Transforming Memories

by Sydney Linholm

The article by Helmut Walser Smith discusses Hugo Spiegel and his efforts to reunify German and Jewish communities while simultaneously honouring the memory of Jews in small-town cemeteries that were destroyed by the Nazi regime. The article focuses on communities that were affected by Kristallnacht and Nazism, and how Germans and Jews have come together to help German communities face their unsavoury pasts and focus on a future that moves away from the throes of the Second World War while commemorating those who lost their lives.

This article presents a really intriguing perspective on rebuilding small German communities following the Second World War. More often than not, this is overlooked in favour of larger-scale issues, such as the prosecution of Nazis. Helmut Walser Smith’s article highlights the importance of community in the commemoration of the Jewish graves that were destroyed during Kristallnacht and the bonding between small-town Germans and Jews who have returned to their hometowns after the war. This enforces that it is vitally important that Germans must work together with Jews in order to present an honest, critical reflection on German history and that this comes in the form of local German and Jewish actors repairing cemeteries and synagogues, putting up plaques, and other commemorative actions.

While the author points out that Germany’s past was hardly its own, the repairing of divides is still crucial to the honest and critical retelling of German history. The hometowns that once egged on Nazis while they destroyed Jewish graves and synagogues have, and must continue, making strides to repair the relationship with Jewish citizens that they had once wronged. In accepting and bringing their separate accounts of history together, they commemorate those whose lives were lost under the Nazi regime and move forward in transforming Germany’s nefarious past.

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