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Broken glass, twisted beams, piles of debris—these are the early memories of the children who grew up amidst the ruins of the Third Reich. More than five decades later, German youth inhabit manicured suburbs and stroll along prosperous pedestrian malls. Shattered Past is a bold reconsideration of the perplexing pattern of Germany's twentieth-century history. Konrad Jarausch and Michael Geyer explore the staggering gap between the country's role in the terrors of war and its subsequent success as a democracy. They argue that the collapse of Communism, national reunification, and the postmodern shift call for a new reading of the country's turbulent development, one that no longer suggests continuity but rupture and conflict.
Comprising original essays, the book begins by reexamining the nationalist, socialist, and liberal master narratives that have dominated the presentation of German history but are now losing their hold. Treated next are major issues of recent debate that suggest how new kinds of German history might be written: annihilationist warfare, complicity with dictatorship, the taming of power, the impact of migration, the struggle over national identity, redefinitions of womanhood, and the development of consumption as well as popular culture. The concluding chapters reflect on the country's gradual transition from chaos to civility. This penetrating study will spark a fresh debate about the meaning of the German past during the last century.
There is no single master narrative, no Weltgeist, to be discovered. But there is a fascinating story to be told in many different ways.
"A compelling, challenging analysis."—Choice
"Shattered Past is the most important book in German history to appear in recent years. . . . [It] will surely provoke discussion and debate for many years to come."—Eric D. Weitz, Slavic Review
The electoral defeat of Communist rule in Poland (1989), the unification of the two Germanys (1990), the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991), and the civil war in Yugoslavia (1992/95) have pushed Europe into a new age. These events had their origins in the particular circumstances of eastern Europe, but they affected the entire continent and reflected a general European condition. They may not have been quite the revolutions that they were meant to be, but they were moments of transition-rites of passage with all the carnivals and risks that accompany them. As far as Europe is concerned, the twentieth century has thereby become history.
In the most immediate sense, these four events have brought to an end a long postwar truce that had provided a semblance of order after a devastating period of war-stability by default, put into place in the wake of the unconditional surrender of a twice-defeated Germany. This provisional armistice incrementally grew amidst recriminations and an arms race that pitted two hostile intercontinental blocks against each other and cut the continent in half. The Cold War could hardly be called "peace," but it was akind of stability that had eluded Europe since the turn of the last century. Also, this period of uneasy deterrence shared with both the early years of the century and the restoration of order in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, an unequal, but altogether dizzying spread of industry and prosperity and an efflorescence of civil life. The postwar history was both expression and consequence of Europe's tumultuous modernity.
Thus, the turn of 1989/92 may well be said to have completed a long cycle of one hundred or even two hundred years. But Europe is no longer what it once was, since the notion of a "catch-up revolution" for Eastern Europe is as deceptive as it is deficient. The nineteenth century is long gone, notwithstanding its bourgeois attractions, which historians in Europe and the United States had come to portray ever more lovingly. No amount of enlightening ardor can skip a century or even half a century as if it were an interregnum, a fact to which eastern Europeans will attest after initial hopes to the contrary. Although imagining the revolutions of 1989/90 as a "springtime of people" made sense, it was but a metaphor, perhaps even hyperbole. This was neither 1848 nor 1918. It was 1990.
More importantly, the res gestae of the twentieth century have left their indelible traces. As the twentieth century recedes, it cannot be repeated, not even with the intent of getting it right a second time. To be sure, the artifacts and ideas of this century can be reproduced, lived in, and put on display, but they are ornaments of a different age-bitter-sweet memories, perhaps, of how good the twentieth century was or could have been. Yet the continent and its people have been transformed, not only by the revolutions at the end of the century, but also by the very regimes against which these upheavals were directed. National Socialism and Fascism have been defeated. Bolshevism has collapsed. While the consequences of their deeds and of the utopias that have informed them remain deeply imbricated in what Europe has become, Europe is moving on. The past, we rediscover, as did the historians in the aftermath of the French Revolution, cannot be recaptured, let alone be reenacted. It can only be written down as history. That is, it can be rethought and retold in a critical assessment of where Europe has come from in order to ascertain where it might go.
