Forty years on and the Germans were feeling ‘less guilty’ about the Nazis
THE HOLOCAUST was “no longer painful to contemplate” for the Germans a mere four decades later, observed the British ambassador to Germany in a letter to the Foreign Office in October 1984.
A confidential note by Julian Bullard to the then Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe detailing his impressions of West Germany noted “the detachment with which, it seems to me, Germans nowadays are prepared to discuss aspects of the Nazi period which formerly they used to avoid”.
Mr Bullard suggested that for younger Germans, “the period 1933 to 1945… has now receded far enough in the past to acquire a sort of sepia tone”.
As a result, he concluded, “guilt… is now reduced in importance as a factor on German foreign policy”.
The note was sent just months before anAnglo-GermansummitbetweenBritish Prime MInister Margaret Thatcher and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, at which the issue of commemorating the following year’s 40th anniversary of the end of the war was discussed, along with enlargement of the European Community and relations with the Soviet Union.
A confidential briefing from her foreign policy adviser Charles Powell to Mrs Thatcher advised that events marking VE Day would “rank high on Kohl’s list of subjects” and suggested she would need to “soothe” the German Chancellor about the UK’s intentions.
At the meeting in Bonn, according to a summary by Mr Powell, Mrs Thatcher explained to Chancellor Kohl that “there was a natural wish in Britain to commemorate the 40th anniversary”.
But it should show the two countries were now allies with the emphasis on “the achievements of reconstruction and reconciliation and on looking to the future”.
During her childhood, Mrs Thatcher’s family briefly took in an Austrian Jewish refugee and, as MP for Finchley, she spoke regularly of her admiration for the Jewish community.
She told Chancellor Kohl that she saw VE Day, May 8 1945, as “the day on which we were all delivered from tyranny”.