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Adenauer and the ‘Narrative of the centre’

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Icon_52_Rand_orangeThe Research Group is currently working on a study of Adenauer’s view of German and especially National Socialist history and his interpretation of national self-perceptions against the background of that history. The study is based on Adenauer’s letters, speeches, interviews and other statements from 1945 up to his death in 1967. It proceeds from the assumption that Adenauer espoused a historical and political narrative that seized on moods prevailing among the population and played on pre-existing notions of national identity, while also fitting in with attitudes he had formed in the course of his life. The question is, how did this narrative relate to the German past, how did it engage with that past or dissent from it, to what extent did the Germans find themselves reflected in it and how far did it differ from ‘right-wing’ and ‘left-wing’ narratives?

The study proceeds from the assumption that Adenauer’s expressed views cannot be reduced to mere verbal strategies to enable him to achieve political goals. Rather, it must be assumed that his strategic statements were embedded in underlying political and moral attitudes and fundamental convictions that in large measure acted as a primer to his practical politics. In order to arrive at distinctions between texts and subtexts, the study will place individual statements in their context and scrutinize their particular preconceptions. Examples are his letter of 1946 to Bernhard Custodis, his childhood friend, his first policy statement as Federal Chancellor in 1949 and his speech in Bergen-Belsen in 1960.

The study will engage with the various pictures of Adenauer painted by historians and will focus in particular on the question of the extent to which Adenauer’s statements and his silences about the German past allowed for no alternative. It will ask whether it is still possible to uphold the thesis that ‘the communicative silence’ established around the fact that many Germans were implicated in National Socialism was the ‘socio-psychological and politically necessary medium for bringing about the transformation of our post-war population into citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany’ (Hermann Lübbe).

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