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On Commemoration

Global Reflections upon Remembering War

Edited By Catherine Gilbert, Kate McLoughlin and Niall Munro

How, in the twenty-first century, can we do commemoration better? In particular, how can commemoration contribute to post-war reconciliation and reconstruction? In this book, a global roster of distinguished writers, artists, musicians, religious leaders, military veterans and scholars debate these questions and ponder the future of commemoration. They include the world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz, the award-winning novelists Aminatta Forna and Rachel Seiffert, and the human rights lawyer and Gifford Baillie Prize-winner Philippe Sands. Polemics and reflections together with poetry and creative prose movingly illuminate a subject that speaks to our common humanity.

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Stones Do Not Forget: Forgetting and Being Forgotten in Czech Silesia (Johana Wyss)

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johana wyss

What happens when a minority group wants to commemorate a controversial period in a country’s history? In this essay, social and cultural anthropologist Johana Wyss discusses an ongoing ‘memory war’ in Czech Silesia over whether to commemorate German-speaking residents who were threatened, killed, or expelled after the Second World War.

Once a war is over, things rarely return to the way they were. Even though the desire to return to the status quo of pre-war times is often the driving force behind peace-making efforts, the post-war period is characterised by change. As the English novelist L. P. Hartley once wrote, ‘the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’1 What was true for the pre-war order might not be the same in the aftermath. What and who was worth remembering in the past may be deemed forgettable in the present, only to be remembered in the future.

In this essay, I will explore a failed attempt to install a commemorative plaque in the town of Opava in Czech Silesia, and by doing so, show how temporality and generational change determine how and what can be commemorated, whose voices are heard, and which narratives are acknowledged and legitimised. I will also explain how a memorial can function as an invitation to reconcile and build bridges of understanding with the generations yet to come.

The post-Second World War Central Europe was very different to pre-war pluralistic ‘Mitteleuropa’.2 After the horrors...

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