Why don't we understand the story?

Holocaust and historical learning

Volkhard Knigge

To person

Dr. phil., born 1954; Professor of History in Media and Public at the University of Jena; Director of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation, 99427 Weimar. [email protected]

The historical culture in Germany has changed radically over the past thirty years. While the self-critical confrontation with National Socialism up until the 1980s was generally seen in the Federal Republic as a pollution of the nest rather than an elementary political and moral necessity, preserving the memory of the victims of National Socialism and the memory of the Holocaust are now part of the raison d'être. Institutionalized memorials have been created at the sites of once forgotten concentration camps and killing sites that were crowded through intentional destruction or indifferent reuse. With the memorial concept that was established in 1999 and updated in 2008, the federal government was involved in the process of coming to terms with the Nazi past and GDR communism to an extent that was hardly imaginable until then. The history of the controversial and delayed dispute itself has long been the subject of reflection.

Nevertheless, the expansion of the memorial landscape - between 1980 and 2010, more than 150 smaller and larger memorials were built in the Federal Republic - and the systematic conceptualization of learning more unacceptable Story (Imre Kertész) apart. This problem and the challenges associated with it are rather concealed by the normative rhetoric of remembrance, as it emerged not only in the Federal Republic of Germany, rather than a solution being connected with it. In a special way, the rhetoric of memory hides the question of whether not at least with regard to historical learning and with regard to the consequences for the formation of historical awareness - in short: from a historical didactic perspective - between history and a history that should not have happened , a distinction must be made between history and misanthropic, unacceptable, in the non-religious, non-metaphysical-historical-steleological sense of desperate history. Even if it is only because the latter is associated with a prohibition of identification and transmission, as well as a special cognitive-affective force that can stir up as well as frighten and frighten; at least when history is understood not only as a narrative construction without reference to reality.

The following considerations in no way claim to deal completely or conclusively with the history-theoretical and history-didactic basic problems of learning from unacceptable history. Rather, they want to draw attention to the fact that they exist at all. The often invoked "future of memory" is therefore inextricably linked to the question of learning from unacceptable history

Memory as the royal road?

When I refer to Hannah Arndt and Imre Kertész in the title of my article, I am doing so because both the concept of radically evil like characterizing history as unacceptable do not refer to the abstract or even metaphysical, but represent well thought-out historical experience and insist on thinking through, on understanding historical experience, so that inhuman history can be overcome and prevented with reference to historical experience.

Hannah Arendt, the German-Jewish philosopher who, after 1933, had to experience flight, internment and the lack of rights and defenselessness of a stateless person, used the concept of radically evil developed from 1950. [1] As in the case of other of their terms, Arendt's concern is expressed in it to analytically overcome the purely retelling depiction of National Socialist atrocities and to initiate an elementary self-understanding of how reason, history, politics, society and man must be thought after and with the experience of the Shoah .

Imre Kertész, who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald as a Hungarian Jew, explained in 1995 that the speech that has now become routine about the Incomprehensibility of the National Socialist crimes, especially the Shoah, "basically a synonym (for) unacceptable". Unacceptable - Kertész does not mean to say that the history and experience of National Socialism cannot be appropriated, that is, understood and understood. Nor does he understand unacceptability as a moral verdict, as one speaks of unacceptable behavior. Rather, he is concerned with exposing a defense against knowledge resulting directly from historical experience and expressing it symptomatically: "What we perceive as irrational, incomprehensible or explain it is (...) less a matter of external factors than of our own We simply cannot and do not want to face the brutal fact that the low point of human existence to which man has sunk in this century, not only with the strange and strange - 'incomprehensible' - story of a generation or two is to be explained, but at the same time represents one of the general possibilities of human beings, i.e. is an example of an experience which, given a given constellation, also includes our own possibility. "[2]

He, too, opposes the reduction of historical experience to gruesome detail and its isolation through hasty moral appeals, but by no means advocates the essentialist notion of historically decoupled, generally human evil that would arbitrarily and periodically break a path. Rather, he is concerned with an awareness that knows both about the concrete political, cultural and social characteristics of the "constellation" in which state and social reality turn into violence and destructiveness, and which also tries to understand which with it associated insights it fends off - and for what reasons.

In contrast, today, as indicated, primarily "remembering" is the ideal way to learn from and against the history of dictatorship and violence. [3] This is true regardless of the fact that the immediate, historically linked memory of National Socialism has almost completely disappeared and the ubiquitous talk of memory has eroded the term. Because neither individual nor historical memory in society is automatically identical with critical, contemporary-relevant learning from unacceptable history. In addition, according to this understanding, paradoxically, remembering describes both the goal of learning - namely learning to remember, learning to remember - as well as the process of learning itself, insofar as remembering and learning are equated. Accordingly, remembering is considered to be an adequate, almost natural interlocking of knowledge about the past, a valid interpretation of the past and political and moral values. The different dimensions of memory - from experience-bound micro-perspective life-history memory to the more or less experienced forms of historical memory in society - are blurred. Questions about the character and challenges of learning from unacceptable history seem superfluous; at most, questions arise about the modernization of the transmission of memory in the media, about rousing mediation recipes.

I would like to use two examples to indicate how far this process has progressed. Since Richard von Weizsäcker's portrayal of memory as redemption [4] in his address at the end of the war in 1985, which is charged with historical metaphysical reference to Jewish mysticism, the idea that the future of the confrontation with National Socialism lies solely in identification with the Remembrance of survivors - especially Jewish ones. Horst Köhler put it this way in his speech on the 60th anniversary of the end of the war in 2005: After Germany had changed "from within", the only obligation left was to "keep memories alive", understood as passing on the memories of contemporary witnesses from generations to generation. [5] Bundestag President Norbert Lammert also confirmed this view in his speech on January 27, 2015, referring to Elie Wiesel's idea of ​​the witness of the witness, calling it an encouraging experience that a "generation of witnesses of witnesses is emerging" in Germany . [6]

It is certain that the appreciative acceptance and acceptance of the testimony of those persecuted by the National Socialists in German society was of elementary importance for the self-critical examination of National Socialism. But it is also indisputable that even with the addition of countless micro-stories history can neither be written, explained nor understood. Teaching young people to remember, as recommended by the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs and a related meeting in April 2015 entitled "Learning to Remember", only exacerbates the problem. This is because this indicates a content-related and institutional breakdown of historical learning, namely: at school, history is conveyed more as material than factual knowledge, while memorials - misunderstood as mere places of remembrance - contribute value references and political orientations, for example in the form of human rights or the Legitimizing democracy.