The Divided Past: Rewriting Post-War German History

The Divided Past: Rewriting Post-War German History

The Divided Past: Rewriting Post-War German History

The Divided Past: Rewriting Post-War German History

Synopsis

This book tackles head on the central problems of writing German post-war history in the aftermath of unification. Since 1990, historians have been debating whether the development of the Federal Republic and the East German State constituted separate histories or whether they share what should be considered a joint past. This book addresses the specific forms of segregation and interconnectedness between the 'twoGermanies' and acknowledges the asymmetry of the relationship, as well as the effect that this had on the internal and external policies of both sides. This is a book that confronts the need for historiography to break away from the traditional master narrative. It offers an alternative in the form of the differing points of view necessary to gain a new perspective on the central problem of a separate, yet joint, German post-war history. Drawing on both methodological and historiographicalapproaches, authors tackle this vexed problem in the context of generational and woman's history, secularization, the labour movement, and the legitimization of the "workers' state", and culminate by addressing the perennial question: how does a nation live with catastrophe?'Includes both programmatic statements and examples of work from a German national perspective ... For Klessmann, although the two states were separate entities, their histories were nonetheless inextricably interconnected. He believes that by exploring the influence of each German state on the other, much can be learned about the postwar Germanies ... According to Klessmann,the West was present in the East in a variety of ways, but perhaps most importantly as ''an image transmitted via the media and relatives that served as a constant point of reference for East Germans judging their standard of living''.'Journal of Modern History, Volume 75, Number 3, September 2003

Excerpt

The rewriting of history has always been one of the major preoccupations of historians, if they wanted to keep in touch with their contemporaries. This is particularly true for contemporary history. Zeitgeschichte(defined by Hans Rothfels as the epoch of the historian’s contemporaries) often consists of rereading and reinterpretating well-known facts and evidence, driven by the course of history itself. In the case of the German present, it is not only because of the sudden opening of archives and the more or less unrestricted access to the secrets of the GDR state machinery that we are looking out for new concepts and narratives. Above all, it is a society perceiving its own recent past from new angles and in a new light, now asking for new answers to new questions, which motivates the exercise of rewriting. Of course this questioning and debating is in itself as pluralistic and polyphonous as it can be in an open society such as unified Germany. And it is a process open to change in itself: there are dominant and subdominant voices; for some time, certain themes and motives prevail over all others, opinions which have been muted in the beginning may come to the fore, and so on.

In the last ten years, it was above all the GDR past which preoccupied the history-minded public, alongside new waves of ‘comingto-terms with the Nazi past’ already characteristic for the West German public before 1989. West Germany's past, by contrast, could not mobilise emotions and controversies in a similar way. On the contrary, its seemingly untainted success served as an unquestioned model and yardstick with which to evaluate the East German past: in terms of economic productivity, the efficiency of its infrastructure . . .

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