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Memory policy as image policy. The Kohl government and the ‘Holocaust Memorial

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Icon_52_Rand_orangeThis study explores the question of why the Federal Government under Helmut Kohl supported the project of a national memorial for the murdered Jews, even though with the Neue Wache it was at the same time busy updating the tradition of commemorating German victims and the victims of German crimes without distinguishing between them. Did the Federal Chancellor’s decision conceal a sudden underlying change in strategy or was it rather a change of attitude?

The study is based on the evaluation of declassified documents from the Office of the Federal Chancellor and the Federal Ministry of the Interior covering the period 1988 – 1995, when the Federal Government, the Berlin Senate and the group of private sponsors around Lea Rosh established the key parameters for a memorial to the Jewish victims. Because access to the archives had previously been denied, the initial phase of the projects had for the most part gone unresearched.

Our study has concluded that in its search for a usable past the Federal Government pursued a twin-track strategy.  By redeveloping the Neue Wache, it sought to accommodate the historical views of its nationalist and conservative clientele and in so doing it regressed to a position characteristic of the 1950s. On the other hand, with the construction of the ‘Holocaust Memorial’, the government yielded to the pressure of the powerful lobby, not least its American wing, in favour of supporting the Rosh project, with the clear intention of impressing opinion abroad. Thus for Kohl, and this is the finding of our study, memory policy was image policy. His support of the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe was less a correction than a concession.


Publication (in German): Volker Wild and Jan Ferdinand: Gedenkpolitik als Imagepolitik. Die Kohl-Regierung und das „Holocaust-Denkmal“, in: Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft, 64 (2016) 11, S. 968-982. An English version can be found here.