“Historians may toil in the archives seeking something like truth,” writes Susan Neiman, in our October 19 issue, “but public memory is a political project whose relationship to fact is more precarious.” In a far-ranging interrogation of how collective identity has been constructed in Germany since World War II, Neiman examines how Germans’ relatively recent, “historically unique” understanding of themselves and their ancestors as perpetrators of terrible crimes—and the consequent determination to root out contemporary antisemitism—has led to a “formulaic approach to historical reckoning.”
Below, alongside Neiman’s article, we present a selection from the archives of essays about what gets remembered and forgotten in history.
Germans’ efforts to confront their country’s criminal history and to root out antisemitism have shifted from vigilance to a philosemitic McCarthyism that threatens their rich cultural life.
“Although Germany has refused to hold direct talks with representatives of the Herero and Nama, since 1952 it has paid more than $90 billion in compensation to the victims of the Holocaust.”
“The media’s focus on the [far-right political party] Alternative for Germany has overshadowed the continued support for migrants among ordinary Germans.… A study by the Family Ministry from 2018 showed that one in five Germans helped the refugees in some capacity.”
“How might Germany’s example help the United States in its ever-ongoing attempt to confront the legacy of slavery and the memory of those who fought to preserve it?”
“Before 1989 every anti-Communist had been tarred with the ‘fascist’ brush. But if ‘anti-fascism’ had been just another Communist lie, it was very tempting now to look with retrospective sympathy and even favor upon all hitherto discredited anti-Communists, fascists included. Nationalist writers of the 1930s returned to fashion.”
“The dissenters and resisters in the East demand free speech and thought as the preliminary conditions for political action; the rebels in the West live under conditions where these preliminaries no longer open the channels for action, for the meaningful exercise of freedom.”
Categories: History and Historiography