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Essay: The Politics of Memory as Image Politics. The Kohl Government and the Holocaust Memorial

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The construction of the Berlin Monument for the Murdered Jews of Europe raises a question of far-reaching importance for the memory politics of the Federal Government of Germany. In the early nineties, with its redesign[1] [Umgestaltung] of the Neue Wache, the Federal Government under Helmut Kohl resolved to continue with Adenauer’s policy of commemorating German victims and the victims of German crimes without discrimination. So how could it simultaneously compromise that policy by supporting the project of a national monument for the murdered Jews? Does this contradiction conceal a particular logic? Was it a sudden change of strategy or a shift in attitude, as is sometimes conjectured?[2] Was Kohl now abandoning something he had previously tried to preserve?

The politics of memory in the Adenauer period meant first and foremost commemorating the German victims. If with the passage of time remembrance was extended to the Jews and subsequently to other victims too, this reflected not least the conviction of Germans that they too were Hitler’s victims, just as much as were the victims of the Holocaust.[3] In general, Adenauer preferred to remain silent on this point so as to help consign the ‘opprobrium of the Hitler period’ to oblivion and to restore Germany’s reputation in the world to what it had been in the past. Whenever the Chancellor continued to speak of the crimes, which were there for everyone to see, the perpetrators were referred to as ‘the Nazis’ or as ‘vile monsters’.[4] The German nation, it was claimed, remained unsullied. The often no more than vague awareness that large parts and even the vast majority of the German people were complicit in the collapse of civilisation lay at the neurotic heart of the attitude of post-war Germans towards the ‘Third Reich’.[5]

The general design of the memory politics of the Adenauer years remained unaltered for decades. In 1986 an attempt was made to give it concrete shape in perpetuity in a Central Monument erected on the banks of the Rhine in Bonn. However, Kohl’s plan was thwarted by the resistance of the Social-Democrat opposition.[6]  The Fall of the Wall and Reunification shortly afterwards gave him the opportunity to implement his plans in the more representative setting of the former capital.[7]

Less well-known is the Federal Government’s response to the plans for a gigantic monument to the murdered Jews of Europe produced at the same time by the private association ‘Perspektive Berlin’.  ‘Perspektive’ published its proposal in 1988. By 1993 the key decisions had been taken by it together with the Federal Government, the Berlin Senate and the representatives of the victim groups affected – the Jews and the Sinti and Roma. The panels of experts, the years-long discussions of the artists’ designs and the debates in the Bundestag  did not lead to any  subsequent changes to what came to be known as the ‘essentials’ agreed at that time. These included the monument’s dedication, location and sponsors.[8] This early phase of the project has remained largely cloaked in obscurity in previous publications on the memorial.[9]

What follows below makes use of previously unavailable records from the Office of the Federal Chancellor and the Office of the Federal Ministry of the Interior and attempts to reconstruct the stages leading up to the final decision, as well as the motives, interests and tactical moves that shaped the memory politics of the Kohl government between 1989 and 1993.[10] The questions we wanted to ask included

– How did the Federal Government reconcile the Holocaust Memorial project with its previous official policy of memorializing the nation’s war victims, an idea that stood at the heart of the Central Monument in the Neue Wache?

– How did the Government react to the rivalry between the different victim groups, above all the Jews on the one hand and the Sinti and Roma on the other?

– What part was played by the question of Germany’s standing abroad?

Comparisons with the Adenauer period help to contextualise the attitude of the Federal Government towards  memories of the past and to clarify its own profile.


‘Our debate is being watched by the whole world’

It is not known when the Federal Government first learned of Lea Rosh’s private initiative in support of a memorial. It may be assumed, however, that it became aware of the project not later than the appeal launched by ‘Perspektive Berlin’ in January1989, with Willy Brandt, Günter Grass and others among the signatories.  Initially, the Government declined to get involved and even cast doubt on its own competence to do so. Culture, it claimed, was the province of the Länder. Furthermore, monument policy concerned itself not with ‘victim groups’ but with ‘persecution patterns [Verfolgungskomplexe].[11] This argument had its roots in the controversy about the ‘National Memorial Site of the Federal Republic’ of 1986 in which the Federal Government was consistently concerned to avoid listing victim groups so as to forestall any discussion of the distinction between the victims and perpetrators of National Socialism.

What decided further developments was the fact that the project increasingly caught on with the public. In Germany the appeal launched by ‘Perspektive’ was supported by prominent figures from the world of politics, culture and business and thousands of ordinary citizens.[12]  Lea Rosh also sought to mobilise support abroad. The Federal Chancellery surmised that she would take the opportunity provided by the meeting of the World Jewish Congress to be held in Berlin in May 1990 to enlist support for her project.[13] We may suppose that news from Washington would have carried especial weight. The German Embassy there reported on the article on the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin in the Christian Science Monitor, in which the project was referred to as a ‘touchstone for the historical and moral integrity of the Federal Government’ and which went on to state that its success had ‘been frustrated hitherto by petty, pragmatic arguments and the resistance above all of [Federal Chancellor] Helmut Kohl’.[14] A further telex from the Embassy, this time labelled ‘Classified – For official use only’, stressed ‘the strong interest above all of the Jewish segment of American public opinion in events in Germany since 9 November 1989’ and pointed to concerns there ‘in the light of the fact that the restoration of German unity has now suddenly become possible’. At the same time, it was noted that ‘the question that Jewish-American visitors to Germany had raised in the past, namely that of the building of a Central Monument to the victims of the Holocaust in Germany, had not yet been taken up. This should not blind us to the fact that there is no reason why this question couldn’t become part of a public debate as the process of German unification progresses.’[15] The cautionary undertone of the references to reunification and the Holocaust was unmistakable.[16] Evidently, fears outside Germany of a resurgence of German power were linked to the question whether the nation had learned the lessons of history and was ready to accept responsibility for its own past.

