Facing the Nazi Past: United Germany and the Legacy of the Third Reich

Facing the Nazi Past: United Germany and the Legacy of the Third Reich

Facing the Nazi Past: United Germany and the Legacy of the Third Reich

Facing the Nazi Past: United Germany and the Legacy of the Third Reich


Facing the Nazi Past examines how the communist East viewed the events of these years very differently from West Germany during the Cold War. Following the unification of Germany, these contrasting memories of the Third Reich have contributed to a new perspective on this period of German history. Facing the Nazi Past explores the developments and debates that were symptomatic of this shift towards a more open confrontation with the past, such as:* the image of resistance to Hitler in united Germany* changes at concentration camp memorial sites since 1990* the commemoration of 8 May 1945 in 1995* how the revelations in Goldhagen's startling book Hitler's Willing Executioners triggered new discussion* the plans for the construction of a Holocaust Memorial.Anyone; students, scholars or interested readers, who are involved in the study of European history, will find this an enthralling and informative read.


'I would like to understand why, in this decade, the past is being presented as never before.'

(Martin Walser 1999:12)

Why now?

The above quotation is taken from the text of a controversial speech given by the author Martin Walser, in which he expressed consternation at the degree to which a preoccupation with the National Socialist past had taken hold of the public realm. Walser's speech addressed an apparent discrepancy. in consequence of the 'Two Plus Four' Treaty of 12 September 1990, the Allies had passed complete sovereignty to the Germans, relinquishing rights deriving from occupation. On the one hand, then, Germany, as a united country, had put behind it that period of its history directly or indirectly linked to National Socialism, without which there would have been no Third Reich, no post-war state of defeat and ruin, no Allied occupation, no division of Germany and no integration into the competing power blocs. Yet while the political impact of National Socialism and its aftermath had come to an end, there was a veritable explosion of discussion about the National Socialist past in the public realm. the media, intellectuals, politicians of all parties and the general public were involved in this discussion. Indeed the Germans set about debating the Nazi past as never before. To a certain extent, this discussion was a response to special anniversaries. 1994 was the year of the 50th anniversary of Stauffenberg's attempt on Hitler's life. in 1995, Germany and other countries took part in ceremonies to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. To a certain extent, too, discussion was triggered by spectacular media events, such as the showing of the Hollywood film Schindler's List. It can also be explained by the fact that views of Nazism were presented in the public realm-in exhibitions, speeches, books or films-which broke with images of the Third Reich typical of East or West Germany, or of both Germanys. Yet these views would never have attracted as much public and media interest had there not been a readiness to consider them. Indeed it seemed as if they only had the effect they did because the time was right. Interest in the National Socialist past was driven by its own momentum, absorbing influences, feeding on them, but not always impelled by them. It was this dynamic which puzzled Walser. Was this, as Walser suspected, some kind

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