The Legacy of Nazi Occupation: Patriotic Memory and National Recovery in Western Europe, 1945-1965

By Pieter Lagrou | Go to book overview

11
Plural persecutions

The first part of this book showed how resisters were awkward heroes and how the recognition of who fought the enemy, and for which reasons, was a disruptive issue for the liberated societies. The second part described the heterogeneity of the population displaced to Germany during the war and the third part the ambiguity of the legacy of forced economic migration involving the greatest population displacement. What strength could a traumatised national consciousness draw from the experience of hundreds of thousands of individuals who had been forced to work for the enemy against their own country? This part deals with the memory of Nazi persecution.

The victims of Nazi persecution could at least, so it would seem, constitute a group, personify an experience, behind which all liberated societies could rally. There was nothing ambiguous in their status as victims; the Nazi methods of persecution were more ruthless and involved greater numbers of individuals than any other persecution seen in Europe in modern times: systematic and mechanised mass murder, arbitrary executions, mass deportation, torture, internment in appalling and murderous conditions. Yet the afflictions suffered by tens of thousands of citizens of the occupied countries in the hands of the enemy did not in themselves create a consensual commemoration of martyrdom. There are two reasons for this. The first is the multiplicity of persecutions: the Nazis persecuted different groups with different goals and with very different means. Any cult of the martyrdom of the victims of Nazi persecution had to accommodate the disparity and gradations of persecution. The second reason concerns the nature of national memories of the occupation. These memories were patriotic, proposing the paradigm of the combatant, the hero. This implied a selective memory. When coupled with the heterogeneity of the victims of Nazi persecution, it became divisive. To overcome these difficulties, the commemoration focused on one rallying symbol of martyrdom as metaphor for all forms of Nazi persecution: the concentration camp. In its turn this assimilation created confusion: not all patriotic martyrs, by any stretch of the current

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