War Stories: The Search for a Usable Past in the Federal Republic of Germany

War Stories: The Search for a Usable Past in the Federal Republic of Germany

War Stories: The Search for a Usable Past in the Federal Republic of Germany

War Stories: The Search for a Usable Past in the Federal Republic of Germany


"A brilliant analysis of the manner in which postwar Germany forged for itself a new identity on the basis of vivid yet selective memories of the past. Robert Moeller convincingly demonstrates that public preoccupation with the expulsion of Germans from the east and the fate of prisoners of war in the Soviet Union created a sense of German victimhood that facilitated overcoming past crimes by asserting an equivalence of suffering. This is the best analysis by far of the 'negative' elements in the reconstruction of German national identity. The book is an indispensable contribution to our understanding of German politics and culture from the fall of Nazism to the present day."--Omer Bartov, author of "Mirrors of Destruction"

"Required reading for anyone interested in how selective memory shapes national identity, Robert Moeller's "War Stories "provides a whole new reading of Germany's confrontation with its Nazi past from the fifties through the nineties. . . . This is history as it should be written in the twenty-first century."--Temma Kaplan, author of "Taking Back the Streets"


In June 1952 a seamstress, Anna Schwartz, recorded her memories of the end of the war in Danzig, the city that Hitler had incorporated into the Reich when he invaded Poland in September 1939. Her testimony appeared in print in 1953, part of a massive collection of eyewitness accounts entitled Die Vertreibung der deutschen Bevölkerung aus den Gebieten östlich der Oder-Neisse (The expulsion of the German population from the regions east of the Oder-Neisse).

This is what Schwartz recalled:

For Schwartz, German defeat came before the official surrender. In late March 1945, the Russians marched into Danzig, setting the city on fire. Falling bombs drove Schwartz and her neighbors into air raid shelters, from which Russian voices, promising freedom and security, later beckoned them if they would surrender. Distrusting these assurances, Schwartz unsuccessfully sought a place on one of the last boats leaving the port city to cross the Baltic bound for northern Germany, though Russian fighter bombers made this a perilous and uncertain escape route as well. Schwartz compared her fate with that of German soldiers, holding out until the end and facing imprisonment or death.

On March 27 Soviet soldiers entered the city. Seven years later, Schwartz could still hear their cries for “watches, watches” (“Urr, Urr”) and smell the “stink of liquor, sweat, and dirty uniforms” as Red Army troops, armed with machine guns, “liberated” Schwartz's jewelry and other valuables. Other women also lost their honor, and Schwartz re-

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