Beyond Berlin: Twelve German Cities Confront the Nazi Past

Beyond Berlin: Twelve German Cities Confront the Nazi Past


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Beyond Berlin: Twelve German Cities Confront the Nazi Past by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Beyond Berlin breaks new ground in the ongoing effort to understand how memorials, buildings, and other spaces have figured in the larger German struggle to come to terms with the legacy of Nazism. The contributors challenge reigning views of how the task of "coming to terms with the Nazi Past" (Vergangenheitsbewältigung) has been pursued at specific urban and architectural sites. Focusing on west as well as east German cities—whether prominent metropolises like Hamburg, dynamic regional centers like Dresden, gritty industrial cities like Wolfsburg, or idyllic rural towns like Quedlinburg—the volume's case studies of individual urban centers provide readers with a more complex sense of the manifold ways in which the confrontation with the Nazi past has directly shaped the evolving form of the German urban landscape since the end of the Second World War. In these multidisciplinary discussions of important intersections with historical, art historical, anthropological, and geographical concerns, this collection deepens our understanding of the diverse ways in which the memory of National Socialism has profoundly influenced postwar German culture and society.

Scholars and students interested in National Socialism, modern Germany, memory studies, urban studies and planning, geography, industrial design, and art and architectural history will find the volume compelling. Beyond Berlin will appeal to general audiences knowledgeable about the Nazi past as well as those interested in historic preservation, memorials, and the overall dynamics of commemoration.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780472036318
Publisher: University of Michigan Press
Publication date: 03/28/2015
Series: Social History, Popular Culture, and Politics in Germany Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 332
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Gavriel D. Rosenfeld is Associate Professor of History at Fairfield University and author of The World Hitler Never Made: Alternate History and the Memory of Nazism and Munich and Memory: Architecture, Monuments, and the Legacy of the Third Reich. Visit Gavriel D. Rosenfeld's website.

Paul B. Jaskot is Associate Professor of Modern Art and Architectural History at DePaul University and author of The Architecture of Oppression: The SS, Forced Labor and the Nazi Monumental Building Economy.

Read an Excerpt

Beyond Berlin

Twelve German Cities Confront the Nazi Past

The University of Michigan Press

Copyright © 2008 University of Michigan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-472-11611-9

Chapter One

The Politics of New Beginnings The Continued Exclusion of the Nazi Past in Dresden's Cityscape Susanne Vees-Gulani

Victor Klemperer was one of just a few dozen Jews left in Dresden when the city was heavily bombed on February 13 and 14, 1945. The ensuing firestorm, which destroyed fifteen square kilometers of the inner city, including such well-known sites as the Zwinger (with its art galleries), the Frauenkirche, the castle, the opera building, and the art academy, ironically saved his life. By removing the star from his clothes and blending in with other refugees, he escaped from pending deportation. Nevertheless, Klemperer mourned the destruction of Dresden as a "catastrophe." Despite his daily experiences of Nazi terror, Klemperer saw the city's architectural splendor as emblematic of the Germany he cherished. Almost until the end, he identified more strongly with this image than with his Jewish heritage, which he believed the National Socialists had forced back on him. Only when the last sign of his idealized notion of Germany had fallen into literal ruins did Klemperer's vision become clearer. While he lamented Dresden's downfall, he could not help but feel some satisfaction: "every time I think of the pile of rubble at Zeughaus Street 1 and 3, I thought and think, I had and have the atavistic feeling: Jehovah! This is where they burnt down the synagogue in Dresden."

Yet this connection between Nazi persecution and the firestorm has not inscribed itself deeply into the city's remembrance of the past. Since the war, Dresden's local government and inhabitants have repeatedly negotiated their city's urban identity in an interplay of destruction, construction, and reconstruction that has almost entirely excluded the memory of the Holocaust. This was just as true during the years of the German Democratic Republic, when the city pursued an ambitious urban planning program inspired by Socialist ideals, as in the years since reunification, which have been defined by the demolition of buildings from the Communist era and the effort to restore the city's prewar form. Regardless of political context, discussions about Dresden's self-definition have consistently been defined by an insistence on the population's victimization during World War II. This discourse of victimhood is a direct continuation of National Socialist propaganda about the city's destruction, which was portrayed as a senseless act of Allied violence against a place of culture. Even the East German government readily embraced these assumptions to distance itself from the West. This attitude in Dresden has changed little with reunification. Even though increased sensitivity has been displayed toward the Nazi past, residents today still perceive the city's National Socialist history mainly through the bombing experience.

