Miles Lerman

Chairman Emeritus, United States Holocaust Museum.

Lerman is a Holocaust survivor, a partisan, and a very successful businessman. Lerman was appointed by President Carter to the Advisory Board of the President's Commission on the Holocaust in 1978. In 1980 he was appointed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, a federal entity established by Congress, charged with the task of building a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. Mr. Lerman led the nationwide fund raising campaign to build the Holocaust Museum, and as Chairman of its International Relations Committee was responsible for negotiating historic agreements with various Eastern European governments that enabled the Museum to acquire essential collections for its acclaimed Permanent Exhibition.

Jewish ethics teach us that children cannot be held responsible for crimes committed by their fathers. However, they cannot be relieved from using these memories as a personal compass for their own moral conduct.  Mona Weissmark in her book, JUSTICE MATTERS, endeavors to open a dialogue which in many circles is still a taboo. However, absent of such debates, all efforts for reconciliation and asking for forgiveness are bound to remain hollow phrases. Mona Weissmark has opened a debate which must continue, but carefully.


Brendan Maher

Edward C. Henderson Professor of the Psychology of Personality, Emeritus, Harvard University. Former Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University.Maher was a naval officer in the Royal Navy. He was the navigating officer in the lead minesweeper in the assault of Sword Beach in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

In "Justice Matters" Mona Weissmark has made unique and critically important contributions to some central problems. One is the question: How can the children of those who survived the genocidal crimes of the Holocaust come to understand the children of those who perpetrated these crimes? How can understanding bring reconciliation and lift the inherited burdens of the past from the shoulders of both of these groups? In answering this question Weissmark focuses attention upon motives and passions that are too often overlooked by psychologists and sociologists. Bitterness, rage, resentment, the desire for justice through the achievement of revenge, and - ultimately - compassion and forgiveness are forces that have been little studied by social scientists; they are brought to front and center in this book. We are all living in times in which failure to understand these motives and take steps toward the reconciliation of differences will surely bring new holocausts in its train. We owe Weissmark a debt of gratitude for her outstanding attempt to show us where we might find solutions that we can live with.


Robert Rosenthal

Distinguished Professor, University of California, Riverside.Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, Harvard University.If we were children of survivors of the Holocaust what would we say to children of the Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust?

In this book, Mona Weissmark describes what must surely be one of the most dramatic investigations of the last 50 years. She brought together 10 children of concentration camp survivors and 10 children of Nazis; 20 people who talked together over a period of four days. The profoundly moving events of those four days are documented here with the richest moments coming in the words of these two groups of participants as they spoke of their lonely but intertwined heritages. The author places the events of these four days into a scholarly context of social psychology, developmental psychology, evolutionary psychology, clinical psychology, history, psychiatry, philosophy, and theology. This book will prove hard to put down and even harder to forget.


Gerald Posner

Posner is a full time journalist and author of many books including Hitler's Children, and Mengele: The Complete Story.Posner was a Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of California at Berkeley (1975). He was an Honors Graduate of Hastings Law School, where he served as the Associate Executive Editor for the Law Review.

Mona Weissmark's Justice Matters is an important addition to the history of Holocaust literature, and our never-ending quest to understand the why to Nazi crimes. In her search for ultimate answers to such fundamental questions such as whether good people can pursue heinous acts, or whether there is an absolute truth to issues of morality and justice about the crimes of World War II, Weissmark successfully stimulates a vigorous and fascinating debate. She unmasks the complexity behind matters that too often are oversimplified. No student of history or the Holocaust can finish Justice Matters without being moved by her comprehensive study of the children of both survivors and Nazis, and come to the realization of how their subjective views profoundly affect our own thinking.

Bill Niven

Niven is Reader in German at the Nottingham Trent University. He has published widely on the ways in which West and East Germany viewed the history of the Third Reich. His recent publications include Dividing and Uniting Germany and Facing the Nazi Past. He is currently working on a monograph entitled The Buchenwald Child: Truth, Fiction and Propaganda.

Professor Weissmark's book Justice Matters, based on a series of meetings she organized between the children of holocaust survivors and the children of former Nazis, reveals hidden common ground between these two sets of children. In her fascinating study, she follows the fraught, emotional, angry and yet ultimately productive discussions between second-generation Germans and Jews. This is a book showing that a rapprochement between Germans and Jews is possible. It also shows how it is possible. Justice Matters shows how much second-generation Jews have suffered under the burden of what happened to their parents, but it is also makes clear that second-generation Germans laboured under the burden of guilt bequeathed to them by their parents. Those who suffered the torment of the holocaust had a framework in which they remembered it. Those who participated in the Nazi war and genocide also had their way of remembering. For different reasons, and in different ways, memories and reality did not always coincide. Children inherited their parents' model of remembering. In the course of the meetings described by Weissmark, they learnt, slowly and painfully, to overcome its one-sidedness and open up to a more complex view of those terrible events. What is more: they learnt to open up to each other. This is a timely, fascinating and courageous book, and one which has been written with much feeling and insight. I highly recommend it.


