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Particularly if they are not confident in disagreeing with an established member of the German academic community like Nolte, they might be lulled into thinking that the Holocaust was a defensive action. Finally, Nolte uses the practice of relativism to try and mitigate the severity of German history. In equating the Holocaust with the gulags Nolte is trying to take advantage of a flaw in the western psyche.

It is true that we as a society lament many other atrocities less than the Holocaust. Many more high schools discuss The Diary of Anne Frank th an accounts of the tragedies in Bangladesh or the Sudan, or even the works of Solzhenitsyn. Aware of this, Nolte attempts to bring our consciousness of the Holocaust down to the same level. He does this by comparing Auschwitz to the Soviet gulags, both of which were undeniably places of great suffering.

However, his conclusion that Auschwitz should be allowed to fade into distant memory because the Soviet people have escaped the mass scrutiny which the world has brought to bear on Germans is unfair. Rathe r than concluding that the Soviets should bear guilt as well, a potentially legitimate claim, he advocates vindication of German guilt for Auschwitz. By attempting to reduce the scrutiny of the Holocaust to the same level of other atrocities, Nolte implie s that the only relevant consideration is that no one country appears more evil than another.

Having dissected the apologetic works of Nolte I would like to draw the reader's attention to Friedrich Meinecke, a renowned German historian who wrote in the immediate postwar era. It is important to understand that Nolte's defense of the Nazi period was not a new development in the s but a continuation of a preexisting trend. In Meinecke published a brief history of Germany entitled German Catastrophe.

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Its purpose was to try and explain the origins of Nazism. However, at no point in this -page work does Meinecke ever mention, or even allude to, the Holocaust. It is inconceivable that after the fall of Germany, the denazification attempts of the Allied occupation, and the Nuremberg war crimes tribunals, a man of Meinecke's intelligence and stature could remain ignorant of what went on in the Nazi death camps. He intentionally left the Holocaust out. This omission displays both passive denial and denigration of the event.

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In ignoring the Holocaust he directly places its veracity in question. More important, however, is the fact that his omission of the event conveys the message that it is not significant. From his book one gets the impression that it is possible to write a comprehensive history of Germany from the early nineteenth century t o without including reference to Nazi atrocities. Meinecke's work is similar to Nolte's in that he seems to consider the Holocaust unimportant. Meinecke's use of language is interesting as well. He never talks about what the Germans did during the war, only the Nazis.

He describes the Third Reich as a catastrophic wave that "burst upon Germany. Meinecke wanted to dissociate Germans from Nazis as thoroughly as possible. The attractiveness of such an estrangement is that it leads to a vindication of the German people by transferring the guilt for their crimes onto a third party, the Nazis.

It o verlooks, however, the fact that most Germans accepted and supported Nazi rule in much the same way that Nolte's argument overlooks German provocation of Weizmann in The list of specific controversies could be extended at length; specialists will recognise each of these controversies and be able to add many more.

In the most general terms, and with regard to virtually any historical period, different theoretical approaches often appeared to be extremely closely linked with well-defined positions on the political spectrum. Divisions between West German historical approaches were almost automatically assumed to overlap with, indeed be virtually synonymous with, political differences on a pluralist spectrum.

In the GDR, by contrast, there could only be one officially permitted theoretical paradigm, and one quite explicitly allied with a particular political agenda: that of Marxism. In the course of the s, those historians who refused to be constrained by this political agenda were weeded out of the profession.

Many experienced acute political difficulties; some fled to the West. The wider preconditions for free-ranging intellectual exploration - choice of theme, access to sources and secondary literature, collaboration and debate with colleagues at home and abroad, character and scope of eventual publication - were all very much out of the con-trol of the individual historical researcher.


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One of the emotive tasks of the representation of contemporary history, then, was to ensure that younger generations were not only informed of the heroic deeds of the anti-fascist fighters, but were sufficiently enthused and infused with their spirit to keep up the fight and carry the flame to ensure the glorious future.

With unification in , the political context of course changed. Some academic battle lines shifted; but while the official Marxist historiography of the GDR was totally discredited, the East German heritage nevertheless had implications for West German approaches.

1. Introduction

West and East German historians were now able freely to debate with each other - though on unequal terms, given the massive theoretical, institutional and political changes the latter had to contend with. Even these recent developments underline the point: to an observer somewhat distant from the smoke of the battle lines, it is striking just how closely related political positions and historical approaches are assumed to be in Germany.