Such a stock-taking is all the more important since the pieces are not falling neatly into place. Instead of establishing a "new world order," the 1990s have exhibited, if anything, a distressing kind of chaos, for instance, in the ethnic cleansing of the Balkans. Saddled with a highly ambivalent legacy, Europe is once again confronted with the task that it had failed to accomplish the first time: to constitute from within and on its own an order that provides security and a modicum of well being for all; to establish relations with the rest of the world based on tolerance and exchange rather than a presumption of superiority. The events of 1989/92 have left Europe in an awkward position because they have undone the postwar order without replacing it with a discernable design. The challenge is immense in view of the past. Under changed and changing circumstances Europe is reconstituting itself from the effects of a shattered past that outlasted the removal of physical ruins by several decades. For better or worse, Europeans are poised to give themselves a new constitution-not necessarily as a single document, but as a set of arrangements that give shape and meaning to their manifold interactions.
Ironically, the very old and the very new meet in this condition. In 1795 Immanuel Kant had used the satirical inscription "To Eternal Peace" to wager that peace would come to Europe (and he thought of Europe as a universal condition) if constitutional government ruled supreme. He feared ridicule and, worse, persecution if this prediction were not taken as a "sweet dream," or so he said. Two hundred years later Europe must decide whether to follow his vision. The debates over the future of Europe, the disenchantment over technocratic integration (Maastricht), and the quandaries of including eastern Europe are indications of the obstacles that lie ahead. Kant was well aware of the difficulties of practical politics. He insisted that peace is not a natural state, a status naturalis, but rather is to be constituted; stiften, to build foundations, is the venerable German term he used. But he also maintained that "eternal peace" is not an "empty idea." Even if always only approximated, a semblance of it might be made to work.
The success of creating a peaceful order depends on the ability to "think" Europe, and, given the continent's contentious development, this means to rethink and retell what it has become. This is what the phrase "the past is being constructed" as history means-not as a brazen act of invention, but as a deliberate venture to capture on the basis of the evidence what only a short while ago was an unselfconscious event and its effects in the flow of present time. In this wider reconsideration, German developments occupy a central place, not only because of their geographical location, but also because of their powerful effects on the entire continent.
The Shattering of the German Past
The caesura of 1989/92 reveals how profoundly academic history and popular memory have been shaped by the effects of two disastrous wars that many Germans so desperately tried to leave behind. This tug-of-war between the impulses to forget and to remember, the popular memoirs and the academic analyses of the past, continues into the present. Although a "western" liberalism and an "eastern" socialism put themselves forth as alternatives, much recollection remained centered on German traditions of thought that were not easily shaken off, even if they had evidently been tarnished by the Third Reich. This past has now begun to recede, but the events of 1989/90 offer no escape, no guarantee that we do any better with history and memory. Rather it seems that unification might serve as an invitation to do worse-or nothing at all. Proclamations of an "end of history" are not just premature, they are wrong-headed. Germany may be a "normal" country again, as the political mantra goes, but its twentieth-century history is not. The twentieth-century German past can be transformed into history, but it cannot be "normalized."
A judicious approach to the vicissitudes of the twentieth century entails, as a first step, an inquiry into the message of those overarching narratives of the past that suggest a pattern of historical development for the public as well as the scholar. This is not exactly what French intellectuals had in mind when they coined the notion of "master narratives;" they thought quite literally of the tales of colonial masters that silenced the stories of their slaves. But as the concept has assumed a metaphorical meaning, referring to any large-scale interpretative account, it might be useful in the German context to think of them in this way. Historiographic self-questioning is inevitable because the various German masters of the twentieth century-such as nationalists, Marxists, and liberals-have developed profoundly different ways of telling the story of German past, selecting alternative incidents, emphasizing distinctive patterns of development, and drawing contrasting conclusions from them. Moreover, popular memory, or, in fact, memories, had their own dictates and did not necessarily follow those of their masters, as the East German case shows quite clearly. Much like the German past itself, the representation of this past in historiography and memory is fractured.
