer, Inside the Third Reich, 306.

[40] Maier, The Unmasterable Past.

[41] Der Spiegel quoted in Buruma, The Wages of Guilt, 88.

[42] Crampton, A Concise History of Bulgaria, 171-73.

[43] Deák, Gross, and Judt, The Politics of Retribution in Europe, 64-67.

[44] Ioanid, The Holocaust in Romania.

[45] Watts, Romanian Cassandra.

[46] Ciucă, ed., Procesul Mareşalului Antonescu.

[47] Solonari, Purifying the Nation.

[48] Judt, Postwar, 803.

[49] Petrescu and Petrescu in Baumgartl, ed., Postdiktatorische Geschichtskulturen im Süden unde Osten Europas, especially 528-30.

[50] Judt in Deák, Gross, and Judt, eds., The Politics of Retribution in Europe, 312-13; Schöpflin, Politics in Eastern Europe, 42-43; Yuri Slezkine, The Jewish Century, 313-14.

[51] Gross, Neighbors; Gross, Fear; Engel, “On Continuity and Discontinuity.” See also Gilbert, Jewish History Atlas, 85-88.

[52] Suziedelis, “The Perception of the Holocaust”; Gilbert, Jewish History Atlas, 85-88.

[53] Mitten, The Politics of Anti-Semitic Prejudice.

[54] Oestreich, “Orchestra to Disclose Its Nazi Past.”

[55] Weiner, Making Sense of War, 114-26; Maier in Schissler and Soysal, eds., The Nation, Europe, and the World.

[56] Marrus and Paxton, Vichy et les Juifs, 191-96, 325-39.

[57] Le Monde, “Une dette imprescriptible”; Trigano, “Que faire avec l’indemnisation des spoliations.”

[58] Le Bars, “Le projet de parrainage d’enfants de la Shoah contesté.”

[59] Romijn in Deák, Gross, and Judt, eds., The Politics of Retribution in Europe; Hilberg, Perpetrators Victims Bystanders, 209-11.

[60] Dujarric, “Retour sur un Japon conquérant.”

[61] Giles, The Locust Years, 99-102; Friend, The Linchpin, 12-16.

[62] Friend, The Linchpin, 16-25.

[63] Ibid.; Friend, Unequal Partners.

[64] Soysal, Bertilotti, and Mannitz in Schissler and Soysal, eds., The Nation, Europe, and the World, 18.

[65] Buruma, The Wages of Guilt, 172-76. For a general comparison of how German and Japanese teachings on World War II have developed, see Dierkes, Postwar History Education.

[66] Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, 185-298.

[67] Weinberg, A World at Arms, 534.

[68] Fineman, A Special Relationship, 91-94.

[69] Buruma, The Wages of Guilt, 295-96.

[70] Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, 349-56.

[71] He, The Search for Reconciliation, chaps. 2 and 3; Chang in Lary and MacKinnon, eds., Scars of War, 136-60.

[72] Buruma, The Wages of Guilt, 116.

[73] Buruma, “From Tenderness to Savagery”; Chang, The Rape of Nanking.