The politics of East German memory : representing the Holocaust in DEFA Film, 1946-1988 / by Kai Herklotz.
In this dissertation I analyze the role of Holocaust memory for East German society and its political leadership. Specifically, I ask how East German feature films produced by the state-owned film studios DEFA (Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft) evoked the Holocaust through their film images and narratives and sought to establish narrative meaning and the historical significance of the Holocaust for East German society. Throughout the existence of East Germany, the political leadership and large sections of the general population had to negotiate a specifically East German dilemma of Holocaust memory: Flow should one address the history of anti-Semitism and genocide in the context of the increasing international importance of Holocaust memory, without undermining the supremacy of political class struggle for East Germany's historical imaginary and the state's identity?The films I analyze here were part of communicative processes that established---via positive reception or outright rejection by the film audience---collective memories and national identities as they mediated Germany's Holocaust past for contemporary East Germans. These processes of negotiation of collective memory in general, and the mediation and reception of filmic memories in particular, were subject to very specific political conditions in East Germany, but at the same time they were also greatly influenced by transnational Cold War politics. The Allied presence in post-war Germany, the division of Germany during the Cold War, the changing transnational politics since the 1970s, and the slow process of political deterioration of the East German state during the 1980s all influenced East German memory culture during these historical stages. They also impacted the memory politics in the DEFA film studios.An analysis of DEFA films provides a unique vantage point for understanding the history of East Germany: DEFA films occupy a space at the intersection of party and state ideology, artistic and intellectual production, and popular culture consumption. Thinking through the complex connections of film censorship, production, and reception aids in developing an understanding of elite and popular discourses about the symbolic roles of the Holocaust for East German society as they influenced the historical imaginary of East Germany's national identity and international self-representation.
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