Visualizing the imagined community : history, memory and politics in Germany / by Mark Allen Wolfgram.
Popular and general scholarly perceptions of the German encounter with the Nazi past, for both East and West Germany since 1945, have tended to emphasize a pervasive silence in both societies until the late 1970s. This perception is mistaken, but understandable as the Nazi past has often been equated with the Holocaust. In this dissertation, I have looked for the uniquely German encounter with the Nazi past. I have examined German narratives of the Nazi years and how these images of the past have changed over time. Instead of a refusal to engage the history of National Socialism, I have shown that Germans almost compulsively engaged this history, but from a uniquely German perspective. Elites, civic groups, and individuals struggle to change the representation of the nation over time, as mastery of a nation's historical narrative is a rare limited resource as real as any economic good. With this dissertation, I have studied the transformation across time of four historical events within the East and West German national traditions since 1945: (1) the 20 July 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler, (2) the 8 May 1945 surrender, (3) the 17 June 1953 uprising in East Berlin and (4) the 9 November 1938 Kristallnacht. Each event highlights what I have termed a discursive field. (1) collaboration-resistance, (2) defeat-liberation, (3) unity-division, and (4) victim-perpetrator. Rather than a general silence vis-à-vis the Nazi past, one can see that both German societies were actively engaged in creating two central political myths of the Nazi era. First, East and West German television, film, and newspapers constructed a narrative of a terror-state which eliminated all possible resistance. Second, a mythical narrative barrier was constructed between the “good” Germans and the “evil” Nazis. Both of the myths have faced serious challenges in recent years. They were once a source of political power for the Nazi generation, and the partial collapse of the two myths has weakened their grip on the German interpretation of National Socialist era.
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