Generations, Violence and Collective Identities in 20th-century Germany - Mary Fulbrook

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Published on February 20, 2009

Author: WellcomeCollection

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A central challenge of understanding 20th-century Germany can be summarised in one word: Auschwitz. What were the deeper roots, and how was it made possible? How have people from different communities coped with the legacies and selectively remembered this past? What were the wider implications of war and division for different generations of Germans - and what are the continuing implications of a 'past which refuses to pass away' for notions of German national identity, even into the 21st century?

From the Remembering War Symposium at Wellcome Collection www.wellcomecollection.org

Generations, violence and collective identities in twentieth-century Germany Mary Fulbrook (UCL)

Remembering war in Germany ‘ Great War’ - defeat, radicalisation of Left and Right, cultures of violence, rise of Hitler World War II unleashed by Germany - responsibility for over 50 million deaths Over 6 million murdered in the Holocaust Germany totally defeated : nationalist and racist ideologies of Nazism discredited Germany divided : two very different post-war states; ‘remembering’ in Cold War competition Yet people want also to remember their own suffering, mourn their own dead

‘ Great War’ - defeat, radicalisation of Left and Right, cultures of violence, rise of Hitler

World War II unleashed by Germany - responsibility for over 50 million deaths

Over 6 million murdered in the Holocaust

Germany totally defeated : nationalist and racist ideologies of Nazism discredited

Germany divided : two very different post-war states; ‘remembering’ in Cold War competition

Yet people want also to remember their own suffering, mourn their own dead

Remembering War in divided Germany: ‘official’ views West Germany Heroes: July Plot, but also ‘innocent’ Army Villains: Hitler, Himmler, SS, others People: largely innocent ‘bystanders’ Defeated, not ‘liberated’ Responsibility: sense of national shame East Germany Heroes: Communists, their allies Villains: Hitler, NSDAP, Capitalists, Junkers People: workers and peasants innocent ‘ Liberated’ by Red Army ‘ Anti-fascist state’: sense of pride

West Germany

Heroes: July Plot, but also ‘innocent’ Army

Villains: Hitler, Himmler, SS, others

People: largely innocent ‘bystanders’

Defeated, not ‘liberated’

Responsibility: sense of national shame

East Germany

Heroes: Communists, their allies

Villains: Hitler, NSDAP, Capitalists, Junkers

People: workers and peasants innocent

‘ Liberated’ by Red Army

‘ Anti-fascist state’: sense of pride

(Western) guilt trips? Plaques, ‘Stolpersteine’

(Communist resistance) GDR national hero: Ernst Th ä lmann

‘ Auschwitz’: historians’ views Not only the decision-makers at the top: • also key professional elites and Army • proactive enactment of racism in everyday life; benefiting from racist policies • widespread knowledge of and participation in everyday violence - particularly ‘Hitler Youth generation’ (born c. 1914-1924); older generations tend to disapprove of physical violence • convenient concentration on ‘evil’ as primarily a matter of Hitler, Himmler, SS, concentration camps - but Nazi system sustained by functionaries and wider population, particularly from ‘war youth generation’ (born c. 1900-1913)

Not only the decision-makers at the top:

• also key professional elites and Army

• proactive enactment of racism in everyday life; benefiting from racist policies

• widespread knowledge of and participation in everyday violence - particularly ‘Hitler Youth generation’ (born c. 1914-1924); older generations tend to disapprove of physical violence

• convenient concentration on ‘evil’ as primarily a matter of Hitler, Himmler, SS, concentration camps - but Nazi system sustained by functionaries and wider population, particularly from ‘war youth generation’ (born c. 1900-1913)

‘ Private memories’ and generations All ‘private memories’ participate in collective discourses - different in East and West West: heroism, ‘always against it’, but difficulties East: possibilities of conversion narrative Strategies: silencing or selective story-telling ‘ 1929ers’: shame and new opportunities after 1949  good communists, good democrats ‘ War children’ and those born later: major differences between East and West Germans

All ‘private memories’ participate in collective discourses - different in East and West

West: heroism, ‘always against it’, but difficulties

East: possibilities of conversion narrative

Strategies: silencing or selective story-telling

‘ 1929ers’: shame and new opportunities after 1949  good communists, good democrats

‘ War children’ and those born later: major differences between East and West Germans

Remembering war in united Germany since 1990 New confidence in Federal Republic - democracy with sense of responsibility and shame but not guilt But dealing with double past - also Cold War and legacies of East German dictatorship Three-generational explorations of past Continuing controversies: eg Holocaust memorial, Goldhagen debate, Wehrmacht exhibition, representations of GDR Still a ‘past which will not pass away’?

New confidence in Federal Republic - democracy with sense of responsibility and shame but not guilt

But dealing with double past - also Cold War and legacies of East German dictatorship

Three-generational explorations of past

Continuing controversies: eg Holocaust memorial, Goldhagen debate, Wehrmacht exhibition, representations of GDR

Still a ‘past which will not pass away’?

(Western) identification with victims: Holocaust memorial, Berlin

‘ Triple’ memorials (Nazism, post-war Soviet occupation, GDR): Sachsenhausen

The Wall as icon of Berlin: Cold War and beyond

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