The courage and commitment it takes to confront one’s dreadful legacy

I was fortunate to benefit firsthand from Germany’s institutional commitment to making right its Nazi legacy of hatred and horror, as pointed out by Martha Minow’s Sept. 29 op-ed piece “A lesson from Germany on ending hatred.” As a member of a 15-year dialogue project consisting of offspring of both Holocaust survivors and Nazis, I know that the support provided from the very beginning with funds from German institutions — government, university, and foundations — was pivotal to our existence and success.

I would like to add, however, that the task of “coming to terms” with one’s dreadful legacy is not as simple as a government deciding it is the right thing to do. The Germans in our group were racked with guilt and shame for what their fathers had done, and felt intense pressure from their own families not to dirty the nest, so to speak, with their messy explorations.

It took great courage on their part, the vision of the Israeli psychologist who began the project (the late Dan Bar-On), and the courageous open-hearted participation of all involved — including Jews from the United States and Israel and Germans — to ultimately result in profound healing for the group members.


The lessons learned there were taken beyond the original group in myriad ways and served to inspire the idea that society can grow and change. However, it takes strong motivation and very hard work.

Sylvia Hammerman