Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 January 2013
When a war ends, coming to terms with its violence and its victims is one of the most important and urgent tasks postwar society must perform. After 1945 Germany had to cope with the deaths of about seven million soldiers and roughly half a million civilians, many killed in air raids. In addition, there was an unknown number of refugees and prisoners of war. At the same time, the German people were confronted with the moral and political consequences of a military catastrophe, the destruction of many towns, occupation, and the undeniable crimes that the Nazi regime and the Wehrmacht had committed during the war.
In the context of these crimes and the experience of total war, the former interpretation of the fallen soldiers as heroic and patriotic warriors, serving in a just and noble cause, could no longer be maintained as a master narrative. Looking back at the years before 1945, most Germans had very ambivalent emotions: They remembered rather good times for themselves - compared to the postwar years the 1930s appeared normal - but no longer could deny the horrible times for the victims of German aggression and persecution. In this respect, it is of great interest to ask what period Germans perceived as the era of violence, who was seen as victims and who as perpetrators of violence. In short: What was the legacy of war in the German mind?