Dr. Katja Makhotina, research associate at the Chair of History of Eastern Europe at the University of Bonn.

Ms. Makhotina, MEMO V shows that Eastern and Southeastern European countries usually play hardly any role in Germans' remembrance of World War II. Why is this?

One reason is the western orientation of the German culture of remembrance: Western neighbors such as France, the Netherlands or Italy were also much closer to the Germans in everyday life than the Soviet Union, Poland or Yugoslavia. On the other hand, there is the ongoing transmission of the image of the "enemy in the East" through the anti-communist sentiment of the old Federal Republic, which then also became characteristic for East Germany after reunification. It is significant that Soviet and Polish literature about the war that had appeared in the GDR was not republished in the West. Consequently, the voices of those affected have not been perceptible here. For many decades, Germans claimed the victim perspective for themselves, centralized in the dazzling myth of the German sacrifice at Stalingrad. The fathers' generation was actually involved in the mass crimes of the Wehrmacht - but for a long time people couldn't and wouldn't talk about that. The West German connection had demanded that the FRG integrate the Holocaust as a negative memory for the nation. Society had no place in its emotional household for other victims or their perspectives. The ongoing unwillingness to become aware of the deeds of the war generation and the absence of the perspective of those affected in the culture of remembrance mean that these countries are still not on the map of remembrance in Germany to this day.

What have been the consequences of these blind spots in the culture of remembrance and the "not wanting to know" so far?

An immediate consequence for the culture of remembrance is a lack of awareness of the fact that National Socialist violence in the war of extermination also took place directly "on the doorstep" and in public. People from the "East" were here – as prisoners of war or as forced laborers. Here they were exploited and used as slave laborers, mistreated, publicly executed or they died by bombs shortly before liberation because they were denied access to air raid shelters. To this day, the only signs of their presence here are war cemeteries where they lie in mass graves, mostly without identification. There is no memorial for this group of victims in the German capital. An indirect consequence is the young generation's lack of knowledge about World War II, since history classes on these topics are often not sufficient. However, the resulting lack of understanding of migrant remembrance discourses seems much more important to me. Both the people living here with Polish, former Soviet, former Yugoslav (and not to forget – also Greek!) migration backgrounds bring different stories about World War II from their families. These stories, in which violence by Germans plays a role, are not present in the German culture of remembrance or remembrance policy. This also includes the frequently perceived Soviet=Russian equation. The Soviet graves are called Russian graves, and Russia is communicated as the sole victim and the victorious power. This is a mistake. The Soviet Union was a multiethnic state, and it is especially important now to appreciate that Ukrainians as well as members of other nations were among the victims. Because this relates to the issue of responsibility for remembrance: Germany has a historical responsibility not only in relation to Russia but equally towards Ukraine.

Under the impression of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, how can a nuanced remembrance of the history of violence in East-Central and Eastern Europe ensue?

The more time passes since the end of World War II, the greater its significance for Eastern European societies, and especially for the successor states of the Soviet Union. It is worth noting that it is precisely during the current transition from communicated memory (the historical eyewitness generation is disappearing) to a cultural memory that people are arguing about the war and its consequences. The peculiarity of the memory-cultural situation lies in Russia's current war against Ukraine: A successor state to the victorious Soviet Union, the Russian Federation has attacked another successor state, i.e. Ukraine, waging a war against its people and culture, drawing on the legacy and memory of World War II. It is understandable that in Ukraine a reorientation in remembrance policy is taking place: the memory of the liberation from National Socialism is being supplemented with the memory of the national struggle for one's own statehood and of the victims of Stalinist terror.

In Eastern Europe, it is difficult to endure the dialectic between liberation by the Red Army and occupation by communist regimes. An idea that brings together different European perspectives could start with the fundamental recognition of liberation by the Soviet Union. For the national movements, the German occupation may have been associated with less horror, but for their Jewish people it meant extermination. Here we find ourselves again looking at Eastern Europe as a blind spot on the memory map. Knowing these crime complexes would actually make the figure of the Soviet soldier appear as a liberator rather than a deluded Stalinist who was concerned with the westward expansion of the Stalin empire. Furthermore, the assertion of the liberating role of Soviet people can exist alongside the justified criticism of the Soviet state and the naming of Stalinist crimes. One important issue is not to play victim groups off against each other. One would have to consider that when current national narratives are adopted in Germany, they carry with them an ethically problematic attitude: Competition among victims, arithmetic of victims, and hierarchy of victims.