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Reviewed by:
  • Haunted City: Nuremberg and the Nazi Past
  • Edith Raim
Haunted City: Nuremberg and the Nazi Past, Neil Gregor (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008), xvi + 336 pp., cloth $45.00.

Very few cities in Germany have to bear the burden of a history as tormented as that of Nuremberg in the twentieth century: Nazi party rallies, the infamous Nuremberg Laws, Julius Streicher's Der Stürmer, the International Military Tribunal, and the American War Crimes Trials against Nazi criminals—all are associated with the city. Nuremberg thus seems an obvious choice for a case study of Germany's way of coping with its Nazi past.

At the end of the war, the country was in ruins. Millions of Germans had died, and countless others found themselves imprisoned or expelled from their former homes. The stigma of defeat and occupation hung heavily over the Germans. One might have expected this disoriented people, divided by varying experiences during the war, to be united by both a common condemnation of Nazism and a desire to forget. Yet, this history also formed a common bond that would dominate political discourse in the postwar era and provide direction in the popular search for meaning.

The first chapter of Neil Gregor's study centers on attitudes towards commemoration among particular groups of victims, including refugees and expellees, veterans, surviving dependents, former Nazis (who saw themselves as "victims" of denazification), and concentration camp survivors. In the second chapter the author shows that the members of each of these groups considered themselves victims of the Third Reich. Their perceptions created the necessary consensus for a discourse on Germany's Nazi history, but only at the cost of stretching historical truth. Most of these groups have managed to leave their mark—in the form of a memorial—in Nuremberg's "landscape of memory." In this context it is especially useful that Gregor documents these memorials in photo illustrations.

The two final chapters trace the deterioration of consensus from the late 1950s through the end of the 1960s. Exhibitions on the persecution of the Jews, public discussions, and local media coverage of German trials against Nazi criminals show that the inhabitants of Nuremberg began to take a more critical approach to the Nazi past—an approach that was opposed not only by veterans, associations of expellees, and neo-Nazis, but also to some extent by the city fathers, who continued to view Nuremberg as a victim of both Nazism and Allied [End Page 310] bombs. Arguably, some of the most important changes in attitude occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, and in all likelihood can be explained as a generational shift. Gregor might have strengthened his work if he had followed Nuremberg's path through these years, covering the 2001 opening of the documentation center at the site of the Nazi Party Rallies and the city authorities' establishment of a prize dedicated to the furthering of human rights.

The book is eloquently written, highly readable, and persuasively argued. The author does not clarify his views on the question of Nuremberg's uniqueness, however. Is Nuremberg's path of commemoration representative for German cities, or does its historic role and its status as a social democratic, industrial, and Protestant city in conservative and Catholic Bavaria make it a unique case? It is reasonable to assume that the citizens of Nuremberg had a more heightened awareness of the Nazi past than those of other cities, above all because the architectural remains of the Nuremberg party rallies served as a blatant reminder of the complicity of many Germans in the crimes of the Third Reich. Yet, much of the material the author uses is not unique: similar war memorials and epitaphs can be found in almost every German community. A comparison of other cities' urban memory culture to that of Nuremberg might have yielded important insights.

The book demonstrates the pitfalls of relying on just one or two archives. Though the author has scoured the Nuremberg city archive, he did not, it seems, consult the nearby Nuremberg state archive. The materials in the latter might have undermined some of his assumptions and cast a new light on some of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1476-7937
Print ISSN
8756-6583
Pages
pp. 310-312
Launched on MUSE
2010-08-14
Open Access
No
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