A history of ambivalence: Post-reunification German identity and the Holocaust

  • Loewy H
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The Holocaust has become a landmark on the map of all kinds of identity politics. After reunification in 1989, this became true even in Germany, the country in which the genocide was forged and from which its perpetrators came. Germany's preoccupation with the past and with defining itself as a Volk-a cultural 'body' with a 'national character'-reaches back into the nineteenth century. Concepts of Us and Them have often relied on an intellectually fabricated 'mirror-image' of the Jews, an image of otherness and likeness at the same time. The elimination and finally the extermination of the Jews was considered by the Nazis themselves to be a seminal event in the history of the German nation, the victory of the true 'chosen people'. Bearing this history in mind, the national commemoration of the Holocaust in Germany is quite an ambivalent enterprise. History, conceived as a common experience, proves itself able to be instrumental for nationalism even on the subject of 'responsibility' for the Holocaust. Furthermore, the contemporary process in which Germany is engaged of becoming a modern, civil and multicultural society throws the traditional notions of 'culture' and 'nation' into question in more than one way. While the Holocaust becomes more and more central to the popular (even if negative) founding myths of post-war Germany, different groups of immigrants-mostly Muslims, but also Russian Jews-claim recognition for their own culture and their own view of history as an integrated part of German public discourse. This leads to a disturbing development: 'old' conflicts over history, the struggle between affirmation and criticism of the national heritage, are accompanied by 'new' conflicts about the status of 'heritage' as such in a multicultural society and a globalized economy.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Antisemitism
  • Germany
  • Holocaust
  • Identity
  • Identity politics
  • Memory
  • Multiculturalism
  • Nationalism

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  • Hanno Loewy

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