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«A. Dirk Moses Whoever thou art... by ceasing to take part... in the public worship of God, as it now is (with the claim that it is the ...»

-- [ Page 1 ] --

The Non-German German and

the German German: Dilemmas

of Identity after the Holocaust

A. Dirk Moses

Whoever thou art... by ceasing to take part... in the

public worship of God, as it now is (with the claim that

it is the Christianity of the New Testament), thou hast

constantly one guilt the less, and that a great one.... I want

honesty. If that is what the human race or this generation

wants, if it will honorably, honestly, openly, frankly, directly

rebel against Christianity, if it will say to God, “We can but we will not subject ourselves to this power”... very well then, strange as it may seem, I am with them.

—Søren Kierkegaard The proposition that the Federal Republic has developed a healthy democratic culture around the memory of the Holocaust has almost become a platitude.1 Symbolizing the relationship between the Federal Republic’s liberal political culture and honest reckoning with the past, an enormous memorial to the Parts of this article first received public airing at the University of Virginia in February 2005 and at the Wissenschaftszentrum für Sozialforschung, Berlin, in December 2005. I am grateful not only to Alon Confino and Jeffrey K. Olick for bringing me to Charlottesville but also to the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, whose generous fellowship allowed me to spend productive months in Washington, DC, in the winter of 2004–5. My thanks also go to the Deutsch-Israelische Stiftung für Wissenschaftliche Forschung und Entwicklung for inviting New German Critique 101, Vol. 34, No. 2, Summer 2007 DOI 10.1215/0094033X-2007-003 © 2007 by New German Critique, Inc.

46 Dilemmas of Identity after the Holocaust murdered Jews of Europe has been constructed adjacent to the Bundestag and Brandenburg Gate in the national capital. The memorial’s significance is underlined by the fact that states usually erect monuments to their fallen soldiers, not to the victims of these soldiers. In the eyes of many, the West German and, since 1990, the united German experiences have exemplified how posttotalitarian and postgenocidal societies “come to terms with the past.”2 Germany now seems no different from the rest of Europe, or indeed from the West generally. Jews from Eastern Europe are as happy to settle there as they are to emigrate to Israel, the United States, or Australia.3 This rosy picture of the Berlin Republic isexplicitly whiggish. Not for nothing has the philosopher Jürgen Habermas been hailed as the “Hegel of the Federal Republic,” because his articulation of its supposedly “postconventional” identity presents the self-understanding of the Berlin Republic as a successful moral learning process.4 The Red-Green government of Gerhard me to its conference “What We Remember and What We Would Rather Forget: Collective Reminiscence and Collective Oblivion as Factors in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation.” For encouragement or critique, I should like to acknowledge Avril Alba, Dan Bar-On, Andrew Beattie, Martin Braach-Maksyvitis, Michael Brenner, Norbert Frei, Max Paul Friedman, Mina Horesh, Jennifer Ruth Hosek, Burkhard Jähnicke, Anthony Kauders, Jürgen Kocka, Daniel Levy, Günter Minnerup, Jeff Peck, Natasha Wheatley, and Jürgen Zimmerer. And for well-made coffee and a congenial work environment in Newtown, Enmore, and Glebe, my thanks are extended to the baristas at Barmuda, Bravo Coffee, and Sappho Books. Needless to say, I alone am responsible for the views expressed and any errors committed here. All translations from the German are mine.

1. Bill Niven, Facing the Nazi Past: United Germany and the Legacy of the Third Reich (London: Routledge, 2002). For an excellent overview of postwar memory politics see Andrew H. Beattie, “The Past in the Politics of Divided and Unified Germany,” in Partisan Histories: The Past in

Contemporary Global Politics, ed. Max Paul Friedman and Padraic Kenney (Houndmills, UK:

Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 17–38.

2. See, e.g., Daniel J. Goldhagen, “Modell Bundesrepublik: National History, Democracy, and Internationalization in Germany,” Common Knowledge 3 (1997): 10–18; Gesine Schwan, “Political Consequences of Silenced Guilt,” Constellations 4 (1998): 472–91; and Schwan, “The Healing Value of Truth Telling,” Social Research 4 (1998): 725–40. Making the same case for the Holocaust in an international context are Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider, “Memory Unbound: The Holocaust and the Formation of Cosmopolitan Memory,” European Journal of Social Theory 5 (2002): 87–106. Not for nothing have scholars of Germany become central players in the global memory boom: Jeffrey K. Olick, ed., States of Memory: Continuities, Conflicts, and Transformation in National Retrospection (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003); John Torpey, ed., Politics and the Past: On Repairing Historical Injustices (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003); Jan-Werner Müller, ed., Memory and Power in Post-war Europe: Studies in the Presence of the Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

3. Jeffrey M. Peck, Being Jewish in the New Germany (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006); Leslie Morris and Jack Zipes, eds., Unlikely History: The Changing German-Jewish Symbiosis, 1945–2000 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000).





