Holocaust Angst offers an original and important interpretation of the changes in and controversies surrounding Holocaust memory from the 1970s through the 1990s. Rather than focusing exclusively on the Americanization of Holocaust memory or on the multiple West German efforts at “coming to terms with the past,” as many other scholars have done, Jacob S. Eder places West German-American relations and transnational memory management at the center of his meticulously researched and lucidly written study. From the late 1970s on, Eder argues, conservative West German elites were increasingly concerned about U.S. Holocaust memory culture and the negative image of Germany that they feared it fostered. While West German elites sought to downplay the Holocaust and emphasize the democratic and economic accomplishments of the Federal Republic of Germany, American state and nonstate actors were exploring and publicizing the horrors of National Socialism.
Through an examination of the thoughts and actions of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, his closest advisers from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU), and networks of conservative nonstate actors from the academy, foundations, and the media, Eder reconstructs the fears of these elites for Germany’s reputation and interests, their efforts to counteract negative American images of Germany, and the politics of history they promoted in the Federal Republic. In multiple arenas, such spokespersons argued that relatively few Germans had supported National Socialism and that the Federal Republic differed vastly from its predecessor. At the same time, they discounted American, especially American Jewish, preoccupation with the Holocaust and criticisms of West Germany as “emotional,” while claiming their own views were “rational” and “balanced.” These powerful elites perceived themselves as victims of an American memory culture that they strove to contain and if possible change.
For Eder, the 1970s was a pivotal decade in Holocaust memory. The introduction of Holocaust education in U.S. schools and the 1978 miniseries Holocaust made the Holocaust a “universal metaphor” that concentrated American and European attention on an event West Germans acknowledged but wished to move beyond. The late 1970s also saw a worsening of American-West German relations, due to escalating Cold War tensions. West German conservative elites feared that younger Americans were less committed to German-American friendship and ignorant about the Federal Republic. In response, German politicians, such as CDU Bundestag member Peter Petersen, Chancellor Kohl’s key mediator with the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, reported to his party’s parliamentary group that one could not overestimate Jewish influence in the American media. Meanwhile, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), a foundation associated with the CDU, established contacts with the American Jewish Committee (AJC), invited prominent American Jews to tour Germany, and recruited a conservative transatlantic organization, the Atlantik-Brücke, to join the ongoing discussions about [End Page 124] Holocaust memory. These contacts, Eder argues, both helped Kohl develop his politics of history in Germany and in the U.S., and enabled the AJC to establish a dialogue with the German Chancellery.
The core of Holocaust Angst is the three chapters dealing with the 1985 Bitburg controversy, the establishment of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), and West German efforts to influence the research and teaching of German history in America. In each, Eder reconstructs the complex intertwining of public West German diplomacy and the private interactions of state and especially nonstate actors on both sides of the Atlantic. In the wake of Bitburg, for example, the contacts between the AJC and the KAS as well as government officials intensified. The AJC saw the Federal Republic as a critical ally of Israel and a key player in Europe, while Germans hoped to better understand American Jewish Holocaust memory. As Eder shows, in these elite contacts individual personalities were key, for instance William Trosten of the AJC and the German diplomat Wolf Calebow.
Bitburg was more easily overcome than the issue of the USHMM, which Kohl and his circle saw as explicitly anti-German. At Kohl’s request, CDU...