UCSB Hist 133C, L 16:
The Presence of the Nazi Past, 1945-1960s
by Prof. Marcuse, Feb. 11, 2004

How did Germans "come to terms" with events in the Nazi period?

  1. Some considerations
  2. First, spontaneous reactions, 1945ff
  3. The 1950s: repression or displacement?
  4. The 1960s: Anamnesis
  5. Friday: overcoming the 3 Myths (lecture 17)

Considerations 1: terminology

Vergangenheits - bewältigung: "past - mastering" (3 translations + new word:)
  1. mastery of the past (completed at some point)
  2. coming to terms with the past (on-going process; implies success)
  3. dealing with the past (most neutral)
  4. Theodore Adorno, 1959, new term: Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit: "working through the past" (processing)

Considerations 2: perspective

Remember back to L2: What was Nazism?
And: how did Germans respond to its end?

  1. glory -> anger or regret about loss
  2. arrogance -> guilt or refusal to admit
  3. repression -> relief at removal of Nazis
  4. genocide -> fear of punishment, denial, and defensiveness about past behavior

1 & 2 felt by former Nazis
3 by opponents of Nazis
4 by Allies

"These shameful deeds: Your fault!"

Reactions to the Allies, 1945ff

My thesis: "the 3 founding myths"

Nov. 9, 1945 Speech by Dachau Mayor

Ladies and Gentlemen!
How peaceful life once was here! Dachau, once the epitome of rural stolidity and earthiness, closely bound to its artists and their noble cultural efforts for more than a century! To mention only a few of the names that carried Dachau's reputation into the world: Christian Morgenstern, ... Karl Spitzweg, Wilhelm Leibl, Lovis Corinth, [Max] Slevogt, ...
That was once our Dachau!
But then non-local sadists came and settled on the outskirts of our city, and with horror and fear we had to watch as they defiled the name Dachau in the eyes of the entire civilized world.
For twelve long years the concentration camp weighed like a nightmare upon us.
At the beginning sparse reports about the inmates of the camp leaked out to us. But after construction was complete the hermetic isolation left us with only dark premonitions about the fates and human suffering behind the concrete walls topped with barbed wire.
Dante's saying should have been written over the gate: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter!" We know that since 1940 alone at least 28,000 people died a miserable death. The lists show that 220,000 passed through the camp.
And the name of our beloved Dachau is associated with all of these cruelties!
But the real Dachau was different!
Today, with pure hearts and clean hands this "other Dachau" commemorates all of the victims whose blood has soaked our native soil and whose ash covers the paths within the camp.
You dead, however, who have been taken up by our native soil, rest there in peace! Your memory shall not only be honored by a monument of stone, but we will carry it in our hearts as long as the heavens allow us to breathe the air of freedom, and allow the sun of peace to shine.
And in the future Dachau shall once again become a center of true culture and respect for human rights, for the good of our city and all of humanity.

The 1950s: repression or displacement?
What's the difference, does it matter? (things that historians think about)

3 original myths evolve to fit new situation:

Germans as Victims (Opfer)

1983 satire of German national memorial

1983 satire of German national memorial
Two satirical cartoons about the planned German national war victims memorial in 1983.

Above: "To the Victims" with stone, grass, bronze figures.
Left: "In Memory of Mistreated Germany"

The 1960s: Anamnesis

Anamnesis (opposite of amnesia)


page by H. Marcuse, prepared for web Feb. 12, 2004
back to top, to previous lecture 14, 15=movie The Promise, next lecture 17, UCSB Hist 133c homepage