The Life Course of Collective Memories: Persistency and Change in West Germany between 1950 and 1970
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Keele University
Publication date: 2009-03-30
Polish Sociological Review 2009;165(1):27-38
This paper uses (West) Germany as an exemplary case to analyse the formation of collective memories over a period of more than two decades after 1945. It traces the formation of collective memories in the German public through a decade of collective amnesia, followed by a period of regaining collective memories. It argues that the formation of collective memories is embedded in social and normative change, and identifies three causal factors that were responsible for the oscillation between amnesia and memory: the absence of victims in the imminent post-war period, that promoted the ‘myth of innocence’ (Fulbrook 1999); a series of major trials that started in the 1960s; and young elites who acknowledged moral and legal guilt and supported the trials, reconciliation and compensation. Data from public opinion polls covering the period from 1950–1970 are presented.
A different version of parts of this paper has been published in a contribution “The Nuremberg Tribunal and German Society: International Justice and Local Judgment in Post-conflict Reconstruction” to David Blumenthal and Timothy McCormack (2007), (eds), The Legacy of Nuremberg: Civilising Influence or Institutionalised Vengeance? London: Brill.
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