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Sunday, February 10 • 1:30pm - 2:30pm
Apologia and Redemption: World War II and the Holocaust in Contemporary German Film

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The 2013 German mini-series “Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter” (Generation War) describes the sufferings of the German war generation with empathy without casting doubt on their complicity in the Holocaust. In addition to familiar images of German victimization, the film depicts ordinary Germans as perpetrators of heinous crimes. While this speaks to the explosion of contemporary cultural memories that at least prima facie accept the complicity of ordinary Germans, this is where the film reaches its narrative limits. Ultimately, it offers an apologetic redemption narrative that explains complicity of ordinary Germans only with reference to the seductive power of the regime and the brutality of war. What is more, stereotypical SS villains serve as negative foils to showcase the heroes' humanity. Yet, the film also acquits its non-Jewish protagonists from sexual and autotelic violence as well as ardent Antisemitism, which would render them unacceptable to today’s viewers. Worse still, it externalizes sexual violence to Soviet soldiers and Antisemitism to Polish Home Army partisans. The films also shows that the German protagonists redeem themselves through their belated self-liberation from the regime and their repentance. The film seeks to fulfil, not go against the expectations of today’s audiences willing to accept the complicity, though not the agency of Germans in the Holocaust. The movie thus epitomizes the current state of Holocaust memory in Germany, which despite strides for acceptance of the complicity of ordinary Germans has moved little beyond apologia and redemption.


Volker Benkert

Volker Benkert is an Assistant Professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University. His research focuses on the impact of sudden regime change on biographies after both totalitarian regimes in 20th century Germany. He is the author... Read More →

Sunday February 10, 2019 1:30pm - 2:30pm MST
238 Apache