The Rescue of Jews and the Memory of Nazism in German, from the Third Reich to the Present

Kabalek, Yaakov, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Confino, Alon, Department of History, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the changing images and meanings of assistance to Jews in the German societies from the Nazi period to the present. Recent studies of the rescue of Jews claim that before the 1990s this topic was “forgotten” in the Germanys. I show, in contrast, that depictions of solidarity with and assistance to Jews appeared in a variety of media and social practices ever since the immediate postwar years and played important roles in debating the morality of Germans.
This dissertation traces the roots of the postwar memory of rescuing Jews in the Third Reich. It examines the transformation of attitudes from the Nazi regime’s condemnation of solidarity with Jews as a primary condition for becoming a member of the “national community,” to reversed approaches after 1945. At the same time, it also demonstrates the continuation of cultural patterns, concepts, and images from and before the Nazi years to the postwar era.
I argue that while in the first two decades after WWII descriptions of rescue were “scattered” in and among representations and practices whose main interest was rarely the rescue of Jews, they nevertheless occupied a crucial place in shaping memories of the Nazi past by presenting a positive image of a moral Germany and providing non-Jewish Germans with an relatively unproblematic path to approach the Holocaust. The dissertation then examines the various attempts to “gather” the dispersed references to rescue from the late 1950s up to the inauguration of the national memorial “Silent Heroes” in 2008. The study concludes by trying to understand the continuing claims on Germans’ “forgetting” of the rescue and rescuers of Jews and the functions of these claims in shaping the postwar memory of the topic.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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