The de facto association therefore requires a little closer inspection. Historical consciousness as a part of the present: The functions of history. Historical consciousness is inevitably a part of the present. In the public political sphere, innumerable debates and stormy controversies on the representation of a peculiarly awful past in anniversaries, memorials, museums and sites of memory have punctuated German history over the last half century.

But the political consequences can be very powerful.

Oddly, for all its substantive differences, the wider functions of GDR history were quite similar to those of at least some by no means all pre West German approaches. In the decade and a half since the fall of the Wall, similar processes of seeking to account for the past and provide a story in the present have been at work. At the same time, the political battle lines with respect to the history of the GDR started to shift.

With the opening of the vast archives of a communist state documented with truly Prussian thoroughness and efficiency, there was a massive proliferation of research, media debate and publication on the GDR. Shades and degrees of relative condemnation aggressive, expansionist, genocidal Third Reich, versus subordinate, miserable, Soviet satellite state GDR of dictatorships of right and left came into play, as did shades and degrees of implicit anti-communism Cold Warrior, fellow-traveller, sympathiser , complicating debates over characterisation of the GDR. A further, and for many East Germans the major, complication was that this history mattered.

List of books about Nazi Germany - Wikipedia

People lost their jobs, their emotional bearings, and their friends over it - and this in a context of massive psychological reorientation and practical changes. Historical interpretations also, more intangibly but no less importantly, affected the ways in which people perceived and interacted with each other, and thus indelibly if invisibly shaped social relations in the present. German historians have also generally seemed remarkably concerned about the role of history - and hence of professional historians - in constructing a particular version of historical consciousness in the present.

This is evident not merely in debates over museums and public memorials the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, for example ; it is also evident in pleas for a particular approach to the professional research and writing of history. Thus debates over contemporary history are also inevitably debates over the present. The possibility of paradigm shifts.

The existence of a close relationship between historical interpretations and contemporary politics in Germany is indubitable. Yet political relevance is not and has not been the only criterion for evaluating different historical interpretations, and most western professional historians would probably try explicitly to claim that it should even be in principle inadmissible.

Historical debates are not only or always about political implications, but also about the extent to which given theoretical interpretations account for the evidence. Here too we can see productive shifts in paradigm, though the contours of the debates are as yet less familiar. It is worth therefore exploring these more recent debates in a little more detail. Several distinctive and contrasting approaches to GDR history developed in the s.

Old antipathies, animosities and battle lines informed the new line-ups as competing interpretations were put forward to account for the GDR. In particular, an almost crusading claim to being the model, the theoretical framework for describing, explaining, and denouncing the GDR, was put forward on behalf of a revitalised notion of totalitarianism, which, having been effectively flogged to death as a term for the Third Reich, enjoyed a sudden renaissance with respect to former communist states.

The concept of totalitarianism is, essentially, a negative concept, defining modern ideologically-driven mass-mobilising dictatorships in terms of the ways in which they differ from modern democracies, and highlighting the explanatory importance of force and indoctrination. These on-going debates may be used to illustrate certain more general features about ways of doing history; and in particular, questions to do with conceptualisation and emplotment.

Let us focus particularly on totalitarianism.

Chapter 1 - The Rise of Memory and the Origins of Memory Laws

Individual definitions of the concept differ. Others adopt a more ideal-typical approach. Klaus-Dietmar Henke, for example, defines totalitarianism as an ideal type in terms of three features: a monopolistic centre of decision-making; the unlimited extent of the decisions made by this centre; and the unlimited potential of sanctions. The would-be totalitarian state may or may not be successful in practice.

For many proponents of the concept, the real key is political; namely, highlighting contrasts with the democratic west. Although the heat of earlier debates over this concept has died down, it remains widely in use, not merely as a loose term in general public discussions but also as a theoretical concept among professional historians.

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Jewish Leadership in Extremis. Jewish Resistance. Gender and the Family. Romanies and the Holocaust: A Re-evaluation and Overview. From Streicher to Sawoniuk: the Holocaust in the Courtroom. The Holocaust under Communism. Post-Holocaust Philosophy. Testimony and Representation. Memory, Memorials and Museums. The Holocaust and Genocide. Back Matter Pages About this book Introduction This collection of essays by leading scholars in their fields provides the most comprehensive and up-to-date survey of Holocaust historiography available.