Up to the summer of 1991 the Federal Government’s objections to the memorial project retained the upper hand. Between September and December 1991 a rethink began to take place. An internal position paper produced by the Culture Department of the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) of 19.12.91 stated: ‘The Mayor of Berlin and the Federal Minister of the Interior have [each] signalled their “support for the project as long as the other makes the crucial contribution, i.e. takes the leading role”.’  The Federal Government could not take on that role, it was argued, since the responsibility for the design of the overall concept of national monuments lay with the Länder. It was essential to avoid a wrangle between the Federal Government and Berlin about where responsibility lay since ‘this could only be detrimental to Germany’s standing abroad’.[17] On 12.3.1992, under the headline ‘”Green Light” for German Holocaust Memorial’, the ADN News Agency reported that agreement on the creation of the memorial had been reached between the Federal Government and the Support Group.[18] Two days earlier, in conversation with Lea Rosh and Edzard Reuter, the Federal Minister of the Interior Rudolf Seiters stated that the Federal Government was fully prepared to commit itself to taking its share of the responsibility and the financing of the project.[19] However, the decision process remained hesitant and was hedged around with many provisos and qualifications while the parties approached their task with the utmost caution. It was not finally resolved until May 1993, as the outcome of a direct discussion between Kohl and Ignatz Bubis, the chairman of the Central Council of Jews.[20]

None of the alternatives on offer to Kohl was unproblematic. If he were to remain in the well-worn grooves of memorializing war victims, he could bank on the plaudits of a major part of his national-conservative clientele.[21] For Kohl’s critics, on the other hand, the rebuilding of the Neue Wache served to revive the old controversy about Kohl’s visits to Israel and to Bitburg and exposed him to the charge that what he wished to achieve with this memorial was to sanctify his policy of drawing a line under the past by glorifying it with a national monument.[22]  With the project for the murdered Jews of Europe, on the other hand, the situation was reversed. At home, the memorial might well provoke right-wing calls to put an end at long last to the Germans’ obsession with proclaiming their own guilt. Outside Germany, in contrast, Kohl would be praised for creating a highly spectacular memorial in a location steeped in history and for being the first to honour the Jewish victims in a fitting manner.

For both Adenauer’s reparations policy and Kohl’s policy of remembrance the question of Germany’s standing abroad was the crucial factor. Adenauer emphasized at various times that reparations for the wrongs done to the Jews were a moral necessity. But had it not been for the urgings of the US High Commissioner John J. McCloy to come to terms with Jews and Israel, it is to be doubted whether he would have concluded the Luxemburg Agreement. It is even more doubtful and in fact, highly unlikely that Kohl would have gone ahead and established a Holocaust Memorial on his own initiative, without the pressure from Rosh and the lobby that she was able to mobilise.[23] He may well have agreed because he realised that he would not be able to block the project without losing face. ‘Our debate,’ he said in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, ‘is being watched by the whole world.’[24] Without this external pressure, he would presumably have preferred to leave matters as they stood, with the Central Monument in the Neue Wache, instead of diluting its conciliatory message with ‘add-on memorials’. The intensity of his aversion to ‘add-on memorials’ could be seen towards the end of his chancellorship in 1999, when the Bundestag voted on the Holocaust Memorial. Kohl pleaded with MPs to dedicate the memorial not just to the Jewish victims but to ‘all the victims of National Socialist crimes against humanity’.[25]

Kohl was ‘in search of a usable past’, to cite the expression now current in memory research.[26] And since what was usable changed with the occasion and the people involved, his memory policy changed accordingly, sometimes within a short space of time. In 1985 in Bitburg he commemorated fallen German soldiers including members of the Waffen-SS and offset the voluble protests against his visit there with a visit to Bergen-Belsen, where a few days previously he had reminded people of Job’s cry, ‘O earth, cover not thou their blood’. He then repeated his tactic of a twin-track memory of the past in Berlin. When it became clear that support for the Rosh project kept growing, and public pressure became too great to resist, he hitched the Holocaust Memorial onto the back of the Neue Wache.


‘The political lobby has to be taken very seriously’

In the negotiations about the Holocaust Memorial, a great deal of time was taken up with the question of the Sinti and Roma.[27]  Romani Rose, the chairman of their Central Council, repeatedly asked to be allowed to take part in the memorial project since it was similarly on racial grounds that the Sinti and Roma had fallen victim to the genocidal policies of the National Socialists. One critic noted that ‘even after Auschwitz, in contrast to the importance given to Jews in official Federal German policies, the Sinti and Roma continued to be discriminated against in our country’. And he went on to ask, ‘Did not the murdered Sinti and Roma deserve to be singled out for commemoration by the nation for that very reason?’ [28]

