I’m starting to wonder whether the confrontation with the past by German ’60s Generation will prove to be less about coming to the truth of German crimes and guilt, but will represent one of many successive stages in which Nazism and the Holocaust will be instrumentalized by the political culture. Many scholars have called into doubt something that has become historical dogma: that politicians of early West Germany whitewashed the past. An active discussion about the past took place in that first formative decade, but on different terms than those of the Historikerstreit. A public that largely lost its connection to the German heritage (including Nazism), both materially and spiritually, searched for a way out of the rubble. Arguably, generalizing German guilt allowed Germans to continue and left deeper questions to the future.

Nicholas Kulish (“Germany confronts Holocaust Legacy Anew“, NY Times, 1/29/2008) suggests that this culture that seems obsessed with monuments to its crimes is actually rediscovering the Holocaust. Third generation memory (if we can call it that) takes the younger generation’s concern for social justice and imperialism (especially as it relates to wars in the Middle East) as the starting point for their approach to the past.

Some say that young Germans, who are required to study the Nazi era and the Holocaust intensively, have shown little indication of letting the theme drop, despite their distance from the events. They say that the younger generation has tackled it as a source not of guilt, but of responsibility on the world stage for social justice and pacifism, including opposition to the war in Iraq.

Of course, the new phase reveals a society that has largely overcome the hindrances of defeat and capable of acting on the world stage. Its sovereignty is, nevertheless, continually tied the evolution of European institutions, where the future of the continents responsibility to global order is heatedly discussed. It also reveals a society awakening to a reality of its own multiculturalism, measuring what steps it can take in integrating those who seem foreign.

[Crossposted at Cliopatria.]

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