The strangeness of home : German loss and search for identity in Hanover, 1943--1948 / by Alexander P. d'Erizans.
This dissertation highlights how Germans reimagined themselves amidst loss and disorientation resulting from the collapse of the Third Reich. I challenge notions of German forgetfulness---the repression of past trauma, the inability to "master" the past, and the self-absorbed effort to build a future in order to avoid dealing with Nazism. Zeroing in on "curbside" interactions between the inhabitants of Hanover, a large industrial center and major crossroads, I show how Germans began harnessing the past and historicizing the present in order to write a coherent and self-empowering narrative in which they emerged exclusively as victims. As they untied themselves from Nazism, they not only insisted on their helplessness during the Third Reich and the Second World War, but loudly asserted their rights as victims vis-à-vis the occupation, exploiting a democratic public sphere. Within a destroyed, overcrowded city of natives, refugees, concentration camp survivors, veterans, foreign laborers, and Allied soldiers, Germans focused on everyday "suffering" to boldly make claims to sparse goods and resources and bolster protests about "arbitrary" and "inept" Allied policies as well as "dangerous" foreigners. They thereby sought to distance themselves from Nazi Germany and divert attention from their own complicity in Third Reich crimes. I argue that the urgency with which they did so betrayed tacit acknowledgment of responsibility for German atrocities. The loud, if tendentious, confrontation with Nazism calls into question the notion of a Stunde Null (zero hour), a new beginning for Germany in 1945. Although repudiation of Nazism for having brought immense suffering and total defeat in war signified a break, the sense of individual empowerment, continued racism, and the feeling of moral and ethnic superiority as a unified nation of sufferers revealed Germans as "strangers" from a pre-1945 past inhabiting a present in which the "Thousand-Year Reich" was in ruins. Through an investigation and analysis of newspapers, letters of request and protest, occupation observation and police reports, diary entries, private correspondence, and statements of relief workers, I reveal how Germans were already beginning to "come to terms" with the past in their own active way.
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