New Brunswick and London:Transaction Publishers, 2002. xi + 228 pp. $35.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7658-0119-7.
Johanna Granville (Hoover Institution, Stanford University)
H-German (April, 2003)
Nullifying Nazism: Consequences of East Germans’ “Predicting the Past”
Nullifying Nazism: Consequences of East Ger-mans’“Predicting”the Past“What do you call a Soviet historian?” a jokesterfrom the communist era once asked. The answer:“Someone who predicts the past.” In this themat-ically compact monograph, Feiwel Kupferberg (as-sociate professor of sociology at Aalborg Universityin Denmark) explains that the real source of diﬃ-culties of German reuniﬁcation stem not so muchfrom the economic transition, but from the discrep-ancies in the ways the West Germans (“Wessies”) andEast Germans (“Ossies”) have viewed their Nazi past.Whereas the West Germans grimly faced it, atonedfor it, and transformed their half of the country intoa prosperous, free democracy that valued both indi-vidual freedom and responsibility, the East Germansabsorbed the Soviet-made myth that East Germanywas the “victor of history” that successfully resistedthe fascists. They blamed their western compatri-ots for the Nazi atrocities, because West Germany–like Hitler’s Germany–was, after all, a capitalist econ-omy. Contrary to popular belief, many Ossies havedone quite well economically, precisely because theytend to be more obedient and less opinionated thanWessies, the author states (p. 19). While reuniﬁca-tion has been diﬃcult for both German groups, theEast Germans have blamed West Germans for clos-ing down their factories and trying to reclaim theirland that was lost during World War II. This blameis ironic, given the fact that the East Germans clam-ored for reuniﬁcation the most strenuously and havecontributed the least amount of wealth to Germany.According to the author, the Kohl government de-cided to move quickly on reuniﬁcation because thepiecemeal exodus of East German refugees was irri-tating local mayors and jeopardizing the reuniﬁcationpolicy altogether. It would be better to push the pol-icy through, open the ﬂoodgates, and then get onwith the real business of assimilation (p. 28). In con-trast to the petulant East Germans, inwardly resent-ful West Germans–who footed the hefty bill of reuniﬁ-cation –generally restrain themselves from criticizingtheir eastern neighbors, deeming this “politically in-correct.” Kupferberg points to the interesting parallelhere to West Germans’ manner of treating Jews gin-gerly just after World War II: it was also politicallyincorrect to pan them. Indeed a“philo-Semitism”de-veloped. Jews in post-war Western Germany “wereelevated overnight from sub-humans to model citi-zens,”he writes (p. 25).Although Kupferberg has neither worked withoriginal archival documents nor conducted extensiveinterviews, he deftly synthesizes a large body of re-cent secondary literature, mostly by German authors.He oﬀers profound insights about the long underesti-mated eﬀects of the communist culture on East Ger-mans, which only became clear after reuniﬁcation in1989, when the diﬀerences in coping styles and viewsof the Nazi past emerged. He articulates well the the-sis that the rigid communist system in the GDR incul-cated passivity, helplessness, and amoral pragmatismin its citizens. By depriving them of a panoply of indi-vidual freedoms–of creative expression, foreign travel,and so on–the system also relieved citizens of indi-vidual responsibility and necessary risk-taking. Theywere trained to look to external sources for cradle-to-grave security. From this perspective, it is not sur-prising that East Germans also blamed an externalsource–the West Germans–for their post-reuniﬁcationtroubles.As Kupferberg explains, the Soviet occupiers af-ter 1945 were shrewd to promulgate the abovemen-tioned “victors of history” myth. Indoctrinated toview themselves as communist resistance ﬁghters whodefeated the Nazis, East German citizens never hadto ask and answer tough moral questions about their1