Of the three sponsors, the Federal Government was the crucial actor, if only because the project was a national one and the government represented the Federal Republic as a whole. Notwithstanding this, it avoided taking any decision and represented itself as an honest broker mediating between the other parties, but a broker whose hands were tied because the ultimate decision lay with Lea Rosh and/or the Central Council of Jews.[29] And the government certainly took great care not to expose itself to criticism by intervening in the frequently controversial public debate. Typical of its desire to avoid controversy was an internal memorandum of 18 April 1989. It stated, ‘The plans of [‘Perspektive Berlin’] run counter to the intention of the Federal Government to construct a national memorial’ and ‘to dedicate it to all victims of wars and dictatorship’. Since however it is not impossible that Mr Rose ‘may repeat in public the criticism that has been made on a number of occasions…namely that the Federal Government desires to honour perpetrators and victims in equal measure, the Federal Government’s conviction that it would be wrong to place the emphasis on individual victim groups should be placed at the heart of our response’.[30] Behind this official formula lay the fear of a possible threat to the Neue Wache project. For if the Federal Government were to agree to honour different groups among the victims of National Socialist crimes, this would undermine the previous policy of honouring jointly both victims and perpetrators among the dead. And two years later, this viewpoint had still not been modified. ‘The Federal Government continues to believe,’ the Head of the Federal Chancellery Anton Pfeifer wrote in a letter to Romani Rose, ‘that singling out the individual suffering of one victim group would inevitably entail the under-appreciation of the suffering of other victims.’[31]

Once agreement had been reached between the three sponsors and the Central Council of Jews, Romani Rose repeated his demand for a ‘common national memorial’ for Sinti and Roma and for Jews, while for its part the Federal Government responded at increasing intervals with a mixture of evasiveness and procrastination. This demand, wrote the Culture Section of the Ministry of the Interior in a moment of candour, ‘may appear justified, but it cannot be satisfied. The Support Group insists on a memorial that should remind people exclusively of the Jewish Holocaust. The political lobby for this objective has to be taken very seriously’.[32] The political lobby of the Support Group was evidently so important that the Federal Government altered its argument within three weeks. Now, it was not the demands of the Sinti and Roma that were justified but those of the Group. The new doctrine stated that ‘The persecution and murder of the Jews was such a unique wrong that it cannot be compared to other Nazi wrongs’.[33]

There was a lot of toing and froing as people considered how ‘Mr Romani Rose might be satisfied with a memorial specially erected for the murdered gypsies’, to cite Lea Rosh’s account of the situation.[34] There was even talk of making use of the Hohe Asperg, a remote spot near Ludwigsburg, where the Nazis had set up a transit camp for Sinti and Roma .[35]  The Head of the Chancellery wrote to Kohl, ‘The political line I have always taken on this question maintains that it is not up to the Federal Government, and certainly not up to the Federal Chancellery, to resolve this dispute. If it remains unresolved, it will be up to the Berlin Senate to find a solution.’ Kohl wrote ‘Yes’ in the margin of this paragraph.[36] It may be inferred from this comment that in the eyes of the Federal Government only the genocide of the Jews was a matter of national importance and that therefore in its view this alone came within its remit.

The interchangeability of the positions adopted by the Federal Government, the toing and froing of the conclusions it arrived at, its smooth flexibility in reacting to the interplay of forces, all that was a demonstration of its instrumental approach to dealing with the victims of the Nazi period. The groups that were to be excluded from the process of national remembrance may well have experienced it as a profound humiliation. At the same time, we can also see Kohl’s reactions as the reflection of a slight tendency towards an absolutist understanding of his historical and political role. The self-confidence of the ‘trained’ historian led him to assume that as Chancellor he was within his rights to lay down the Federal Government’s policy on matters of history independently on his own and to avoid public controversy where necessary.[37] This had consequences for the further progress of the Holocaust Memorial project: all discussion dried up. When, following the competition phase, the project reached crisis point and had to be revived intellectually in seminars with prominent figures from academia, art and politics, it culminated in an explosion. The conference moderators extracted the ‘essentials’ of the debate that had been agreed by the sponsors in advance, whereupon a series of experts threatened to resign from the committee – or did in fact resign.[38]  The most perceptive critics of the Rosh project and its ‘essentials’ included Reinhard Koselleck, an acquaintance of Kohl’s from their ‘time together in Heidelberg’.[39]  Koselleck complained that ‘all the arguments that speak against the memorial… have long since been formulated.’ Their only drawback is that the sponsors ignore them. They have refused even to take cognisance of ‘the criticisms of their plans.’[40]


Disowning the Neue Wache

The stubbornness of Romani Rose and, on the opposite side, the tactical manoeuvring of the Federal Government, the uncompromising stance of Lea Rosh and the vacillation of the Berlin Senate all came together to slow down the negotiations and gave Helmut Kohl time to push ahead with his Neue Wache project. As far back as 1989 he had installed a plaster copy of the Kollwitz Pietà on his desk in Bonn.[41] Even before the decision had been taken to move the capital to Berlin, he had begun to explore the possibility of transforming the Neue Wache and turning it into the Central Monument of the Federal Republic.[42] The Central Monument was officially opened in November 1993, to the accompaniment of voluble protests from parts of the public, including some from the Jewish community in Berlin. This meant that the project had been pushed through politically and completed in practice in just two years. Kohl had succeeded in steering the Neue Wache into the harbour of national remembrance, albeit not without some bruising, before the Holocaust Memorial could cast its shadow. A mere few years later, we may surmise, this anachronistic project might well have come to grief on the rocks of public criticism. Almost simultaneously with the inauguration of the Neue Wache, the Senate Committee for Housing produced a ‘working paper’ for the invitation to tender for a competition to design the Monument for the Murdered Jews of Europe.[43]

