The Hour of the Woman: Memories of Germany's "Crisis Years" and West German National Identity

TitleThe Hour of the Woman: Memories of Germany's "Crisis Years" and West German National Identity
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1996
AuthorsHeineman, Elizabeth D.
JournalThe American Historical Review

This article recovers important elements of the experiences of German women between 1942 and 1948 by chronicling memories of what had been typically female experiences with wartime victimization, rubble removal, and fraternization with the former enemy lost their gender specificity. The experiences were universalized as they entered the "popular memory" of a larger West German culture and even the "official memory" of the West German state. The revised memories helped to articulate a more complicated national identity that seemed necessary in the multiple contexts of the Cold War, economic revival, and efforts to wrest political and cultural sovereignty from the Western Allies, especially the United States. Nationalized versions of women's experiences also drew attention away from questions of wartime guilt and complicity in the crimes of the Nazi regime. The appropriation of women's history for the identity of the West German nation reinforced women's subordinate position: they did not profit from aspects of their experiences considered positive, yet they paid penalties for those labeled negative. The reclamation of women's history in the 1980's should be considered as part of an attempt to forge a West German feminist identity. That project challenged a West German national identity built in part on a de-gendered telling of women's wartime and postwar experiences. Heineman's argument demonstrates the importance of gender in discussions of the relationship between collective memory and national identity, and it illustrates the value of studying the interplay among various forms of collective memory such as counter-memory, popular memory, and official memory.

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