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Memory as Burden and Liberation

Germans and their Nazi Past (1945–2010)

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Anna Wolff-Poweska

This book examines both the obvious and less obvious ways in which Germans struggle with their Nazi past. It embraces only a small part of a complex problem, which is impossible for an individual author to grasp in its entirety and character. The main intention, which leads through a thick of actors, issues, institutions, events and phenomena, is a reflection upon the reasons for which German reckoning with the past turned out to be a process full of contradictions; a bumpy road rippled with political, intellectual and moral mines. This intention is accompanied by the question about the specific character of German collective memory in relation to the helplessness and moral condition of a person defending himself/herself and his/her nation in the face of unimaginable evil.
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Chapter 1. Mnemosyne – Mother of the Muses

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Chapter 1

Mnemosyne – Mother of the Muses

Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory (from mnēmē; Greek for memory) occupied a special place in ancient mythology. The daughter of Uranus – the father of the Titans and the Cyclops, personification the sky – and Gaia, the great mother of all, gave birth to nine Muses by Zeus. For ancient Greeks, the sky represented constancy while the Earth represented change. Thus, the mythological inspiration lets us interpret the meaning of memory, which includes elements of what is constant and what is changing. At least since the times of Homer, there used to be a custom of referring to a Muse at the beginning of every work. The goddess of memory, as the mother of Muses who were honoured to feast with gods at Mount Olympus and who were patrons of various fields of art and science, symbolises the source and fundament of what is most important in life. Allegoric Memory as “the mother of all knowledge and thinking”, born from “the nuptials of Heaven and Earth” was expected to remind successive generations that she was the beginning of all human skills and actions.4

Cesare Ripa, the author of Iconologia, generously referred to the tradition and aesthetic imagination of antiquity according to the rules of Baroque. His Memory is presented as a two-faced woman, as it embraces “all things past, and through the rule of prudence, all things which will happen in the future”.5 In the world of...

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