Eighteen months later controversy broke out again. This time, however, it was triggered by days of remembrance rather than monuments. Ignatz Bubis and the President of the Bundestag, Rita Süssmuth, had proposed the 27th January, the date of the liberation of Auschwitz, as a day of remembrance for the victims of National Socialist genocide. This proposal encountered considerable opposition in the Federal Chancellery. Michael Mertes, Kohl’s long-term speechwriter-in-chief and Head of the Culture Section, pointed out that Remembrance Day at the Neue Wache was the occasion for the victims of war and violence to be remembered and there was a risk that the introduction of a special Holocaust Remembrance Day would lead to ‘a devaluation of the National Remembrance Day and even to the – unintended – downgrading of Holocaust victims. This would undoubtedly be a backward step since it would reduce the National Remembrance Day to the commemoration of all the war dead without distinction. This in turn ‘would surely undermine the plan to convert the Neue Wache into the Central Monument’of the nation. He proposed instead that it would be worth exploring ‘whether the legitimate core of Mr Bubis’s concerns might be met by incorporating the Holocaust commemoration into the National Remembrance Day’. Mertes had in mind a proclamation by the President of the Republic in which ‘in accordance with the wording of the plaque commemorating the victim groups in the Neue Wache…they would be listed by name and the special significance of the Holocaust would be given particular prominence.’[44]

Mertes had powerful arguments and they applied to the monument problem more generally: the Neue Wache made no distinction between German victims and the victims of National Socialist crimes. If now with the monument to the murdered Jews of Europe, one group was to be singled out, this would detract from the all-encompassing claims of the Neue Wache, since it made it abundantly clear that such distinctions existed. But by the same token the Neue Wache detracted from the status of the Holocaust Memorial. To remind people of the Holocaust by pointing to the memorial for the Jewish victims on the one hand, while using the Neue Wache to portray the Germans as the victims of the Nazi regime on the other inevitably raised doubts about the consistency of the view of history to be conveyed as well as about the intentions of a government responsible for establishing this policy of remembrance.[45]

But Kohl’s memorial policy was not based on a consistent view of history, or on the moral obligation not to conceal the truth. Neither the conscientious inquiry into guilt nor sympathy with the plight of the victims was to be found at the centre of attention. This focused instead on the way Germany was perceived abroad.

If the dominant idea in memory-work is the belief that the Germans were first and foremost Hitler’s victims, and this is followed by the further conviction that because of the crimes of the Nazis, they are the victims of a stigmatization that won’t go away, the question that will inevitably arise for politics is how can the ‘false’ picture foreigners have of Germany ever be rectified.[46]

When people keep talking about ‘opprobrium’, as if this were not the reflection of crime and of moral taint, they concentrate their efforts on the image presented to the world. This gives rise to the expectation that a better image abroad would help Germans to resurrect the historical image they have of themselves.[47] Germans would be able to reflect on their own history without feeling themselves undermined. They could once again confidently assume the role in the world to which they felt entitled. Kohl’s interest in the Holocaust Memorial was based on the expectation that it would create a favourable impression abroad and that this would help decisively to correct the image foreigners have of Germany. To his mind, memory politics was image politics. It aimed to improve the nation’s reputation and so lead to the stabilization of German identity.[48] We cannot rule out the possibility that Kohl may have believed that with the passage of time the improved reputation promised by the Holocaust Memorial would come to outweigh the damage done by the interpretative monopoly asserted by the Neue Wache – especially as it became evident that there was no way of avoiding the Memorial for the Murdered Jews.

The logic of a memory politics bent on influencing external opinion had the consequence that when certain key groups found that their views met with public sympathy, their demands could be satisfied, while other groups  went away empty-handed, initially at least. This was the case with the Sinti and Roma, who had no one to lobby on their behalf. Since it was better to keep quiet about this logic, Kohl left statements to the press to spokesmen of the Berlin Senate. He himself chose his words carefully, leaving them to the last days of his time in office.[49] Whenever his memory politics encountered hostile criticism, as was the case with the Neue Wache, he sought compensatory solutions elsewhere. Where such criticism threatened to damage the self-image of his conservative clientele, he avoided unambiguous statements on the role of the German majority under National Socialism. He did indeed speak constantly of Germany’s responsibility for the remembrance of the Holocaust, but never of the German people’s share in that responsibility and its share of political and moral guilt in the actual misdeeds. In this respect, he was assisted both by the wordless testimony of the Memorial for the Murdered Jews and by the narrative of the subterranean ‘Information Centre’ that held the Nazi leadership and the SS responsible for the murders and remained so conspicuously silent about the role of the German population.


A concession but no corrective

In the thirty years that have passed between the Adenauer era and the Kohl era a fundamental change has taken place in the perception of the Nazi period among large sectors of international public opinion. Adenauer had still been convinced that the treaty with Israel meant that the past was now truly consigned to the past.[50]  This seemed to be confirmed by the dramatic reduction in the number of Nazi-accused to be brought before West German courts – from nearly 4000 in 1949 to 27 in 1955.[51]  The restoration of sovereignty in May 1955 spelled the end of Germany’s ‘pariah’ status and its return to the international community. For Adenauer, as for most Germans, the ‘atrocities’ of the Nazi regime were loathsome, but people’s horror at the thought of them would fade with the passage of time.[52] The Nazi phase would end up subsiding into the flow of history, just as earlier cruel ages had done. Adenauer, whose historical and moral yardsticks had been formed under the German Empire and the Weimar Republic, compared the First World War with the Second, the war of annihilation in the east with the trench warfare in the west, and the Jewish victims with the German victims.[53] What he, like his fellow-countrymen, was unwilling to understand, and what he was therefore incapable of understanding, was that National Socialism bursts the confines of history and lives on as a permanent testimony to human barbarity.

