A past to feel good about

On the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world war

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world war, the discourses intersect. Different actualizations of the end of the war are confronted with a new, perhaps unbiased, but by no means "normal" how germans deal with their more recent history. The german longing to be a victim as well, a new weepiness in dealing publicly with one’s own role as a nation of humanity’s criminals, is contrasted by gotz aly’s crude thesis of the "wohlfuhl dictatorship" to. The berlin holocaust memorial will be officially inaugurated next week. A "end line" remains far away. But a new phase of german historical policy has long since begun.

On may 8, 1945. May 1945, all germans were freed – from the terror of the nazis, from the war, from concentration camps, maybe even "from evil", but above all from themselves. The germans were liberated from a germany that was morally, politically and aesthetically bankrupt. On 8. May germany perished. A germany that, in its self-image, had wanted to be a millennial empire, an empire that wanted to subjugate the world; a germany that, despite all the modern traits of its state apparatus, had understood itself as the antithesis of modernity.

8 p.M. And 3 minutes. Reichssender flensburg and its affiliated stations. From the headquarters of the grobadmiral, 9. May 1945: since midnight the weapons are silent on all fronts. The german wehrmacht is in the end honorably defeated by a huge superior force.

Last wehrmacht report

Another germany had perished much earlier. The germany of poets and thinkers had not proven resistant to the reactionary revolt. Its material image, the germany of the pre-modern romantic idyll, of half-timbered houses and cultural treasures, went up in flames during the nights of bombing or was destroyed by the nazis themselves. Of course, europe was also liberated from the germans – above all.

A past to feel good

Heinrich heine

The discussion about whether the 8.5.1945 is now a "liberation day" or was it just a day of the "collapse", the defeat, at most the "zero hour" is therefore as moderate as it is necessary. Because, of course, this discussion is a political one.

"I did not know in which time germans had really mourned."

On 8.May 1945 a horizon of hope opened up in history. The unconditional surrender freed up space in germany for the unconditional. The reality became liquid. In the "collapse society" of the following years, there was room for the imaginary; utopia became real. Heaven was visible through the holes of the trummer landscapes. Much of what at first appeared to be misfortune turned out to be opportunity in the long run: the occupation by the western allies civilized a germany that had previously been the predator in the community of states. Reeducation, forced modernization and westernization, was the best thing that could have happened to germany. Jazz on the radio also drove the marching music out of the heads, and although the germans were still an uptight people for a long time, the change of tide, the "zero hour" was perhaps nowhere more clearly expressed than in the atmospheric change that is present in almost all memories of may ’45.

At the same time, one of the stereotypes now being repeated is that the east germans were not liberated "the east germans were not liberated at all." in addition to the infamy inherent in this statement – partly out of naivety, but also partly out of calculation – an attempt is once again being made here to link the nazi state and the gdr with each other, "brown" and "red" dictatorship, bautzen and auschwitz with one another – one also overlooks the fact that the americans are advancing as far as the elbe. Instead, the germans are increasingly presented as a suffering collective. Historiography is interested in german victims, and an odor of apology and exoneration permeates the debate. But by making the experience of flight and expulsion, of the bombing war a topic without naming the corresponding causes, a skewed picture is threatening to emerge. It is a matter of making clear the responsibilities and differences that exist between national socialist policies of persecution and this swing in the pendulum of violence set in motion by the germans themselves. Thus, one must categorically distinguish between actual victims and persecutees of the nazi state and those who then also became victims through these crimes at the end of the war. The wiser ones, after all, know that. Remarkably clear words come from the – fled – writer leonie ossowski:

When you see the expulsion – it is a compensatory justice for me. Among other things, i call myself a victim of the war. Just a war that the germans started. And i had to pay for it. And therefore i consider it a kind of compensation that the poles got the land. This is a shift. … The grief of the germans about their history was very rarely recognizable to me. I did not know in which time germans had really mourned. Certainly in families and in individuals, but as a people?

