My Question about Schuld and Scham https://german.stackexchange.com/questions/6065/schuld-oder-scham was closed as off-topic; why?

The question is, whether we probably name feelings appropriate. Whether an alternative naming would be better. Why isn't the question appropriate for the site?

Update: Today in the broadcast: maybritt illner spezial [sic!] about questions of not talking about war and NS-time, Illner: "Because of the guilt?" Daniel Cohn-Bendit: "I wouldn't call this quilt." If you like to watch it in the mediathek, after about. 45min. of the talkshow.


Meine Frage nach Schuld und Scham https://german.stackexchange.com/questions/6065/schuld-oder-scham wurde geschlossen - wieso?

Es geht um die Frage, ob wir Gefühle vielleicht schlecht benennen. Ob eine andere Benennung vielleicht besser wäre. Wieso ist das keine angemessene Frage für die Seite?

Nachtrag: Heute in der Sendung maybritt illner spezial [sic!] über die Frage des Schweigens über Krieg und NS-Zeit, Frage Illner: "Wegen der Schuld" Daniel Cohn-Bendit: "Schuld würde ich das nicht nennen." Wer es nachschauen will, nach ca. 45min. der einstündigen Sendung.

6 Answers 6


Ich finde es hier höchstens irritierend, dass eine Frage von einem einzelnen Moderator im Alleingang geschlossen wird, ohne dass er es mit mehr als "off topic" begründet.


The Holocaust is at best a very sensitive subject. My German is rusty, but your question, as I understand it, was less about an aspect of the German language and more about human behaviour, which makes it off-topic.

Combined that with the sensitive nature of your chosen example, I think it is understandable that folks around here are not taking well to it.

I have deleted the question since the discussion around it has made it unsalvageable. If you choose to ask it again, I strongly suggest you at least find a different way to illustrate it.

This isn't about you being right or wrong. Please recognize that the community here didn't appreciate your phrasing and, in the interests of peace and harmony, find a different way to approach this question.

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    It wasn't me who left peace and harmony. And it was not a question about human behaviour - I don't even know which behaviour you have in mind. It is about a feeling, but still the question is about the best name for that feeling, which doesn't make it a question for psychologists. Else you could forbid every question about meaning, because you'll always find a scope, where it can fit (mathematics, cooking, you name it). If your german is rusty, you might not be the best candidate to decide to delete a question. I feel insulted by your action, since your deletion put's the guilt on me for ... Feb 8, 2013 at 5:09
  • ... asking it. I can agree that there is a sensitive nature, but I don't see, why this prevents people from answering it honestly. "The community" which didn't appreciate my question is in reality one person which got it wrong. A majority of 3:1 didn't get it wrong. Please clarify what you mean with 'community'; on what basis do you come to your very different opinion? Feb 8, 2013 at 5:13
  • Let me add further, that I invited @Eugene Seidel into chat, but he prefered to stay away, not to find an agreement, which means: explain his concerns, because all I found out so far is, that he misunderstood the question and is minsunderstanding it still. And takkat, who is a moderator for the site didn't answer to my comments too. Feb 8, 2013 at 5:22
  • I now opened a discussion on [general meta] (meta.stackexchange.com/q/166737/156431). Please feel invited to share your thoughts. Feb 8, 2013 at 6:05
  • It wasn't at all my intent to make you feel guilty, so I apologize for that. I believe your other questions from the comments here were addressed by various users in the MSO thread... so there's not much more for me to add.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Feb 8, 2013 at 16:18
  • Your answer does not address my question, how a voting of 3:-1 represents the community didn't appreciating the question. It is one single user, AFAIK. And you didn't explain what you mean by behaviour. I'm sorry for not being very interested in your intend, but in your actions. Feb 8, 2013 at 20:18

Ich habe die Frage auf den Schirm bekommen, als sie bereits als "off topic" geschlossen war. Wie ich bereits angedeutet habe: Ich finde es irritierend, dass in dem gewählten Beispiel die Frau von "Schuld" spricht. Aber vor dem Hintergrund des Phänomens "Survivor guilt" ist es vermutlich (bin kein Psychologe) so, dass die Frau tatsächlich Schuld empfindet. Also ist es aus meiner Sicht keine Frage der Wortbedeutung, sondern eher der Psychologie von traumatisierten Menschen: Die ist hier eindeutig OT, oder?

