Memory in the Postwar Era

Alison Miller

There were two things that stood out to me about the readings this week with regards to the question posed (that is, what did coming to terms with the past look like in postwar Germany). The first is how memory is narrated. How do we create a general memory of what occurred in history when memory itself is difficult to pin down and we often hesitate to interrogate those on the side of “wrong-doers.” Who is telling the story? For what purposes? In the Fullbrook article especially, she takes the time to interrogate how long it took after WWII before people felt comfortable with sharing their thoughts – what is the outcome in waiting so long to do so? How does memory change as we move further from events.

What I found even more interesting than that was this idea of memory being essentially “translated” by ghost writers, film-makers, the children of people who went through it, etc. What Fullbrook doesn’t touch on too much, but that I thought might be interesting, is what is lost when narratives are literally translated – what do we retain or lose when we translate peoples’ experiences from their original language into one we can understand? What cultural contexts do we miss by doing so? Sollors references the use of words like Gestapoherr, and the perceptions of the Americans.

We rely heavily on firsthand experience in order to help construct a more consistent narrative of what happened, but memory is so vulnerable to a variety of different elements that it seems impossible to rely on individual memories to answer the question of ‘what happened?’. I suppose in order to compensate, by accumulating multiple testimonies we can glean a more general idea, as long as there is consistency between testimonies (but even how those testimonies are put together can change the way that the narrative is presented).  

The second thing is the role that outsiders play in forcing forgetfulness of events or a changing of those events. Moeller’s article discusses the censorship of the word gas in a television production of Judgement at Nuremberg, a movie very much concerned with how the Jews were killed by this very thing. This censorship enforces, I would argue, a type of forgetfulness. It softens the seriousness of the acts that were committed, and in a way reworks the events.

There is also concern over Soviet encroachment into Czechoslovakia as being a driver of forgetfulness of Nazi atrocities, as well as Fullbrook’s discussions over who gets interviewed or spotlighted as changing the ‘narrative’. Fullbrook also considers the fact that during the War, people likely knew exactly what was going on with regards to the Jews, but outside the war, under the spotlight, they must come up with an excuse to make themselves seem less like villains because there are now outsiders looking in.

Memory is such an interesting topic when we look at how history is recorded, and how reliable it is and who can work to change/influence it can change how we understand events.

Fascism as System vs. Fascism as Individual

Alison Miller

What I found very interesting about the readings was the interaction of the individual and the fascist system itself. By addressing the complexities of how people interacted with and were interacted with by the state, we get a much more multi-faceted idea of how the state operated.

The concept of comrade-ship versus friendship, and Kuhne’s entire address of masculinity as flexible even under the Nazi party complicates our understanding of how fascist governments worked, and at the same time, the Marheofer reading reveals that the state’s interaction with the individual is just as pliable. There are certain fence posts that stand within Nazi law, but the degree to which the Gestapo used those laws or bothered with them was dependent on who you were, which laws you broke, and who you know.

The two articles on the Spanish Civil War also address the individual’s interaction with the state, although in a different method than the articles concerning Nazi Germany. I would say that the biggest question that arises in the Destination Dictatorship article is the time that Crumbaugh takes to speak on freedom within the Francoist dictatorship. How freedom operates in the dictatorship, even as it shifts to a different method of interacting with the world at large (i.e. Through tourism). We might also address how the Spanish dictatorship wined and dined individual members of the US government in order to gain the economic and political clout they needed to transform their economy and their international image.

The Lopez and Sanchez article, like the Marheofer article, looks to shine a light on a group mostly ignored by academia, and while doing so highlights how perceptions of women ensured that Nationalist women could operate basically unseen during the Civil War, and how after the Franco victory these women looked to simply return to their houses, with the state also ignoring certain dimensions of female action during the war.

Propaganda as both for and against Colonialism

Alison Miller

While propaganda has come up in many contexts with regards to conflict, David Motadel’s writing and Ben-Ghiat’s commentary on the use of propaganda within the structure of colonisation brings a new dimension to propaganda as nation-maker.

To put a point on it, on sees propaganda used most frequently like how Hanebrink outlines it in his article about Judeo-Bolshevism, that it is a direct tool of nation-building from within the nation, usually by outlining an enemy and then using either pictures or sound to reiterate negative elements of that enemy, or the strength of the nation against it. This propaganda relies on consistent use of tropes that are understood by everyone within the nation that the propaganda is released in – it creates a unifying narrative for everyone occupying the territory. In Hanebrink’s article, this is best seen in the anti-Semitic propaganda published by Poland as part of the effort to stand against the encroaching Boleshevik army.

