Antisemitism, antigypsyism, racism and discrimination – more than 76 years after the end of the National Socialist reign of terror, they belong to everyday life in Germany and characterize social debates. In recent decades, more and more work has been done to come to terms with history and remembrance in an attempt to understand the causes for the emergence of the National Socialist regime and thereby to contribute to ensuring that history is not repeated.
Memory is changing all the time. Old things are erased, new things are added, and existing things are modified. This is true not just of human memory. Whole communities, even nations, are said to have a collective memory or the ability to "remember" events that give rise to identity – and to recall and pass them on in the form of narratives, traditions or commemorative events. What a community remembers and how it does so is part of its culture of remembrance.
According to the OME lexicon, the expression "culture of remembrance" is a relatively recent neologism that emerged from intensified memory research in the 1990s. Astrid Erll, Professor of Anglophone Literatures and Cultures, defines cultures of remembrance as the "historically and culturally variable characteristics of collective memory". According to this definition, "we will never be dealing with just one community of remembrance, even in the most homogeneous cultures". In other words: Culture of remembrance is "the specific way in which a community deals with the past" (Hahn u. a.).
For a long time, the German culture of remembrance could be better described as a culture of repression. While the post-war Bonn Republic didn't want to know anything about its own crimes, the GDR, as an anti-fascist state par excellence, rejected any responsibility for National Socialist crimes.
The rigid silence of post-war German society was broken for the first time with the student movement of the 1960s. They challenged their parents as well as German society as a whole to finally face up to their past and crimes.
The culture of remembrance in Germany has changed and developed continuously ever since. Today, the remembrance of German history and the responsibility derived from it are part of the German reason of state – a milestone that is also expressed in the name of the EVZ Foundation (Remembrance, Responsibility and Future).
Today, schools in particular have become an important place for a critical examination of the National Socialist past and for imparting a culture of remembrance. Documentaries, cinema and television films, memorial sites and monuments as well as encounters with people who survived National Socialist persecution also help to keep the memory of the National Socialist era and its victims alive in the collective awareness and play a significant part in coming to terms with the past.
In this way, the EVZ Foundation – especially within the framework of its field of activity Education – funds projects that encourage reflection on the history of National Socialism, especially NS forced labor in European memories, and document, pass on, and make available the experiences of victims of National Socialism in a sustainable manner for historical-political education; the projects also contribute to the further development of cultures of remembrance in Germany's migration society.
But are the current forms of the German culture of remembrance still sufficient and up-to-date? How viable is the memory-cultural consensus of German society? Are the perspectives of minorities (Jews, Roma and Sinti, people of color, migrants, diasporic communities) taken into account, or do narrative forms favored by the majority of society about National Socialism, its genocide and its aftermath dominate? What happens when different communities of remembrance meet? What conflicts and contradictions need to be resolved? And how do the new media influence the critical examination of the National Socialist era?
The question of whether new approaches to remembrance are necessary is currently high up on the agenda of the EVZ Foundation and the institutions that it supports. For example, new digital formats for a critical examination of National Socialism will be developed and tested in the EVZ funding program "digital // memory".