Legacies of Stalingrad: The Eastern Front War and the Politics of Memory in Divided Germany, 1943-1989

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2007-12-11

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Abstract

The two most monstrous and closely intertwined crimes committed by Nazi Germany, the Holocaust and the "war of extermination" against the Soviet Union, gave rise to two diametrically opposed official memories of the Nazi past in both Germanys: while over the years the annihilation of over six million Jews gained the most prominent position in West German memory of the war, official memory in East Germany centered around the Nazi war against the Soviet Union.

The divided political memory of the latter, the Eastern Front war, is the subject of this dissertation. It analyzes and contextualizes the ways in which these memories emerged in postwar German political culture as old alliances crumbled and new alliances formed in the unfolding Cold War. This study thus represents an important contribution to the history of German Vergangenheitsbewältigung. As the first comprehensive analysis of the Eastern Front memory it focuses on the intersection of memory and politics. The politics of memory, i.e. the effort to place a narrative of past events into the service of a present political cause dominated both Germanys. Yet, the analysis pays close attention to the individual biographies of the protagonists arguing that the often selective and ambiguous commemoration of the Eastern Front was not only the result of an ideology-driven instrumentalization of history in the shadow of the Cold War. Rather, it also rooted in the manifold individual encounters with the horrors of genocidal war on the various fronts of this unparalleled conflict.

In case of the East German communists' master narrative, the hitherto neglected centrality of the Eastern Front significantly alters the perception, that the German Democratic Republic was built upon an "antifascist founding myth." Rather the political memory of "Operation Barbarossa" was the central ingredient in the communist founding narrative of a socialist dictatorship allied in unconditional "friendship" with the Soviet Union. This calculated presence of the Eastern Front war stands in contrast to an enduring absence of the same event in West Germany. Here it served as rallying point against the continuing "Bolshevist menace", both deriving from and sustaining the antitotalitarian consensus of the young democracy.

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