War Stories: The Search for a Usable Past in the Federal Republic of Germany

TitleWar Stories: The Search for a Usable Past in the Federal Republic of Germany
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1996
AuthorsMoeller, Robert G.
JournalThe American Historical Review

Explores the changing ways in which the destruction of Nazism was understood, described, and commemorated in the early years of the Federal Republic of Germany. In the first postwar decade, stories of the expellees - the women, men, and children who left or were driven out of Eastern Europe by the Red Army and Communist governments at the war's end - and prisoners of war in Soviet captivity were crafted into rhetorics of victimization in the arena of public policy and in the writing of "contemporary history." West Germans collectively mourned the suffering of these groups, and their experiences became central to one important version of the legacy of the war; their private memories structured public memory, making all Germans victims of a war Hitler started but everyone else lost. Stories of Communist brutality and the loss of the "German East" became crucial parts of the history of West Germany. However, in the 1960's and 1970's, memories of German victimization, dominant in the 1950's, were challenged by accounts in which Nazi crimes and the victimization of others by Germans became central to an understanding of the Third Reich. And then in the mid-1980's and 1990's, themes of German victimization again began to dominate popular and scholarly discourse. This latest understanding of the war represents nothing particularly novel but rather the forceful reemergence of forms of public memory that were already in place. By tracing connections between public history, scholarly research, and politics in postwar Germany, Moeller makes a compelling and timely case for the importance of historiographical reflections on politics and society.

Monograph published under same title by Moeller in 2001.

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