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

By Pieter Lagrou | Go to book overview

Conclusion

The juxtaposition of three national case studies, with their inevitable and apparent differences, could easily lead to the conclusion that, even within Western Europe, national distinctiveness was, in the final analysis, primordial in shaping memories of the Second World War. This would contradict the hypothesis at the start of this book, that the fundamental differences in the Western European experience of the war were not national frontiers but particular experiences at the heart of this particular war: resistance, labour conscription, persecution. It is a rudimentary conclusion of this study that 'national' memories did exist in post-war years. How to deal with the memory of the war was a central challenge to the reconstruction of the State and to the continuing existence of the Nation, after their spectacular failures of the years 1939–45. The state became a central agent of a collective memory that was at the same time self-justification and recovery of national honour. This was a matter of survival. The state was the source and the destination of these memories.

In February 1945, in the midst of the last, cold 'hunger winter' of the German occupation of the Netherlands, an anonymous plan was presented to the National Resistance Council (the GAC) for the commemoration of the Dutch resistance. The idea was to erect a national monument at the very heart of Amsterdam, facing the royal palace in the Dam-square. The initiators justified their proposal by pointing to the lack of a monument symbolising and enhancing national unity, such as the tomb of the unknown soldier in Paris, or the Lenin mausoleum in Moscow, observing that 'the history of our nation in earlier centuries was apparently not heroic or eventful enough to provide sufficient impetus for such a creation'. It was the Nazi occupation and the heroic resistance to it which finally provided sufficient substance for a national monument. The creation of the monument would stimulate national cohesion at a time when the nation had greatest need of it, and avoid 'the sordid performance offered to world opinion in Belgium and Greece'.1

____________________
1
Memorandum (28 Feb. 1945), RIOD, GAC archive, 184, 1B.

-292-

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