Until 1945 the dominant version of presenting German development was the national master narrative, which sought to legitimize the existence of the nation state. Created by liberal leaders of the drive to unification, such as Heinrich von Treitschke, it was appropriated by advocates of imperialism during the Wilhelmian era, modified by defenders of a defeated nationality after Versailles, and pushed beyond recognition by Nazi zealots of racial hegemony over Europe. Because of its undeniable complicity in the genocidal war and Holocaust, this nationalist story-line lost much of its intellectual credibility as well as its moral authority with the second defeat. In the West, such neo-conservative scholars as Gerhard Ritter sought to rescue the chastened remnants of this legacy by purging it of its militarist and authoritarian excesses. They argued that Prussian and national traditions had been debased by a populist nationalism and a plebiscitary politics unknown to conservatism and bourgeois patriotism alike-a claim theoretically amplified in the notion of a "totalitarian democracy." Some echoes of this kind of thinking can be found in the apologetic writings of an Ernst Nolte or in the neo-liberal work of Francois Furet. What unites the range of these conservative perspectives is their deep suspicion of a mass-democratic age, which they associate with tyranny and violence-and the end of German and, for that matter, European ascendancy.
In the East, humanist antifascist scholars, as well as Communist historians, tried to substitute a Marxist counter-narrative focused not on the state but on the working class. This critique attacked nationalist rationalizations and pointed to the material bases of historical development to justify the building of a better Germany. Yet after an impressive intermezzo of discordant voices that reflected older left-liberal and Marxist traditions, a heavy-handed Stalinism put down these promising departures and, despite various thaws, never released East German historians from its grip. In its denunciation of pluralism, this official Marxism appeared authoritarian and anti-Western, paradoxically even resurrecting the anti-Socialist Bismarck as a Prussian culture-hero. Even if younger GDR scholars broke the Stalinist mold, their writings remained part of an authoritarian "ruling discourse" that propped up the SED-dictatorship and thereby largely squandered the emancipatory and radical-democratic potential inherent in the Marxist tradition. In spite of some attention by intellectuals abroad, the Marxist counter-narrative had only a limited impact beyond East Germany.
Beginning in the 1960s, a younger generation of West German historians revived the progressive-liberal tradition anchored in the Weimar Republic. They took up a liberal critique of nationalism and Marxism, preserved and passed on by German emigres, that set German authoritarianism and aggression against the promise of liberty and prosperity. This analysis suggested as the main cause for the descent into repression and murder the fierce opposition against the democratic project by an illiberal Prussian elite that fought hard to hang on to its pre-modern privileges and defended its antidemocratic, authoritarian habits and mentalities at all costs. In particular, Fritz Fischer's taboo-breaking study of the war aims movement, which asserted German responsibility for the outbreak of World War I, prompted a wholesale reassessment of the course of German history. Partisans of a new and more social-scientific approach to history, Gesellschaftsgeschichte, argued that the inadvertent rise of democratic forces, a reflection of the ascent of society over the state, was blocked by the authoritarian structures of the state and conservative forces, producing "structural" tensions that led from smaller catastrophes to bigger ones-from the threat of civil war to world war and on to genocide. Politically, this approach promoted the westernization of Germany, the cause of social reform, and eventually an Ostpolitik of detente toward the eastern bloc. Intellectually, it amounted to a vindication of a functional and rational technocratic modernity.
