Generations as Narrative Communities: Some Private Sources of Public Memory in Postwar Germany

TitleGenerations as Narrative Communities: Some Private Sources of Public Memory in Postwar Germany
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsWierling, Dorothee
EditorBiess, Frank, and Robert G. Moeller
Book TitleHistories of the Aftermath: the Legacies of the Second World War in Europe
PublisherBerghahn Books
CityNew York

This chapter focuses on several interrelated questions: whether, to what extent, and in what form private narratives about the past told by different generations in the two postwar German states correspond to public and official narratives, or rather, become incorporated into them. “The past” here refers to National Socialism, the Second World War, and the Shoah, and Germany represents a unique case within Europe in several respects. Not only is it the nation responsible for the war itself and the atrocities linked to it; it also offers historians a unique opportunity to study how different versions of history develop in two societies and political systems that, while building on the same shared experiences, process these experiences under very different and perhaps even opposing conditions, turning them into meaningful stories for their citizens. The respective politics of memory in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) were supposed to establish versions of the past in which a cathartic founding myth provided historical legitimacy: to Western-influenced democracy on the one hand, to anti-fascist state socialism on the other. In both cases, an effort was made to draw on the personal experiences of the population and incorporate them into the official interpretation.

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