Myron Belfer

Justice Matters captures the complexity of the long and painful journey toward understanding the contemporary legacy of the holocaust.  Dr. Mona Weissmark's book is informed by careful research that encouraged and achieved a rich psychological understanding of the emotional lives of the children of both perpetrators and survivors of the holocaust. This is no sterile account of history but rather an affectively laden exposition that brings both new understanding and new questions to an unforgettable period of history and one that resonates with current events throughout the world.

It is essential for anyone interested in the inter-generational transmission, consciously and unconsciously, of guilt, denial, and shame to read and ponder the messages of Justice Matters.  The distinction between legal justice and personal justice made by Dr. Weissmark raises inquiry in the area of holocaust studies to a new level of sophistication.  The conceptual detailing of the concept of justice and injustice as both personal and intergenerational has implications for both individuals and society in this new millennium  where we witness ethnic cleansing, tribal wars, and the settlement of "old grudges." Justice Matters will open new dialogues about the holocaust and what can be learned that is applicable to current conflicts.  There is no better resource to probe the legacy of the holocaust.

Dieter Dettke

Dr. Dieter Dettke has been Executive Director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation since 1985. He studied political science and law at the universities of Strasbourg (France), Bonn, and Berlin from 1962-1969. He received his Ph.D. in Political science from the Free University of Berlin. Dr. Dettke was a research associate at the German Society for Foreign Affairs in Bonn from 1969 to 1974. From 1974 to 1984 he served as political counselor of the SPD Parliamentary Group of the German Bundestag, and served as Staff Director at the Office of the State Minister of the German Foreign Ministry.

Our Program tonight is about a book: Justice Matters: Legacies of the Holocaust and World War II. To be published in January 2004 and the author is with us tonight: Mona Sue Weissmark.

The reason why the Washington Office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation has an interest in helping present this book is obvious:  It is a very unusual approach to dealing with the past.

  • Not as a subject of historical research

  • Not as a legal issue

  • And it is not about a new interpretation of the holocaust.

Of course, history, the law and accountability are all crucial aspects of the book.  What is really new, however, is the impact of injustice and the evil on a personal level, on interpersonal relations and on intergenerational relations.

  • How victims and perpetrators and more importantly how the children of victims and perpetrators deal with the holocaust.

The unique and unparalleled contribution of Mona Weissmark’s book to the study of the holocaust is a ground-breaking social experiment. To bring the children of the holocaust together with the children of the Nazis in order to find out about the interpersonal and intergenerational consequences of experiencing evil.

That is why the story of this book starts with the Eichmann trial and the key question of justice.  The title of the book is a reflection of this crucial question for every evil regime and it’s perpetrators:

  • The German Nazis

  • The Italian Fascists

  • Pinochet

  • Pol Pot and many, many other totalitarian and authoritarian regimes of the past and of today. Iraq is a case in point.

Justice in the case of the holocaust is particularly complex and it hasn’t been done and perhaps cannot be done because the law as we know it is basically inadequate and insufficient when confronted with a crime as gigantic and unspeakable as the holocaust.

The Nürnberg Tribunal in essence was not about the holocaust. Wiedergutmachung—although not unimportant— cannot overcome a basic truth:  that it is a gesture of good will and a symbolic act of seeking forgiveness. Early on right after the war Karl Jaspers wrote a very thoughtful essay on the question of guilt, die Schuldfrage. The issue was of course whether there is a collective guilt of the German people. He came to the right conclusion: guilt is always personal not collective.  But on the personal level too much and too many went unpunished.

To do justice is never easy and over time the notion of justice changes, as Hermann Lübbe, another important German philosopher, said when he asked for an end of prosecution in the name of democratic stability of the Federal Republic of Germany. Mona Weissmark's book is also a personal account. Her parents are Holocaust survivors. She lost all her relatives-aunts, uncles, grandparents, and great-grandparents-in concentration camps: Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald and Treblinka.

Her work on the children of the holocaust has been in the news in the US and in Germany as well as other countries.  She did a number of TV and Radio shows and newspapers printed her work or wrote about it.  Her new book and her presence here allow us to share her experience—both her professional work. as well as her own personal story.