In the build up to our first vlog entry, Sarah Pogoda (University of Sheffield) offers a series of short blog posts and a video trailer to explore her event ‘The Happening: Germany Surrenders’. The event forms part of the Sheffield Animatograph Project, aimed at bringing together Sheffield’s residents to create an installation of identity and memory.
“There is no German identity without Auschwitz”
„[T]here is no German identity without Auschwitz“ (Dr. Joachim Gauck, Federal President of Germany; 27.01.2015) Nothing might be more accurate than this quote from Joachim Gauck, the Federal President of Germany. But, at the same time, nothing might be less a matter of course in today’s Germany. It cannot be denied that Germany is the model pupil in the politics of remembrance of the Holocaust and other NS-atrocities. But this politics, this culture (and some might want to add, this industry) of remembrance implies also a culture of forgetting.
Joachim Gauck’s speech – as remarkable it might appear to most of us who are well aware of the post war discourses on German identity – echoed in German and Foreign media for a day, only for a day. Richard von Weizsäcker’s speech in May 1985, however, caused Germany and the Western world to sit up and take notice of what he said for months: “Yet with every day something became clearer, and this must be stated on behalf of all of us today: the 8th of May was a day of liberation.” Those words caused the Israeli Government to invite Weizsäcker as the first German politician to officially visit Israel. Undoubtedly, it was a speech about history that made history. 30 years have past since that speech and barely have we witnessed such controversial debates on commemoration since then, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin might be an exception here. One worth a thought, indeed, and I will come back to it shortly.
What happened in the last 30 years is the ritualization of remembrance. And with this ritualization comes a politic of symbols or politics of symbolic gestures: wreath-ceremonies – and none as authentic as Willy Brandt’s Warsaw genuflection in 1970 – name reading ceremonies, speeches, and among others of course, memorials. Symbols and metaphors used in this ceremonial commemoration culture make little impact, the times of earth-shaking words has past, because the rhetoric of commemoration is emptied of meaning and therefore cannot motivate emotional, political or moral engagement or outburst.
The times when Hannah Arendt, Theodor W. Adorno and Jean-François Lyotard proclaimed the essential ethical dimension of any dealing with the Holocaust, and often ended with the impossibility of representing the Holocaust in words, can only be remembered today, too. Those times have past as well.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is an exception, as I stated before, because it renounces any symbolic meaning. Although visitors feel themselves to be reminded of gravestones, the site was not designed to represent a cemetery. In fact, making use of an algorithm fed to a software program, Peter Eisenman avoided any direct human and artistic influence on the actual design of the memorial. It is this dilemma of post-war German politics of commemoration that I will continue to explore throughout this short series.
For more info on the project see: