Memories Require Nuance

Declan Da Barp

The German Catechism debates laid bare the tumultuous creation of memory in the post-45 context. In the piece that spawned these debates, Dirk Moses raises a number of profoundly difficult questions about how holocaust memory was fostered and the memories that it is used to obscure – particularly that of colonial violence. Moses, quoting Franz Neumann, calls Nazism a form of “racial imperialism” (7). His comments were not without controversy. As pointed out by Neil Gregor, there is no clear other that Moses is pointing to but rather the ominous “high-priests”.

Fundamentally, these debates were part of a long history of remembrance and historical narratives that form the social milieu. As is so eloquently pointed out in Evans’ piece, the lack of a colonial narrative is not unique to Germany or Europe, but an issue here in Canada and countless other countries globally. Germany and many global north countries are changing, and these narratives are being challenged. With a colonial memory being brought to the fore, ideas of the holocaust’s uniqueness are being examined and repositioned within a much wider historical context. Nuance is being introduced into a composition of a past that was black and white – a German past rather than the past of Europe collectively. Debates, such as the German Catechism, are a crucial arena in which societal memory can be pulled apart and discussed – the voice of scholars in the public domain is a key in creating this nuance. Creating a grey narrative that views an event through a myriad of lenses promotes robust debate around tough and painful memories – ones that must be viewed within a wider context to fully understand their shortcomings.

Can Historical Memory Escape Ideology?

By Ali Yasin

Collective memory and the culture surrounding it have become contentious and emotionally charged issues across the Global North. As many developed countries struggle to come to terms with their colonial legacies, traditional frameworks of historical memory have been challenged by an increasingly diverse array of perspectives. This inclusion of marginalized and subaltern voices (including post-colonial, feminists, and queer experiences) in the debates regarding memory culture, has been met by a growing reaction both institutionally and publicly. Its opponents argue that this postmodernist trend has undermined both the collective memory of western society and the liberal/enlightenment values it facilitates.

Although this debate is often framed simplistically in most national contexts, with both sides claiming to defended an empirical telling of history from the attempt to supplant with an ideological narrative, the reality is far more nuanced. We explored this theme by examining the “Catechism Debate”, an online public discourse between numerous scholars on Germany’s modern memory culture of the Holocaust. The debate was instigated by a Dirk Moses’ piece The German Catechism, in which he argues that the rigid commitment to Germany’s post ‘68 view of the Holocaust as a singular and uniquely German “rupture from the moral foundation of the nation”, has limited German perspective on genocide and systematic violence, particularly in regards to its own colonial legacy.

As the debate quickly progressed with many scholars reflecting on Moses’ argument, it became apparent that the construction of collective memory culture is an inherently ideological process. Even when historians agree entirely on the empirical information surrounding a period of history, the way that period or event is situated within a wider historical context inevitably carries ideological connotations. Both contextualizing the Holocaust as another example of systematic colonial genocide and maintaining its status as a singular historical event with no direct comparison, create societal narratives that have a formative effect on the character of a political community.

If the ideological implications of collective memory construction and culture cannot be escaped, this tendency can at least be balanced by taking a pluralistic approach to both institutional and public discourses on historical memory. As the Catechism Debate demonstrated, the ideological dimensions of collective memory can only be deconstructed and effectively understood when they are examined from multiple opposing perspectives.   

Societies: A Complex Web – Cultural Memory, Progression and Narrative Manipulation

Wesley M.

We’re currently in December 2021, over 76 years since the end of World War II, and of fascism within Europe. In reality Europe’s struggle against fascism never ended, the false narrative that fascism was eradicated was entirely because of the Allies victory, which created the belief that the fascists were gone forever, and that genocide would never be allowed to happen again. In reality, this was a complete hogwash for the masses as several genocides have occurred since 1945, and neofascists returned by undermining the developed societal narrative of progression within their countries through creating a counterpoint for the criticism of said progressive ideals and policies.

Societal narratives are about portraying an acceptable viewpoint, primarily that of the elite. The Dirk Moses articles points this out through his criticism of contemporary Germany not engaging with existing racism and their colonialist history. He points out that by creating the narrative of progress as well as repentance for the Holocaust after WWII, the reunified Germany is able to ignore much of its unpleasant past by making the countries seem more moral. By forming this narrative, the German state has also allowed for a kind of limit are to be placed on comparing other levels of crime to that one particular event all throughout Europe; with the Holocaust serving as a kind of yardstick for level of inhumanity and brutal horror, with differing genocides that occurred since being deemed un-comparable by the international community due to the belief that it any comparison demeans the overall Holocaust repentance narrative (Israel has particularly used that belief to their advantage to deflect any criticisms of their policies regarding Palestinians). Sadly countries reckoning with its past would as Professor Jennifer Evans points out, undermine or completely destroy any created narrative if a full accounting of any country’s past ever truly took place.

Any societal narratives or myth that is constructed simply refers to manipulation and a narrative that will allow the citizenry to be able to sleep at night (all societies either want to believe they have the moral high ground or at the very least that they are working on their way towards morality, when the fact is that every society has skeleton in the closet somewhere within its past; some unacknowledged unpleasantness or horrific event).