But it was this realization that finally prevailed among large parts of the population in the thirty years that lay between Adenauer and Kohl. The Holocaust became the reference point for a global understanding of history and an event of universal historical significance. Historians, both German and foreign, continued to expose ever new chapters of National Socialist history to public view. Ever new scandals shocked public opinion, civil society did not cease to put questions and far too many people who had protested their own innocence turned out to have lied. This new development was one that Kohl sought to counter with his self-proclaimed intellectual and moral turnaround [geistig–moralische Wende], with his museum projects, his policy of symbolic acts to commemorate the world wars and his participation in foreign events. What was expressed with the redesign of the Neue Wache was a return to the 1950s.[54]

The building of the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe does not imply any revision of Kohl’s intentions with regard to history and memory, as these were expressed with the Neue Wache. From Kohl’s point of view, the new memorial was a concession, not a corrective. It was not designed to revise anything, but was thought of merely as an addition to the Neue Wache. It had to be built because the pressure from the Jewish victims, international public opinion and German society had become overwhelming. Kohl was compelled to join in if he did not wish to lose face.

The two memorials reflect the ‘law of motion’ of German memory politics: two steps forward, one step back. They document the synchronicity of the non-synchronous. The German sense of history moves between the poles of a national and conservative desire to draw a line under the past and the thoughtful pursuit of knowledge about one’s own past. The question ‘how was all that possible?’ won’t go away. The toing and froing, the opportunistic manoeuvring, that we discern in the documents of the Federal Chancellery and the Ministry of the Interior is the expression of a conflict between the twin currents of German memory politics that is as virulent as ever.

[German version first published in: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft, 64 (2016) 11, pp. 968-982]



[1] The Neue Wache or New Guardhouse is a building on the north side of Unter den Linden in Berlin. Originally designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, it dates back to 1816. More recently, it served as the National Memorial of the German Democratic Republic down to the end of the GDR in 1990.  The centre of the hall contained a transparent perspex cuboid with a prismatically broken Eternal Flame inside. Attached to the rear wall was the national emblem of the GDR, while the side walls bore the dedication ‘To the Victims of Fascism and Militarism’.  Kohl did away with the design features of the GDR and dedicated the memorial to the Victims of War and Violence. The centre of the hall is occupied by an enlarged version of Käthe Kollwitz’s sculpture ‘Mother and Son’. In front of the entrance there are bronze plaques on which a history of the building is inscribed together with a list of the victims to whom the memorial is dedicated. The Neue Wache is now the National Monument of the German Federal Republic, see ‘Jürgen Tietz, Schinkels Neue Wache Unter den Linden. Baugeschichte 1816-1993‘, in: Christoph Stölzl (ed.), Die Neue Wache Unter den Linden. Ein deutsches Denkmal im Wandel der Geschichte, Berlin 1993,  9-93, here 86-88 and 93.

[2] See Claus Leggewie/ Erik Meyer, ‘Ein Ort, an den man gerne geht.‘  Das Holocaust-Mahnmal und die deutsche Geschichtspolitik nach 1989, Munich 2005, 47.

[3] See Alexandra Kaiser, Von Helden und Opfern. Eine Geschichte des Volkstrauertages, Frankfurt am Main/ New York 2010, esp. 268-296. Of fundamental importance for an understanding of German ideas of victimhood in the Federal Republic.

[4] According to the official formula, these crimes had been committed ‘by Germans in the name of Germany’. Adenauer expressed himself similarly on 11.11.1949 in an interview with Karl Marx, the editor of the Allgemeine Wochenzeitung der Juden in Deutschland. ‘The crimes against the Jews that were committed in its name [the name of the German nation] by a criminal regime…’, Rolf Vogel (ed.), Der  deutsch-israelische Dialog. Dokumentation eines erregenden Kapitels deutscher Außenpolitik, Part I: Politics, vol. 1, Munich/New York 1987, 16.

[5] See Heidrun Kämper, Der Schulddiskurs in der frühen Nachkriegszeit. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des sprachlichen Umbruchs nach 1945, Berlin/New York 2005, 497-508.

[6] The SPD had called for the listing of all the victim groups contained in the catalogue of victims in Richard von Weizsäcker’s speech of 8 May 1995. See Deutscher Bundestag, 10. Wahlperiode (WP), Drucksache 10/4293 (New Series) of 21.11.1985; see also Deutscher Bundesstag, 10. WP, 214, Session of 25 April 1986, 16447-16477.

[7] An outstanding account of the history of the controversy surrounding the Central Monument of the Federal Republic can be found in Sabine Moller, Die Entkonkretisierung der NS-Herrschaft in der Ära Kohl. Die Neue Wache – Das Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas – Das Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. With a preface by Joachim Perels, Hanover 1998, 13-71.

[8] Even the Bundestag vote only became possible in 1999, when the Schröder Government transferred its authority as sponsor to the Bundestag as a whole. See ‘Koalitionsvereinbarung zwischen der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands und BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN: Aufbruch und Erinnerung. Deutschlands Weg ins 21. Jahrhundert‘ in Ute Heimrod/Günter Schlusche/Horst Seferens (eds), Der Denkmalstreit – das Denkmal? Die Debatte um das ’Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas‘. Eine Dokumentation, Berlin 1999, 1145f.

