Necessity and impossibility of abandoning the perspective of the victims

The persecution, imprisonment and deportation by the National Socialists (Nazis) involved and still involves many different people, positions and perspectives. The persons concerned can be divided into two categories: participants and observers. The first group, the participants, inclu­des perpetrators and victims. The second group, the observers, includes bystanders or observers on the one hand and outsiders on the other. On the one hand contemporaries who were neither perpetrators nor victims, but who were indirectly involved, at least as contemporaries. On the other hand real outsiders, those who came later and therefore can only observe and interpret with hindsight. From these different­, sometimes opposite positions and perspectives, the events were and are discus­sed in different lights and sometimes interpreted in contradictory ways. The different interpretations or histories sometimes complement each other, but they also collide and exclude each other comple­tely or partially, as in the case of the victim's and perpetrator's points of view.

Even in limiting ourselves to the most obvious perspective, that of the victims - for some people the only valid point of view - we do not get a uniform history. This is due to the fact that the victims were not subjected to the same suffering and that they did not experience and interpret what happened to them in the same way. They were persecuted and imprisoned for different reasons, they were exposed to danger in different ways and to different extents. Most of the non-Jews were incarcerated in jails or in concentration camps. Most of the Jews ended up in extermination camps. But not all of them. Jews arrested because of resistance activities thereby became individuals, even in the eyes of the Nazis. Being enemies, they regained a personality. They were treated as political opponents, individually, not just as Untermenschen, as members of a so-called inferior race. As resistance fighters some escaped the mass extermination which as Jews they were condemned to by the Nazis. An other Jewish minority was selected to leave the train before they reached Auschwitz. Six from the 28 convoys from Belgium stopped at Cosel, where the strongest looking men had to get off the train and were sent to labour camps. Their awful experien­ce differed radically from the experience of those continuing on their way to Auschwitz, if only because of the chances of survival.

By no means all the victims could attach meaning or sense to what was happening to them. Whereas for resistance fighters and Jehova's Witnesses arrest and imprisonment still followed somehow naturally from personal choices, this was considerably less so for Jews, gypsies and homosexuals. Many among them hardly understood what was going on. For a long time a great number of completely germanized Jews refused to give credence to the danger they were in. For those who had rejected Judaism but who were nevertheless persecuted as Jews, there was no connection between their self experience and the imposed identity. They also responded differently to the historical reality that was crushing them. Paul Levy, who did not feel Jewish and who considered himself only Belgian, indignantly rejected the brutally enforced Jewish identity.[2] In prison he composed a document to solve the Jewish problem in Belgium after the war in a way that was far from philo-Semitic, to say the least.[3] Jean Améry on the other hand, who had never felt Jewish, opposed not so much the enforced Jewish identity, but rather the violence associated with it. He embraced the Jewish identity as an act of resistance in itself, although he fully realized that in fact this was impossible since he had not been brought up Jewish.[4]

Experience and interpretation of the extreme events of persecution and imprisonment were also linked to the way in which and the degree to which prisoners adapted themselves to camp life. Highly significant were the moment and the length of internment and, in connection with this, the socio-economic position one acquired in the camp. It made all the difference to belong either to the Prominenten, the so-called aristocracy of the camps, or to the camp plebs. The newcomers (Zugänge) had to adapt themselves as quickly as possible. Whoever had not succeeded in this within three months, was for the high jump. This inevitable attitude change was related to a camp image, a certain interpretation of the extreme situation. This camp image was the product of everyday life - shortage, terror, loss of autonomy, lack of rights, isolation, fear - combined with the cut-and-dried image held up by the established prisoners, verbally as well as practically. For instance the tall stories newcomers were told: "everything had been much worse before, but even so, greenhorns did not have the slightest chance, there was only one way leading to freedom, namely through the Kamin, the chimney of the crematorium". Apart from that, group solidarity existed as well. Some shared the shortage, comradeship was organized. It made a world of difference for a newcomer to be accepted immediately in a group of comrades or to be left to one's own devices.

