I am curious about the perceptions of Germans today with regard to their country's past? What do they generally have to say about Hitler and the events of the holocaust?
This is a pretty complicated topic, made all the more complicated because your question is very vague ("perceptions" covers a LOT of ground). For example:
When you say "today's germans", are you including ~3% Turkish-rooted population or %4 Islamic population?
They come from heavily antisemitic background; and 60% of whom found the way Germans handled their past "rather dounting" vs 25% "perfect")?
Are you distinguishing East vs West Germans (those who grew up under DDR)?
They have different attitudes. I'll scare up references if asked, but DDR had a lot more neo-Nazis, for example, in 1990s-2000s.
Are you talking about Germans who were alive during Nazi Germany time only? Those who were adults at the time only? Generation born right after the war? People born in 1990+? They all have different attitudes.
More specifically, you are conflating having an opinion about Holocaust and feeling personally responsible in some way among those born significantly later (the latter is clearly diminishing greatly as new generations rise)
The survey in Der Spiegel magazine said 60 percent feel neither guilty nor responsible for the Holocaust. But it also found wide support for German compensation payments to Nazi-era slave laborers and said 80 percent believe that only a small minority of Germans are anti-Semitic (source)
You are conflating Hitler and Holocaust. It's entirely plausible that someone can have shame over Holocaust but harbor nationalist feelings that make Hitler less of a hated figure.
While I don't have figures for that in Germany, one needs only to witness positive feelings for Stalin in Russia these days to reject any assumptions that people may not plausibly view Hitler/nazis positively even if they are not in favor of Holocaust.
Different polls find wildly differing results. For example, the above-quoted Der-Spiegel poll is contradicted by AFP poll:
Two-thirds (67 percent) of Germans aged between 14 and 19 agreed with the statement: "It is the duty of my generation to ensure that Nazi history and the Holocaust are not forgotten." Only 32 percent disagreed. Older Germans felt even stronger about this, with 69 percent of those aged 20 to 44 agreeing with the statement and 77 percent of those aged over 45.
The youngest Germans appeared the least concerned that their country's grisly history could repeat itself, with a 71-percent majority of those in the 14-19 age group believing such a party could never again rise to power. In contrast, 57 percent of the age group 20 to 44 and 61 percent of those over 45 took this view.
But it was the 14-19 age group that felt most personally affected by their country's history, with 59 percent saying they were "ashamed of what the Germans did during Nazism.". Other age groups were split down the middle on the issue.
One thousand people were surveyed for the poll, half of whom were between 14 and 24.
Some related further reading: http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/164
I'm an American who grown up in Europe and is living in Germany now, and this is a personal account on how I experience it day to day.
For most people I talk to the Nazi era is a source of considerable guilt, shame and regret. Most people have grandparents who were involved in some way, and there is often an uncomfortable silence if they bring them up for some reason.
"Oh right, my grandpa told me that story about the wolf too when I was little."
not...think...about...that other stuff
People know it's not their fault, but they do know they are living in a culture that gave rise to the Nazis, and that is an uncomfortable part of their identity. Compared to, say, Switzerland, there is a considerably greater sense of gloom in how everyday life feels.
This is slowly giving way to a new identity of being one of the architects and cornerstones of the European Union, which fills them with considerable pride, and, I think, a sense of atonement.
It's noticeable how this progresses year by year. People wave more flags at the world cup and it's okay to be proud of the winning team. The Residenztheater played an electronic-music inspired version of Goethe's Faust recently and people love it when you bring up the anti-authoritarian shit the man wrote. ("The church has a good stomach, gobbled up countries, never overate"*). Electronic Music itself is positively huge and counterculture is on the rise.
In short: They're reinventing themselves.
*Okay not everyone loves this but there are plenty
As said there are strong mandatory school programs to teach the young German about Nazism.
This is a very complex question because it may also vary from Lander to Lander and of course it will strongly depend on which generation you consider. The 'recent' generations usually are not interested to consider the matter and they just ignore the topic.So I would say they really absolutely don't care about that Nazi past But if some people think that "Germans are for the most part, ashamed about that part of their history" as mentioned in an other answer, this is not correct: German people are never ashamed of anything considering Germany, the German people and their history but they can wipe out their memories and simply not consider the matter.
