One of the most important developments in the incipient Berlin Republic's memory regime has been the return of the memory of German suffering from the end and aftermath of World War II. Elite discourses about the bombing of German cities, the mass rape of German women by members of the Red Army, and, above all, the expulsion of Germans from then-Eastern Germany and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe have gained massive visibility in the last decade. Although many voices have lauded these developments as liberating, many others within Germany and especially in Poland—from where the vast majority of Germans were expelled—have reacted with fear. Yet, do these elite voices resonate with mass publics? Have these arguments had demonstrable effects on public opinion? This paper delves into these questions by looking at survey results from both countries. It finds that there has been a disjuncture between the criticisms of elites and average citizens, but that the barrage of elite criticisms leveled at German expellees and their initiatives now may be affecting mass attitudes in all cases.
Robert Gellately and Ben Kiernan, eds., The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003)
Jan-Werner Müller, ed., Memory and Power in Post-War Europe: Studies in the Presence of the Past (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002)
Not once during the campaign—or actually over the whole course of the
seventeenth Bundestag (2009-2013)—was it ever really in doubt that Angela
Merkel would continue as chancellor after the 22 September 2013 parliamentary
election. Despite the vicissitudes of governing for eight years, most
in the midst of the financial and Euro crisis, she has achieved and sustained
some of the highest approval ratings of any postwar German politician. Voters
trust Merkel as a good manager of the economy and an honest steward
and defender of German interests in Europe. Her carefully cultivated image
as a steady, reassuring, and incorruptible leader, coupled with her political
acumen, ideological flexibility and, at times, ruthlessness—captured in the
dueling monikers of Mutti Merkel and Merkelavelli1—are the keys to her
Micha Brumlik, Hajo Funke and Lars Rensmann, Umkämpftes Vergessen: Walser-Debatte, Holocaust-Mahnmal und neuere deutsche Geschichtspolitik (Berlin: Verlag Das Arabische Buch, 2000)
Robert G. Moeller, War Stories: The Search for a Usable Past in the Federal Republic of Germany (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001)
Klaus Naumann, Der Krieg als Text: Das Jahr 1945 im kulturellen Gedächtnis der Presse (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 1998) Klaus Neumann, Shifting Memories: The Nazi Past in the New Germany (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000)
The elections for the German Bundestag on 24 September 2017 saw heavy losses for the two governing parties—the Christian Democratic Union (cdu) and the Social Democratic Party (spd)—and the rise of the right-populist Alternative for Germany (AfD). It took almost six months for a new grand coalition to be formed in light of the extremely fragmented parliament. Despite the good economic situation and relative calm domestically and internationally, much change is occurring under the surface. Most importantly, the country is preparing for the end of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s long tenure. Who and what will come next? Can the surging AfD be contained? Will Germany step up into the leadership role for which so many have called?
German Reactions to Brexit
Observers across Europe and the world were shocked when British voters decided in June 2016 to leave the European Union. Since the Brexit decision, British politics have been in disarray and the government’s incoherent negotiation positions have created much economic and political uncertainty. Germans and others have had to formulate policy based on assumptions and predictions. Despite slightly different emphases, all mainstream German parties have endorsed a harder line rejecting British efforts to cherry pick the most desirable aspects of a relationship with the eu. This stance accords with the preferences of European Union actors and the vast majority of member states. Moreover, the likely effects on the German economy will not be catastrophic. Thus, as much as Germans prefer that the uk remain in the eu, there is also little desire to accommodate British demands—and there may even be a sense of relief.
Jörg Friedrich, Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkreig 1940-1945 (Munich: Propyläen Verlag, 2002)
Günther Grass, Crabwalk (Orlando: Harcourt, 2002)
W. G. Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction (New York: Random House, 2003)
Before the series of 60th anniversary commemorations of the end of the Holocaust, Nazism and World War II in 2005, the big development regarding German collective memories and political culture was the resurgence of memories of German suffering. Contrary to the opinions of prominent observers like W.G. Sebald, this memory, linked to events from the end and immediate aftermath of World War II, is not a repressed or only recently discovered trauma. Rather, the current discussions signal the return of a memory that was culturally hegemonic in the early postwar decades. Nevertheless, the circumstances surrounding this return differ significantly from the postwar situation in which this memory first flourished in three main ways. The altered environment greatly affects both the reception and potential institutionalization of such memory, which could lead to deep political cultural changes.
The Federal Republic of Germany—both before and after 1989—has been influenced deeply by collective memories of the Nazi period and the Holocaust, a seemingly "unmasterable past." In a first phase after unification, memory trends, which had their origin in the mid 1980s, continued, but a second period, beginning around the 1999 move of the capital back to Berlin, however, witnessed the erosion of this older trend and the delayed rise of new memory dynamics. Substantively, there have been three vectors of memory concerning Nazi crimes, German suffering, and the period of division, especially regarding the German Democratic Republic. In this article, I outline the major collective memory dynamics and debates, first from a qualitative and then from a more quantitative perspective where I analyze the holdings of the German National Library. I conclude that an intense period of memory work characterized the postunification years, but the peak of concern was reached several years ago and the German future will be much less beholden to the past. Given inevitable normalizing trends and the unintended consequences of the hegemony of Holocaust memory, Germany's difficult historical legacy increasingly appears to be disappearing or even mastered.
Are collective memories currently changing in the land where the
“past won’t go away?” Long dominated by memory of the Holocaust
and other Nazi-era crimes, Germany recently witnessed the emergence
of another memory based on the same period of history, but
emphasizing German suffering. Most commentators stress the novelty
and catharsis of these discussions of supposedly long-repressed
and unworked-through collective traumas and offer predominantly
psychoanalytic explanations regarding why these memories only
now have surfaced. However, thanks to “presentist” myopia, ideological
blinders, and the theoretical/political effects of Holocaust
memory, much of this discourse is misplaced because these Germancentered
memories are emphatically not new. A reexamination of
the evolution of dominant memories over the postwar period in the
Federal Republic of Germany is necessary in order to understand
and contextualize more fully these current debates and the changes
in dominant memories that may be occurring—tasks this article takes
up by utilizing the memory regime framework.