[9] As examples we may mention Hans-Georg Stavginski, Das Holocaust-Denkmal. Der Streit um das ‘Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas’ in Berlin (1988-1989), Paderborn inter alia 2002; Jan-Holger Kirsch, Nationaler Mythos oder historische Trauer? Der Streit um ein zentrales ’Holocaust-Mahnmal‘  der Berliner Republik, Cologne/Weimar/Vienna 2003 and Holger Thünemann, Das Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas. Dechiffrierung einer Kontroverse, Münster 2003. These studies contribute little of worth to the question of the different stages of the decision-making process and the motives informing it that are investigated here. They touch only fleetingly on the years 1989 to 1993 and instead place the emphasis on the period after the crucial decisions had been taken. This means that by and large they ignore the role of the Federal Government in the development of the project and fail to discuss the question of where the ‘Holocaust Memorial’ fits into its memory politics as a whole. The main factor responsible for these omissions is doubtless the fact that at the time when these studies were being written their authors had no access to Federal-Government records and were forced to rely almost exclusively on reports in the media. Given the reticence of the Federal Government, scrutiny of its role inevitably lagged behind that of the public controversy which only began to spread through the media in 1994. In their discussion of the Holocaust Memorial, Leggewie and Meyer ignore the years 1989-1993 altogether. See Leggewie/Meyer, Ein Ort, an den man gerne geht.

[10] Responsibility for national memory policy lay with the Office of the Federal Chancellor and (at the time) with the Federal Minister of the Interior. The records refer to the period 1989-1998, with the emphasis on the years up to 1995. The present authors have been able to inspect the records that have been released in the Federal Archive in Koblenz.

[11] Boos to the Minister, Progress Report, 7.8.1991, BArch B 106/161590.

[12] In Autumn 1989 the Citizens’ Action Group launched the ‘Support Group for the Construction of a Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe’. See Lea Rosh, ‘Von der Idee zur Entscheidung. Ein langer Weg’, in Rosh (ed.), ’Die Juden das sind doch die anderen‘. Der Streit um ein deutsches Denkmal, Berlin/ Vienna 1999, 35-42.

[13] See Stukenberg to Head of Section 212, 20.4.1990, BArch B 136/101700.

[14] Washington to the Bonn Min. of Foreign Affairs, Telex, 14.3.1990, BArch B 136/101700. The Chancellery conjectured that the Christian Science Monitor article had been inspired by Perspektive Berlin. See Vogt to Head of Section 212, 20.3.1990, BArch B 136/101700.

[15] Washington to the Bonn Min. of Foreign Affairs, Telex 11.4.1990, BArch B 136/101700.

[16] The great interest of the Kohl Government in making a good impression in the USA also emerges from a book that appeared after the completion of this study. It is by Jacob S. Eder, Holocaust Angst. The Federal Republic of Germany and American Holocaust Memory since the 1970s, Oxford 2016. Eder argues that the fear that the planned Holocaust Museum in Washington could damage the reputation of Germany led the Kohl Government to attempt to influence the design of the exhibition. Its aim was to prevent the spread of the idea ‘that all Germans had been Nazis’ and instead to stress ‘that the Federal Republic was altogether different from Nazi Germany.’  (14)

[17] Anon. Proposal of the ‘Support Group for the Construction of a Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin’, 19.12.1991, BArch B 106/161590.

[18] See the Head of the Federal Chancellery to Trautmann, 12.3.1992, BArch B 106/161590.

[19] See Boos, Memorandum, 24.3.1992, BArch B 106/161590. This agreement was subsequently confirmed on 6.4.1992 by the Federal Minister of the Interior in conversation with Berlin Senator Volker Hassemer and the Head of the Federal Chancellery. See Trautmann to Kroppenstedt, Submission, 16.4.1992, BArch B 106/161590.

[20] In this discussion Ignatz Bubis confirmed to Kohl that he would abandon his opposition to the redesign of the Neue Wache, if Kohl would agree to back the Rosh project. See Ignatz Bubis with Peter Sichrovsky, Damit bin ich noch längst nicht fertig: Die Autobiographie, Frankfurt a.M. 1996, 263.

[21] In his speech to the Bundestag on 14.5.1993, Kohl made numerous references to the fate of Germans as the victims of war and the years of National Socialist rule and he expressly located the memorial in the tradition of a self-centred process of remembrance in the Federal Republic since the end of the war. See Deutscher Bundestag, WP 12, Session 159 on 14 May 1993, 13447-51. See also Bill Niven, ‘Introduction: German Victimhood at the turn of the Millenium’ in Niven (ed.) Germans as Victims. Remembering the Past in Contemporary Germany, Basingstoke 2006, 1-25, here 6.

[22] Bitburg and the Israel visit were classic instances of Kohl’s new ‘unprejudiced’ view of recent German history. During his visit to Israel in 1994 he had claimed the ‘blessing of having been born too late’[to be complicit in National Socialism] as the proof of his (and Germany’s) innocence, while the following year in Bitburg, he swore transatlantic fraternity over the graves of soldiers of World War Two, who included members of the SS. For the Israel visit, see Helmut Dubiel, Niemand ist frei von der Geschichte. Die nationalsozialistische Herrschaft in den Debatten des deutschen Bundestages, Munich 1999, 200-206. On Bitburg, see Geoffrey Hartmann (ed.), Bitburg in Moral and Political Perspective, Bloomington 1986.