The place of imprisonment was extremely important too. In Mauthausen and Flossenbürg for example, camps where common law criminals ruled over their fellow-prisoners, the chances of survival of the other catego­ries were considerably smaller than in Buchenwald or Dachau, where the "red", the communist political prisoners had assumed power. Those who survived Mauthausen or Flossenbürg owed it in the first place to the fact that they arrived in the camps in the very last months of the war. They were exposed to the extreme situation for a relatively short period. The result was that they conceived completely different images of the camp. There seems to be no resemblance between the Flossenbürg described in the eyewitness account by Hugo Walleitner, an Austrian homosexual imprisoned in 1938, who managed to penetrate the inner circle of the Prominen­ten,[5] and that other Flossenbürg evoked by Léon Calembert, a Belgian political prisoner, who arrived in 1945 in the chaos of the last months.[6] Those who found themselves in the camps in the final phase - Ludo Van Eck for example, who never even left the so-called quarantine barracks[7] - had a completely different image of the camp than longer imprisoned like-minded political prisoners, who had had the time to integrate. Nico Rost for instance, who in the same Dachau a few hundred meters from Ludo Van Eck disposed of the means and the time to write a literary journal, entitled Goethe in Dachau.[8] It wasn't until the very last weeks of the war that the horrible reality suppressed his fascinating daily reflections on world literature.

In order to have any chance of survival, the camp world in any case had to be interpreted quickly. Given the extreme situation, this interpretation was inevitably based on largely incomplete data and unreliable information, integrated in pre-camp knowledge and patterns of thought. The interpretation of convinced political prisoners for example, followed naturally from the resistance activities for which they had been imprisoned: the fight went on. Camp life, guards and fellow-prisoners were looked at from this point of view. Communist prisoners considered camp life a temporary episode in the fight against capitalism, which was to be continu­ed in full force after the liberation. This made their group solidarity even stronger. When necessary, prisoners of different convictions were sacrificed. Many political prisoners saw survival as a victory to win over the enemy, an interpretation hardly ever found in early eyewitness accounts of Jewish survi­vors. Most of the Jewish survivors had lost uncoun­table loved ones and were saved only because they could be exploi­ted as slaves. Survival meant trying to stay alive day after day, without future. Later, after their miraculous rescue, many of them were left with a sense of survival-guilt.

The smaller the power and the overview of a prisoner, the more the power and overview of the enemy were overrated. A major part of the prisoners, approximately 90%, had hardly any power or overview. Fear and insecurity, hope and despair dominated. The stream of rumours in the camps, described in first-person accounts, shows how the longed for arrival of the liberators was accelerated by overestimating the territorial gain. But on the whole, despondence prevailed. Many evil rumours confirmed the conviction that nobody would leave the camp alive.

In the eyewitness accounts of isolated and powerless prisoners, especially those of the last days, who had neither time nor opportunity to readjust hastily conceived interpretations, the demoniza­tion is striking. The powers of the horrible enemy in whose claws the prisoners were caught, was exaggerated, sometimes reaching absurd proportions. Everything in the camp, every detail was thought to be part of a conspiracy to humiliate, dehumanize and then exterminate the prisoners. The depersonalization and derealization typical of total institutions and extreme situations were interpreted as a plot against the detainees. The degradation from human being to a mere number, the fact of being only Nummermenschen in the eyes of the enemy, was seen as a conscious assault on identity. The fight against this dehumanization, understood as a plan and a goal, became for many prisoners a new motive for resistance. A largely fictive camp image gave new meaning to the struggle for survival. Staying a human being in dehumanizing circumstances became an act of resistance. This resistance could take all kinds of forms dependent on the gradually differing situations of powernessless in which different prisoners found themselves. The decision to wash oneselve daily, to take care of one's looks and clothes, even though one lacked all means and although it was sometimes unwise, was a well-considered act of resistance and for many a prisoner a decisive turning point in his camp life. By keeping or regaining control of oneselve, the omnipotence of the enemy was broken. The demonizing interpretation of the extreme situation gave new meaning to an inhuman existence and this strenghtened the will to survive.

The interpretations of the victims date from the time of the events, when everything was still going on and no one knew the end. When everything was finally over and more sources of information became available, the interpretations tied to experience were here and there completed and readjusted, but they were hardly ever revised. This is more than understandable. The distance in time enlarged the overview but the emotional impact remained the same. Understandbly many survivors never came loose from their traumatic experiences and the interpretations attached to them, which after all had given meaning to the act and fact of survival. For many direct victims this extreme past understandbly never ends. They still hold on to the idea that all the suffering had been planned in great detail and that every one was doomed to die. Some are still trying to demonstrate the existence of the Himmler Befehl to exterminate all political prisoners, a myth[9] that leaves traces in historiography to this day.[10]

The during involvement is also due to the fact that the post-war political reality was and is for many a survivor a deep disappointment. Fairly soon the misery lost its public appeal, people proceeded to the order of the day. The Cold War turned former allies into mortal enemies. Some categories of survivors got neither political nor social recognition, let alone any material Wiedergutmachung. Abuse of power, corruption, dicrimination, racism, war, persecution and genocide had still not disappeared from the world. This contrasted sharply with the post-disaster utopia dreamt by many in the camps. The struggle continued unabated. The remembrance of the suffering, with its experiencebound interpretation, remained essential for the ideological motivation.

