Over the six decades since the demise of the Nazi regime, thousands of pages have been written about the genocide of European Jews in almost every genre and intellectual forum. Eva Hoffman even concludes that "the Holocaust is the most documented event in history" (192). Nevertheless, the magnitude and complexity of the trauma and its aftereffects—on survivors, their descendents and the political cultures of many countries—left numerous lacunae and taboos that surrounded discourse and scholarship. Only relatively recently have more unconstrained questions been possible and various silences exposed. The three books examined in this review essay all contribute to the ongoing quest for comprehension, delving expertly into previously unexamined issues, while revealing how much still remains to work through the defining event of the 20th century.
Germany-watchers and many Germans have long been sour about the unified country. Often for well-founded reasons, there are few policy or cultural areas that have not been subjected to withering criticism: failed integration of immigrants, an antiquated political economy, insufficient coming-to-terms with the past, atrophied parties, or lackluster foreign policy. Nevertheless, the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Wall and unification is an appropriate moment to pause and reflect on the accomplishments of contemporary Germany—export champion, environmental pioneer, cultural leader, and staunch multilateral European. Despite all of the problems of the last twenty years and the daunting challenges ahead, perhaps Germans can dare some cautious optimism and even a sense of pride.
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)
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.
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)
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)
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.
Politics and Power After the 2017 Bundestag Election
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
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?