Confession of Julie Heifetz, a German civilian (1982)

Julie Heifetz grew up as a young girl in 1930s Munich and supported the Nazis. In this speech, given to an American high school in 1982, Heifetz confesses and tells students why she believed Nazi ideas and propaganda:

“I was born a Catholic and a German, in Munich, the capital of the movement. Hitler came to power when I was four, the war ended when I was 16. Today I am, by choice, Jewish and an American.

You may be wondering why I’ve come to talk with you. I’ve been wondering myself. It isn’t easy to talk about these things. But I’m at that stage of life where I feel an obligation. Maybe you could also learn from me to think twice before you join anything that goes against your better sense. Sometimes even parents are wrong.

I wish I could give you a nice story, that I was against the Nazis, that I was a hero, a Righteous Gentile. But I believed the movies. Jews were freaks, dogs who’d hurt you, cheat you, though I never saw one. It was enough to have hair like my mother’s, dark like a Jew’s.

I believed the principal, my teachers. We were the Master Race. We were the deprived ones, crowded, hungry. We were pushed into the corner. We needed room in the East. The Russians prevented us. The Poles, the Gypsies, the Jews. I believed the crowds, the flags, the trumpets, marching for unity. I wanted the uniform, the sweatpants and white blouse, the kerchief.

The Hitler Youth had fun. They had meetings, they played ball, they sang, they had walls they jumped over. They looked so good together. I wanted badly to join and have fun, not to be left out.

I saw Hitler in person. One day I rode my bike downtown and waited three hours. A soldier on a white horse rode through the crowd. When he came to me he smiled, leaned down, and handed me a rose. He was so handsome I couldn’t breathe. It was my first present from a man. The Hitler came in his big Mercedes, commanding, fascinating, he mesmerized the crowd. He was my leader, my Father, my Savior. I waved my rose and yelled “Heil Hitler,” part of thrill of the crowd.

Pamphlets the English threw down were lies, the villages we destroyed, propaganda to make us weak. Our Communist neighbour, tarred, thrown out of a car, friends who disappeared, we never saw again. Dachau, I didn’t believe. Germans didn’t do that. Russians do that. Poles to that. Gypsies, dirty Jews. Impossible, the Germans.

I sat on the roof in my ignorance and watched the firebombs light the night like pretty birthday candles. Later, when the bombs had detonators, when by night the English came, by day Americans, with planes that hummed higher than the English, one after the other, houses exploded, our shelter filled with water. Still, we were the strong ones, better than the others.

In 1945 the war ended. I saw the crematoriums, the evidence. The shock has never left. It haunts me in the night, betrayed, ashamed to be a German. I would like to forgive myself a little. I was young, impressionable, naive. I never informed on anyone. I never threw a stone.

But I believed. We needed room in the East. Russians were cruel, Poles, Gypsies, Jews. Never Germans. I believed I was better than the others.

So be careful what games you play, what songs you sing, what uniform you wear, what leader you choose to follow. Think about the consequences of joining something that could give you lifelong trouble, like the memory of a twisted cross, a poisoned rose, the fear of what you might have done if you’d been older.”