Coming to Terms with the Past in West Germany: The 1960s

Coming to Terms with the Past in West Germany: The 1960s

German Historical Institute, Washington, D.C. (GHI) and the University of Nebraska--Lincoln (UNL) (University of Nebrask)
University of Nebrask
Lincoln, Nebraska, USA
United States
Vom - Bis
19.04.2001 - 21.04.2001
Gassert, Dr. Phillip

Since the end of World War II each generation of Germans has been confronted by the challenge of working through the implications of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust implications not only for the political system and the international relations of the two republics, but also   for national identity, religious faith, education, legal practice, social policy, gender roles, cultural diversity, and a host of dimensions of daily life. As West and East Germans created new polities and set out to transform their societies, as they sought domestic and international legitimacy, their common recent past always informed and often dominated debates on the present.

Heretofore, scholarly attention has focused on the 1950s, the decade in which the two postwar German states were established and consolidated. The next frontier is the tumultuous 1960s, which are usually considered a crucial turning point in postwar history. West German youth rebelled against a culture that many believed had become excessively materialistic; they criticized the politics of West German realignment with the West and looked critically at their own nation's past and present, pointing to the many continuities that persisted from the Nazi era. These included authoritarianism (not least in the institutions of higher education, in the police forces, and in the legal system), xenophobia, technocracy, and patriarchy. Purging society of these legacies became an urgent priority of the West German New Left.

There seems to be widespread consensus that the New Left critique of the 1960s instigated a sea change in the ways Germans dealt with the Nazi era. The crucial events that shaped the contemporary debate are well known: The Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, the Fischer and Jaspers controversies, the parliamentary debates about the extension of the statute of limitations, the emergency laws, scandals involving high-ranking politicians, the rise of a large-scale extra-parliamentarian opposition, the resurgence of a Neo-Nazi party, and the Six-Day-War of 1967 come to mind. What has scarcely been explored, however, are the positions taken by the established parties and the "mainstream" of West German society. Even less understood are the costs and ambiguities of the transformation that took place during the 1960s. The troubled relationship of the New Left with the Nazi past is just one case-in-point. As the "68er" returned the past to the contemporary political agenda they simultaneously universalized and dehistoricized a highly sensitive political issue. In turn, the rise of the neo-fascist National Democratic Party (NPD) deeply affected the outcome of the debates in the Federal Parliament. Whereas the Nazi past was discussed more overtly during the 1960s, it was at least as politicized as it had been during the "silent" 1950s.

During the conference we hope to achieve a better understanding of the  political, social, and cultural forces that affected West Germany's relationship with the Nazi past during the 1960s. Papers should focus on specific problems, groups, or events within their historical and political contexts. Contributors are encouraged to steer away from general surveys and focus on detailed historical analyses. These might include case studies of how segments of West German society such as the churches, the political parties, trade unions, professional and student associations, businesses, the media, as well as state and private institutions negotiated the Nazi past. Participants may focus on individuals, such as Jaspers or Adorno, by exploring the genesis of their positions in some detail. Papers might also explore how West German discourses on the Nazi past affected debates on specific political issues of the time, such as reform of the penal code, the historical implications of a new West German foreign policy toward the East, the renegotiation of gender roles, and the discovery of "ethnicity." Finally, papers might explore how West Germany's confrontation with the Nazi past was viewed and influenced by other countries, including Israel, North America, East Germany, the Soviet Union, and the rest of Europe.

The conference will bring together a group of about two dozen scholars from both sides of the Atlantic. Sixteen of the participants will present papers, with the remainder serving as discussants. Lily Gardner Feldman (Georgetown), Norbert Frei (Bochum), Dagmar Herzog (Michigan State), Ulrich Herbert (Freiburg), Konrad H. Jarausch (Chapel Hill), Robert G. Moeller (Irvine), Frank Stern (Beersheva), and Omer Bartov (Brown) have agreed to serve as chairs of individual sessions.

Papers can be submitted in either English or German. In order to receive consideration, proposals must be postmarked no later than March 1, 2000. For further information please contact either Philipp Gassert or Alan Steinweis. Paper proposals should be sent to Philipp Gassert.



Dr. Philipp Gassert
Historisches Seminar
Universität Heidelberg
Postfach 10 57 60
69047 Heidelberg
Phone: 49 6221 542 477
Fax: 49 6221 542 449

Prof. Alan Steinweis
Department of History
University of Nebraska
Oldfather Hall 612
Lincoln, Nebraska 68588-0327
Phone: 1 402 472 3257
Fax: 1 402 472 8839

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