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February 27, 1991

Collective Guilt-Reply

Author Affiliations

New England Journal of Medicine Boston, Mass

New England Journal of Medicine Boston, Mass

JAMA. 1991;265(8):978. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03460080047027

In Reply.—  Dr Uhlich thoughtfully touches on a complex question known in Germany as the "historians' conflict" (Historikerstreit).1 Namely, was the Holocaust unique among mass killings committed throughout history, or was it comparable to other national horrors (like African slavery or Stalin's purges)?Other troublesome questions follow from this one. If the mechanized extermination of nearly 6 million Jews by the Nazis is regarded as uniquely evil among genocides, then does this imply that the German "national character" is inherently flawed? Are Germans by their nature prone to committing heinous acts? Or, in a different vein, if we regard Auschwitz as just another example, among many, of man's inhumanity to man, are we thereby engaging in a form of Holocaust "revisionism" that attempts to exonerate the German people of a guilty sentence they rightly deserve?These difficult questions do not lend themselves to simple answers. My own opinions have