Taken from Maria Anne Hirschmann's second memoir, "Hansi's New Life," an American interviewer asks her about the concentration camps. Maria Anne was in the Hitler Youth but never joined the Nazi party and didn't know about the camps. She knew plenty about anti-Semitism but apparently didn't realize that the Jews were being systematically tortured, starved, and murdered on such a grand scale.
" . . . 'However, there is one thing you said that most people find incredible -- how could it be possible that you as a high Nazi youth leader didn't know about the concentration camps?' He underscored the last five words.
I stared into Art's smiling face and bit my lips. My mind went blank and I wondered what to say. I remembered the prior interview. He had asked about those camps and I had answered in one short sentence: 'I didn't know about it.' That was all. I knew one thing for sure; he had just very politely called me a liar . . .
'Art,' I said and cringed, 'how can I explain to you and the American people how it was I didn't know about it . . . How would you Americans understand what it is like to live under dictatorship? You take freedom for granted, you always expect to hear both sides of the story -- you just don't know how controlled our life was. Really, Art I didn't know about it! . . . '
'I can't talk about it, Art, it hurts too much. How would you Americans know what it is like to carry a load of collective guilt? I carry it, Art; so does an entire nation across the ocean. Most of us Germans didn't know about it, but we still feel responsible. I was part of a group that killed millions of Jews. I can't even face a Jew today . . .'"
Excerpted from "Hansi's New Life" by Maria Anne Hirschmann