Coping With The Nazi Past – West German Debates on Nazism and General Conflict 1955-1975

Coping With The Nazi Past –

West German Debates on Nazism and Generational Conflict, 1955-1975

By Philipp Gassert & Alan E. Steinweis

Berghahn Books – £19.95

It’s been over twenty years since the Wall came down, but still the deliberation continues. Just recently on the BBC World Service, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was discussing the merit(s), pros and cons of German reunification. Those over the age of fifty she said, almost hanker for a return to the former East Germany – particularly in relation to employment and the equality of wages. While those of younger generations, feel more inclined to fully embrace the opportunity of free speech and potentially rampant capitalism – along with everything that that entails.

By delving into the crucial yet murky waters of post-War Germany, Coping With The Nazi Past – West German Debates on Nazism and Generational Conflict, 1955-1975 goes a considerable step more forward than mere debate.

These eighteen politically provocative essays – which range from ‘Explanation, Dissociation, Apologia: The Debate over the Criminal Prosecution of Nazi Crimes in the 1960s,’ ‘The Modernization of West German Police: Between the Nazi Past and the Weimar Tradition,’ ‘New Leftists and West Germany: Fascism, Violence, and the Public Sphere, 1967 – 1974,’ ‘Conservative Intellectuals and the Debate over National Socialism and the Holocaust in the 1960s’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger: Youth, Pop Culture, and the Nazi Past’ – put testimony to the fact, that the aforesaid years were indeed filled with acute angst and dislocation. The latter essay especially, in which Detlef Siegfried writes: ‘’Because older Germans unquestionably bore responsibility for the two world wars and the Holocaust, the conflict between generations seemed to be more important in West Germany than in other countries. West Germans born during the Third Reich’s final years or in the immediate postwar years dissociated themselves from their elders’ generations. Whereas some welcomed this as a clean break with the unpleasant past, others saw it as a presumption or an undeserved benefit, or even as an inverted continuation of their parents’ attachment to the past.’’

These three possible outcomes, as a direct and immediate result of generational conflict, are in themselves, surely enough to stir an array of dour and potentially volatile rumblings from all sides of ones’ considered/vexed standpoint. And were one to include the feelings of Russians, Americans and Israelis, said rumblings would no doubt be louder still.

That Coping with the Nazi Past – West German Debates on Nazism and Generational Conflict, 1955-1975 actually includes an essay by Carole Fink called ‘Turning Away From The Past: West Germany and Israel, 1965-1967,’ makes for not only loud deliberation, but alluring reading.

Editors Philipp Gassert and Alan E. Steinweis have herein compiled an immensely rich analysis of a particular important period of post-war Germany. The literary outcome and implications of which, resonate with just as much clarity of exasperation today, as they no doubt did during the nineteen fifties, sixties and early seventies.

Like most things in life, everyone has an opinion; and there’s nothing quite like such contentious issues as German unification, generational conflict and Germany’s acceptance (or non acceptance) of its Nazi past, that are nigh guaranteed to set tongues wagging, fingers pointing and debates continuing into the wee early hours of many a morning.

This book is said morning’s tempestuous template.

David Marx


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