Re-Membered and Re-Mobilized: The 'Sleeping Dead' in Interwar Germany and Britain

TitleRe-Membered and Re-Mobilized: The 'Sleeping Dead' in Interwar Germany and Britain
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsGoebel, Stefan
JournalJournal of Contemporary History
Date Published10/2004

The rituals and rhetoric of war commemoration in the interwar period have traditionally been interpreted as expressions of personal mourning or as tools of political mobilization. To claim that war commemorations were exclusively about the management of bereavement is incomplete; but to reduce their meaning to political manipulation is cynical. Arising out of the shock of bereavement felt by the individual, war commemoration was a social act of public recollection that could not be politically neutral. This article... explores a commemorative figure that colonized precisely the grey area between the personal and the political realms: the representation of death as a deep and joyous sleep. Embedded in medieval funerary tradition, national mythologies (Barbarossa and King Arthur) and folk tale (Sleeping Beauty), the idea of enchanted sleep fused notions of individual rebirth and national regeneration...  Enchanted sleep marked an intermediate stage between the untimely departure and the eventual return of the war dead. The widespread popular appeal of this concept, especially in Germany and to a lesser extent also in Britain, is a remarkable indication of the public denial of death and, sometimes, of the refusal to perceive the Great War as totally over.

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