Über den Grund der Reaktion auf die Frage kann ich nur spekulieren (ich lasse mich da gern korrigieren): Vielleicht hatten andere hier Angst, es beginne jetzt eine Diskussion darüber, ob Überlebende des Holocausts sich schämen sollten, oder irgendwie "schuldig" sind. Aber ich gehe davon aus, dass niemand hier so etwas andeuten wollte (an so einer absurden Diskussion wollte ich mich auch nicht beteiligen).

Wenn es um "Schuld" und "Scham" als Begriffe geht, vielleicht lässt sich ja ein anderes, weniger aufgeladenes Beispiel finden?

  • Man könnte es in der Tat auch ohne Bezug auf den Holocaust diskutieren, aber ich sehe keinen Grund diesen zu tabuisieren. Entweder die Erklärung hat auch vor diesem Hintergrund Bestand, oder sie hat keinen Bestand. Feb 1, 2013 at 19:37

With respect to Takkat, it was really not necessary to close the discussion. I suspect he wanted to distance the group from the slightest taint of insensitivity to the Holocaust, and I appreciate that. However, I personally never took any of the discussion to be that way: I just thought it was an incredibly ignorant misunderstanding of the survivor's feelings. I waited what I thought was a respectable amount of time to see if anyone else would set it straight, and I was pleased that eventually someone explained the concept of "survivor's guilt". In the meantime I had posted my comment, which I still think was pretty fair in the circumstances. How can it be that so many intelligent people can so profoundly misunderstand this aspect of the psychology of the Holocaust?

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    He is tabooing the Holocaust by preventing the discussion of feelings about it. I don't understand why. Feb 1, 2013 at 21:02
  • What exactly did I answer, which caused you to think that I have no understanding of the holocaust?
    – jarnbjo
    Feb 2, 2013 at 2:36
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    Just that "survivor's guilt" has nothing to do with the feeling that if you had done something differntly, others might have survived. Feb 2, 2013 at 4:48

This question may have been asked with the fair intent to discuss the difference in the usage or meaning of "Schuld" vs. "Scham" but it was unnecessarily put in a context where there will be no room for this discussion. Sadly people even got offended.

The way the question is worded at present it will lead to discussions on either psychology, politics, or history. This is not within the scope of German language and usage as it was defined in our FAQ.

If it were not "off topic" then in the current form it could also be any of the other close reasons with the only exception of "exact duplicate". I chose "off topic" as this seemed to be the closest.

  • In my opinion, if I have a valid question, it is up to me, which example I choose. Since the question was triggered by said statement, I don't see any reason to avoid the theme of Holocaust. I don't appreciate the idea of making it a taboo, discussing it. If somebody got offended, I don't know why and how. If somebody wants to discuss politics or history, you may close the answer - why is that a reason to close the question? Do you want to discuss history or politics? Who wants? That's a strawman excuse. Of course, psychology is on topic, since the question is about defining Schuld. Feb 1, 2013 at 19:45
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    And what if a psychological, political or historical context is required to understand what people are interpreting a word? Are language related questions only allowed if the question is cleansed from any non-linguistic associations?
    – jarnbjo
    Feb 2, 2013 at 2:25
  • I now opened a discussion on [general meta] (meta.stackoverflow.com/q/166737/156431). Please feel invited to share your thoughts. Feb 8, 2013 at 6:06

I found the Question to be not just ignorant but extremely offensive. It's the first time I've flagged a Question asking for it to be deleted. My reaction to the Asker's request to explain why I am disgusted is a mixture of elements: (1) incredulity that I should have to explain why the Question was offensive; (2) [this is off-topic for german.SE]; (3) [also off-topic for german.SE]. I have nothing further to add.

