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The Construction of European Holocaust Memory: German and Polish Cinema after 1989

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Malgorzata Pakier

Is a common European Holocaust memory possible? The author approaches this question by analyzing Polish and German cinema after 1989, and the public debates on the past that have surrounded the filmic narratives. Of all media, cinema has exerted the broadest impact in the formation of collective memory regarding the Holocaust. Despite the distance in time, and especially since the fall of communism, this traumatic chapter in European history has come into ever sharper focus. Film makers have refracted evolving public awareness and in turn projected the dramas and images that inculcate mass opinion. This work examines these dynamic trends with regard to selected Polish and German feature films. The author shows how cinema opened hitherto taboo aspects to discussion. She reveals both a deep divide between the two countries, as well as significant similar trends in the memory of events.

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CHAPTER I. Holocaust Film and European Memory

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CHAPTER I Holocaust Film and European Memory The Holocaust: Europe’s Foundational Myth? In recent years, commemoration of the Holocaust has become a major political, cultural, and educational issue for the European Union (see Karlsson and Zander 2004; Karlsson 2010). There is no other historical event to which European institutions have demonstrated any comparably deep commitment. It is manifest in such initiatives as the European Parliament’s “Resolution on Remembrance of the Holocaust, Antisemitism and Racism” approved on January 27, 2005, the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and in the adoption of legislation criminalizing denial of the Holocaust at the level of the European Union under the German presidency in April 2007. The European Union has also played a key role in setting up the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, launched on the occasion of the International Forum on the Holocaust, which took place in Stockholm in 2000. It is difficult not to consider the Stockholm conference in the context of the genocidal massacre at Srebrenica that occurred just five years earlier. And yet Srebrenica, an event far less remote in time, somehow went unmentioned there.1 The Holocaust did not always occupy this central position in European policy and historical reflection. Europe’s relation to the Holocaust has been proceeding from an initial period of neglect, through a “reversal in remembrance” (Lagrou 2000) and critical confrontations with national pasts, towards the growing acknowledgment of the Holocaust as a common European “dark legacy”. During the early Cold War period,...

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