DIVIDED MEMORY: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys by Jeffrey Herf

DIVIDED MEMORY: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An in-depth analysis of how, during the Cold War, the respective political leaderships of the two Germanys developed very different narratives concerning the legacy of the Third Reich and of the Holocaust in particular. Heft (History/Ohio Univ.) describes how, in Communist East Germany (GDR), the prevailing ideology of ""antifascism"" came to be divorced from Nazism; rather, it stood for opposition to the ""bourgeois capitalists"" in Bonn, London, Washington, and, ultimately, Israel. The GDR's leaders viewed themselves as victims of the Nazis, rather than as heads of one of the Third Reich's successor states, with all the obligations that might entail. Thus, in the early '50s, when some of the GDR's leading theorists advocated reparations to Jewish Holocaust survivors, they were purged from the party. The history of Holocaust memory in West Germany is decidedly more ambivalent. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer accepted the policy of reparations to the Jews, but he did so grudgingly while also ""integrating"" ex-Nazis into his Christian Democratic government and proceeding sluggishly in prosecuting suspected Nazi criminals. The ""heros"" of Herf's study are a number of West German presidents, particularly Theodor Heuss (in office 1949-59), who took the initially highly unpopular stance that postwar Germans should feel collective shame, if not collective guilt, for the Nazis' war crimes, as well as such Social Democratic leaders as Kurt Schumacher, Ernst Reuter, and Willy Brandt. Heft focuses almost exclusively on policy-makers; there is unfortunately little here on the role of public opinion in West Germany, and nothing on such cultural influences as the writer G°nter Grass, or on the roles of the small Jewish communities in each country. Still, this illuminates much of the political cultures of the two Germanys. Heft also has provided a valuable case study of how the quest for memory and justice are largely subsumed by present-day nationalist and other political needs.

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 1997
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.