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Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys
Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys
Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys
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Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys

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A “valuable” study of how political narratives about the nation’s Nazi past differed in East and West Germany (The Wall Street Journal).

A significant new look at the legacy of the Nazi regime, this book exposes the workings of past beliefs and political interests on how—and how differently—the two Germanys recalled the crimes of Nazism, from the anti-Nazi emigration of the 1930s through the establishment of a day of remembrance for the victims of National Socialism in 1996.

Why, Jeffrey Herf asks, would German politicians raise the specter of the Holocaust at all, in view of the considerable support its authors and their agenda had found in Nazi Germany? Why did the public memory of Nazi anti-Jewish persecution and the Holocaust emerge, if selectively, in West Germany, while it was repressed and marginalized in “anti-fascist” East Germany? And how do the politics of left and right come into play in this divided memory? The answers reveal the surprising relationship between how the crimes of Nazism were publicly recalled and how East and West Germany separately evolved as a Communist dictatorship and a liberal democracy. This book, for the first time, points to the impact of the Cold War confrontation in both West and East Germany on the public memory of anti-Jewish persecution and the Holocaust.

Konrad Adenauer, Theodor Heuss, Kurt Schumacher, Willy Brandt, Richard von Weizsacker, and Helmut Kohl in the West and Walter Ulbricht, Wilhelm Pieck, Otto Grotewohl, Paul Merker, and Erich Honecker in the East are among the many national figures whose private and public papers and statements Herf examines. His work makes the German memory of Nazism—suppressed on one hand and selective on the other, from Nuremberg to Bitburg—comprehensible within the historical context of the ideologies and experiences of pre-1945 German and European history as well as within the international context of shifting alliances from World War II to the Cold War. Drawing on West German and East German archives, this book is a significant contribution to the history of belief that shaped public memory of Germany’s recent past.

“Groundbreaking . . . admirably subjects both East and West to equal scrutiny.” —Forward

“[A] masterful book.” —German History
Release dateNov 1, 2013
Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys
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    Divided Memory - Jeffrey Herf

    Divided Memory

    Divided Memory

    The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys


    Harvard University Press

    Cambridge, Massachusetts

    London, England


    Copyright © 1997 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College

    All rights reserved

    Printed in the United States of America

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

    Herf, Jeffrey, 1947-

    Divided memory : the Nazi past in the two Germanys / Jeffrey Herf.

      p. cm.

    Includes bibliographical references and index.

    ISBN 0-674-21303-3 (alk. paper)

    1. Holocaust, Jewish (1939–1945)—Germany. 2. Antisemitism—Germany (East) 3. Antisemitism—Germany (West) 4. Historiography—Germany (East) 5. Historiography—Germany (West) 6. Historiography—Germany 7. War criminals—Germany (East)—Psychology. 8. War criminals—Germany (West)—Psychology. 9. National socialism—Moral and ethical aspects.

    I. Title.

    D804.3.H474 1997

    940.53’18’943—dc21 98–11231


    Sonya, Nadja,

    and Ernst



    1 Multiple Restorations and Divided Memory

    2 German Communism’s Master Narratives of Antifascism: Berlin-Moscow-East Berlin, 1928–1945

    3 From Periphery to Center: German Communists and the Jewish Question, Mexico City, 1942–1945

    4 The Nuremberg Interregnum: Struggles for Recognition in East Berlin, 1945–1949

    5 Purging Cosmopolitanism: The Jewish Question in East Germany, 1949–1956

    6 Memory and Policy in East Germany from Ulbricht to Honecker

    7 The Nuremberg Interregnum: Divided Memory in the Western Zones, 1945–1949

    8 Atonement, Restitution, and Justice Delayed: West Germany, 1949–1963

    9 Politics and Memory since the 1960s

    10 Conclusion






    Following Chapter 6:

    Meeting of the Nationalekomitee Freies Deutschland, Moscow, 1944

    Meeting of the Bewegung Freies Deutschland, Mexico City, December 31, 1943

    Paul Merker in East Berlin, 1950

    Demonstration for the victims of fascism, East Berlin, September 1950

    Representatives of the Jewish community lay a wreath during the Day of Remembrance, East Berlin, 1951

    Former members of the French Resistance at Buchenwald during the Day of Remembrance, East Berlin, 1951

    Teenagers carrying the red flag at Ravensbrück, 1952

    Meeting of the VVN, November 9, 1952

    Hermann Matern at the SED Party Conference, Berlin, March 30, 1954

    Rosa Thälmann and Walter Ulbricht lead procession at dedication of Sachsenhausen memorial, April 23, 1961

    Otto Grotewohl with Gamal Abdel Nasser, Cairo, January 4, 1959

    Albert Norden denounces the war criminal [Hans] Globke, East Berlin, March 21, 1963

    Following Chapter 7:

    Theodor Heuss and Nahum Goldmann at the Bergen-Belsen memorial dedication, November 30, 1952

    Visit by West German Social Democratic leaders with members of the Jewish Labor Committee, April 8, 1954

    Kurt Schumacher at a political rally in Frankfurt, 1947

    Willy Brandt at the Warsaw memorial, December 1970

    Konrad Adenauer speaking in the British occupation zone, May 12, 1946

    Helmut Kohl, Johannes Steinhoff, Ronald Reagan, and Matthew Ridgeway, Bitburg, May 5, 1985

    Richard von Weizsäcker speaking in the Bundestag, May 8, 1985


    History is the realm of choice and contingency. Writing history is a matter of reconstructing the openness of past moments before choices congealed into seemingly inevitable structures. In this work I return to contingencies and choices that accompanied the emergence of the political memory of Nazism and the Holocaust in the two Germanys. As in many parts of the world today, there was an abundance of voices in the early postwar years insisting that forgetfulness and amnesty were the handmaidens of future peace and stability, or that the memory of past crimes justified an avenging dictatorship. My sympathies instead are with those other voices, then and now, that expressed hope for a liberal democracy resting on clear memory and timely justice. I hope that understanding why those hopes remained unfulfilled then, and subsequently were only partially fulfilled, will contribute to their full and prompt realization in other times and places.


    Multiple Restorations and Divided Memory

    This is a study of how anti-Nazi German political leaders interpreted the Nazi past during the Nazi era, and then remembered it as they emerged as national political leaders in the postwar occupation, in the two successor German states, and in unified Germany. It focuses on the mixture of belief and interest, ideology and the drive for power which shaped the political memory and public narratives of the Nazi era and the lessons they drew for postwar Germany. Of particular concern are the weight and place of the Jewish question and the Holocaust in postwar German political memory, and the multiplicity of German interpretations which contended for preeminence.1

    The temporal core of this work lies in the formative year