In this way we not only have a mosaic of victims[11] but also a kaleidoscope of interpretations. And those interpretations vary through time, linked as they are to the people and their objectives, the bearers of collective memory. The different group memories also influence and restrict each other. The in some respects different fates and experiences are attached to group-specific interpretations and objectives. Those are sometimes contradictory and they certainly conflict when attempts are made to realize them.

Immediately after the war the illusion of a common fate and of a solidarity based on shared experiences was not only kept up toward the outside world, it was also cherished within circles of survivors.[12] This was only possible by ignoring the specificity of the Jewish fate and, even more, that of the gipsies. Their fates didn't get the attention it deserved, far from it, neither in the legal prosecution (Nuremberg), nor in the established historiography or the collective memory of those days. Initially, the Jewish fate was studied almost exclusively by Jewish researchers, not seldom people who had barely escaped the nazi-claws. From the early days of the persecution some had established private archives and research centres, like the later Wiener Library (now in London) and the Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine (in Paris). And of course, after the war the discrimination continued, Jews and gipsies had as good as no voice. Socially and politically they remained negligible minorities. Not many had survived and most of them were stateless. They had also returned to an empty world. Numerous members of their families had been killed and many had been robbed of all their possessions. In some respects, their fate was minimized: they had been picked up simply because they were Jews or gipsies, not because of acts of resistance against the enemy. Their suffering was beyond doubt, but it was considered without merit. Jews and gipsies were opposed to the resistan­ce heroes, those who had fought and suffered for their country. In the official political recognition after the war the criterium of suffering had to yield to the criterium of patriotic merit.[13] Initially, Dachau, Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen dominated collective memory, not Auschwitz. All prisoners, so it was said, had been doomed to die, not only the Jews. The political prisoners too had barely escaped the planned mass murder, thanks to their heroic resistance or to the arrival of the Allies. Some imaginary gas chambers date back to this period, for example in Breendonk and Buchenwald, camps where mass extermina­tion or gassing had never been considered.[14]

Since then, the collective image of nazi victims and camps has radically changed. The distorted view in which Jews, gipsies and others were hardly ever recognized, gradually changed into an almost exclusively 'Jewish image'. The specificity of the Jewish fate became more and more apparent and was emphasized ever more, until it became incomparable and unique. The Holocaust relegated the Resistance, Dachau and Buchenwald to the corners of collective remembrance. Auschwitz and the gas chambers became the point of reference for all the suffering. This evolution was encouraged by the revival of the extreme-right and the denial of the Judeocide, but also by political interests, objectives and evolutions, especially in the Middle East.[15]

When fifty years after the liberation we make a balance, we notice that considerably less is known about the non-Jewish than about the Jewish fate. This is immediately clear for minorities that are still discriminated against, such as the gipsies. But also the memory, the commemoration and the historiography regarding political prisoners is now determined and limited by those regarding the Jewish victims. In Belgium for instance, of the non-Jewish deportation and survival only the order of magnitude is known. That contrasts sharply with the research on the fate of the Jews of Belgium, research that started much later. Partially, this imbalance can be explained by the very different fates of Jews and non-Jews. The Jews were persecuted, picked up, deported and exterminated more systematically and massively, in a shorter time span and in groups. As a result, the sources that have been preserved are more massive, univocal and clear. Nevertheless, it is beyond doubt that also other than historical reasons have brought about that up to now less attention, time, energy and means were devoted to non-Jewish victims. Gradually their history only received attention in the margins of the Jewish Catastrophe. Their suffering is outlined against that of the Jews. It is suffering by comparison. Merit finally lost out to the immensity of the suffering of the 'real' victims, those who had had no choice, who had been persecuted only for what they were, not for what they had done. What was a merit before, now almost has become a fault: political prisoners knew what they were letting themselves in for and so they are less of a victim. All this leads to feelings of envy, rancour and rivalry, understandable and regrettable at the same time.

The enormous attention for the Judeocide undoubtedly drove other categories of victims to claim attention for their own martyrdom. The endured suffering became an increasingly important argument in the fight for more rights and power, and against contemporary injustice and discrimination. In order to compensate the devalua­tion caused by comparative victimology, the gravity and the proportion of one's own fate tend to be exaggerated. This is especially apparent in the initial phase of the coming-out of each group. Later, things are somewhat readjusted by the scholarly research initialized by it. In the eighties, the Nazis were alleged to have killed hundreds of thousands or even millions of homosexuals. Some spoke of a Homocaust and there were bold claims that the pink triangles had had a harder time in the camps than the Jews.[16]

This macabre bidding up is all the more striking outside of Germany. Certain categories, e.g. homosexuals and Jehovah's Witnesses, were persecuted less grimly in occupied territory than in Germany. Their contemporary representatives, among other places in Belgium and the Netherlands, focus on the fate of German homosexuals and Jehovah's Witnesses, and expand this tacitly to their own nation. A recent example is the exhibition on the fate of Jehovah's Witnesses that was organized at the end of 1995 in France, Belgium and Luxemburg, clearly following and reacting against the attention given to the Judeocide on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Liberation. In the brochures accompanying the exhibition[17] there is a strong emphasis on the fact that the Witnesses were the first to protest against the Nazi regime. They do not mention that at that time already thousands of communists and social-democrats had been submitted to the ruthless terror of the first concentration camps. There is no doubt about the protest, the courage and the suffering of the Jehovah's Witnesses, especially the Germans among them. But things are carried too far when, as is the case in these brochures, they are presented as the second largest group of victims after the Jews. It is interesting how the Jehovah's Witnesses reach this conclusion. From their strictly religious view on the world and on mankind, they redefine the Jews as an exclusively religious category. The fact that the Jews were not persecuted by the Nazis for religious reasons is overlooked. Other victim categories, political prisoners, Slavs and gipsies, have suffered far greater losses than the Jehovah's Witnesses, but they cannot be redefined by anybody as religious martyrs. In this way the Jehovah's Witnesses succeed to believe that they, and nobody else, were the second largest group of victims.

There is often an enormous amount of confusion. Among the public, but also among the survivors. Quite some former non-Jewish political prisoners for example, take up arms against the deniers of the Judeocide. Not out of some vicarious indignation or because they do not see the destruction of the Jews as the essence of Nazism, but because they are convinced that Holocaust deniers deny all atrocities and suffering caused by the Nazis, including theirs. Since the eighties, as the negationists got more attention, this was a reason for many non-Jewish survivors to testify, as can be read in the introductions of eyewitness accounts. But Holocaust deniers do not deny the concentration camps, their attention too is since the sixties focussed on the systematic and massive Judeocide, the gas chambers and Auschwitz. Of course, on reflection, the non-Jewish survivors who take action against the denial of the Holocaust are, politically speaking, right. Most of the negationists deny the ultimate evil in order to justify National Socialism. In any case, as a result of the simplifying character of collective memory the so-called minor evil of the early days of Nazism - the terror against political opponents and the extermination of the handicapped - has been pushed into the margins of the Holocaust. This explains the tendency to describe one's own fate as a Holocaust. But this interpretation of the Holocaust as a kind of collective term for all the suffering caused by the Nazis will, of course, continue to give rise to questions and continue to release strong emotions.

The multiformity of history - the past as it is remembered or relived - is an expression of the complexity of the events and the way they have been experienced. Only the malicious and short-sighted can miss the thread woven through these interpretations: terror, persecution, destruction, pain and suffering. And these are stronger than all other meanings.

So, victims tell the truth but don't possess it. The truth is larger than their experience, they have no privileged or exclusive access to the whole truth. The victim's truth is tied to experience and in that sense unique. It is an experienced truth, determined and generally limited by the specificity of that experience and by the way it was lived. The morally desirable, for some even necessary choice for the perspective of the victims, is from an historical point of view in fact impossible. Maybe even more important is the fact that the perspective of the victims can hinder historical insight. Without the shadow of a doubt, one must look through the eyes of the victims to see how terrible it was and to comprehend why it should never happen again. Empathy with the victims is essential for political and ideological motivation, for the will to prevent. That is why we must consult and listen to the victims again and again. But to be able to prevent recurrence of the horror we must look behind and beyond it. In order to prevent we must have insight in the origins and the development of the horror. The stages of the escalation from discrimination to genocide must be fully understood. In order to recognize the moments when intervention was still possible, the minds, ideology and behaviour of the future perpetrators must be studied as objectively as possible. What drove them to their deeds? Did they still consider them as criminal? Why did the majority not find itself in a moral dilemma? How did they grow so different from us? These questions can only be answered when we put aside the moralizing, intentionalizing and demonizing that are so typical of the victim's perspective.

