- Erinnern des Holocaust? Eine neue Generation sucht Antworten
This essay collection is based on a 2005 lecture series at the University of Münster that focused on how Germany’s third post-war generation remembers the Holocaust. Today, only eighteen percent of the generation that experienced the Third Reich firsthand remains. Forty-five percent of the current German population, however, was born after 1972 (8). Lacking primary memories of the Third Reich, this generation could only acquire a collective post-memory of these events through cultural institutions and artifacts such as exhibitions and museums, commemorative ceremonies, history text books, literature and films, as well as family anecdotes and photos. (West) Germans of the second post-war generation strongly rejected their parent’s generation as part of the 1960s student movement, which was most prominently embodied in the socalled Vaterliteratur, of which Bernwart Vesper’s Die Reise is probably the most famous example. The third generation’s subject position vis-à-vis its grandparents, however, is both more complex and more sympathetic, as a number of publications – of which Harald Welzer’s Opa war kein Nazi is the best-known – have demonstrated. The essays in this volume succeed in contributing to the current German discourse of how the third generation explores adequate ways to remember the Third Reich, the Holocaust and World War II.
The first three articles examine inter-generational communication concerning the German past within the family. The important determining factors are the relationship between all three generations and the relationship between ‘grandchildren’ and history. Gabriele Rosenthal’s essay is a socio-psychological study of how families internally transmit memories to subsequent generations. It analyzes in particular how dialogues about the past in families of Nazi victims differ from those in the families of both perpetrators and bystanders. Harald Welzer focuses mainly on the suppression of the past, in the discourse about the Nazi experience in perpetrator families. Reiterating the central thesis of Opa war kein Nazi, he emphasizes that particularly the third generation [End Page 112] tends to whitewash its grandparents’ involvement in Nazi ideology and crime, fulfilling the obvious need to disassociate their grandparents from the Nazicrimes. Nina Leonhard’s contribution proposes that the family story and the role that family members played in the Third Reich decreases in importance in the construction of post-memories among the third generation. Instead, extra-familial discourse, i.e. post-memories encoded cultural artifacts, become increasingly important.
The three essays that follow focus on museums, memorials, and historiography as the main transmitters of historical knowledge in the process of collective memory construction. Norbert Nowotsch discusses the concepts of museums and exhibitions and explains how design, arrangement and depiction of various exhibits convey meaning. Hans-Ulrich Thamer focuses on historiography and examines four phases of West German Holocaust commemoration from 1945 to 1989. Ulrike Schrader concentrates on memorials and commemorative ceremonies. In examining a speech by Roman Herzog delivered on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, she analyzes the function of memorials and commemorative ceremonies and challenges the often unreasonable expectations we have in commemorative artifacts and performances. She argues that they impact the construction of collective memory less than previous research has perhaps suggested.
The three contributions of the last section address German literature as a communicative medium that embodies and disseminates memory of the Holocaust. The focus here is on interpretations of very recent German literature of the third and even the fourth post-war and post-Holocaust generation and how they explore the Third Reich and the Holocaust. Jens Birkmeyer focuses on Popliteratur, in which young writers like Florian Illies (Generation Golf) celebrate the idea of Spaβgesellschaft and try to convince the reader that egoism and hedonism are important elements in contemporary culture. In Generation Golf, Illies deals with the Holocaust purely on the anecdotal level and in a most superficial manner. Holocaust artifacts and ceremonies constitute only one of a vast number of cultural representations...