The communist and progressive strands of German historiography were anchored in competing Marxist or Weberian modernization narratives, respectively. By focusing on the formation of the working class or the emergence of the Burgertum, twentieth-century Germany became the site for the battles and unfulfilled promises of the preceding centuries. They disagreed on the nature of the Third Reich, portraying it either as hypertrophy of corporate capitalism or as departure from western paths toward democracy, but otherwise left the study of a deviant, contemporary history to specialists whose main charge was to discover exactly what happened. Only when a then-youngish group of British historians challenged the entire notion of a German Sonderweg-they found nothing peculiarly German about the defense of class privilege and disliked the normative limitations of using Anglo-American benchmarks of modernity-this began to change. Committed to a democratic history from below, their challenge triggered an avalanche of studies on such previously marginal subjects as women and minorities. But their critique solved none of the problems of catastrophe and recovery, thereby extending the scope of, but not really replacing the framing of earlier master narratives.
Largely irrespective of academic debates, the historical consciousness of the population followed a different trajectory that revolved around an embattled politics of memory. Initially, the public harbored rather positive images of the Third Reich as a time of order and prosperity, superior to the turn of the century because of the modern and popular nature of the regime. The war, particularly the attack against the Soviet Union, and the persecution of the Jews were considered a "mistake," an unfortunate and disastrous flaw of the regime. Instead of speaking of Nazi crimes, Germans preferred to dwell on their own suffering at the front and during bombardment at home, and on their expulsion from the eastern parts of the Reich. These experiences fed a widespread sentiment that saw ordinary people as a victim of politics, betrayed by outside forces beyond their control. Many people blamed Hitler and the Nazis for leading the nation into a war that they could not possibly win, or the Allied decision to fight to unconditional surrender, rendering pointless the heroism of common men and women. This appeal to overwhelming calamity initially proved to be impervious to any kind of consciousness-raising, let alone scholarly argument.
It took until the 1960s for this numbness to give way to a searching encounter with the causes and consequences of the Nazi regime. The establishment of a central prosecutor's office in Ludwigsburg, the media coverage of the Eichmann indictment in Jerusalem as well as the Auschwitz and other trials in Germany, and the debate about extending the deadline for persecutions in the Bundestag, insistently raised the question of legal responsibility. A group of exceptionally talented writers-Heinrich Boll, Gunter Grass, Rolf Hochhut, and Peter Weiss, among them-not only portrayed the sufferings of the World War but also asked probing questions about the role of the ordinary Germans in supporting Hitler's crimes. The East German government continued to release "brown books" with damning material on such leading West German politicians as Chancellor Kurt-Georg Kiesinger, and a restive younger generation was ready to accuse parental authority as fascist. Finally, a growing number of television documentaries and a series of impressive films dramatized complicity and made ordinary Germans visible as both perpetrators and victims reminding Germans of their own presence in what was universally called "the past," thereby initiating a more critical turn in memory culture.
Excerpted from Shattered Past by Konrad H. Jarausch Michael Geyer Copyright © 2002 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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INTORDUCTION: Twentieth-Century Germany: Rethinking a Shattered Past 1
PART I: THE ECLIPSE OF THE MASTER NARRATIVES
1. A Return to National History? The Master Narrative and Beyond 37
2. The Collapse of the Counternarrative: Coping with the Remains of Socialism 61
3. Modernization, German Exceptionalism, and Post-Modernity: Transcending the Critical History of Society 85
PART II: RECONSTITUTING GERMAN HISTORIES
4. War, Genocide, Extermination: The War against the Jews in an Era of World Wars 111
5. The Totalitarian Temptation: Ordinary Germans, Dictatorship, and Democracy 149
6. From Empire to Europe: The Taming of German Power 173
7. Unsettling German Society: Mobility and Migration 197
8. A Struggle for Unity: Redefining National Identities 221
9. Defining Womanhood: The Politics of the Private 245
10. In Pursuit of Happiness: Consumption, Mass Culture, and Consumerism 269
PART III: LOOKING BACK AT THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
11. Survival in Catastrophe: Mending Broken Memories 317
12. The Century as History: Between Cataclysm and Civility 342