Understanding the horrors of the past and therefore wanting to prevent recurrence entails a painful paradox. The victim's perpective is characterized by emotional involvement, why-questions and a strict guilt-merit dichotomy. The events are strongly personalized and intentionalized. Attention is barely paid to structural factors surpassing the individual. All this hinders a detached and objective analysis of the horror's genesis. For victims this is of course an almost impossible task. The moral condemnations must temporarily be put aside. The criminal act that one is victim of must be approached as an almost neutral act. It seems as if the act is de-ethicized. The victim seems thereby to betray himself, to distance himself from his own suffering. This is often felt as immoral. Understanding the perpetrators in order to prevent future victims and suffering seems to be counter-intuitive. Comprehension is seen as toleration and therefore condemned. But in order to be able to understand that some perpetrators did not see their victims as fellow human beings, but as Untermenschen, less than humans, de-ethicizing is indispensable.

Nearly automatically people side with victims and almost instinctively they turn away from perpetrators. Not many can imagine to be implicated in such evil other than as a victim. The dominating abhorrence and fear pave the way to identification with victims. This identification is a expression of spontaneous humanity, of compassion. But it is also part of the defence mechanism against the evil and the perpetrator. Identification with victims and demonization of perpetrators as the Others, are two sides of the same coin.

Our horizon and knowledge are halved by the victim's perspective. That is why the way of thinking and the motives of the perpetrators remain impenetrable. An extreme example is victim pedagogics in Germany. Since the eighties many German teachers and pupils identify to such an extent with the Jewish victims, that they often forget that their parents and grandparents once stood at the side of the perpetrators and the bystanders.

Initially, the historiography and the collective memory of nazi-terror were almost exclusively determined by the the victim's perspective. The events were strongly intentionalized and analyzed in terms of guilt and merit. Gradually and not without difficulty, historiography has broken away from this. More and more sources became available, more research was organized, the distance in time and in involvement grew, the insight in the complexity of the events deepened. The perspective shifted more and more to the one of the outsiders. The exclusively legal-moral point of view and questioning ("who? why?") were abandoned. The question of guilt - closely linked to the afterwar prosecution of Nazi-crimes - became gradually less important. Historio­graphy was de-ethicized and the history it describes was freed from the strictures of right and wrong.

Collective memory on the other hand, evolved in an almost opposite direction. The gap between perpetrators and victims became even larger. Collective memory is more a product of the time and the collectivity that lives it than the scholarly approach of the past, and abides by other rules. Involvement, emotions, direct practical utility and simplification take the place of detachment, theory and complexity. Morality and ideology instead of de-ethicizing and the pursuit of objectivity. The victims and the practice of suffering appeal to one's imaginati­on, not the theorizing about acts and actors. The collective image of the Holocaust is a moving image which has to move. The suffering of the past is both the driving force and the justification of contemporary practice. That's why whoever touches the image of the Holocaust seems to endanger the future.

The widening and differentiation of the notion of the perpetrator is one of the indications for the gradual broadening of the historical view on the past. More and more objectifying attention is given to different forms, gradations and causes of perpetration. Not only the camp-SS, but also the Einsatzgruppen. Not only the SS, but also the Wehrmacht-soldiers and the Ordnungspolizei. Not only the Nazi-bosses, but also the Nazi-doctors and the role of other scientists. Not only ideology, but also public opinion, the views of the man in the street. Not only deportation, camps and extermination, also daily life, Alltagsgeschichte. Not only the Nazis, but also their precursors, the scientists and philosophers who wanted to ameliorate the world by banishing all physical and psychological imperfections. Not just Nazis, also ordinary people.

