Carefully crafted by a historian who is deeply steeped in the disciplines of sociology and political science, Divided Memory fully meets the expectations that anyone who has read its author's earlier works is likely to bring to a reading of this work. Building on the familiarity with the German scene that he had acquired while writing studies of ideas about technology and politics in the years leading up to and during the Third Reich and of the debates about "Euromissiles" in the 1980s , Herf has produced another fine book. As a result, he has fully established himself as one of the premier historians of the political Geistesgeschichte of Germany in the twentieth century.
This volume takes as its central theme the project of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or the discursive attempt during the years after 1945 to "master" the past that Germans had recently experienced, whether as perpetrators, as victims, or as bystanders. But it treats this theme in such a way that the interrelationships between memories of the past and more active involvements by rememberers in the milieux within which their memories were being constructed are continually analyzed and made clear. Neither an academic exercise in historiography nor a high flying effort to describe a disembodied "consciousness," it firmly situates conflicting ideas within sharply contrasting environments. It is in relation to them that the memories of things past become intelligible--as parts of political struggles to maintain standing and to gain advantages in the bitter struggles that were conducted by participant/survivors after the defeat of The Third Reich.
Divided Memory can be divided into two roughly equal parts: four chapters on the views of German Communists (mainly in East Germany but also elsewhere, from Moscow to Mexico City, between the late 1920s and 1945) being only a little longer than the three that treat developments in West Germany and in the expanded Federal Republic. One could object that because of its size relative to that of the West and for other reasons as well, which have to do with the thematic scope and depth of the discourse in each of the two areas, the East should have received proportionately less attention. But developments there have been underreported in comparison with those in the West, and they constitute the raw material for much of what is most original in Herf's volume. In any event, the distinctions Herf draws between the East and the West are quite instructive. He contrasts a highly selective and evasive view of the past that was in important respects amnesiac with one that, for all its defects, revealed a relatively high degree of willingness to face up to unpleasant truths. One finishes it with a distinctly heightened sense of the moral and intellectual deficiencies that worked to undermine the Communist system and of the fundamental solidity of the democratic regime by which it was challenged and eventually replaced. This book is not the work of either an intellectual or a moral relativist. Although memories are made intelligible as products of political circumstances, some memories are portrayed as having been fuller and more honest than others, and the policies in the present to which they lent support are portrayed as having been not only more effective but also more admirable than the policies pursued by men whose recollections of evil are found to have been either insufficient or distorted.
The "master narratives of antifascism" constructed by Communists before 1945 and the coordinated efforts thereafter by the Russians' allies in the East to establish and maintain their orthodoxy bore clear witness to the dominance of ideology over truth. Herf tells an exceedingly tawdry and depressing story, not only of the insistence by men such as Otto Grotewohl, Walter Ulbricht, and Albert Norden on the supposed primacy of capitalism and of anti-Communism as the central roots of the Nazi movement but also of persistent efforts to deny that Nazism had much if anything to do with anti-Semitism. With erstwhile comrades such as Ernst Thälmann (d. 1944) readily available for the party's veneration, there was no room in the East German pantheon of victims for the Jew, whose marginalization during the years of Communist rule was both historiographic and political.
The main exception to this pattern of evasion--Paul Merker--proves the rule. Not a Jew himself, he rose to a position of considerable influence within the regime, only to be convicted (in 1955) of support for bourgeois "cosmopolitanism" and thus of disloyalty to Communism. The charges against him were based in large measure on his vocal opposition, while he was in exile before and during the war, to the anti-Semitic tendencies that had loomed larger and larger in the Hitler period. Occurring as it did during a period in which Jews themselves were being ousted from positions of power primarily on account of their Jewishness, the Merker trial highlighted the ways in which the refusal by most Communists to grapple at all seriously with the Holocaust were linked to a persistent and powerful strain of Communist anti-Semitism. As Herf points out, this tendency had implications not only for the domestic scene (where it helped to integrate former Nazis into the new dictatorship) but also for the foreign scene. It fitted quite neatly into the Soviet policy of opposition to an "imperialist" Israel and solidarity with the Soviets' other client states in the Middle East.
Herf's discussion of developments in the West makes a similarly strong case (one of the recurrent arguments his book) for the continuities between pre- and post-1945 traditions. Here, however, his attention turns to a genuine diversity of opinions--to the conservative tradition represented by Konrad Adenauer, to the liberal one represented by Theodor Heuss, and to the socialist one represented by Kurt Schumacher. Each of the three clusters of opinion on which Herf focuses in his discussion of the West took root within a particular sector of the political spectrum, and they served differing political purposes. Adenauer's memories were sharply critical of German nationalism and of mass susceptibility to demagoguery but often rather fuzzy and forgiving when what was at issue was the responsibility of individuals (such as Hans Globke) who had been complicit in earlier wrongdoing. They served to buttress integration into the Atlantic alliance, to buttress new forms of (ultimately accountable) authoritarian governance, and to facilitate inclusion of earlier Nazis into a democratic regime. Heuss placed greater emphasis on the responsibility of individuals, in the present as well as in the past, while Schumacher paid greater attention to the roles played by social and economic elites.
What stands out overall in comparison with the East is that across the board in the West there was a persistent and indeed a growing willingness to face up to the horrors of the Holocaust. This was evident not only in a moving speech that was given by Heuss at Bergen-Belsen when he was Bundespräsident in 1952 but also in many other pronouncements by other leaders, perhaps the most famous of which was the speech given by President Richard von Weizsäcker in 1985. To be sure, Adenauer preferred to soft-pedal the themes of guilt and contrition. To a much greater extent than Heuss and Schumacher, he was willing to tolerate a certain degree of amnesia, which he believed was necessary if former Nazis were to become supporters of the post-totalitarian regime. Nonetheless, the numbers of persons brought to trial on charges of war crimes during Adenauer's time in office were much larger in comparison with the numbers in the East than population differences alone would suggest. Moreover, it was under Adenauer's leadership that the West began to make massive payments by way of restitution to Israel.
The gaps--both intellectual and political--in favor of leaders in the West remained undiminished right up until the eve of reunification. It was only then, in April of 1990, that the first democratically elected Volkskammer of the German Democratic Republic belatedly accepted the notion that both of the German states that had succeeded the Third Reich--not just the "bourgeois" state in the West--bore responsibility for earlier evils and expressed willingness to pay reparations to and establish relations with the state of Israel. New memories were needed for the purpose of reasserting governmental legitimacy, but the time was long since past when they could do much if anything to bring about the desired end. Although many of those in the West had faced up to their country's recent past only grudgingly and incompletely, evidence there of intellectual honesty and of contrite acts had been vastly superior to such evidence in the East, and it seems only just--for this reason as well as for others--that the GDR has itself become an object of remembrance.
1 Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984); War by other Means: Soviet Power, West German Resistence, and the Battle of the Euromissiles (New York: Free Press, 1991).