On the opposite as I was Munich resident for several years and was often in the city of Dachau ( not far from Munich ), I was constantly shocked to see american tourists and schoolkids having fun and laughing in Dachau making fun of everything including the gas chambers while they were visiting the place. They were the only one to behave like that.
Although this question is a little ignorant, it's akin to asking "What do Americans think about slavery, do they feel ashamed about it?", I will answer it. Germans are for the most part, ashamed about that part of their history.
To make sure that Germans never forget that part, German schoolkids are **obligated-- to visit the concentration camps like Auschwitz, Dachau, or Bergen-Belsen at least once during their school career, age 9-18.
At the same time, many Germans especially the younger ones feel that they can't be blamed forever for what the Nazis did. During the European Championships of 2000, there were some instances of British hooligans shouting stuff about how they should be able to riot in Belgium and Holland (not part of Germany) because they liberated these countries. Many Europeans were shocked by this.
On a personal note: My parents took my and my brother to Dachau. I was six, I understood what had happened but it didn't have an impact on me because at six, you don't get the full extent. The one thing I remember clearly was my brother, age 9, asking my mom inside the gas chamber if it was allowed to cry.
PS Consider that Jews in present day Germany are treated about 100 times better by Germans, than that African-Americans are treated by white Americans. There's no institutional (governmental) bias against Jews like there is against African-Americans. I hope this gives you some pause to not ask these type of questions again.
Source: Wikipedia, history books.
I am a foreigner living in Germany since some years. Thus, I can see them with an external eye.
I am watching them, because I am curious. Not for this Hitler-thing. I am only curious, what are they thinking.
I explain, what I've found.
There is a multi-layer nothing in the heads.
The first layer of the nothing in their minds are the taboos. Not only Hitler & WW2 topic is a total taboo, also all political matter. And anything what even neighbours politics. Everything. The main stand of the today's Germans, that they don't talk about politics. They don't talk about the economics of their countries. They don't talk about that the traffic control lamps are badly organized in their home city.
It is also strongly advicable to avoid these topics with them, because as a foreigner I have to follow their ways and not they mine.
However, sometimes they talk, but they do only rarely. It can also happen, that on some indirect way, sometimes, becomes clear what are they thinking. These are rare opportunities, as we can get a simple moment, what is in their minds in the rare moments, which is something.
The second layer of the nothing is the fear. It is not a visible, direct fear, for that they have the custom defense mechanism (the taboos). It is visible only in indirect ways or in some extraordinary cases. It has mainly two reasons:
- Also Germany has lost 5-6 million lives in the war. It means, that most currently living German has family members, who actually, really, died. This topic also I avoid. Other ww2 topics I avoid only because it is here the custom.
- There is also an existential fear. They fear that if they say something badly, they may be stigmatized, even if they didn't think so. And stigmatization leads to social marginalization, and to the loss of his/her well-paying job. Having seen the late, softening communism with my own eyes, I think I can compare the two. Our fear, from the commies, was lighter, as the existential fear of the Germans today. (Btw: consolidated dictatorships work mainly by simple existential threat in the all-days, they pull out the police baton only in extraordinary situations.)
Simple ideas. Too simple ones.
In average, yearly 1-2 times I have the opportunity that I can talk with a real German with real politics. We, middle/east Europeans, are probably extremists in their eyes. They are soft, unmotivated in my eyes. They know a lot more, as they say, but nothing really serious. For example, Merkel's popularity index sunk from 40% to 35% after she (maybe intentionally) catastrophically botched the handling of the so-named "migrant crysis". This was their collective reaction. And now Merkel will likely win again. In my home country, the government had collapsed for far less and that minister-president, who botched it, never had been elected again.
Their ideas are simple. A good measurement of the complexity of the political views, if you see, how long are the causility chains in it. Their are short and naive.
Practically all of them refuses the nazi past.
They really refuse, not only say. Nobody wants war, dictatorship and similar bad things. They want peace, calmness, prosperity. They focus much more on economical things (= money, tax, etc). Politics stinks here, money and job is what is important (what is also taboo, but on a different reason).