[23] Rosh’s lobbying of the World Jewish Congress probably contributed to the passing of a resolution in which the WJC called on Kohl to lend his support to the memorial project. See http://judentum-projekt.de/geschichte/nsverfolgung/holocaustmahnmal/index.html (25.7.2016)

[24] Patrick Bahners and Frank Schirrmacher, ‘“Ich stelle mich in eine Ecke, wo man gar nicht bemerkt wird.“ Wider den linken Kommunismus oder vom Segen der Diskretion: Christdemokratische Kulturpolitik zieht der glanzvollen Geste die sachliche Arbeit vor.‘ Interview with Helmut Kohl, in the FAZ 17.7.1998.  In that interview Kohl said, ’I go there quite often [to the Neue Wache]; I go there on my own and stand at the back in a corner where no one takes any notice. It is remarkable to see how composed and moved people are as they gaze at the “Mother with her Dead Son”. I have a great feeling of satisfaction.’ For Kohl the Neue Wache was a memorial that affected him very powerfully. The sculpture reminded him of his mother’s grief at the death of his brother Walter in the war.

[25] Deutscher Bundestag. 14th WP, Session 48 on 25 June 1999, 4089 and 4126-4129.

[26] See Robert G. Moeller, War Stories. The Search for a Usable Past in the Federal Republic of Germany, Berkeley/Los Angeles/London 2001.

[27] As many as eighteen documents have been identified in the records, including six submissions from the Central Council of Sinti and Roma to the Federal Government.

[28] Günter Freudenberg, ‘Die Redlichkeit muss es verbieten, Opfer von Opfer zu scheiden. Ein nationales Mahnmal für die ermordeten Juden sowie die Sinti und Roma?‘, in the Frankfurter Rundschau 11.4.1991.

[29] Bubis later complained in an interview with the FAZ that ‘the Senate…or the Federal Ministry of the Interior would like it best if I were to say: Yes, let’s do it this way. But that won’t work. I do not see myself in the role of chief arbitrator.’ Ignatz Bubis, ‘Millionen Namen sind nicht genug.’ Interview in the FAZ, 29.6.1995.

[30] Stukenberg to the Head of the Federal Chancellery, 18.4.1989, BArch B 136/101700. All emphases in the original.

[31] Pfeifer to Rose, 11.4.1991, BArch B 136/101700.

[32] Boos, Memorandum, 24.3.1992, BArch B, 106/161590.

[33] Trautmann to Kroppenstedt, Submission 16.4.1992, BArch B 106/161590. Where the Support Group always spoke of ‘crimes’ or ‘genocide’, the Federal Government always used the term ‘Unrecht’, i.e. ‘wrong’ or ‘injustice’, which was the term Adenauer had also used. On the first draft of the reparations agreement with Israel, Adenauer commented that ‘the word “crime” should be replaced by “wrong”’. The word ‘crime’ was said to be ‘highly embarrassing’ [peinlich]. Adenauer to Blankenhorn 24.8.52, in Konrad Adenauer, Briefe. 1951-1953,edited by Hans Peter Mensing, Berlin 1987, 270.

[34] Rosh to Kroppenstedt, 29.5.1992, BArch B 106/161590.

[35] See Departmental Head K to the Minister, ‘Discussion proposal’, 22.5.1992, BArch B 106/161590. The idea of building a memorial for the Sinti and Roma on the Hohe Asperg also came originally from representatives of the Support Group. See Eberhard Jäckel, ‘Das Kernstück’, in Der Tagesspiegel of 8.3.1991.

[36] Pfeifer, ‘Memorandum for the Federal Chancellor, 18.1.1994, BArch B 136/100701.

[37] Kohl’s belief that as chancellor it was his privilege to set policy on matters of history has been confirmed by his ministers Rudolf Seiters (Interior) and Oscar Schneider (Housing). In a manner that is not unknown in cases where German public servants are wont to shuffle off responsibility, Rudolf Seiters responded to a question in an interview with the words: ‘…I can’t recollect the details. You will be aware, however, that the redesign of the Neue Wache had its roots in a personal initiative of Helmut Kohl.’ Letter from Seiters to Volker Wild of 24.7.2013. Schneider emphasized that no discussions took place in cabinet about the redesign of the Neue Wache. Interview with the present authors on 29.1.2014. It should be observed, however, that a note of a cabinet decision dated 29.1.1993 does exist, evidently a pro-forma decision so as to enable the authorization of the necessary funds.

[38] The seminars are documented in Heimrod, Der Denkmalstreit – das Denkmal? 603-737. On the resignation of the critics, see 682.

[39] Koselleck to Kohl, 21.3.1997, BArch B 403/1178.  Koselleck had earlier written to Kohl in connection with the Neue Wache, evidently expressing trenchant criticism of Kohl’s memorial plans. Kohl did not reply. In an interview Koselleck said, ‘Furthermore, I personally think it was rotten of Kohl not to have replied to my letter. After all, I had known him from our university days in Heidelberg.’ Andrea Seibel/Siegfried Weichlein, Interview with  Reinhard Koselleck, ‘Mies, medioker und provinziell, in Thomas E. Schmidt/Hans-Ernst Mittig/ Vera Böhm et al, (eds), Nationaler Totenkult. Die Neue Wache. Eine Streitschrift zur zentralen deutschen Gedenkstätte, Berlin 1995, 107-110, here 110.

