Must We Bare a Burden of Guilt for the Sins of Our Fathers?

Must We Bare a Burden of Guilt for the Sins of Our Fathers?
— Read on

I just read this very thoughtful reflection essay/review about how descendants of evil people, especially WWII Nazi war criminals, have personally dealt with their heritage. Very interesting, also, to see the caring acceptance that the daughter of one of the very worst death camp killers found from her Jewish employers after she moved to the US.

The intrinsic worth that each of us has as an individual with a soul versus the idea that we may already be tainted with evil at birth by blood ties or similar associations–there is no simple answer to that conundrum.

So I do admire the decisions of Hitler’s relatives and other war criminals’ children not to have children themselves and thus to “end” the bloodlines associated with their aberrant family member. Who knows if their forbearance prevented future evil or not? Was their sacrifice worth it, or was it an empty gesture more symbolic than anything else?

The nature-versus-nurture debate will never cease because each side’s contributions to an individual’s identity and agency are so undeniable.

But after reading the blog post I’m sharing today, I find myself feeling sympathy for the innocent “victims” who are family members (children, parents, siblings) related those people who have committed heinous deeds. It seems so unjust that they should be burdened with guilt by association. I admire the courage it takes to keep living in a world that hates you and holds you responsible for things you had no control over. And I think I admire even more the Jewish couple who answered evil with love.

After the paroxysm of violent civil war and ethnic atrocities that occurred in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, I remember reading that the pope told the many, many women who had been raped by Serbs (as a war strategy furthering racist nationalism and aggression against a different ethnic group) something like “Have your babies. Love your children.” I’ve always wondered if they were able to do that.

And if so, how?

How can humanity be so very evil and at the same time also manage to respond to and transcend that evil with love? That is a mystery completely beyond my ken.

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
This entry was posted in Books and reading, History, Life and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Must We Bare a Burden of Guilt for the Sins of Our Fathers?

  1. That reminds me of the book/movie The Boys from Brazil, where they tried to create a new Hitler from clones. It does make you wonder how much is nature and how much is nurture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How did that movie end? I remember Gregory Peck and the dogs, but were the little boys okay? I’d forgotten all about that film (never read the book), but now I want to go back and watch it again!


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