The strict dualism between victims and perpetrators has also been eroded. More and more research has been done on the involvement and co-responsability of bystanders. It became clear that almost every one had looked away when many victims could have been saved. Causal questions were formulated in broader and less personal terms. The guilt itself can not be questioned, but how did one become that guilty? Wasn't this also due - besides to the Germans themselves - to social developments that surpassed them, to 'modernity' itself? To the striving for progress, to the eugenic dream, the delusion of liberating humanity once and for all from all troubles and evil?[18]

This de-ethicizing of historiography - not of the events, not of history! - was and still is crossed by an exonerating discourse that excuses Hitler, the Nazis and National Socialism from all blame. All is played down as a mere reaction to threatening political and ideological developments elsewhere. Thus the horror is banalized as a kind of preventive measure. Others and anonymous and structural factors are blamed. This sinister interpretation confirms the view of the opponents of de-ethicizing and of widening the perspective: the stereotypical image of the Holocaust and the enemy may not be touched. The debate becomes more and more ideological and polarized. The points of view of the radicals are growing more extreme. Some extremists, David Irving for example, join those who deny the Holocaust. Unsuspected others radicalize their opinions in response to exaggerated reactions to some of their hypotheses. Even Ernst Nolte finally adopted some negationist arguments. Many opponents of de-ethicizing get confused and discredit in advance any attempt to think in a more differentiated way than their ideology allows.

The difference between collective memory and historiography becomes very clear in the fight against those who deny the Holocaust. In order to refute effectively some arguments of the negationists the established image of the Holocaust must be nuanced. Simplifications, distortions and inaccuracies must be historically corrected. Again and again this necessary operation meets with strong opposition and heated feelings. Historiography also suffers from this. Wherever possible, scholars avoid touchy subjects and tricky questions. Examples are the escalation from revisionism to negationism, the way Paul Rassinier and others in the sixties came to deny the Judeocide and the gas chambers, and the role political misuse of the Jewish suffering played in all this.[19]

Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's willing executioners is an exponent of the reaction against de-ethicizing of historiography. Goldhagen's proposition that it is only due to the Germans, equiped with a special kind of anti-Semitism, implies an enormous narrowing of vision. From early on in his book Goldhagen turns the why-question ("Why the Holocaust occurred") into the essence of his revision. The Judeocide has been misunderstood so far, he says, because everybody has been asking the wrong questions, how-questions to which there is no answer. This narrowing of perspective and the centrality of the why-question are indicative of a return to the victim's perspective. This is confirmed by Goldhagen's extremely intentionalistic vision on genesis and execution of the Judeocide. Goldhagen himself though claims to be one of the first scholars who looks through the eyes of the perpetrators. This is not more than a metaphor with him. He situates the horror, which is unmistakable for victims and outsiders, in the eyes and the intention of the perpetrators. Again and again he confronts himself and his readers with detailed descriptions of the inhuman horror, assuming without any argument that also the perpetrators considered it as horrifying, and that they actually disapproved of what they were doing. Goldhagen tacitly ascribes the vision of the victims, their moral condemnation, to the perpetrators as if it were self-evident. Through "a 'thick', rather than the customary paper-thin description"[20] of the atrocities, he forces himself and his readers over and over again to identification with the victims. He imposes a perspective that leads to moral condemnation, but which does not exactly facilitate scientific insight in the deeds and the perpetrators. From this victim perspective one can understand why Goldhagen has not examined one biography of one perpetrator. He only discusses the horror. What preceded it, how people came to it, he 'explains' starting from the horror itself. This is ascribed to the Germans as a unique and age-old motive, as an intrinsic part of their personality. Thus Goldhagen arrives at inexplicably gruesome perpetrators, monsters who, as Germans, are extracted from history and humanity.[21]

The already eventful history of the Holocaust-Denkmal which should be erected in Berlin in the year 2000 is a painful illustration of all this. Initially, in the mid-eighties a museum dedicated to fascism and Resistance was planned on the former Gestapo terrain, the centre of the terror system. In the late eighties, under Jewish pressure, it was decided to build a commemoration monument for the Jewish victims and only for them. But this plan also was criticized. Some people take offence of the fact that a nation the perpetrators belonged to, the Täterland, is erecting a memorial for the victims. The Germans would identify themselves too much with the victims. But a monument for the perpetrators is of course unthinkable and doing nothing at all would of course be interpreted as neglecting the victims. Some argue that if representatives of the Täterland are planning a commemoration monument they should decide which victims they want to commemorate.