In both Ben-Ghiat’s talk and Motadel’s writing, however, we see propaganda being used indirectly by a nation, i.e. within a proxy country, in order to achieve the nation building goals. With Ben-Ghiat’s talk, the use of Italian cinema to outline positive Fascist characteristics, but having these characteristics put forward in a proxy country rather than within Italy itself. It ends up serving a double-use, one side to show the important characteristic of masculinity within Fascist Italy, but also showing Italy as colonizer in a time when that would have been of importance.

In a similar strain in Motadel’s writing, Nazi Germany was looking to undermine enemy nations by using propaganda to spark anti-colonial uprisings in select proxy countries as a way to preserve their own nationalistic agenda. They also hosted anti-colonial leaders as part of this effort, who looked at Germany as an ally for their cause and as an alternative to the liberal, imperialist structure that dominated the bulk of the world.

Interesting in the case of Italian cinema is the proxy countries desire to create and promote their own national identity, where Somalis would come to film and then leave when they found out that they would have to be the losers in a film working to create the ideal male national identity in fascist Italy. There is also a kind of dialogue between national and proxy in Germany, where heads of anti-colonial movements were restricted in what they could do by the German state. The anti-colonial movements to a certain degree were driven by German investment and the belief that it would be of benefit to Germany. Radio propaganda was driven by the Germany state, leaders were invested in by the state to travel to communicate their anti-colonial ideals (in the case of Bose), and the publications by anti-colonial leaders could be censored at the behest of the Nazi government.

This is not to say that these leaders were impotent in the drive for anti-colonial efforts, the entire reason they went to Germany was because they had started the efforts and saw in Germany another tool against the states that had colonised them in the first place. Rather what I am looking to say is that promotion of nationalism in proxy areas was a tool that Germany was using to preserve its own nationalistic agenda – they fed off each other. Italy also used proxy countries, in a different way than that of Germany, but for the same reasons – creation and preservation of national identity.

Illiberal Democracy

By: Alison Miller

   “Illiberal democracy” came up in some of the readings this week, and I think it is this concept that best helps to define populism, but I also felt that adding Mudde’s argument that the populist affiliation comes second to a person’s “Host ideology” adds necessary nuance to the idea. These concepts simplify ways that populists interact with the political systems that they are a part of, allowing the term populism to remain at least partly amorphous in order to remain flexible in accordance with the need of the scholar. There very little use in a word meant to label that is so inflexible so as to not recognise new forms of itself arising without putting a name to it.

That same thing is part of my frustration with the opinion of most of this week’s authors. The question of how we use the word fascism in the modern day seems to be a sticking point for most of them. While I don’t disagree that the term ‘fascism’ is overused, the pedantic idea of only using it when it is either referring to historic fascism, or if the occasion perfectly matches that of Mussolini’s Italy is a bit of a means the word becomes so inflexible so as to be useless. I think that there must be a middle ground somewhere that allows certain sets of actions to be related to fascism without needing to pepper the word in absolutely everywhere, as well as recognising that academia will be using words like fascism in different ways than groups like antifa, social media users, newsgroups, etc.

Of all of the articles this week, I enjoyed Gavriel Rosenfeld’s the most, as his analysis of illiberal memory is at once new to me while also being completely recognisable. His critique of liberal memory-making was convincing, alongside multiple international examples of where memory-making has been co-opted by illiberal and populist leaders. What I felt was the strongest part of Rosenfeld’s argument was the concept that liberals were so focused on the creation of memory that they failed to acknowledge the real politics going on around them.

One of the things I would have enjoyed reading is an analysis of illiberal democratic leaders and their treatment of newer events. It feels as though if an event happens that counters what a populist leader wants, they are quick to say that the event did not happen, or it happened differently than the way it did. It would be an interesting study to see the treatment of events by liberal democratic leaders versus illiberal, and whether it is personal bias that leads me to think that illiberal leaders are more prone to re-writing even recent history in order to promote themselves.

Given the contents of this week’s readings, I feel like adding a version of the tradition anti-fascist song “Bella Ciao” is not out of place.


My name is Alison Miller. I did my undergraduate in Economics at Carleton, and am now a first year Graduate Student in the EURUS program in the Europe stream.

For fun I like to cycle and swim, and I love learning about medical history.

I am looking forward to this course and the new things I can learn about the topic of populism and nationalism in Europe.