With recent German heritage films, according to Anne Fuchs (2008), bad history emerges as a good story. I have added updates to this Dec. 18, 2011 post.

Phantoms of War in Contemporary German Literature, Films and Discourse (2008) is part of a publishing series at the University of Birmingham entitled New Perspectives in German Studies.

The paragraph I have chosen to focus upon is on p. 143 of Chapter 5, which is entitled:

“Narrating Resistance to the Third Reich: Museum Discourse, Autobiography, Fiction and Film”.

In this paragraph Anne Fuchs introduces a chapter section entitled Resistance as Family Romance: Jo Baier’s Stauffenberg. Der 20 Juli 1944. The author notes that the sixtieth anniversary of the July 20, 1944 plot, aimed at the removal of Hitler from power, was marked by a new television drama.

The cast of the television drama, which was commissioned and financed by public broadcasters, included well-known German actors. The author remarks in this passage that in many ways the drama “exemplifes the return to classical narrative in German cinema since unification.”

An observer named Sabine Hake is quoted as remarking that post-war German filmmaking tends to “enlist the harmonising effect of genre in the rewriting of the German past and the remapping of the German present within the cultural and geopolitical topography of post-Wall Europe.” Hake is described as arguing that with a reliance on production design, such films “turn German history into a visual spectacle that underscores the normalization of German history.”

“Overt nostalgia” that seeks to solicit a “new consensus”

The paragraph cites, as well, the observations that the (1) “new German heritage film” emphasizes an “overt nostalgia which attempts to solicit a new consensus for the Berlin Republic”; (2) popular films “employ melodrama to collapse the difference between past and present”; and (3) recent German heritage films have been characterized as an attempt “to master any residual anxiety about Germany’s past by converting ‘bad history into a good story.'”

The final paragraph on pp. 203-204 shares the following conclusions:

– The legacy of National Socialism cannot be put to rest easily.

– The subject of the book is the transgenerational legacy of Germany’s past.

– As a self-reflexive medium, literature is capable of highlighting the nature of “memory contests amd the silences and gaps that have punctuated these debates” about the legacy of Nazism.

– Films discussed in the book focus on psychological issues thereby placing them “squarely in the framework of contemporary trauma theory and the attendant victim discourse.”

– However, the author notes that her study “makes the case that the best examples of the contemporary family narrative offer a meta-critical perspective on the very categories that underpin this discourse itself.”

There may be value in determining what this statement means in everyday language. Without clarity in language, we encounter statements that are to a considerable degree devoid of meaning.

“Alternative history that … did not happen”

– Anne Fuchs notes that the stories in the study also “point to an alternative history that … did not happen. The idea of a retrospective historical agency is thus their prime trope [literary or historical device consisting of the figurative use of a word or phrase].”

– The family narrative discussed in the book probes the idea of tradition in terms of “a haunting phantom that irritates and beguiles at the same time.”

– The author speaks of a generational renewal featuring the emergence of a pluralistic society founded upon a rebuilt German cultural identity.

My take-way concept from the book is that a focus on strong production values in broadcast media is a natural outcome given the nature of the media. Such media place a premium on spectacular visuals. These characteristic production values have an instrumental use in the sense that instrumental reason is defined by the philosopher Charles Taylor. They can be used for whatever purposes a producer or broadcaster has in mind to use them for. The nature of the medium influences the uses to which the medium is devoted to.

“Lies and truth”

In A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction (2011), Ruth Franklin provides an overview of topics touched upon in this post.

Among other topics, the book discusses the work of the novelist Bernhard Schlink.

Franklin notes (pp. 18-19):

“Meanwhile, among the generation of writers … born after the war, whose lives were shaped by it even though they were not directly affected … W.G. Sebald stands out for his profound understanding of the ethical conflicts inherent in representing another person’s life story. In works such as The Emigrant and Austerlitz, he employed a unique method of documentary fiction, incorporating interviews, letters, and photographs, which tease and unbalance the reader by simultaneously asserting and undermining the authority of the texts. Bernhard Schlink’s novels, by contrast, have obsessively investigated the concept of collective guilt and responsibility, but stagnate in moral confusion.”

Selling the Holocaust (1999)

Selling the Holocaust: From Auschwitz to Schindler: How History is Bought, Packaged, and Sold (1999) is also of interest.

A blurb for the book notes:

“What does the Holocaust mean at the end of the twentieth century? Tim Cole examines three of the Holocaust’s most emblematic figures – Anne Frank, Adolf Eichmann and Oskar Schindler – and three of the Holocaust’s most visited sites – Auschwitz, Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – to show us how the Holocaust has been mythologized in the popular imagination. What he finds is disturbing. Cole show us an ‘Auschwitz-land’ where tourists have become the ‘ultimate ruberneckers’ passing by and gazing at someone else’s tragedy. He shows us a US Holocaust Museum that provides visitors with a ‘virtual Holocaust’ experience. He shows us that, from movies to museums, the ‘feel good’ Holocaust is being made in America. And, above all, he shows us that as the century closes the frightening reality of the Holocaust is being forgotten.”