[40] Reinhard Koselleck, ’Die falsche Ungeduld. Wer darf vergessen werden? Das Holocaust-Mahnmal hierarchisiert die Opfer‘, in  Die Zeit on 19.3.1998. Koselleck pointed to the muddled thinking about memorials underlying the ensemble of the Neue Wache and the Holocaust Memorial and listed the alternative solutions: ’Either all the dead are victims, as is stated in the National Memorial. Or else, only the groups singled out by the Nazis are victims, groups such as innocent civilians or defenceless prisoners. Or else, further distinctions need to be made within these groups.’ Reinhard Koselleck, ‘Vier Minuten für die Ewigkeit. Das Totenreich vermessen – Fünf Fragen an das Holocaust-Denkmal’, in the FAZ on 9.1.1997.

[41] Kohl wanted to test the reaction of foreign visitors to the sculpture. Interview of the authors with Christoph Stölzl in Weimar on 7.10.2013. Stöltzl claims that he was appointed to the post of ‘official in charge of the redesign of the Central Monument to the Victims of War and Dictatorship’.

[42] Interview of the authors with Oskar Schneider, the former Minister of Housing on 29.1.2014. Schneider left the Cabinet in April 1989 and was given the task by Kohl of ‘managing the entire cultural side of his ministry.’ Cf. the Broadcast on Bavarian Radio on 4.6.2007.

[43] See the Senatsverwaltung für Bau- und Wohnungswesen, Künstlerischer Wettbewerb, Gedenkstätte für die ermordeten Juden Europas, As of November 1993, BArch B 136/101701.

[44] Laitenberger to the Federal Chancellor (over Mertes’signature), 26.5.1995, BArch B 136/101700. Emphases in the original. At the last minute, just before the consecration of the Neue Wache, Kohl had a bronze plaque installed in the outer courtyard with a list of all the victim groups to be commemorated, so as to counter the criticism that the Neue Wache was essentially a war memorial. See on this point, Moller, Die Entkonkretisierung der NS-Herrschaft in der Åra Kohl, 55-58.

[45] On the view of history in the Neue Wache, see Volker Wild/Jan Ferdinand, ‘20 Jahre Bundesdenkmalpolitik zum Nationalsozialismus. Von der Neuen Wache bis zum Gedenk- und Informationsort der nationalsozialistischen “Euthanasie”-Morde‘, in ZfG 62 (2014), 881-900, here 885.

[46] On this issue,  see Barbara Wolbring, ‘Nationales Stigma und persönliche Schuld in der Nachkriegszeit’, in Historische Zeitschrift 289 (2009) 2, 325-364. Wolbring writes: ’In the eyes of the world these were not the crimes of a small clique of National Socialists but the crimes of Germans, committed by the German army, acting in the name of Germany.’ Ibid., 338.

[47] ‘At issue is an opprobrium that is founded on the opinion of others.’ Ibid., 342.

[48] The specific nature of Kohl’s dealings with the difficulties of German history becomes clearer if they are compared with the famous speech given by Richard von Weizsäcker on 8 May 1985. That speech was redolent of the good old Protestant appeal to one’s own conscience. ‘Every person should…privately ask himself…’. Richard von Weizsäcker, ‘Ansprache in der Gedenkstunde im Plenarsaal des deutschen Bundestages am 8. Mai 1985‘, in Presse-und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung (ed), Erinnerung, Trauer und Versöhnung. Ansprachen und Erklärungen zum vierzigsten Jahrestag des Kriegsendes, Bonn 1985. It would never have occurred to Weizsäcker to go peddling his innocence around abroad.

[49] We have no more than a single entry dated January 1998 in the Visitors Book of the exhibition of the shortlisted designs for the memorial. Kohl wrote there: ‘My wish for us is that the discussions and other efforts will lead to a good decision. A decision that future generations will also understand and that will ensure that the dreadful suffering caused by the murder of millions of Jews will never be forgotten.’ Heimrod, Der Denkmalstreit – das Denkmal?, 970. At the end of his term of office, on 17.9.1998, he gave an interview to the FAZ.

[50] The belief that the past was now past was also the message of the second Amnesty Law of 1954 in which an amnesty was granted for the majority of the Nazi crimes that had not been amnestied previously. See Norbert Frei, Vergangenheitspolitik. Die Anfänge der Bundesrepublik und die NS-Vergangenheit, Munich 2012 (1996), 100-131.

[51] See Nikolaus Wachsmann, KL. Die Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager, Munich 2016, 709.

[52] At a dinner in Israel, in the home of Levi Eshkol, the Israeli Prime Minister, on 3.5.1966, Adenauer said, ‘We have done everything possible to overcome…this period of atrocities that cannot be undone. But we should now let past events belong to the past.’ Adenauer, Die letzten Lebensjahre, 1963-1967. Briefe und Aufzeichnungen. Gespräche, Interviews und Reden. Vol. 2, September 1965-April 1967,  ed. Hans Peter Mensing, Paderborn et al., 2009, 223.

[53] The equation of Jewish and German victims was given expression by Adenauer on the same occasion: ‘The National Socialists killed as many Germans as Jews’., Ibid.

[54] This was first pointed out by Stefanie Endlich, the specialist in art history and memorials. See her ‘Zurück in die Fünfziger? Die Neue Wache – ein alter Hut! in Schmidt/Mittig/Böhm, Nationaler Totenkult, 11-24.