Playdough

By: Hannah Long

It was never in my mind to draw such a strange comparison, but history is indeed like playdough. As anyone can alter the frame of the events, key figures, and ultimate outcome. It possesses the unique quality of being adaptable, for better or worse people of the past and present still use it today to come to terms, most often with prominent events in world history. 

A week like this wouldn’t be complete without a discussion of Nazism, more specifically the aftermath of it all. Each author from this week focuses on some aspect of Germany having to figure out how to deal with the resulting consequences of the war on top of the sheer number of atrocities committed by their regime on a global stage. Arguably this was the first major time in which a single country in the aftermath of the war became the center of the world’s attention, with the major on everyone’s mind being what now? Author Werner Sollors describes the ensuing response by Germany to be both “a bureaucratic nightmare” and a “a site of German cultural memory… And denazification” (Sollors, 139). 

On one part of history there is the political side of Germany, pushing the narrative of denazification on all of its citizens, wanting to instill into the minds the dangers of this ideological sphere and muting any remaining members of the Nazi Party/Nazi affiliation (Sollors, 141). Sollors goes on to describe the lengthy measures made to ensure the group would never rise again and also how the public was made to go through a re-education and lengthy process themselves to become a part of this “new Germany” (Sollors 142). 

While the state wanted to refocus German society the media seemingly wanted to counter that idea by staying on the topic of Nazism by deconstructing it to its very core. The media of which I speak of is that of global media of the time, as Author Robert Moeller discusses in his work, “How to Judge Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg” (Moeller, 497). 1961 seemed to be rife with a global re-examination on the Second World War, with Adolf Eichmann’s trial bringing about much public discourse and reflection of the past sixteen years (Moeller, 498). Kramer himself was inspired to release the film in Berlin as he felt it was a testament to “how far Germany has come” (Moeller, 498). Personally I have always found the post-war media’s fascination of the fallout of the War to be interesting in itself as it almost demonstrates how different people come to terms with something so monumental.

History became a useful tool for the rebuilding of Germany post-war, as  for them it became an opportunity to reflect and formulate a plan to reform their fractured society. Vergangenheitsbewältigung was never about re-imagining their own history but rather process of coming to terms with it all.

A poster for the film Trial of Nuremberg.  Stanley Kramer, Judgement at Nuremberg (1961: United Artists).
Image courtesy of https://elcinema.com

Sources:

Robert Moeller, “How to Judge Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg” German History Vol. 31, Issue 4 (December 2013): 497-522.

W. Sollors, “Everybody Gets Fragebogened Sooner or Later’: The Denazification Questionnaire as Cultural Text.” German Life & Letters. Vol 71, Issue 2 (2018): 139-153.

Nazism’s Lessons & Legacies

By: Nicole Beswitherick

The defendants in the dock at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. ——US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of John W. Mosenthal

As someone who had great grandparents who either fought on the front lines of WW2, nursed the injured or yielded crops, the topic of West Germany and Nazism is not completely unfamiliar. The main question in regard to this week’s readings is “What did coming to terms in the past (Vergangenheitsbewältigung) look like in postwar Germany?” If we look at the reading from Fulbrook, “The Diffraction of Guilt”, we see that a West German judge could still appear to have more sympathy with former Nazis than with their victims, even more than 20 years after the end of the war. It was added that a long prison sentence for the accused, in their advanced stage of life, also destroys their economic existence; and this makes it difficult to build it up again after the sentence is done (Fulbrook 323). West German interpretations of the law offer the idea that killing was a less odious crime if the victim had no suspicion that it was going to happen. From what I’ve gathered from these readings, the Nazis and West Germans were simply coming up with excuses to make their crimes come off as justifiable – which they are not.

In Sollors’ work, I found the explanation of the title of the reading quite interesting. “Everybody gets fragebogened sooner or later”, was described to summarize the American literary responses of the period (Sollors 147). It is seeming that Sollors makes many connections to America and its involvement and perhaps progression toward Nazi Germany. In Salomon’s version of the questionnaire in the chapter,  it not surprising to Sollors that Americans are viewed as the true anti-semites (Sollors 150). He tries to expand on this, but I find this particular reading did not do fantastic in translating or explaining the quotes written in German. But in Moeller’s “How to Judge Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg” there is also a connection to Americans being that Mann asks: was postwar America inching toward Nazi Germany? (Which I will be asking in this week’s discussion for those who stumble upon my reflection). In this article, in particular, Moeller gathers the theory that Kramer and Mann used the film to reflect on what America had done, and America’s transgressions. They did this, according to Moeller, by focussing on the fatalities and presenting German fascism as a tool to measure the forms of injustice that permeated the daily life of Americans in 1961.

Works Cited:

Mary Fulbrook, “Diffraction of Guilt” and “Voices of the Victims” in Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice (Oxford University Press, 2018), pp: 314-336, 361-377.

W. Sollors, “Everybody Gets Fragebogened Sooner or Later’: The Denazification Questionnaire as Cultural Text.” German Life & Letters. Vol 71, Issue 2 (2018): 139-153.

Robert Moeller, “How to Judge Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg” German History Vol. 31, Issue 4 (December 2013): 497-522.