wir haben es nicht gewußt

Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
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Dutch[edit]

Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

Borrowed directly from German, the phrase literally means "we did not know". It refers to the stereotypical defense said to have been used by Germans attempting to deflect accusations of not having done enough to stop Nazi crimes against humanity during the Second World War, especially the Holocaust.

Pronunciation[edit]

  • IPA(key): /vir ˈɦaːbən ɛs ˌnixt ɡəˈʋust/

Phrase[edit]

wir haben es nicht gewußt

  1. (chiefly ironic) Used to deride a claim of ignorance (especially regarding some wrongdoing) that is deemed to be unrealistic.
  2. Used when claiming ignorance of a wrongdoing (especially a wrongdoing one could otherwise have acted to prevent).
    • 2012, Gertie Bögels, "De noodzaak van verbeelding", in Hans Ester, Chris N. van der Merwe & Etty Mulder (eds.), Woordeloos tot verhaal. Trauma en narratief in Nederlands en Afrikaans, page 159.
      De titel van de roman van Jessica Durlacher Het geweten draagt in dit verband ook de onderstroom van: weten of niet weten, met in de verte de valse klank van wir haben es nicht gewusst.
      The title of the book Het geweten by Jessica Durlacher has underlying connotations: knowing or not knowing, with a distant chime of the vicious sounding wir haben es nicht gewusst.
    • 2014, Rita Winterstein-Prigmore & Koenraad de Wold, Blauwe ogen. De laatste overlevende van de nazi-experimenten getuigt, Lannoo.
      Hij wees naar de vrouwen die huilden: “Wir haben es nicht gewusst.” “Jullie werkten hier in de keuken nog voor ik begon.”
      He pointed at the women who cried: “Wir haben es nicht gewusst.” “You were working in this kitchen before I even started.”
    • 2015 June 18, Sander van Walsum, "Eindelijk ziet kerk belast verleden onder ogen", Volkskrant.
      Wir haben es nicht gewusst’, was in 2010 de ongelukkige reactie van kardinaal Ad Simonis op het aanzwellend rumoer over misbruik binnen de rooms-katholieke kerk.
      Wir haben es nicht gewusst’, was in 2010 the poorly chosen response of cardinal Ad Simonis to the increasing rumors of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

Usage notes[edit]

When used in the second sense it is likely to backfire, especially when the claim of ignorance is questioned or the reference to war crimes is disproportional to the thing ignorance is claimed about.