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"The Truth about the Mistake"

Perpetrator Witness and the Intergenerational Transmission of Guilt

Katharina von Kellenbach

Based on the archived correspondence between Artur Wilke, a convicted member of Sonderkommando 1005, and Hermann Schlingensiepen, a former professor of theology who acted as spiritual advisor to imprisoned Nazi perpetrators, this article examines the moral and political lessons that Nazi perpetrators communicated to their children. In a seventy-seven-page letter written to his son in 1966, Artur Wilke tried to preserve his paternal authority and moral integrity by denying personal wrongdoing. Instead, he portrayed himself as a victim of his teachers, of politicians, and of religious and legal authorities. He counseled his son to distrust the state and the law, and to submit only to divine authority. His political lessons and deep disillusionment with the German state resonated with the radical politics of the student rebellion of 1968.