The perspectives, motivations and contents of memory, remembrance and historiography are not isolated aspects, they are linked together. They determine and colour the past we know and the lessons we can draw from it. The past is brought to life, is activated by contemporary values, ideals and concerns. Each interpretati­on must be evaluated in relation to its approach. As long as a past is collectively valued and therefore remembered, there is no univocal or straight evolution from memory to history. These different and sometimes conflicting approaches of the valued past continue to exist side by side. There is not one past, one memory or one history, there are various visions on and versions of the past. This makes the present more complex, sometimes contradictory and difficult to realize, especially its future-oriented aspects. The crucial point is never to lose sight of the motivating suffering but simultaneously not to allow ourselves to be blinded by it.

    [2] Levy, Paul M.G. - Le défi. 1940: le refus, l'épreuve et le combat, Bruxelles, Vie Ouvrière, 1985.

    [3] Levy, Paul - La question juive, 33 p. dact (Research Center War and Society, Brussels, Archive PD6).

    [4] Amery, Jean - At the Mind's Limits. Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities, Bloomington, Indiana U.P., 1980.

    [5] Walleitner, Hugo - Zebra. Ein Tatsachenbericht aus dem Konzentrationsla­ger Flos­senbürg, Bad Ischl, Walleitner, 1946.

    [6] van den Berghe, Gie - Au camp de Flossenbürg (1945). Témoignage de Léon Calem­bert, Bruxelles, Académie Royale de Belgi­que, 1995.

    [7] van Eck, Ludo - Het einde van Dachau, Rotterdam, Kerco, 1967.

    [8] Rost, Nico ‑ Goethe in Dachau. Literatuur en werkelijk­heid, Amsterdam, L.J. Veen, 1946.

    [9] Zámecník, Stanislav - 'Kein Häftling darf lebend in die Hände des Feindes fallen', Dachauer Hefte, 1985, p. 219-231; van den Berghe, Gie - 'Het einde van de kampen en van een mythe', Spiegel Histori­ael, maart/april 1994, p. 156-160.

    [10] Bridgman, Jon - The End of the Holocaust. The Liberation of the Camps, London, Batsford, 1990.

    [11]Berenbaum, Michael (ed.) - A Mosaic of Victims. Non-Jews persecuted and murdered by the Nazis, London/New York, Tauris, 1990.

    [12] Wieviorka, Annette - Déportation et génocide. Entre la mémoire et l'oubli, Paris, Plon, 1992.

    [13] Lagrou, Pieter - 'Victims of Genocide and National Memory: Belgium, France and the Netherlands. 1945-1965', Past & Present, 154, February 1997, p. 181-222.

    [14] Headquar­ters 21 Army Group - Report on German Atro­cities B.L.A., Decem­ber 1944 (Brus­sels, Archives of the Service for War Victims, Tr 212416 Rap 497).

    [15] Segev, Tom - The Seventh Million. The Israelis and the Holo­caust, New York, Hill and Wang, 1993; van den Berghe, Gie - De uitbuiting van de Holocaust, Antwerpen, Houtekiet, 1990.

    [16] Sherman, Martin - Bent, London, Amber Lane, 1979; Boisson, Jean - Le triangle rose. La déportation des homosexuels (1933-1945), Paris, Laffont, 1988; Rector, Frank - Homo Holocaust. De uitroeiing van de homoseksuelen door de nazi's, Amsterdam, Arbeiderspers, 1981

    [17] Cercle Européen des Témoins de Jéhovah, Anciens Déportés et In­ternés, Un témoignage 1933-1945, Boulog­ne-Billan­court, 1994.

    [18] Bauman, Zygmunt - Modernity and the Holocaust, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1991.

    [19] van den Berghe, Gie - De uitbuiting van de Holocaust, op. cit.

    [20] Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah - Hitler's Willing Executioners. Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1996, p. 7.

    [21] See: van den Berghe, Gie - 'Why Day follows Night. The Scholarly Way of thinking of Daniel Goldhagen', Bijdra­gen tot de Eigentijdse Geschiedenis, Brussels, 1997, p. 91-128.

English translation of 'Over noodzaak en onmogelijkheid om het slachtofferperspectief te verlaten'.

Lecture held at the conference-day From Memory to History. Controversies about Holocaust Remembrance at the University of Antwerp, on May, 12, 1997. Translated from the Dutch by Toon Van Dun and Dorothée van Tenderloo.