What is Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung?

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wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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A literary addition: A group of writers know as Die Gruppe Siebenundfehrsig (Group 47, named after the year 1947) concentrated on writing postwar fiction that sought to dissolve and disperse the global animosity toward German culture after Hitler's reign.  Some of the writers, Gottfried Benn and Ilse Aichinger in particular, gained world-wide readerships and contributed to the regaining of the aesthetic, artistic reputation that Germany enjoyed with Goethe, Lessing, and so forth.  One writer, Renata Rasp, symbolized the Nazi aesthetic as an overdemanding father who ruined his son because of the son's desire to please the father.  Bertolt Brecht should also be mentioned, as a force to "overcome" the memories of the past; for example, Mutter Courage is an antiwar play that dramatizes the consequences of Germany's past history. Today, Germany has succeeded almost entirely in stepping outside its "historical memory." 

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung is a German word that refers to historical memory. It essentially connotes the ability to overcome, or master (bewaeltigung) the past (Vergangenheit.) The term has been used in Germany to describe the process of coming to terms with the terrible memory of Hitler and the Holocaust. Essentially, it means that the past is past, and that the German people must move on. It has had great currency among conservative German politicians, and many intellectuals in the country have feared that it may entail more of a process of forgetting than actually thinking clearly and honestly about what happened.

While the term (perhaps due to its unwieldiness) is not usually used in reference to American historiography and historical memory, it could be applied to the "Lost Cause" narrative of the Civil War and Reconstruction that tends to remove race and slavery from the war's causes. It could also be applied to modern narratives of the civil rights movement that de-emphasize both white violence and the push by civil rights leaders for economic and social as well as political equality. 

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