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

By Pieter Lagrou | Go to book overview

13
Patriotic memories and the genocide

The three national memories organised around the paradigm of national martyrdom, described in the previous chapter, were only a partial representation of the plural persecutions distinguished in chapter 11. The way in which wartime persecutions were represented in the postwar years indeed functioned as a metaphor, and more particularly a pars pro toto. The central image was that of the hero-victim of the repression of the Resistance combat, numerically only a modest part of all the victims of Nazi persecution. In a traditional patriotic memory, the metaphor excluded all other victims. In an 'anti-fascist' memory, the metaphor was inclusive by assimilation: all victims of fascism were per se anti-fascists and thus somehow, if not heroes, at the very least martyrs in a noble cause. In the Netherlands, the commemoration of persecution was essentially traditional and patriotic, and the anti-fascist discourse remained marginal and oppositional. In France and Belgium, the commemoration was largely inspired by the anti-fascist discourse, but amended by traditional patriotism. Contrary to the Netherlands, the memory of persecution was inclusive of all victims, but symbolic features distinguished the heroes from the rest: the 'title' and medal in Belgium, the separate law for 'deportees of the resistance' in France. Whether by exclusion or assimilation, these memories did not represent the distinct experience of one particular group — one group amongst many, but numerically by far the most important: the Jewish victims of the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis. The previous chapter pointed repeatedly to the marginal presence in France and Belgium, and the almost complete absence in the Netherlands, of references to Jewish victims in post-war debates on recognition for the victims of Nazi persecution. This marginality or oblivion is primarily striking because of its sharp contrast with perceptions in the final decade of the twentieth century, a contrast that supposes a radical reversal of memories in the course of the last five and a half decades that this chapter must address.

The 'reversal' of memories of Nazi persecution over these decades since the end of the Second World War — from the hegemony of the

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