[End of text]

Reality tourism

A related concept, “reality tourism,” is discussed in a blog entitled:

Displacing Desire (2006) and The Ethics of Sightseeing (2011)

What is a medium of communication capable of expressing?

A fundamental question is: What is film, as a medium, capable of handling? What is it capable of addressing, in a meaningful way? To what extent are the parameters that film can address bounded by the confines that Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism hints at, namely that “The medium is the message.”?

Similarly, what is a work of art, a work of fiction, capable of handling?

A corollary question is: What is a work of non-fiction capable of handling? From my limited study of military history, I would say: “A fair amount.” That said, the limitations of any medium of expression must be acknowledged and kept in mind.

Social theory applied to historical research

Elsewhere at this site I have posted several articles based on a study by Peter Burke of social theory as it applies to the work of professional historians. The topics addressed are of relevance regarding the topics addressed in the post you are now reading.

A number of other posts come to mind as well:

The value of first-hand accounts, presented within an evidence-based, fact-checked, corroborated context

In standard usage, “gentrification” is a limited term; the underlying process is of a wider import

The Social Conquest of Earth (2012)

The above-noted post refers to a number of studies including:

The Meaning of Human Existence (2014)

The Social Conquest of Earth (2012)

The post notes that a May 11, 2012 New York Times book review offers a critical perspective, and an interesting back story, regarding The Social Conquest of Earth.

Also included in the post are:

Germany, Hitler, and World War II: Essays in Modern German and World History (1995)

Genocide and the Geographical Imagination: Life and Death in Germany, China, and Cambodia (2012)

Of additional relevance, as the above-mentioned post notes, is a Granta report by James Fenton entitled “The Fall of Saigon.” The full account is available in The Granta Book of Reportage (2006). The book features well-written, in many cases first-hand, accounts of a selection of postwar events.

Museums and the Paradox of Change (2013)

A study entitled Museums and the Paradox of Change: A Case Study in Urgent Adaptation (2013) provides still another perspective regarding the topics at hand. A blurb at the Toronto Public Library notes:

“Museums throughout the world are under increasing pressure in the wake of the 2008/2009 economic recession and the many pressing social and environmental issues that are assuming priority. The major focus of concern in the global museum community is the sustainability of museums in light of these pressures, not to mention falling attendance and the challenges of the digital world.

“Museums and the Paradox of Change provides a detailed account of how a major Canadian museum suffered a 40 percent loss in its operating budget and went on to become the most financially self-sufficient of the ten largest museums in Canada. This book is the most detailed case study of its kind and is indispensible for students and practitioners alike. It is also the most incisive published account of organizational change within a museum, in part because it is honest, open and reflexive. Janes is the first to bring perspectives drawn from complexity science into the discussion of organizational change in museums and he introduces the key concepts of complexity, uncertainty, nonlinearity, emergence, chaos and paradox. This revised and expanded third edition also includes new writing on strengthening museum management, as well as reflections on new opportunities and hazards for museums. It concludes with six ethical responsibilities for museum leaders and managers to consider. Janes provides pragmatic solutions grounded in a theoretical context, and highlights important issues in the management of museums that cannot be ignored.”


A Feb. 7, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “‘My family resisted the Nazis’: why director had to film Alone in Berlin.”

A study of relevance to the topics at hand is entitled: Remembering the Holocaust: A Debate (2009); a blurb reads:

“Remembering the Holocaust explains why the Holocaust has come to be considered the central event of the 20th century, and what this means. Presenting Jeffrey Alexander’s controversial essay that, in the words of Geoffrey Hartman, has already become a classic in the Holocaust literature, and following up with challenging and equally provocative responses to it, this book offers a sweeping historical reconstruction of the Jewish mass murder as it evolved in the popular imagination of Western peoples, as well as an examination of its consequences.

“[Jeffrey] Alexander’s inquiry points to a broad cultural transition that took place in Western societies after World War II: from confidence in moving past the most terrible of Nazi wartime atrocities to pessimism about the possibility for overcoming violence, ethnic conflict, and war. The Holocaust has become the central tragedy of modern times, an event which can no longer be overcome, but one that offers possibilities to extend its moral lessons beyond Jews to victims of other types of secular and religious strife. Following Alexander’s controversial thesis is a series of responses by distinguished scholars in the humanities and social sciences–Martin Jay, Bernhard Giesen, Michael Rothberg, Robert Manne, Nathan Glazer, and Elihu & Ruth Katz–considering the implications of the universal moral relevance of the Holocaust. A final response from Alexander in a postscript focusing on the repercussions of the Holocaust in Israel concludes this forthright and engaging discussion.

“Remembering the Holocaust is an all-too-rare debate on our conception of the Holocaust, how it has evolved over the years, and the profound effects it will have on the way we envision the future.”

[End of text]

An Aug. 15, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “Joseph Goebbels’ 105-year-old secretary: ‘No one believes me now, but I knew nothing’: Brunhilde Pomsel worked at the heart of the Nazis’ propaganda machine. As a film about her life is released, she discusses her lack of remorse and the private side of her monstrous boss.”


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