EDIT TO ADD: I will break my vow not to add anything further, due to the comment from user "jambjo" below.

It is absolutely not clear to me why you are offended by the question

In a word, decency.

In her speech before the German Bundestag on Holocaust Remembrance Day last Thursday, Inge Deutschkron describes how she and her mother furtively watched from their hiding place how the Nazis rounded up the last remaining Jews in Berlin on October 16, 1941. Her family, her friends, the blind brush makers, the WWI veterans with service medals on their lapels: none were spared.

She then adds [my translation]:

I would lie awake at night seeing them in my mind's eye, thinking about where they were and what was being done to them. I began to feel guilty. What right, I asked myself, did I have to hide, to elude a fate that should have been mine, too? This feeling of guilt would pursue me and never let go of me again.

A year after the war ended, my mother and I received permission to enter the United Kingdom. Accompanied by [other] emigrees, my father came to pick us up from the train station in London. Immediately I saw that for the emigrees, who were fighting back tears, we were like delegates of their murdered loved ones.

By being there, we had made it official that their families had lost their battle to survive in Nazi Germany. Again my feeling of guilt surfaced.

At times in postwar Germany this feeling would give way to speechlessness when people said to me, "Why won't you forget," if they could not shut me up. "Isn't it high time to forgive," they asked me and added, "It happened such a long time ago."

[ . . . ]

Suddenly I realized what duty my guilt imposed on me: I had to write it down. The truth, unvarnished and unredacted, as I had seen it with my own eyes. It was not about getting the guilty and those who had remained silent to find some way to atone to the Jewish people.

[ . . .]

I, on the other hand, was obsessed by the idea that nothing comparable must happen again. That never again should human beings deny other human beings the right to life -- irrespective of the color of their skin, their religion, or their political opinions: not here and not anywhere else.

[ . . . ]

What, pray tell, is unclear about these words? Where do they betray an inability of Ms. Deutschkron, a professional writer all her life, to use the German language correctly? What motivates an individual to write that the use of the word guilt "seems wrong" to him and to wonder whether Ms. Deutschkron had "mixed up" shame and guilt? How low can you go?

The offense, dear jambjo, is twofold. One, this GLU user gratuitously cast aspersions on the professional writing skill of a journalist and author who is a thousand times more accomplished a writer than he. But more importantly, this "Question" betrayed a mindset of thuggish insensitivity -- a lack of ordinary decency -- and his reactions since then have deepened this impression.

I do not believe this user belongs on GLU. For the most part, I have come to this conclusion because of what I observed of his behavior here. He goes out of his way to be offensive and get under people's skin. Moreover, I have had the misfortune to see him hold forth on various web sites outside of StackExchange. I will not characterize what I saw there. However, his personal blog is only two mouse clicks away from his user page on GLU. I believe that this individual has a political agenda that he is trying to push. GLU is a language web site. His agenda does not belong here.

Previous attempts by other users to get "user unknown" expelled from GLU have failed. I know better than to be the third person to try and be rebuffed. However, I did exercise my right to flag that Question as, if I remember the wording next to the radio button right, "Not Welcome In Our Community". Unfortunately, Takkat only closed the Question but did not delete it. I still believe that it has no place on StackExchange.

EDIT #2:

Although I don't participate in "chat", I can read, and the last few days have seen so much ugly, nasty talk from this individual, so much willful refusal to get the point, that I consider him a real threat to the maintenance of a civilized online environment.

