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20 Years of Federal Monument Policies

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Icon_52_Rand_orangeThe subjects of the study are the five monuments that the Federal Government had built in Berlin over the last 20 years in memory of the victims of National Socialism: the New Guard House (Neue Wache), the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe [the so-called Holocaust Memorial], the Memorials to Homosexuals Persecuted under National Socialism and to the European Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism, and lastly, the Memorial and Information Centre for the Victims of the National Socialist ‘Euthanasia’ Murders.

Although at first glance the ensemble seems to present the reunited Republic’s definitive statement of its relations with its National Socialist past, a closer analysis reveals differences between the five monuments’ interpretation of memory, and the group leaves many questions open. Our study arrives at this conclusion by comparing the design characteristics of the monuments and describing them with reference to victim discourses and policies towards victims during the ‘long process of evolution’ since 1945 as well as the historical viewpoints and political intentions of those actors who were directly involved in the creation of these monuments.

Important differences can be seen between the monuments commemorating victims who have been recognized and those who have been ‘forgotten’. The monuments commemorating the recognized victims – the New Guard House [the central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany] and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews – focus exclusively on the past and use primarily emotive design elements. They exemplify a view of history that can be traced back to the Adenauer era, which thought of the Germans as victims of National Socialism and recognized only the Jews as a persecuted minority. In contrast, the monuments commemorating the ‘forgotten victims’ include the history before and after National Socialism and, as is the case with the monument to the homosexuals, articulate the attitudes that led to the marginalization of homosexuals during the Nazi period and even go so far as to draw parallels to the present. The decisive achievement of these monuments in terms of policies of public memory, the study concludes, is the break with conservative attitudes towards memory. They establish a broader definition of perpetrators, one that is not restricted to members of the Nazi leadership and its terror apparatus. This enables them to shed light on the social environment and thus the attitudes of broad swathes of the German population, which supported the regime and its criminal policies in numerous ways. In addition, they cease to ignore the long historical continuities in which the crimes are to be situated.


Publication (in German): Volker Wild in cooperation with Jan Ferdinand: 20 Jahre Bundesdenkmalpolitik zum Nationalsozialismus. Von der Neuen Wache zum Gedenk- und Informationsort für die Opfer der nationalsozialistische “Euthanasie”-Morde, in: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft, 62 (2014) 11, pp. 881-900. English translation here.