Friday, May 10, 2013

The Politics of Memory in Postwar Europe by Richard Ned Lebow, Wulf Kansteiner, and Claudio Fogu

The overall thread running through all the chapters in this book is that the memory of the Second World War is continually contested territory that up to the present is still being interpreted and reinterpreted depending on the politician, historian, or institute in question. One issue that is continually brought up is the lag that studies on the Second World War, and simultaneously Holocaust studies, experienced in the immediate postwar period. While studies of WWII and the Holocaust are part of the mainstream today, and in some ways have over-saturated the market, the immediate postwar period saw a dearth of any discussion or analysis about what Europe had just gone through. The reasons differed from country to country, but in many ways all European states are still feeling this omission. West Germans treated themselves as victims of the allies, Nazis, and Hitler. Poland saw itself as the first victim and most heroic for being the first to stand up to Hitler (and Stalin) and for resisting Germany the longest. France continually had to walk a fine line between her collaborationist past and her history of resistance. The Soviet Union omitted any real research or studies on the war as long as Stalin was alive and only began to recall her role in the war with Khrushchev and Brezhnev.

The authors regularly take the reader through the postwar histories of their respectively studied nations and address not only what historians might have been producing but also the field of literature and television/theater. At times it took the initiative of an artist (writer, poet, etc.) to prod his peers and politicians into asking the right questions and begin to offer meaningful analysis for issues few wanted to deal with or address. The more interesting chapters deal with Austria, The Federal Republic of Germany, and to a lesser extent France and Poland. The chapter on the Soviet Union was, unfortunately, a waste of paper and time. It was one of the weakest and added nothing original or worthwhile to the discussion(s) offered by the other chapters or the introduction. Overall, recommended for those who are interested in how the memory of the war has transformed in various European states from the immediate postwar period through the past few decades.

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