Just for the record and for the benefit of non-German-speaking visitors who chance upon this thread, "user unknown" is highly disingenuous in characterizing his Question. Back to Ms. Deutschkron's speech: Although it employs very simple language -- anyone with a high-school education can understand it without need of a dictionary -- that does not mean it is completely artless. On the contrary. The word "guilt" and its permutations occurs five times in the speech. The first four times it applies to herself. This sets up a tension: while any empathetic person can "understand", on an almost visceral level, how the pain of seeing her friends, relatives, and co-workers rounded up and carted away to a grim future tore her up inside and made her feel guilty for not being there to share their fate, at the same time the listener wants to cry out, No, it isn't you who is the guilty one! The Nazis were!

Then this tension is resolved: "It was not about getting the guilty and those who had remained silent to find some way to atone to the Jewish people. Oh no, that wouldn't have made any sense. The German people during the first post-war years were protected by their first chancellor who claimed in an address to the parliament that most Germans had opposed the crimes committed against the Jews; and that many had even helped the Jews to escape their murderers. If only that had been the case!" This is the fifth and final time that she mentions "guilt".

And second, she describes how she threw herself into working for a democratic and free postwar Germany, making sure that neither the victims nor the few heroes who helped them would be forgotten, and trying to determine the causes of the Shoah so that nothing similar would happen again, to any people, anywhere. Thus she managed to wrest something productive from the feeling of guilt, even if it may never have left her entirely.

Not every listener of her speech will have analyzed it in such detail. However, anybody with a sense of common decency will have understood what Ms. Deutschkron was about, no learned commentary required. To insist that she wrongly used the word "guilt" is not so much stupid as it is cruel and inhumane.

  • I'm sorry, but if you can't explain what is offending about the question, maybe there isn't anything. Try harder. You're welcome in Chat, where Takkat isn't able to explain his problems too. I don't get it, and doesn't get me. :) But I prefer to talk in german about such a heavy topic. Feb 1, 2013 at 21:08
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    I have to agree with user unknown here. It is absolutely not clear to me why you are offended by the question.
    – jarnbjo
    Feb 2, 2013 at 2:23
  • Citing Mrs. Deutschkron doesn't help, because said sentences are the basis for my question. You just make an apell on authority: Because she is a professionell writer, she has to be right. That's a well known rhetoric trick, but not an argument. Feb 2, 2013 at 22:34
  • I'm not an apolitical person, but the term political agenda is pretty wide, so depending on your definition, I might have such, or not. But since you don't specify what's the problem in having a political agenda, I don't see any way to defend myself. I only see your response as an ad hominem attack. Feb 2, 2013 at 23:07
  • It is an unfair misrepresentation of my writing when you claim, that I cast aspersions on the professional writing skill of a journalist and author. I don't do so. This generalisation is absolutely wrong. I only talk about the usage of that single word, and it is clear that there is a long tradition in usage of the word. The generalization of my argument to the whole reputation of Frau Deutschkron is an unjustified exaggeration to make me look foolish. But it is you who performs that generalization. I didn't do so. Feb 2, 2013 at 23:12
  • I see all the willful refusal to get the point on your side. I take it as offensive that you declare my question to be disingenuous. I think you didn't ask yourself a second time, whether you understood my question and my intention or not. You believe that I follow a certain agenda (without naming it) but I can assure you, it is just in your mind. I don't have something unhonestly in mind, and therefore I don't want to rephrase my question. This would look, as if I had something immodest asked. I haven't. Read the question without prejudice. Feb 7, 2013 at 21:38
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    While you in the mid part of #edit2 engage in an attemp to discuss the question, which you voted to close and delete, you still miss my point. I don't question the feelings of Frau Deutschkron, nor of what happened, nor that I would have felt similar in a similar situation. That's not the point. I just question whether "Schuld" is the best expression to choose. Therefore your introduction and conclusion are wrong. It isn't cruel or inhumane to ask, whether a term is appropriate or not. Feb 7, 2013 at 22:02
  • I now opened a discussion on [ general meta](meta.stackexchange.com/q/166737/156431). Please feel invited to share your thoughts. Feb 8, 2013 at 6:04

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