15 - Importance of Social Categorization for Forgiveness and Collective Guilt Assignment for the Holocaust  pp. 284-306

Importance of Social Categorization for Forgiveness and Collective Guilt Assignment for the Holocaust

By Michael J. A. Wohl and Nyla R. Branscombe

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Although more than a half century has passed since the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, the extermination of some six million Jews remains the prototype of the violence that one group can commit against another group (Barkan, 2000; Staub, 1989). The extent to which contemporary Germans should and do continue to feel collective guilt for the Nazi genocide is a topic of much ongoing political debate (see Churchill, 1997; Goldhagen, 1996; Gross, 2001). Indeed, most of the chapters in this volume examine influences on the willingness of such perpetrator groups to accept guilt for their group's past. In contrast, in this chapter, we focus on the factors that lead historically victimized group members to assign or prescriptively desire that contemporary members of the perpetrator group experience collective guilt.

Given that collective guilt can be both accepted and assigned based on category membership alone, and does not require personal responsibility for the wrongdoing, social categorization processes should play a crucial role. We report on studies that empirically examine collective guilt assignment and forgiveness of contemporary Germans for the Holocaust among North American–Jewish people as a function of how the groups are categorized. We consider the consequences of perceiving Germans and Jews as distinct and separate groups, versus perceiving both groups as part of a single more inclusive superordinate category – that of humans.

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