One of the most representative structures that has been involved in this discourse is the city's well-known icon, the Frauenkirche. Nearly entirely destroyed in 1945, its role in the discourse of victimization becomes particularly poignant when contrasted with the rhetoric surrounding the Dresden synagogue, which was burnt down several years earlier during the Nazi pogrom of Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938. Even though these two sites and their seemingly disparate histories are not usually evaluated together, precisely the interplay between the two events they are associated with-the firebombing on February 13, 1945, and the destruction of the synagogue-reveals a consistent pattern of remembrance in Dresden. During the years of the East German regime, the ruins of the church were showcased as a place of commemoration, while the site of the synagogue (like the Holocaust in general) was ignored. Even today, public discussion of the synagogue's destruction is continuously tied to the Frauenkirche. In addition, much attention is now focused on the East German past, as Dresden sees itself as a victim of the GDR's building policies. Due to this strong ongoing quest for victim status, the perpetrator component of the National Socialist past has been continuously excluded both from Dresden's cityscape and from its residents' memories.

Dresden and National Socialism

When Georg Bähr built the famous Frauenkirche from 1726 to 1743, there was no Jewish community to speak of in Dresden, as trade, living, and religious restrictions as well as extreme financial burdens made it almost impossible for Jews to settle there. By the end of the eighteenth century, other German states had started to establish laws that offered some possibilities of social and cultural integration to Jews, but anti-Semitic prejudice widely prevailed in Saxony. Only in the 1830s were laws passed encouraging the integration of Jews into the community, albeit on a very limited scale. It then became possible for Dresden's Jews to form a congregation and construct their own house of worship. After purchasing a plot of land on the Elbe, near the Brühlsche Terrasse in the northeastern part of the historic city center, the Jewish community hired the well-known architect Gottfried Semper, whose resulting design combined an imposing neo-Romanesque exterior with a lavishly appointed Moorish interior. Completed in 1840, the building was immediately hailed as a masterpiece of synagogue architecture (fig. 1).

Despite registering this notable milestone, however, the Jewish community continued to be viewed with suspicion by many Dresden residents. By the end of the nineteenth century, Dresden had become a stronghold of anti-Semitic political agitation and repeatedly sent anti-Semitic representatives to the Reichstag. During the Weimar Republic, moreover, anti-Jewish sentiment persisted, despite the promulgation of federal laws concerning freedom of religion. With Hitler's rise to power in 1933, Dresden came to be considered a political stronghold of Nazi Germany. Before long, Dresden's Jews began to suffer anti-Semitic persecution and were gradually purged from the urban environment. Beginning in 1937, Nazi city officials terminated the leases of Jewish apartment dwellers and began to evict them from their dwellings. In October 1938, Dresden deported 724 Polish Jews (90 percent of the Polish Jewish population of the city) to Poland. Finally, on November 9, 1938, members of the Sturmabteilung (SA) and other Nazi groups plundered the synagogue and set it on fire. Three days later, on November 12, 1938, its ruins were demolished by city authorities and were eventually used as landfill. Less than a century after being constructed, the synagogue had vanished from the cityscape, leaving nothing but an empty space in the city center.

Despite the political significance of the event, as well as the cultural loss of Semper's architectural masterpiece, November 9, 1938, has not etched itself deeply into the postwar memory of most Dresden residents. According to popular opinion, the destruction of Dresden's architectural treasures only truly began several years later, on February 13 and 14, 1945, when the city was firebombed by British and American forces. The destruction of the synagogue has thus been overshadowed by the 1945 raids, which, in turn, play a significant role in the way that Dresden's inhabitants view themselves and their city. While the experience on the ground was clearly horrific, the Nazi propaganda machine found ways to heighten the horror. The bombings were described as "terror attacks" that exemplified the barbarism of the Allied enemies against defenseless victims. It was through such propaganda that the myth of Dresden as the city of culture without military or industrial significance was born. While it is understandable that the bombings' severity made it difficult to reflect properly on the Nazi past, Dresden's location in the Soviet sector and then in the newly founded GDR significantly contributed to the lack of attention toward the Nazi crimes against the city's Jews.

