Germany, Poland and Postmemorial Relations – In Search Of A Liveable Past

Germany, Poland and Postmemorial Relations

Germany, Poland and Postmemorial Relations –
In Search Of A Liveable Past
Edited by Kristin Kopp and Joanna Nizynska
Palgrave Macmillan – £61.00

To this day, the legacy of the Second World War looms large over Polish-German relations. So much so, that perhaps the memory and the damage done, will never truly be eradicated. While some may well ask how can it be? Others will undoubtedly contend that it truly has to be.

But it’s tough generational call, especially from that of the Polish perspective.
Yet, as time invariably waits for no one, it is still, supposedly, a great healer. And herein lies the essential, varied premises, from which this very stimulating collection of essays has been written.

Having always been a very complicated geographical labyrinth of dense discord (at the best of times), the two editors Kristin Kopp and Joanna Nizynska, have, in Germany, Poland and Postmemorial Relations – In Search of a Liveable Past, endeavoured to shine something of a post-modernist light on historically fractured relations between the two countries. In so doing, they have – academically at least – paved the way towards a more soluble, sustaining, and hopefully understanding future.

Early on in the book’s Introduction: Between Entitlement and Reconciliation: Germany and Poland’s Postmemory after 1989, they collectively write: ‘’This volume charts the course of new developments over the past two decades; in its tripartite structure, it outlines three spheres of social life – the trajectory of bilateral German-Polish politics; the shifts in the national grand narrative(s); and the changing dynamics in the approach to shared territories (both in terms of Polish territories that were previously German and of such memory-laden places as the Nazi concentration camp in Oswiecim/Auschwitz). From the decrees of the court in Strasbourg to the vagaries of contemporary tourism and from literary provocations to historiographical scandal, our contributors observe the political, cultural, and social capital of collective memories and how social pressures alter, for better or worse, the presence of the past in contemporary German and Polish relations.’’

Divided into three sections (Part I – The Politics of Postmemory, Part II – The Grand Narratives of Postmemory, Part III – The Space of Postmemory), these twelve analytical essays steer away from a relative norm of the ‘’culture of entitlement’’ and veer more towards a ‘’culture of reconciliation.’’

As hinted at above, the latter is at best, a far more recent phenomenon; and I use the term ‘at best,’ because whenever the two nations meet within any form of pronounced competitiveness, such as football for instance, the two histories are miraculously entwined at the very vanguard of each and every the game. Admittedly, the same could be said for many international football matches involving Germany (Germany and The Netherlands in particular), but one need only recall the nasty scenes on the streets of Warsaw last year, when Poland played Russia early on in the European Football Championship.

It is (perhaps) for this reason alone, and there really are countless others, that accounts for this book’s very readable, regal validity. This is more than substantiated by William Hagen, Professor of History at the University of California, who, in relation to Germany, Poland and Postmemorial Relations, writes: ‘’This collection represents a major contribution to our understanding of perhaps the most complex relationship in modern European history. This compelling analysis of the post-1989 Polish and German ‘memory’ of an often dark past is insightful, provocative, and unsettling, yet manages to leave the reader in an optimistic mood by explaining how these old neighbours can mend and are mending their fence.’’

Like the altogether superb Wir sind nur noch wenige – Erinnerungen aus einem Schtetl (Europaischer Verein fur Ost-West Annaherung) by the Polish authoress Wioletta Weiss, this collection of profoundly well researched writings, sets many a record straight in more (positive) ways than one might imagine; as Stefan Guth makes clear in his essay, ‘History by Decree? The Commission of Historians of the German Democratic Republic and the People’s Republic of Poland – 1956-1990: ‘’As one might expect, the history of German-Polish relations was overwhelmingly recounted in terms of tragedy in the immediate aftermath of World War II. But a decade later, official historiography in both the German Democratic Republic and the People’s Republic of Poland had already turned it into a story of success – a romance, if one will – describing German-Polish history as a path from nationalist confrontation to Socialist friendship between nations’’ (my italics).

One of the most thought provoking books I’ve read in a long time.

David Marx


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