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Memory as Burden and Liberation

Germans and their Nazi Past (1945–2010)


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 3. Divided nation, divided memory


Chapter 3

Divided nation, divided memory

The perception of National Socialism and its status in the history of Germany had a fundamental role in the development of the political culture of the divided and unified German state. National consciousness and a sense of belonging to the community develops in relation to history, which can be heroised, sanctified or moved to the margins of public life. The establishment of the two German states on two different political bases brought long-term consequences for the cultural memory of the divided society. Since the beginning of the process of constructing German postwar order, there was a contradiction: a discrepancy between the negative and discredited past and the need for an acceptable image, which was necessary to build a positive identity of the new state.

The Nazi past was a burden to the German disposition. Contrary to the hopes of the majority that the present would eradicate the past, the victims of the Third Reich’s politics guarded the past and the pressure created by international public opinion did not allow one to forget. Thus, each of the German states stood before the Herculean task of referring to the National Socialist past, rejecting the heritage of the Nazi state and, at the same time, consolidating society around common ideological principles and acceptable political values. In the search for a means of bringing people together, they had to combine different strategies and tactics of the reckoning with the past in order...

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