Nikolay Epplée on ‘The Question of German Guilt’ by Karl Jaspers

1 November 2022

by Nikolay Epplée

Nikolay Epplée is an independent researcher working on international memorial culture and on memory of Soviet state terror and the author of The Inconvenient Past: Memory of the State Crimes in Russia and Other Countries. He has published extensively on memory issues in VedomostiInLibertyColta, and other Russian media. See also Wilson Center.

Nikolay Epplée on Vopros o vinnovnosti. O politicheskoi otvetstvennosti Germanii by Karl Jaspers, translated from the original German by Solomon Apt with a forewood by Nikolay Epplée, published by Alpina Knigi, pp220, ISBN 978-5-9614-8240-9, Moscow, 2023 [original title: Die Schuldfrage: Von der politischen Haftung Deutschlands]

Source: Facebook

Four years ago when I first read The Question of German Guilt by Karl Jaspers, I was surprised that the book (it’s actually an article) had only come out in Russian once, in 1999, in a fine translation by the great Solomon Apt. Since then, I’d toyed with the idea of republishing it but not particularly actively. After 24 February, the topic of guilt and responsibility arose in all its complexity and everyone suddenly bethought themselves of Jaspers and his categorization of the types of guilt (partly thanks to The Inconvenient Past and my critical notes). I started very vigorously entertaining the idea of republication, reached out (through contacts in publishing, you know who you are!) to the German rights holders but they said that the rights had already been sold to someone in Russia. I spent several months trying to find out to whom. I found out in the end and got in touch with the publishers who turned out to be Иzdatelstvo [Publisher] Alpina Publisher and Daria Rybina. I even had the chance to write the foreword. The book is now on its way to the printers and should be in the bookshops in a month’s time (pre-orders open very shortly). 

Reading the book again now, I felt it was improbably, wildly relevant (four years ago I didn’t read it so closely either) and not even in terms of these wretched types of guilt but as a whole. If you were to set about underlining sentences that seem to have been written right now in response to our most painful and pressing questions, you’d end up with 90 per cent of the text underlined. 

Even more astonishing than this topicality, however, which can largely be explained at the end of the day, is the fact that this book is suffused with hope. Jaspers speaks of a future being possible and exactly how it is possible and he does so in a calm, well-reasoned manner (the tone is a special virtue of the book and not the least feature in ensuring its efficacy).

Overall, I am convinced that right now this is the most relevant book for us ever. And it’s fantastic that it’s being published. Let’s all buy it and support a heroic publisher. Upd: Pre-order here:

Translated by Melanie Moore

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