70% of Germans say country has atoned for Nazi past

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
November 09, 2019, 9:00 AM GMT+0

But one in nine think it will be impossible for the nation to ever make up for the damage done by the Nazis

At an event marking the anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War, German President Frank Walter Steinmeier asked the people of Poland for forgiveness for the damage the Nazis inflicted on their country.

The Polish are less interested in granting forgiveness than receiving reparations, with Poland's President Andrzej Duda demanding compensation from Germany.

The spat does beg the question: almost three quarters of a century after the war ended, has Germany now made amends for what happened?

A new YouGov Germany survey has found that 70% of Germans believe their country has fully atoned for its past actions. A further 7% say that while the country has not atoned enough, it will be able to have done so someday.

But one in nine Germans (11%) say that the actions of the Nazi regime were so horrific that their nation can never hope to atone for what happened.

Younger Germans – those aged between 18 and 34 – are less likely to feel the country has atoned (57%), although this is largely because they are more likely to have answered “don’t know” (20%, compared to 13% among all age groups).

Those Germans who voted for left-wing parties in 2017 are also noticeably less likely to feel that Germany has made amends. While fully 87% of AfD voters, 77% of FDP voters and 74% of CDU/CSU voters hold this view, this figure falls to 68% of SPD voters, 63% of Die Linke voters and 57% of Green voters. Die Linke voters and Green voters in particular are much more likely to say that Germany can never amend for the crimes of the Nazis, at 23% and 19% respectively.

Few Germans feel guilt for the war, and most feel it’s unfair to hold them responsible

That so many Germans think the country has atoned is perhaps unsurprising when you consider that 78% feel no personal guilt for the actions of the Nazis. Just 16% feel any guilt whatsoever, and only 6% feel “rather” or “very” guilty.

And it is indeed hard to argue that they should. Around 88% of the German population weren’t even born by the time the war ended, and a further 11% were still children.

Few Germans believe that either of these groups hold any moral responsibility for the actions of their forebears – only 18% say that those who were children at the time can be held morally responsible and 15% say the same of those born post-war.

In asking the Poles for forgiveness the German president has implied that he believes that Germany itself is still culpable for the war. Few Germans would agree, however – only 32% say that Germany as the country it is today can be held morally responsible, and only 27% say the same of the current German government.

The only group that Germans are more likely than not to say have any moral responsibility for what happened are those who were adults during the Nazi regime. Approaching half (45%) say it is fair that such people be expected to assume moral responsibility for what happened, compared to 28% who disagree.

Could it happen again?

With populism on the rise across the globe, it is understandable that countries like Germany that have worked so hard to prevent a resurgence of ideologies that did so much damage are concerned. One in three Germans (34%) think it’s possible crimes like those committed by the Nazis could take place once again in Germany. Die Linke voters are noticeably more likely to think history could repeat itself (51%), while AfD voters are the least likely (17%).

Nevertheless, a majority of Germans (54%) believe this remains unlikely. That being said, when asked whether such crimes could take place in another country, almost two thirds (65%) think it is possible.

Photo: Getty

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