Gloomy Day and Collective Guilt

Summer turned out to be rather lackluster, with a lot of rain, lots of overcast days, and an intense heat wave that rose up and gave us the smack down at the cusp of Ramadan. Just as September rolled in, the weather seemed to turn immediately into Autumn school day dreariness. After Fajr,  I had a cough that rattled in my chest and constantly interrupted my sleep for about an hour. After my post-Fajr nap I tried to take it easy and read. I closed most of the windows, finished reading the ethonographic book, American Muslim women.  When I took a break, I decided to watch a movie online. I decided to finish a film I began watching about childhood innocence. The only problem was that it was The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a film that felt like it was either a tragic joke or a tragic train wreck ready to happen. My husband wasn’t interested in watching it the first time with me. Like me, he had misgivings about films like Valkyrie that try to show the “good German” who resisted Nazi hegemony in Germany. I began to wonder if this film was like Schindler’s List, which shows some of the horrors of the Holocaust, while at the same time absolving some Germans of the collective guilt. A Jewish friend of mine noted that in the 80s, that a number of times he had strange encounters from white Christians seeking to become absolved from guilt of letting it happen. I’ve that happen a few times myself from well meaning white co-workers. Put on the spot, I tried to come up with a thoughtful answer. But we joked, “What if I did say: ‘No, I don’t forgive you or your people!'” Some say that the election of Barack Obama helped a lot of White Americans feel absolved from their  collective guilt. So, I figured that this film was maybe an attempt to show the human side of Hitler youth to show that friendship can overcame race hatred and even mass genocide. We’re just people and that’s all that matters, right?

The well meaning book and film did its best to humanize a monstrous chapter in Western history. I was moved to tears during the gassing scene. Even though I was by myself, words slipped out of my mouth conveying my horror. The music and cinematography was supposed to emphasize the  German mother and sister’s anguish over the loss of their son. But there was nobody left to grieve for little Schmuel.  I feel kind of guilty that part of me  wished that it was based on true events. Can anybody absolve me of my guilt over having feelings of revenge and retribution over injustices?

2 thoughts on “Gloomy Day and Collective Guilt

  1. As Salaamu Alaikum Dear Sister:

    Insha Allah you and your husband are benefiting from the blessed month of Ramadan/Ameen.

    You wrote:

    “A Jewish friend of mine noted that in the 80s, that a number of times he had strange encounters from white Christians seeking to become absolved from guilt of letting it happen.”

    When you write “white Christians,” do you mean white German Christians? Or white Christians in general?

    I recently attended a workshop based on Simon Wiesenthal’s book “The Sunflower” which reflects on the boundaries and limitations of forgiveness. The workshop focused on forgiveness from the Jewish perspective. There were two German nationals at the workshop. They shared that the German people feel a huge national guilt concerning what happened.

    So, I was curious if your friend encountered white non-German Christians. If so, what guilt would they have? What does white have to do with it?

    JAK for considering my question.


  2. Walaikum salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu and Ramadan Mubarak my dear!!

    I believe they were white Christians, non-German. Perhaps they grew up in a family that was anti-Semitic or feel bad for the history of anti-Semitism that some Christians espouse, you know the “the Jews killed Jesus” thing. But then again, many Europeans also collaborated with the Nazis and helped them round up Jews and sold out their neighbors and friends. I remember reading in Foucault’s autobiography about how he felt when there was an influx of all these foreign kids in his class that were even smarter than him. He resented them and were glad they were gone, presumably to be shipped off to camps. Once he found out what happened, that guilt never left him and he forever remained uncritical of Israel, even though he supported violent resistance against domination everywhere else.


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