The Holocaust Historiography Project


Not Much to Repellent Holocaust Thriller

  • Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families, by Peter Sichrovsky. Translated by Jean Steinberg. New York: Basic Books, 1988. Hardcover. 178 pages. $17.95. ISBN 0-465-00742-2.

Reviewed by Theodore J. O’Keefe

This book would be more offensive if it were less disgusting. As it is, reading Born Guilty is somewhat akin to finding dog droppings on the dinner table: a dismaying incident, to be sure, but not one unmasterable.

Author Peter Sichrovsky, who is billed as “a distinguished Austrian journalist” in the jacket flap blurb, has allegedly approached a dozen or so “children [and grandchildren!] of Nazi families” in the interests of profiting from the ongoing agitprop, Nuremberg trials-style bedevilment of everyone and everything German. His efforts here have been effusively endorsed on the dust jacket by a triad of male Muses from a Jewish Helicon (or is it Holo-con?): headshrinker Robert Jay Lifton, author of The Nazi Doctors; former Reaganite, Waldheim-baiting US ambassador to Austria Ronald Lauder (a candidate for inclusion in a book entitled Born Rich: Children of Jewish Cosmetics Queens); and Howard Fast, an ex-Communist who became the television mini-series Milton of New York’s squalid garment district.

The journalistic, let alone scholarly, merits of Sichrovsky’s book may be gleaned from the author’s indiscriminate characterization of his subjects as the children of “perpetrators” (p. 6), “the sons and daughters of murderers” (p. 12), etc., while supplying no evidence of crimes. Indeed, he concedes that “the child of someone responsible for the deaths of thousands is not necessarily of greater interest than the child of a small-town mayor who may have merely put some Social Democrats in jail.”

The bewilderment, confusion, self-pity, and despair that various of those contemporary Germans Sichrovsky claims to have interviewed is the entirely understandable result of the internalized, ritualistic self-hatred that the hirelings who have dominated postwar Germany, acting in accordance with their masters' commands, have inculcated in their own people.

One young German woman quoted at length, “Stefanie,” “the proud one” (Chapter 2), is worth hearing for her indomitable, if unschooled, spirit, garnered from her “Nazi” grandpa. You can read it in five minutes at your local bookstore. So, unless you wish to peer voyeuristically at the self-flagellation that the author claims to have recorded from his several informants, there’s no good reason to buy this book.

Theodore J. O’Keefe is book editor for the Institute for Historical Review, and an associate editor of the IHR’s Journal of Historical Review. He previously worked at the IHR from 1986 until 1994, serving as chief editor of this Journal from 1988 until April 1992. He also addressed the IHR Conferences of 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990 and 1992. Educated at Harvard College, he is the author of numerous articles on historical and political subjects that have appeared in a range of periodicals.

Bibliographic information
Author: O’Keefe, Theodore J.
Title: Born Guilty: Children of Nazi Families (review)
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: January/February 1994
Issue: Volume 14 number 1
Location: Page 44
ISSN: 0195-6752
Attribution: “Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA.”
Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.