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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 5. Days of Remembrance


Chapter 5

Days of Remembrance

Rituals have always been a part of humankind. In everyday language, the term is used synonymously with a ceremony. Sociology defines a ritual as “a social action of the dramaturgic category, always taken by a social group or in its name and always because of socially important occasions. It communicates messages of key significance for a group. From a sociological point of view, the most important functions of a ritual are communication, confirmation and symbolic performance of the social order. (…) Rituals provide symbolic, perceivable and communicable expression of abstract ideas.”608

The custom of festive commemoration of events that are important for a community can be traced back to the oldest pagan times. Their rhythm was determined by nature. Indigenous communities adjusted their rituals to the cycles of nature that they wanted to follow. However, only nature knows cyclical repetitions – history does not. Mircea Eliade saw an imitation of the divine act of creation in this regular rhythm of festivals, “the periodic renewal of the world”. “This eternal repetition of the cosmogonic act, by transforming every New Year into the inauguration of an era, permits the return of the dead to life and maintains the hope of the faithful in the resurrection of the body.”609 The social need for cyclical repetition of rituals has been the subject of interest and various interpretations of great philosophers since the earliest days. Plato believed that festivals are given to people from...

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