[Open Access] Unknowing, indifferent, or committed: Relations between age and assessments of the German population’s involvement and inaction during the time of National Socialism
We examine German participants’ assessment of the time of National Socialism. Especially for younger generations, shifts in the culture of remembrance may change their assessments of historical events. We argue that factors such as increased formal education about the topic and decreased personal contact with contemporary witnesses can weaken attributional biases (e.g., ingroup favouritism) in the assessment of the role of the German population during the time of National Socialism. We use data from a German representative sample (N = 1,000) and focus on the links between participants’ age and the estimated involvement of the German population under National Socialism as perpetrators, victims, helpers, and “bystanders,” as well as the agreement with explanations why the general population did not act against National Socialist crimes. Younger participants estimated the proportions of perpetrators and bystanders within the German population as higher and were less likely to agree that Germans did not know about the systematic killings. Older participants were more likely to agree with situational explanations for the population’s inaction (i.e., that Germans did not know or did not have an opportunity to act against the crimes). We find a positive relation between a more critical perspective on the involvement of the population in the past and participants’ feelings of responsibility in the present.
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