June 14, 2010

On Tuesday June 01, 2010 we ventured to Ecologic to discuss Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung with Dr. Martin Jander. I found this lecture to be extremely helpful in regards to how individuals and families come to terms with the past. Dr. Jander mentioned that after WWII families were unable to talk about what their individual experiences were during the war. That is, information as to what actually went on during the war became lost in time due to individual recollection that was/is blurred by post traumatic stress of such disturbing and horrific events of the Holocaust.

Coming to terms with the past varies between that of individual memory and that of collective (societal) memory. In regards to collective and societal memory, historical landmarks are funded, preserved, and memorialized. For example, Hohenschoenhausen has been preserved and memorialized so that not only visitors but also former prisoners can visit the grounds in an almost pristine original condition. It has been preserved as a memorial to indicate the awareness of the atrocities of the Soviet Union and the Stasi, and also to signify that such acts will never happen there again. I was very pleased with Hohenschoenhausen in that almost the entire site is original rather than reconstructed. I also found it interesting that after reunification Germany almost kept it as a [regular] prison rather than preserving it to become a future memorial. I definitely agree with the final decision to memorialize Hohenschoenhausen so that there can be a collective coming to terms with the past.

In regards to individual memory and familial memory, this also varies between families. Dr. Jander used the term ‘secrets’ to describe familial knowledge of the memory of those who participated in the war. Posttraumatic stress aside, the dialogue between families varied after WWII. Many families will never know what actually happened due to the lack of dialogue between one another. This lecture touched me personally because of my German background. My father is originally from Mainz and my Oma was a young girl during WWII. Being as open as she possibly can be, she has shown me pictures from her childhood, including pictures of my great uncle in his Hitlerjugend uniform. Along with pictures, my Oma has well preserved documents that basically map our family tree in which my family was required to have to prove that they were in fact German. Other than pictures, my Oma does not remember much about the war besides often running to bomb shelters at night. After the war my Oma remembers my great-grandfather returning home and his skin being yellow. Shortly there after he passed away due to the tuberculosis he caught at a prisoner of war camp in Russia.

Prior to this course, I thought I knew a lot about my family. However, after that lecture I realized that I really don’t know anything and I truly believe that my Oma doesn’t know the full extent of what happened either due to her father’s untimely death. What bothers me most is that I will never know my great-grandfather’s full story of WWII.

In all, Hohenschoenhausen and my family story are only two examples of what Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung represents.


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