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The introduction discusses the state of the current research on the post-1945 history of East and West Germany, explains the agenda of the special issue and discusses its main topics. The focus is the politics of survival in the chaos of collapse and the controversial debates about the agenda of the reconstruction. In these discussions different visions competed, from the restoration of traditions to efforts of a post-fascist modernization. The introduction questions the postwar success narrative by discussing the “burdens” of the Nazi past, such as Nazi perpetrators, displaced people, expellees and refugees, including the returning German-Jewish survivors. It also engages with the problems of the Cold War division by exploring the “new beginnings”, which were debated in relation to the past of Nazi, Weimar, and Imperial Germany, among them: cultural diplomacy, welfare policy and eldercare, family policy and gender roles, and popular culture. The essay calls for more comparative and transnational research of the postwar era, especially in the areas of the integration into the Cold War blocs, the postwar shifting of borders and peoples, narratives of victimhood, and memory tropes about the war and postwar.
Only a minority of Germans involved in Nazi crimes were prosecuted after the war, and the transnational history of trials is only beginning to be explored. Even less well understood are the ways in which those who were tainted by complicity reframed their personal life stories. Millions had been willing facilitators, witting beneficiaries, or passive (and perhaps unhappily helpless) witnesses of Nazi persecution; many had been actively involved in sustaining Nazi rule; perhaps a quarter of a million had personally killed Jewish civilians, and several million had direct knowledge of genocide. How did these people re-envision their own lives after Nazism? And how did they reinterpret their own former behaviors—their actions and inaction—in light of public confrontations with Nazi crimes and constructions of “perpetrators” in trials? Going beyond well-trodden debates about “overcoming the past,” this paper explores patterns of personal memory among East and West Germans after Nazism.
The historiography of the postwar Germanys often examined the Nazi legacy and the remarkable efforts needed for economic and social recovery after 1945. In both the FRG and GDR, the consequences of the war and resulting “flight and expulsion” featured prominently in public discourse and were among the most pressing challenges in the early postwar years. Examining how the competing regimes in East and West Germany attempted to solve the humanitarian crisis caused by the forced migration of 10 to 12 million German refugees in the first years after World War II reveals that the discourses and policies started from common points of departure yet diverged into competing narratives underpinning the states’ political and social agendas. Reconstructing the evolution of how the forced migrations were discussed and leveraged in the neglected period immediately after the war opens new perspectives on how Germans shouldered the burdens of dictatorship and defeat.
This article examines the resettlement of displaced populations in both postwar German states from 1945 to 1955. Specifically, it investigates who were the displaced populations circulating between the occupation zones, and what methods the German civil governments and occupying military authorities used to aid and resettle them. Through a case study of the Friedland refugee transit camp, this article argues for an expansive understanding of the term “refugee” to include more groups, ranging from Displaced Persons and German expellees to returning prisoners of war and civil internees. It further contends that transit camps were the linchpin in a system to render humanitarian aid, bring refugee movement under state control, and resettle the displaced. Analysis of camp operations and resident populations reveals the state as humanitarian actor in addition to international and charitable organizations, while also complicating the Cold War mythology of Friedland as the “Gateway to Freedom.”
Historical research has turned in the last years more intensively toward entangled and transnational histories of biopolitics, the family, and the welfare state, but without renewed interest in aging and pension policy, a sphere of human experience that is often interrogated in parochial terms, if at all. An analysis of the culture and policies of old age in East Germany in the 1950s and 1960s shows the importance of a transnational history of this subject. The GDR, the Communist state with the greatest proportion of elderly citizens, needed to create a socialist model of aging. Neither the Communist tradition in Weimar Germany, nor the experience of the other states in the Communist bloc provided substantial guidance. East Germans looked instead for inspiration to West Germany, which was itself engaged in a debate about aging and pension policy. By grappling with the Western experience, including its perceived and real limitations, the GDR in the Ulbricht developed a vision of what it meant to age as a socialist.
In the early years of the FRG and GDR, cultural diplomacy was largely defined by each country's need to establish a role for itself within its respective Cold War bloc. In the sphere of foreign policy, competition between East and West Germany to achieve recognition both from Western states and the so-called Third World was heightened by the FRG's Hallstein Doctrine (1955–1970). Cultural diplomacy offered a route outside traditional channels of diplomacy to convince foreign politicians to support or at least have favorable views of either German state. The cultural diplomatic media of this early period focused on each state's rebuilding and adherence to international treaties as well as on countering the legacy of the Second World War. As division continued into the 1950s, cultural diplomacy on each side of the iron curtain worked to cultivate an image of a peaceful, friendly state superior both to its Nazi predecessor and to its rival across the German-German border, setting the terms for an image-building contest that would continue throughout the Cold War.
To better understand the position of Jews within Germany after the end of World War II, this article analyzes the rebuilding of Jewish communities in East and West Germany from a Jewish perspective. This approach highlights the peculiarities and sometimes sharply contrasting developments within the Jewish communities in the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic, from the immediate postwar months to the official East-West separation of these increasingly politically divided communities in the early 1960s. Central to the study are the policies of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, which exemplify the process of gradual divergence in the relations between East and West German Jewish communities, that, as this article demonstrates, paralleled and mirrored the relations between non-Jewish Germans in the two countries.
After 1945 both German states overturned longstanding laws and policies from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that designated women as second-class citizens in spousal rights, parental authority and marital property. From the early postwar years, female politicians and activists in the women's movement pursued in both Germanys reforms of the obsolete marriage and family law. The article compares how these women and mainly male legislators in both states envisioned the role of women in the family and in gender relations. It shows that these debates in the FRG and the GDR were influenced on the one hand by earlier, pre-1933 ideas, and on the other hand reacted to Nazi-era politics. Yet, because of their different political, economic and social conditions, discourses and policies developed in the context of the Cold War in both states in different directions, though they continued to be related to each other.
In the second half of the 1950s, American films about “delinquent youth” took West Germany by storm. Although these films were not screened in East Germany, the still open border between the FRG and GDR allowed young people in both states to see these films. Many adopted American clothing styles and music in both Germanys. Two films, the West German production Die Halbstarken (1956) and the East German production Berlin–Ecke Schönhauser (1957) addressed “delinquent youth” in the German context and became quite popular. The article compares the competing images of femininity in both films, which linked the problem of “delinquent youth” to consumerism, pop culture, and “weak parents,” but portrayed young women very differently. While consumerism in the West German film was in a gender-specific way linked to femininity, the East German film linked consumerism to a class society and displaced it to the West. Contemporary film reviews and press treatment of main actresses reflected these differing attitudes toward gender and consumption.
In her book that explores Turkish migrant organizations in Germany, sociologist Gökçe Yurdakul detects a historical transformation in the political representation of migrants and minorities from the 1970s through the 2000s. She marks six historical events that lead to this transformation: labor migration (1961–1972), the introduction of family reunification law (1973–1979), post-1980 military coup asylum seekers from Turkey (1980–1988), the fall of the Berlin Wall and its aftermath of exacerbating xenophobia against non-German minorities (1989–1998), the introduction of the new citizenship law (1999), and finally the terrorist attacks on September 11 (2001–present). According to Yurdakul, these events mark a gradual shift in the minority rights debate. While the first minority organizations were formed around labor rights, gradually, due to these landmark events and laws, their demands shifted toward political and social rights of citizenship, and identitarian rights, such as the right “to exist as Muslims and as Europeans.”