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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 4. The Berlin Republic: a marathon of memory


Chapter 4

The Berlin Republic: a marathon of memory

The turning points related to the transition from dictatorship to democracy are characterised by the intensive search for the new cement of national unity and identity. Societies afflicted by totalitarianism need to determine their attitude to the old order if they want to build a new one. The example of the two German states shifting away from the policy and values of the Third Reich has demonstrated that the defence of one’s history and finding an answer to the question of what to remember and what to repress are factors that significantly determine the political consciousness of societies in epochs of transition. German reunification in 1990 confirmed that democratisation processes are accompanied by social crisis, which is also a crisis of the criteria of memory and forgetting: the integral elements of every history.

As a result of reunification, Germany, for the second time in the 20th century, faced the challenge of overcoming the past. However, the circumstances and the ideological climate by the end of the 20th century were fundamentally different from the situation after 1945. The new conditions stimulated parallels between the attitudes of West Germans towards National Socialism and the attitudes of East Germans towards communism. The question about consequences of the ideological interpretation of the past was inevitable. Yet, the difference between the SED state and the NSDAP state was comparable to the abyss between the Stasi (Ministry of State Security of...

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