Building for the Future: Dresden from 1945 to 1989/90

Immediately after the war, attempts were made to evaluate the role of Dresden's residents and the city government in the persecution of the Jews. Nora Goldenbogen, a historian and chairwoman of the local Jewish community, reports discussions in the city council as early as September 1946 about developing a park and erecting a monument commemorating the destruction of the synagogue at its location at the Zeughausplatz. However, while a small park was indeed established near the site, no monument-not even a plaque-was installed for several decades. This course of action corresponds to other changes that took place in the realm of urban planning policies and in postwar parameters of East Germany's self-definition. With Dresden in complete ruins, its government was initially preoccupied with rebuilding the many architectural treasures that had been destroyed in the war and restoring the city's old baroque silhouette. In so doing, they could count on large support by the public, which, in its desolate situation, yearned to normalize the present by reconnecting to prewar conditions.

In 1950, however, the East German government developed official planning guidelines, with some already strongly emphasizing Soviet building ideas, as they were implemented all over the Eastern bloc. The city centers were to become gathering spots for the citizenry and serve as the site of festivities between monumental central buildings. While these guidelines took many years to be implemented in other East German cities, planners in Dresden decided early on that the rebuilding efforts should no longer focus on complete historical rebuilding but should instead aim for a Socialist construction style. Previously known for its splendor, nobility, and the strong presence of bourgeois values, Dresden was now supposed to be revamped by this new design to signal a better political system. This strategy was followed particularly aggressively in the 1950s and 1960s, but as early as 1946, Dresden became the site of the radical clearing of whole streets of salvageable historical ruins, leaving behind immense amounts of empty space. The city government also changed street names and planned the installation of a large number of monuments, memorials, sculptures, and wall paintings depicting Socialist themes.

While some limited restoration occurred with the rebuilding of the Zwinger and the Hofkirche, the emphasis was placed on the enlargement of city squares and the creation of wide marching avenues, which did not correspond to Dresden's historical proportions. The Altmarkt was increased threefold into an immense demonstration square, and the streets connecting the city's east and west sides were widened up to three and a half times, to sixty-five to seventy meters, to form a major throughway in accordance with Soviet examples. The north-south axis known as the Prager Strasse, previously some fourteen to eighteen meters wide, was expanded to sixty-eight to eighty-five meters, and a large cultural center, the Kulturpalast, was placed in the city center as a new focal point. The message associated with this urban planning was clearly one of political and cultural change. Instead of a city of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Dresden was supposed to become a city of the Socialist future.

Yet it was impossible to negate completely Dresden's former historical architectural splendor. Most of the population and the city's office for historic preservation were immensely critical of the new direction envisioned by city and state politicians. It became clear that to unite the population behind the Socialist plan, there had to be found a new relationship to the past that allowed a connection of people's memories with the official vision of the future in the new state and a way of distinctly defining themselves in opposition to the Western NATO alliance. At the same time, this new approach had to serve as a justification for the new urban structures symbolizing the establishment of Socialism.

The theme that offered itself for this endeavor in Dresden was the bombing war against Germany. A large part of the population had experienced its horror, its effects were still shaping the landscape, and the Soviet forces had played no role in it. The destruction of German cities during the war thus became an important tool in the foundation myth of the GDR. Thomas Widera suggests in his study about postwar Dresden: "In the totality of the destruction lay the singular chance to present the utopia of the new time in contrast to a past that had been completely wiped out and to define in their entirety the memory structures [of this event].... From then on, the aerial bombardment of Dresden was portrayed as a senseless 'terror attack' by the Western Allies." By describing the bombings in this manner for propaganda purposes, the East German government continued both in rhetoric and intent the course of the National Socialist exploitation of the bombings in their effort to stir up strong emotions against the Allied forces.

For many, the Frauenkirche represented the center of Dresden's cultural reputation and the city's true soul. Its destruction in February 1945 was seen as embodying the barbarism of the events and their unnecessary cruelty. The Frauenkirche could serve convincingly as a concrete site of remembrance in Dresden and also form a symbolic point of reference. Consequently, the city government decided neither to clear nor to rebuild the Frauenkirche on the Neumarkt but to preserve the ruins the way they were. The destroyed Frauenkirche became a powerful monument that could be used to revise the past safely as well as to comment on the present and the future in the cold war atmosphere (fig. 2).