Any narrative that is created within a society is manipulated by default because it never shows the society as a whole, rather it can only portray a limited perspective: there will always be facets of that society that are missing from that shown perspective, it is unavoidable (as anyone who has ever seen an archive: there are always stories that are left out, archivists have to pick and choose as they can’t fit everything within). Despite this unpleasant reality, all countries should reckon with all of their past not just some of it, in order to be able to create a better society for all of their citizens.

Bibliography:

Evans, Jennifer. “Ends and Beginnings.” The New Fascism Syllabus (blog), June 16, 2021. https://newfascismsyllabus.com/opinions/ends-and-beginnings/.

Moses, Dirk. “The German Catechism.” The New Fascism Syllabus (blog), May 23, 2021. http://newfascismsyllabus.com/opinions/the-catechism-debate/the-german-catechism/.

Moses, Dirk. “Dialectic of Vergangenheitsbewältigung.” The New Fascism Syllabus. The New    Fascism Syllabus (blog), June 15, 2021. http://newfascismsyllabus.com/opinions/dialectic-of-vergangenheitsbewaltigung/.

Memory, the full picture?

Kathleen McKinnon

The discussion of memory is important in the topic of populism, because as has been seen throughout the course, often the backing for ideology is a historical narrative. As the Moses article points out in the Catechism Debate, that this type of historical manipulation like romanticizing of the past, leads to things like radicalization which can end in extremes like Auschwitz. The manipulation of history always has the potential of spiraling to extremes since it can create polarizing images as well as images of the past that are incomplete giving people a sense of pride or a sense of not being acknowledged. 

I think the discourse last week on the differences between right and left-winged nationalism and their similarities might also point to history being used on both sides for their particular advantage. Firstly the right in idealism with a push to return to the “way things were” and the left in emphasizes things that need to be “fixed.” Memory is a tool that is tied heavily to emotion so it is no surprise how divisive it can be, although this is not a European phenomenon and is experienced all over the world, the memory of specific European events like the Holocaust can be very difficult to navigate with respecting memories and moving on from the past and perhaps this is how memory begins to be selective.

Memory in Europe

Emma C

This week we finally touch upon the theme of memory and collective memory which we have touched upon numerous times throughout the course. In particular we are looking at the Holocaust and its collective memory in Europe. What is interesting is how such an event can be remembered and experienced differently by so many different people, no two stories or retellings will be the same. The Holocaust is what we compare many right-wing groups to and the reemergence of them.

As we have discussed previous weeks is how some right-wing groups use the Holocaust to defend their actions. They compare their actions and ideas by saying, while we’re not like the Nazi’s and therefore aren’t bad. Although these groups may not be going about the same practices, they do share similar values such as national pride and migration. I think by not acknowledging certain aspects and omitting things from memory can cause harm and a disservice. Certain people may view the event through the eyes of the party they follow, and another may look at the event through the eyes of a family member who experienced it.

There are many nuances to collective memory and memory culture which can make it difficult to police who uses memory in what way. My omitting things from memory it can cause harm or minimize the true impact of the event. There is a fine line that can be easy to cross when using memory for political agendas.

Memory-Making

Alison Miller

These pieces on the Catechism debate really dig through the mille-feuille that is memory creation and culture. It’s is already summed up in the pieces themselves, but the questions of who is responsible for memory culture, how that culture is built (ex. “officially” versus “unofficially”), who and what is reinforcing it, the state’s version of events versus individuals versus groups, etc. are all coming together to address this issue around Holocaust memorialisation and German colonial memory.

I read a few different articles, but the one that really stuck out for me was Wolff’s “Refusing the Extended Hand.” His experiences are tied to his identity as well as the identity of those around him that he interacted with, as an Eastern German, a Communist, and a Jewish person.

His piece highlights the complexities of memorialisation. His discussion on the East versus West German development of memory culture displays that despite current the geographical unity of the German state, there is still a hegemonic imposition of specific historical narratives upon those that have different historical experiences.

One of the things that Wolff brought up that I hadn’t thought about before was the sterility of institutional leftist memory culture. There is a specific experience that Wolff draws on, but I think that this is a concept of sterility really gets at what all of these entries about the Catechism debate are about (I think sterility can be applied to a lot of other things to, as I perceive it as almost a critique of memory culture as building franchises in different places to provide exactly the same product to as many people as possible). Opinions and methods of building memory culture that are outside of the hegemonic narrative add complications that the entities responsible for this culture do not like. Memorialisation is deprived of complicating factors not only as a method of maintaining a state-sponsored coherent narrative, but almost as a preventative to avoid right-wing groups from appropriating dissenting opinions in order to deny that events ever happened, or at the very least manipulate the narrative to their own ends.

In not addressing these nuances, it’s just as Wolff says – the memory culture is not for memory or culture.

There is certainly something to be said about the fact that Holocaust memorialisation should centre the Jewish experience, but somehow Jewish voices that do not agree with institutional memory are at odds with the narrative.