EVERY German schoolchild learns to revile Hitler, but what about Erich Honecker, boss of communist East Germany? He was not a dictator, or so most teenagers from eastern Germany seem to think. And the dreaded Stasi, which jailed and tortured citizens who stepped out of line? Just an intelligence service, say young easterners. These findings, from a survey of 5,200 schoolchildren by Berlin’s Free University, dismayed those who think national identity and democratic values rest on shared judgments about the traumatic past.
The ignorance is unevenly spread. Young western Germans know more of East Germany’s history. In Bavaria just 39% of schoolchildren had “little or very little” knowledge; in Brandenburg 72% were ill-informed. A third of eastern German students thought that Konrad Adenauer and Willy Brandt, two western giants, actually governed the east. The same proportion judge West Germany’s political system to have been the better; two-thirds of westerners do. Such differences persist even among children of western and eastern parents who attend the same Berlin schools.