4. Jan Ross, “Der Hegel der Bundesrepublik,” Die Zeit, October 11, 2001; cf. Mary Nolan, “The Politics of Memory in the Berlin Republic,” Radical History Review, no. 81 (2001): 113–32.

A. Dirk Moses 47 Schröder (1998–2005) turned this philosophy into policy. Former minister for culture Michael Naumann justified the Berlin memorial by invoking the political theology of Habermas’s friend, the Roman Catholic priest Johann Baptist Metz: the Federal Republic’s “anamnestic culture” of remembrance demanded such a commemorative gesture.5 Twenty years after the “historians’ dispute” (Historikerstreit), then, “a culture of contrition” was part and parcel of the country’s new democratic spirit.6 And since (re)unification in 1990, historians and political scientists have been attempting to explain this unexpectedly happy end to Germany’s otherwise dismal twentieth century.7 Yet there are good reasons to find suspicious a narrative in which the memory of murdered Jews redeems Germany. No consensus has ever obtained about remembering the Holocaust. Consider the tortured memory debates in Germany over the past decade. Many Germans opposed the new memory politics, which they felt was imposed on them by distant leaders attuned to the expectations of Atlantic political and cultural elites. As recent research into the intergenerational transmission of German memory shows, a considerable gap exists between the pieties of official statements and the intimate sphere of the family, where stories of German suffering and survival endured a half century after the end of World War II.8 Accordingly, the call for the “normalization” of German history and national consciousness appears regularly in public

5. Michael Naumann, “Remembrance and Political Reality: Historical Consciousness in Germany after the Genocide,” New German Critique, no. 80 (2000): 22–23; Naumann, “Ohne Antwort, ohne Trost,” Die Zeit, May 4, 2005. In this recent article he does not think that the memorial

offers or signals “redemption” (Erlösung) for Germany, let alone “reconciliation.” Cf. Peter Carrier, Holocaust Monuments and National Memory Cultures in France and Germany since 1989:

The Origins and Political Function of the Vél’ “dHiv” in Paris and the Holocaust Monument in Berlin (New York: Berghahn, 2005).

6. Karl Wilds, “Identity Creation and the Culture of Contrition: Recasting Normality in the Berlin Republic,” German Politics 9 (2000): 83–102.

7. Klaus Naumann, ed., Nachkrieg in Deutschland (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2001); Helmut Dubiel, Niemand ist frei von der Geschichte (Munich: Hanser, 1999); Anne Sa’adah, Germany’s Second Chance: Trust, Justice, and Democratization (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998); Siobhan Kattago, Ambiguous Memory: The Nazi Past and German National Identity (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2001); Jeffrey Herf, “Politics and Memory in West and East Germany since 1961 and in Unified Germany since 1990,” Journal of Israeli History 23 (2004): 40–64; Manfred Hettling, “Die Historisierung der Erinnerung—Westdeutsche Rezeptionen der nationalsozialistischen Vergangenheit,” Tel Aviver Jahrbuch für deutsche Geschichte 29 (2000): 357–78; Helmut König, Die Zukunft der Vergangenheit: Der Nationalsozialismus im politischen Bewusstsein der Bundesrepublik (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 2003); Niven, Facing the Nazi Past; Michael Geyer, “The Politics of Memory in Contemporary Germany,” in Radical Evil, ed. Joan Copjec (London: Verso, 1996), 169–200. Careful to avoid the temptation of teleology are Konrad Jarausch and Michael Geyer, Shattered Pasts: Reconstructing German Histories (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003).

8. Olaf Jensen, Geschichte Machen: Strukturmerkmale des intergenerationellen Sprechens über die NS-Vergangenheit in deutschen Familien (Tübingen: Diskord, 2004).