In the feel-good memory

There is a lot of remembrance these days: 60 years of auschwitz liberation, 60 years of conquests of individual cities, 60 years of the end of the war, and "zero hour" will be commemorated, next week the holocaust memorial will be officially inaugurated in berlin. The resulting changes in memory culture are unclear. Looking at some recent developments, the question arises whether we are on the way to a feel-good culture of memory? In any case, there is a new comfort in the contemplation of the past. The germans are settling into it, as if into a residential landscape. Hitler, goebbels, speer et al. A. Become familiar members of this residential landscape; like the stars of a telenovela, their faces flicker daily from the screens, together with those of their victims. Increasingly they seem to be deprived of their senses, merge with the faces of the actors who portray them; increasingly the facts dissolve in the fiction.

Image "spear and he"

Similarly, on a private level, memoirs of the nazi era, whether literary or nonfiction, are currently finding a rough audience. What is new is the phenomenon that the authors make their own family history the subject of this book. The generational conflicts over the suppression and silencing of national socialism seem to have dissolved, as it were, and the politically charged nature of the debates seems to be increasingly disappearing. The generation of ’68 is tired of the old battles and looks back on its own parents with a great deal of understanding. And the third generation, the children of the 68ers, has completely settled with the grandparents – "grandpa was not a nazi", that much seems clear. "There we find partly quite adventurous versions", according to the jena contemporary historian norbert frei, who has now published his essay volume "1945 and we" has published, "silent-post versions of familial historical consciousness, where mitlaufer grandpa and grandma then become, in the telling, something like a "little resister" becomes. Because one would like to eskamott naturally the own family from this horror regime of the third reich."

Moreover, these always remain the perspectives of individuals. The accumulation and addition of personal memories does not yet result in historical consciousness. Not to mention the fact that historical knowledge is conveyed to society and the following generations. The science of history distinguishes between historical consciousness and personal memory. Both are indispensable, but do not merge into each other.

The "third reich" as a consensus dictatorship

The dispute over gotz aly’s theses shows how the two can fall apart. The historian looks at the "third reich" from a point of view that shows it as a dictatorship of violence. The nazis act like "classic mood politicians". On the basis of give and take, they bought consent or at least indifference through a plethora of tax privileges, with millions of tons of looted food and with the redistribution of the "aryanized" property of persecuted and murdered jews from all over europe. "To the germans", according to aly, "were better off in the second world war than ever before, they saw in national socialism the way of life of the future – founded on robbery, race war and murder."

Truncated to brilliantly trained experts, hitler’s government roughly transformed the state into an unparalleled machinery of robbery. On a small scale, it transformed the mass of germans into a mindless, self-absorbed horde of profiteers and bribes. This policy of public-spirited robbery of foreign countries, so-called inferior races and forced laborers, forms the empirical core of my study of hitler’s volksstaat.

Programmatically, the nazi movement combined social with national homogenization. The well-known sentence of max horkheimer – "but if you don’t want to talk about capitalism, you should keep silent about fascism" – aly counters: "whoever does not want to talk about the many advantages for the millions of ordinary germans should remain silent about national socialism and the holocaust.

Exciting theses. There is much to support aly’s arguments: for a long time there was a consensus between the people and the leadership. The "third reich" was a consensus dictatorship. Only at the beginning and at the end it was characterized by terror against broader circles of the own population. And the democratization of the federal republic and its integration into the western value system was linked from the outset with the welfare state principle, and morally grounded by the orderly failure of the model "millennial empire".

The past blocks the future

What to expect? Chancellor schroder once said about the holocaust memorial that he would like to see a holocaust memorial, "to which people like to go". Can this exist at all? Or is this not too idyllic a wishful projection?? Perhaps the desire for a feel-good past is just an escape from reality. Perhaps this inability to look is actually the same as the inability to act that plagues schroder’s government: harald welzer, social psychologist in witten "collective fixation":

There is reason to suspect that the experience of the "third reich" and the war will have an effect on future generations in such a way that it will block future developments. … The blatant inability to make decisions that we are dealing with today, also the deep normative insecurity could have to do with the fact that until 1945 rigid norms applied that did not allow for ambivalence. Too coarse decisiveness can lead to disaster: this has apparently been learned, even if it is in unconscious tradition.

Welzer fears the other extreme today: "the indiscriminate tolerance. That one does not want to decide which minorities are to be protected as a matter of priority, which policy is to be preferred."

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