Fascism's Return: Scandal, Revision, and Ideology since 1980

By Richard J. Golsan | Go to book overview

Wulf Kansteiner


Between Politics and Memory: The Historikerstreit and West German Historical Culture of the 1980s

GUNTER GRASS: My age group is too young to have become Nazis or to have become guilty…. After some years, however, I recognized that belonging to this age group is no achievement.

GUNTER GAUS: A grace?

GUNTER GRASS: In this case a grace but also a responsibility. This generation carries the burden to mediate between the abused fifty and sixty year olds and the twenty- five year olds. ZDF interview, aired 28 September 1965


A Political Scandal and Its Resolution

On 10 November 1988 a political scandal with unprecedented consequences erupted at the center of the West German political establishment. Literally overnight, the second highest official of the Federal Republic, Philip Jenninger, the president of the Federal German parliament, was removed from office because the members of that body almost unanimously disapproved of the speech he delivered on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the "Night of the Broken Glass." The fact that a high-ranking representative of the governing conservative party was forced to resign due to "improper" remarks about National Socialism, and also the speed of his removal from office, suggest that the speech violated some basic rules of West Germany's historical culture.1

Jenninger had tried to deliver a very ambitious speech, one to put him on par with President Richard Weizsäcker, whose remarks on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the end of World War II had brought him international acclaim.2 Jenninger eschewed the conventional empty formulas about the need for remembrance and engaged in an exercise of self-critical memory-work by focusing on Hitler's popularity with the German people. In the process he managed to commit three major political mistakes.

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