Reading guide for Those Who Forget by Géraldine Schwarz

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Those Who Forget

My Family's Story in Nazi Europe – A Memoir, A History, A Warning

by Géraldine Schwarz

Those Who Forget by Géraldine Schwarz X
Those Who Forget by Géraldine Schwarz
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  • Published:
    Sep 2020, 320 pages


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Kim Kovacs
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. Schwarz defines her German grandparents as Mitläufer, ordinary people who, like the majority of the German population, "followed the current" (page 1) during World War II. She argues that without the cooperation of the Mitläufer, the Nazis could never have carried out the atrocities of the Holocaust. What does she mean by that?
  2. How did Mannheim change during the 1930s and early 1940s, and how did this impact the city's Jewish community day by day? How did it impact Schwarz's grandparents?
  3. How did opportunism motivate many Germans to support anti-Semitic measures? How did its citizens become accomplices in a criminal regime? What role did indifference, fear, and blindness, as well as the manipulative strategies of the Third Reich, play in society's transformation?
  4. What parts of Hitler's regime were appealing to Lydia, Schwarz's paternal grandmother? How does Schwarz use her grandmother's example to convey a popular opinion of the time?
  5. When did Schwarz herself become aware of the original owners of her grandfather's company, the Mineralölgesellschaft? How did she go about learning more about the Löbmanns' lives?
  6. What did the first letter from Julius Löbmann ask for or demand? What did Schwarz's grandfather think of Julius Löbmann's lawsuit? Why? How did the Third Reich's strategy of legalizing crime impact Karl Schwarz's behavior?
  7. To what extent are Schwarz's grandparents victims and perpetrators at the same time?
  8. What's the story behind Oma's dining room furniture? Describe its provenance, and the likely fate of the people who originally owned it. When did Schwarz discover its origins? Why does she argue that popular attitudes about the looting and auctions of Jewish property are even more revealing than apathy about the deportations?
  9. Germany after the War
  10. What did Schwarz's father, Volker, learn in primary school about the Nazi regime? What does this say about where postwar Germany was in acknowledging its culpability?
  11. Describe the antimilitary, antinuclear, and antifascist movement that sprung up in Germany in the 1960s. What changes did that movement bring? How did this lead to the transformation in attitudes around who was responsible for the Nazis' crimes against humanity?
  12. Schwarz describes a "normalization" (page 222) process in Germany's participation in international politics in the early 2000s. What did this process look like?
  13. Why do Schwarz's father and her aunt Ingrid have differing understandings of the past? What does this tell us about the reliability of memory and the need to confront memory with historical fact? How does Schwarz solve the problem in her book?
  14. Schwarz quotes the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, who says: "To make memory an imperative is the beginning of an abuse ... I'm cautious about the expression 'duty to remember' ... I prefer 'the work of memory'" (page 247). How would Schwarz describe "the work of memory" in Germany? How did the reflection about the responsibility of the Mitläufer help Germany build its democracy? How did Germany build something positive from a terribly destructive legacy?
  15. France
  16. What was the political situation in France after its defeat by Nazi Germany in 1940? How did life change for French citizens? How far did the collaboration of France with Nazi Germany go?
  17. What was Schwarz's maternal grandfather's role during the occupation? How does Schwarz define the scope of his responsibility compared to that of her German grandfather?
  18. What was the official story after the war of how French people resisted occupation, as told, for instance, to Schwarz's mother? What were the myths of "resistant France" and "victorious France" (page 162)? How does this encourage or prevent what Schwarz defines as "memory work"?
  19. What difference does Schwarz sees between France's and Germany's democracies and how does she relate it to the way each country confronted its past?
  20. Learning from History
  21. What does Schwarz observe about the lack of memory work in many European countries? What connection does she make between memory work and far-right nationalism? What parallels does she see between today's demagogues and those of the 1930s?
  22. Compare the experience of Jewish refugees on the Saint Louis being turned away by Cuba, the United States, and Canada with Angela Merkel's welcoming thousands of refugees to Germany in the 2010s.
  23. Schwarz suggest that we can best learn from history by reflecting on the role of the people, not just focusing on the responsibility of the leaders. How can the question What would I have done? remind us of our present-day responsibilities and help us to protect democracy?
  24. Europe after 1989
  25. How did the fall of the Berlin Wall play into the political conversation around Germany's past? How did Eastern Europe confront their own fascist past under the domination of the Soviet Union during the Cold War?
  26. Schwarz writes that "Europe was brought back to life twice—in 1945 and 1989" (page 282). She argues for the importance of a transnational European memory, one that would build bridges between countries and communities through the work of remembering the trauma of the Holocaust, crimes committed under Soviet domination, and the criminal colonial past. Describe what she means by this.
Enhance Your Book Club
  1. How has the United States reckoned with or failed to reckon with the massive injustices of our past? How are we as ordinary citizens complicit now? Discuss.
  2. How would you describe the current role of Germany in international politics? How do you think this change has been accomplished?
  3. Read Günter Grass's The Tin Drum and compare Oskar's experiences in Danzig to Schwarz's family's experiences in Mannheim.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Scribner. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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