Ambiguous Memory: The Nazi Past and German National Identity

Ambiguous Memory: The Nazi Past and German National Identity

Ambiguous Memory: The Nazi Past and German National Identity

Ambiguous Memory: The Nazi Past and German National Identity

Synopsis

Ambiguous Memory examines the role of memory in the building of a new national identity in reunified Germany. The author maintains that the contentious debates surrounding contemporary monumnets to the Nazi past testify to the ambiguity of German memory and the continued link of Nazism with contemporary German national identity. The book discusses how certain monuments, and the ways Germans have viewed them, contribute to the different ways Germans have dealt with the past, and how they continue to deal with it as one country. Kattago concludes that West Germans have internalized their Nazi past as a normative orientation for the democratic culture of West Germany, while East Germans have universalized Nazism and the Holocaust, transforming it into an abstraction in which the Jewish question is down played. In order to form a new collective memory, the author argues that unified Germany must contend with these conflicting views of the past, incorporating certain aspects of both views.

Providing a topography of East, West, and unified German memory during the 1980s and the 1990s, this work contributes to a better understanding of contemporary national identity and society. The author shows how public debate over such issues at Ronald Reagan's visit to Bitburg, the renarration of Buchenwald as Nazi and Soviet internment camp, the Goldhagen controversy, and the Holocaust Memorial debate in Berlin contribute to the complexities surrounding the way Germans see themselves, their relationship to the past, and their future identity as a nation. In a careful analysis, the author shows how the past was used and abused by both the East and the West in the 1980s, and how these approaches merged in the 1990s. This interesting new work takes a sociological approach to the role of memory in forging a new, integrative national identity.

Excerpt

With the city of Berlin as the largest construction site and architectural playground in recent history, one cannot help reflecting on the relationship between the desire to forge a new future and the necessity to dig through the past. As construction workers dig deeper into the center of unified Berlin to lay the foundations for new buildings, bulldozers discover remnants of Hitler's cavernous bunkers beneath the soil. And so Berliners are once again engaged in discussions with historians, politicians, artists and community leaders as to what the correct response should be. Should the bunkers be destroyed or made into educational sites? In a way, the discovery of Goebbels's bunker beneath the proposed Holocaust Memorial in the heart of Berlin confirms what Walter Benjamin wrote about memory: “Language has unmistakably made plain that memory is not an instrument for exploring the past, but rather a medium. It is the medium of that which is experienced, just as the earth is the medium in which ancient cities lie buried. He who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging.” Memory is about excavating—about sorting and sifting through the elements of one's past. In the German case, it is not about the lack of memory but rather the enormity of it.

Ambiguous Memory is partially an analysis of attempts to dig through the various Germanys in the 1980s and 1990s. It is less a history book than a series of cultural and sociological reflections from the outside. This study began with the question of how the event of German unification would change German national identity and the memory of National Socialism in unified Germany. Would 1989 overshadow 1945 or vice versa? What role would National Socialism play in the new Germany? I soon discovered, however, that one cannot begin to ask such questions without . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.