48 Dilemmas of Identity after the Holocaust discourse.9 Indeed, had not the writer Martin Walser caused a stir in 1998 by claiming that Holocaust memory was wielded like a “moral cudgel” to bully Germans into accepting a politically correct version of their past?10 He was just one of many who opposed the decision to construct the memorial in Berlin.11 Then there were the many reminders of a half-forgotten past that appear regularly to rupture the moral smugness of official politics. In the so-called Flick affair in 2004, for instance, the son of a business tycoon who profited greatly under the Nazis by employing slave laborers to whom his family has never paid compensation moved his modern art exhibition to Berlin after protesters successfully hounded it from Switzerland. Herr Flick could not comprehend the motives of those who objected to the separation of his love for modern arts and the moral issues surrounding his father’s business dealings before 1945. Neither could Chancellor Schröder, who opened the exhibition by calling for the “normalization” of German memory.12 These were not isolated incidents. A year earlier, controversy had rocked the literary establishment when the celebrated rehabilitators of postwar German literature, the Gruppe 47, were accused of anti-Semitism. The seeming mania for uncovering apparent brown roots in public figures, particularly those with impeccable left-liberal credentials, continued with the claim that the prominent Germanists Walter Jens (b. 1923) and Peter Wapnewski (b. 1922) had been members of the Nazi Party. Historians were likewise shocked when it was revealed that Martin Broszat (1926–89), the longtime director of the celebrated Institut für Zeitgeschichte, which for decades had been at the forefront of innovative scholarship on Nazism, had joined the Nazi Party on April 20, 1944. In

9. Stuart Taberner, “‘Normalization’ and the New Consensus on the Nazi Past: Günter Grass’s

Im Krebsgang and the Problem of German Wartime Suffering,” Oxford German Studies 31 (2002):

161–86; Mitchell G. Ash, “Becoming Normal, Modern, and German (Again!),” in The Power of Intellectuals in Contemporary Germany, ed. Michael Geyer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 295–313; Konrad H. Jarausch, “Normalisierung oder Re-Nationalisierung?” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 21 (1995): 571–84; Jeffrey K. Olick, “What Does It Mean to Normalize the Past? Official Memory in German Politics since 1989,” Social Science History 22 (1998): 547–71;

A. James McAdams, “Germany after Unification—Normal at Last?” World Politics 49 (1997):

282–308.

10. Martin Walser, Erfahungen beim Verfassen einer Sonntagsrede: Friedenspreis der Deutschen Buchhandels 1998 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1998), 17–18.

11. Michael S. Cullen, ed., Das Holocaust-Mahnmal: Dokumentation einer Debatte (Zürich:

Pendo, 1999); Ute Heimrod, Günter Schlusche, and Horst Seferens, eds., Der Denkmalstreit—das Denkmal? (Berlin: Philo, 1999); Claus Leggewie and Erik Meyer, “Ein Ort, an den man gerne geht” (Munich: Hanser, 2005).

12. Wolfgang Joop, “Soll die Flick-Sammlung nach Berlin? Darf in Deutschland Kunst ausgestellt werden, die angeblich mit Nazi-Vermögen finanziert wurde? Eine Debatte um Geld und Moral,” Die Welt, November 22, 2004.

A. Dirk Moses 49 the same vein, the famous journalist and founder of Der Spiegel magazine, Rudolf Augstein (1923–2002), was revealed to have employed former Gestapo and SS officers in high positions in the 1950s.13 The accumulation of these controversies in the first years of the new century led one journalist to remark on the seemingly never-ending “virulent identity crisis of the Germans.”14 The virulence is also evident in the theme of “Germans as victims,” which also reappeared after its high point in the 1950s. In 2002 the German public was treated to a heated debate about the morality of the Allied bombing campaign against German cities, a discussion saturated by graphic images of charred mounds of civilians that excited thoughts of Germans as victims of the British, the Americans, and perhaps even the Nazis.15 Even the Nobel laureate Günter Grass signaled the preoccupation with German suffering in his novel Im Krebsgang (Crabwalk).16 All the while, the expellee organizations agitate for a memorial site for their own suffering, much to the alarm of neighboring Poland and the Czech Republic, ever alert to any sign of irridentist politics in Germany.17 The viewpoint that Germany today is the culmination of a collective moral learning process whose past has been successfully “mastered” seems increasingly untenable. That the “correct” answer to the Nazi past has been found also ignores the proposition that such an answer is impossible to prove.

13. Klaus Briegleb, Mißachtung und Tabu: Eine Streitschrift zur Frage: “Wie antisemitisch war die Gruppe 47?” (Berlin: Philo, 2003); Hubert Spiegel, “Biographien Sprachlos: Germanisten als Hitlers Parteigenossen,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, November 24, 2003; Peter Wapnewski, “Die Kartei hat immer Recht: Wie ich Mitglied der NSDAP wurde,” Die Zeit, November 27, 2003;



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