Should the Germans of today continue to atone for the sins of their forebears? "Eternal Guilt" argues persuasively that Germans, Israelis and American Jews cling to their historical legacy in order to manipulate contemporary political ends. In their social interactions since 1950, Germans, Jews, and Israelis have largely abandoned the "us versus them" worldview fostered by the Holocaust. At the personal level, members of these groups increasingly deal with one another as individuals living in the present. Germans and Israelis are increasingly willing to visit each other's countries; Diaspora Jews are reluctant to settle in Israel; intermarriage is prevalent among Jews and majority populations everywhere. Nonetheless, at the official level images and memories of the past prevail; the past remains important not as intrinsically instructive but as pragmatically useful in manipulating political aims. Wolffsohn demonstrates that this gap between "routine policy" among individuals and "historical policy" among nations results in continuing misunderstandings and ongoing disputes.
Wolffsohn argues that if the continuing spiral of inflammatory rhetoric and political manoeuvering is ever to end, official positions must catch up to popular behaviour. His epilogue analyzes the implications of reunification for the relations among these groups.