POLL: Most Germans sick of atoning for Nazism

Sunday, May 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BERLIN (AP) _ A large number of Germans are sick of being confronted with the Nazi past and 60 percent feel neither guilty nor responsible for the Holocaust, according to a poll published Sunday.

With Germany increasingly at ease as a European power but also worried about rising neo-Nazism, the survey in Der Spiegel magazine was a new sign that the nation is less and less ready to be a prisoner of its past.

Yet the poll also found wide support for German compensation payments to Nazi-era slave laborers and said 80 percent believe that only a small minority of Germans are anti-Semitic.

For more than 50 years, German politicians and media have upheld the Nazis' crimes as an inescapable point of reference for the nation _ most recently last week when Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder inaugurated his massive new office building in Berlin.

Schroeder, who dislikes its grandiose proportions himself, was intent on assuring the world that the much-criticized chancellery commissioned by his predecessor Helmut Kohl would not be a center of German megalomania.

He portrayed it as a triumph of democratic Germany over the ghost of Nazism because Adolf Hitler wanted to build a huge dome at the site as part of his never-realized capital, Germania.

But the newsweekly's poll of 1,000 people revealed that Germans are tired of being judged in relation to the Holocaust, though it also revealed ambiguities.

Asked whether one should ``not always poke around in old wounds'' of the Nazi era, 61 percent agreed. And 45 percent flatly said they were fed up hearing about the terror of the Third Reich.

While 68 percent said Germans could use a little more national pride, 85 percent agreed that discussions about the Third Reich remain necessary to learn from the past.

The poll, conducted April 25-26, gave no margin of error. In polls of that type, the margin typically lies around plus or minus three percentage points.

Most Germans, including Schroeder, now are too young to have memories of World War II and Hitler. Even so, national debates on topics ranging from a Dutch decision to allow euthanasia _ which the Nazis used as a cover for killings _ to sending German peacekeepers abroad still take place against the backdrop of the Nazi past.

But about half of Germans, or 53 percent, refuse to agree that there is ``no excuse'' for the Holocaust, saying instead that Germans should be forgiven for crimes committed by their forebears under Hitler, the magazine said.

Giving credence to concern by educators and politicians, the poll also found 57 percent believe that young Germans learn too little about the Nazi era in school.

A full 46 percent said Nazism had not only bad but good sides, and 28 percent said Hitler would have been a great statesman had he not instigated World War II and the Holocaust.