Remembering Nazi Anti-Semitism in the GDR

  • Bill Niven


In his book Divided Memory, the American historian Jeffrey Herf argued that, while public memory of the Holocaust and sympathy for the concerns of Jewish survivors found a home in West Germany, in East Germany this was not the case.1 Herf’s book portrays the anti-Semitic purges in the GDR of the 1950s, the relegation of Jewish survivors in East Germany to the status of second-class victims, and the GDR’s hostility towards Israel — which it regarded as an imperialist and capitalist country, and to which it flatly refused to pay restitution. Herf also describes the SED’s shameless use of the Holocaust as an instrument in the Cold War against West Germany, some of whose official representatives became the subject of SED smear campaigns based on their roles or alleged roles during the Third Reich. According to Herf, ‘while some East German novelists and filmmakers addressed anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, these issues remained on the margins of East Germany’s official anti-fascist political culture.’2 Herf sees evidence that marginalization, indeed even exclusion of reference to Jews was characteristic of commemorative practices in the GDR generally, and particularly in the opening ceremonies of the Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen memorial sites: ‘solidarity with the Jews had no part in these ceremonies of remembrance’, which foregrounded rather antifascist resistance.3 Claudia Koonz is equally damning in her assessment of the GDR’s museum and memorial landscape at Buchenwald, which, focused as it was on the effects of ‘international fascist capitalism’, left no room for a memory of the Holocaust.4


Jewish Community Memorial Complex German History Public Memory Memorial Site 
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  1. 11.
    K. Pätzold, ‘Die Benennung des Unvorstellbaren’, Weltbühne 5(4 February 1986), 140–2.Google Scholar

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© Bill Niven 2010

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  • Bill Niven

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