Does Memory Become More Clear With Age?

June 22, 2010

As I wandered the streets of Berlin I observed a sharp disjunction in the manner in which the nation of German remembers its past. While the tragedies that occurred during World War II are remembered well, those which occurred in the decades following do not have a central place in the public eye. While the nation makes a point of remembering and memorializing the victims of the National Socialists, and makes a priority of ensuring that a tragedy like that will never again occur due to ignorance; public remembrances of the GDR tend to focus on the actions taken by resistance movements and the joy of reunification, rather than on the ignominy of Communist tyranny.

This obviously begs the question, “Why?” Why is it that actions taken by the National Socialists are common knowledge, with memorials dotting the street indicating the locations where German Jews were collected and taken to concentration camps, but no similar memorial exists for those who were taken by the Stasi? Typically when I think of memory I think of something that fades as time passes by. I think of memory as being strongest immediately or shortly after the event being remembered takes place. However, in Germany this does not seem to be the case.

It seems that in Germany there is a significant lag between the time that the tragic incidents of their history have occurred, and the time when the nation is prepared to deal with that past. This was observed in the aftermath of WWII which, even though it ended in 1945, it was not until the late 1960s that the nation made a priority of remembering and memorializing the tragic actions and genocide which took place under the reign of the National Socialists. I believe we may be observing a similar timeline with remembrances of East Germany and the tragedies which occurred under its Communist regime. Just as it took over 20 years for the travesty of National Socialism to be fully recognized, I believe that we will see a similar delay with regards to the GDR and that in the next few years we will start to see its actions placed more and more in the public eye.

The key reason for this, in my opinion, lies in power and those who control it. Both after the fall of National Socialism, and after the fall of the GDR, we observe that many people who worked for the party, even in rather powerful positions, maintained their roles in government and bureaucracy. Over the years as the elder members retired, the younger members of the parties would have moved forward in their careers. It would naturally take 20-30 years to cycle all of these former party members out of the government, taking with them their “Ostalgia” and refusal to recognize the negative elements of their former regime. As this process nears completion I would expect to see a great surge in the national awareness of the tragedies which occurred under the regime of the GDR.


One comment

  1. Maybe… But maybe the horror of the Nazi regime will for ever overshadow the horrors of any other regime before and after it. That would be regrettable but somewhat understandable.

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