With the formation of the GDR, the bombings came to be seen as a symbol of the German people's wartime suffering, marginalizing immediate postwar approaches that had connected the destruction of German cities to the question of German guilt, the rise of National Socialism, and the beginning of the war. The question of guilt was now projected solely onto the Western Allies, a position with which many East Germans could easily identify. A plaque installed at the site of the Frauenkirche ruins read: "To the tens of thousands of dead, and an inspiration to the living in their struggle against imperialist barbarism and for the peace and happiness of man." Depending on the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States, the anniversaries of the destruction were differently nuanced in their message and commemorated with varying degrees of vigor in front of the Frauenkirche; never, however, was the fundamental premise of the bombing as a terror attack against defenseless civilians and a place of exquisite cultural value questioned. Particularly during the height of the cold war, the anniversaries served as a welcome occasion for official demonstrations against the West-the imperialist fascist enemy of Socialism-or as reminders of the horrors of war. East Germany ultimately equated the destruction of Dresden with the crimes committed under National Socialism by portraying the Western allies as fascist powers and the bombing of Dresden as a fascist act. East Germany thus prioritized a victim discourse that excluded questions about its own responsibility during the Nazi era.

In this climate, the Nazis' persecution of the Jews could no longer play a central role in the official East German memory discourse, since this discussion would have addressed perpetrator questions. While East Germany did not deny Jewish persecution, its gruesome results were simply folded into the larger victim discourse. In his study on East Germany and the Holocaust, Thomas C. Fox has pointed to this phenomenon at GDR concentration camp memorials. While the exhibits did not deny Jewish suffering in the camps, they often downplayed the numbers of victim and emphasized Communist suffering. Fox also points out the role of these memorials in transmitting to visitors the antifascist struggle East Germany claimed for itself. The Ehrenhain memorial park at the Dresden Heidefriedhof cemetery, where most of the victims of the Dresden bombings were buried in mass graves, exemplifies similar sweeping generalizations and shifts in emphasis to support the political message of the GDR. It was partially established in 1948 and completed in the 1960s. Behind an obelisk with the sign of the International Federation of Resistance Fighters (FIR), fourteen columns, each listing a place-name, stand in a large circle: six columns are inscribed with the locations of concentration camps, seven list places that were sites of World War II atrocities committed by Germany or that were bombed by the German Luftwaffe, and one column is inscribed with the name "Dresden." In addition, the Ehrenhain concludes with a wall memorial for the victims of the Dresden raids. This combination of places not only elevates the Dresden bombings to a war crime and equates German victims of these attacks with those of German atrocities but also portrays concentration camps simply as part of a general structure of terror in war.


Excerpted from Beyond Berlin Copyright © 2008 by University of Michigan . Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     ix
Introduction: Urban Space and the Nazi Past in Postwar Germany   Paul B. Jaskot   Gavriel D. Rosenfeld     1
Sites of Reconstruction: Between Reclaiming and Evading the Past
The Politics of New Beginnings: The Continued Exclusion of the Nazi Past in Dresden's Cityscape   Susanne Vees-Gulani     25
Reconciling Competing Pasts in Postwar Cologne   Jeffry M. Diefendorf     48
Evading What the Nazis Left Behind: An Ethnographic and Phenomenological Examination of Historic Preservation in Postwar Rostock   Susan Mazur-Stommen     67
Sites of New Construction: Industrial Cities and the Embrace of Modernism
Memento Machinae: Engineering the Past in Wolfsburg   Jan Otakar Fischer     89
Inventing Industrial Culture in Essen   Kathleen James-Chakraborty     116
Perpetrator Sites: Representing Nazi Criminality
The Reich Party Rally Grounds Revisited: The Nazi Past in Postwar Nuremberg   Paul B. Jaskot     143
Memory and the Museum: Munich's Struggle to Create a Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism   Gavriel D. Rosenfeld     163
Concrete Memory: The Struggle over Air-Raid and Submarine Shelters in Bremen after 1945   Marc Buggeln   Inge Marszolek     185
Restored, Reassessed, Redeemed: The SS Past at theCollegiate Church of St. Servatius in Quedlinburg   Annah Kellogg-Krieg     209
Jewish Sites: Commemorating the Holocaust
The Politics of Antifascism: Historic Preservation, Jewish Sites, and the Rebuilding of Potsdam's Altstadt   Michael Meng     231
Marking Absence: Remembrance and Hamburg's Holocaust Memorials   Natasha Goldman     251
The New Borneplatz Memorial and the Nazi Past in Frankfurt am Main   Susanne Schonborn     273
Epilogue: The View from Berlin   Brian Ladd     295
Contributors     303
Index     307

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