A Memorial Laissez-Passer? Church Exhibitions and National Victimhood in Germany

  • Daniela Sandler


Church exhibitions on the Second World War are a common facet of German memorial culture. Overlooked by scholarship — perhaps for lacking the aesthetic sophistication and curatorial self-awareness ofmany contemporarymemorials and museums — these exhibitions are still part of a public realm of discourses on memory demanding critical examination.1 Church exhibitions are heterogeneous in form, content, and tone; they are unified by the use of Christian imagery and values. The explicit presence of religious symbolism inflects the representation of Nazism, the war, and reconstruction by evoking ideas of sin, punishment, and redemption. These themes are potentially problematic in narratives of the German past, decontextualizing German victimhood and suggesting the possibility of historical expiation and normalization.2 Some exhibitions avoid these pitfalls by presenting a broader historical background; others emphasize German suffering without mentioning the war origins, aggressions perpetrated by Germany, or the complicity of some civilians and clerics with the Nazi regime.


Public Realm Nazi Regime Religious Symbolism Foreign Takeover Cologne Cathedral 
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  1. 1.
    This public realm also includes exhibitions set up in schools, government offices, hospitals, and other institutions and public service spaces. See C. Paver, ‘Exhibiting the National Socialist Past: An Overview of Recent German Exhibitions’, Journal of European Studies 39(2009), 227–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Daniela Sandler 2010

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  • Daniela Sandler

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