Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Legacies of Stalingrad: Remembering the Eastern Front in Germany since 1945 by Christina Morina

I had high hopes for this book, but unfortunately the title is somewhat misleading.  While 'Stalingrad' plays a role throughout the book, there is little to no analysis of the battle itself or its varied interpretations in the post-war period.  Rather, as happens so often in academia today, the war itself is used as a tool through which memory is studied and analyzed throughout the post-war period in both East and West Germany.  The concentration, unoriginal as it might seem, is once more on the Wehrmacht and the crimes it committed.

If there is anything 'original' in the content it is the contextualization of the politics that revolved around the memories of the Eastern Front and the German invasion of the Soviet Union.  Similar to the history of the Holocaust, which in the decades following the war was infantile compared to the studies we have today, the history of the Eastern Front in Germany (both east and west) was limited and mainly written by generals putting their memories to paper and the memories of Germans themselves from the latter period of the war when Germans could claim 'victimhood' at the hands of the western allies and the Red Army.  The Wehrmacht's hands remained clean since in the east the majority of the Wehrmacht was viewed as working class (only those remaining in POW camps in the Soviet Union, after the major amnesty in the beginning of the 1950s, were viewed and charged as criminals - some 23,000) and thus simply a tool of Hitler and his Nazi regime.  While in the west the concentration was soon on the Soviet Union and the crimes of the Red Army.

Thus, surprisingly, it was not until the 1980s when real attention began to be paid to the casualties and destruction inflicted on the Soviet Union by the Wehrmacht (Leningrad, Stalingrad, etc.) and only in the 1990s, with the Wehrmacht exhibit, did Germany come face-to-face with the activities of her armed forces during the Second World War.  (The lack of knowledge about the former, in part, can be blamed on the Soviet Union itself since during Stalin's leadership the real cost of the war was kept hidden and it wasn't until decades later that the world heard the number 27 million in reference to military and civilian deaths.)  These are the topics that make up the majority of this study.  Unfortunately, too often it seems that the war itself, and Stalingrad in particular, are far in the background and there is little to no original research or analysis of literature dealing with the war itself (aside from a few pages on the memoirs written by the likes of Manstein, Halder, Guderian, etc.).  For hobbyists and those interested in the war itself, I'm afraid you'll find little of interest here.  This monograph is built on a foundation of memory studies and utilizes the memory of the Eastern Front in general to view and analyze post-war Germany and her politics.

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