Between Mass Death and Individual Loss

Between Mass Death and Individual Loss: The Place of the Dead in Twentieth-Century Germany

Alon Confino
Paul Betts
Dirk Schumann
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qdc97
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Between Mass Death and Individual Loss
    Book Description:

    Recent years have witnessed growing scholarly interest in the history of death. Increasing academic attention toward death as a historical subject in its own right is very much linked to its pre-eminent place in 20th-century history, and Germany, predictably, occupies a special place in these inquiries. This collection of essays explores how German mourning changed over the 20th century in different contexts, with a particular view to how death was linked to larger issues of social order and cultural self-understanding. It contributes to a history of death in 20th-century Germany that does not begin and end with the Third Reich.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-051-7
    Subjects: History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Death and Twentieth-Century Germany
    (pp. 1-22)
    Paul Betts, Alon Confino and Dirk Schumann

    As the twentieth century begins to shift from experience to memory, historians are trying to understand what it has brought and left us. Like Benjamin’s Angel of History, they have trained their gaze on the accumulated wreckage of miscarried dreams and man-made catastrophes that have plagued the globe since the outbreak of the Great War. That the century is seen to have started in 1914 with political assassination in Sarajevo and to have ended in the very same city with the outbreak of the Yugoslav Wars following the events of 1989 may be too Euro centric for some, but it...

  5. I. Bodies
    • Chapter 1 How the Germans Learned to Wage War: On the Question of Killing in the First and Second World Wars
      (pp. 25-50)
      Michael Geyer

      The short answer to the question posed in the title—how the Germans learned to wage war—consists in this: Germans learned to wage war by learning anew how to fight in the course of the First World War. What they learned was an extraordinarily aggressive form of warfare, unprecedented both in its lethality and in the efficacy as well as efficiency of its means. In what follows, I will briefly detail and explain this particularly German form of warfare, as it emerged from circumstances in the practice of the German Field Army during the First World War.*

      Only the...

    • Chapter 2 The Shadow of Death in Germany at the End of the Second World War
      (pp. 51-68)
      Richard Bessel

      During the last year of the Second World War, more Germans died than in any other year before or since. In 1945 Germany became a land of the dead, a “Totenland.”¹ In the middle of a century in which death became less and less public, in which the dying increasingly were found in hospitals, old people’s homes, and hospices (a process described by Norbert Elias as a “tacit removal of … the dying from the community of the living”²) and the dead disposed of beyond the public gaze by “paid specialists,”³ in which “the sight of the dying and the...

    • Chapter 3 Reburying and Rebuilding: Reflecting on Proper Burial in Berlin after “Zero Hour”
      (pp. 69-90)
      Monica A. Black

      In Berlin under Nazi rule, particularly during the Second World War, the notion of “proper burial” often took on racial overtones. In the context of the Allied bombing of the city—when hundreds and even thousands of people were sometimes killed in a matter of hours—the privilege of individual, as opposed to mass, burial was often reserved for members of the racial community. However, in the last months of the war, mounting casualties began gradually to overwhelm municipal officials’ ability to see to the orderly and timely disposal of the city’s dead. With the arrival of the ground war...

  6. II. Disposal
    • Chapter 4 Fanning the Flames: Cremation in Late Imperial and Weimar Germany
      (pp. 93-112)
      Simone Ameskamp

      On one night in October 1874, flames consumed the portly woman’s naked body, which was partly covered by her thick long hair, and within two hours, reduced it to less than two kilos of ashes.² Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, British lower undersecretary and young widower, had brought his wife’s corpse from London to the glass factory of Friedrich Siemens in Dresden. Siemens had gained a reputation across Europe for maximizing the use of heat in his regenerative furnaces, which were used in heavy industry to melt glass and to remove impurities from iron ore. Subsequently he had discovered their use...

    • Chapter 5 Disposing of the Dead in East Germany, 1945–1990
      (pp. 113-128)
      Felix Robin Schulz

      Near the entrance of the Potsdam cemetery there is an area of closely cropped grass where, separated from the footpath by a row of cobblestones, a small sign reads “Caution, Graves: Do not Enter!” Few areas in the cemeteries of this world require a sign to prevent the casual visitor from stumbling over the graves. Normally in modern German cemeteries the graves are clearly demarcated from their surroundings by gravestones or grave-mounds. In East Germany, however, dispensing with such markers and physical borders left that quintessential feature of East German sepulchral culture, the anonymous communal area for the internment of...

    • Chapter 6 Death at the Munich Olympics
      (pp. 129-150)
      Kay Schiller

      Rather than for their sports, the Munich Olympic Games are known around the world for the terrorist attack that disrupted them on 5 September 1972. This is because the hostage-taking and massacre of eleven members of the Israeli team at the hands of a PLO commando was the first globally televised act of terrorism. Almost three decades before the planes hit the World Trade Center, an estimated 800 million television viewers watched the crisis unfold in the Olympic Village. In fact, were it not for an older generation of historians and politicians for whom “Munich” is still synonymous with the...

    • Chapter 7 When Cold Warriors Die: The State Funerals of Konrad Adenauer and Walter Ulbricht
      (pp. 151-176)
      Paul Betts

      It has long been commonplace to associate twentieth century Germany with the specter of mass death that so dramatically disfigured the so-called Age of Extremes. Over the decades Paul Celan’s famous line that “death is a master from Germany” has become a favorite mantra for invoking Germany’s preeminent place at the slaughter bench of twentieth century history. Such attitudes certainly colored the judgments at Versailles and Nuremberg, and have continued to inform academic and popular perceptions of the country ever since. But despite the twentieth century German experience of mass destruction, recurrent political upheaval, and radical social engineering, it may...

  7. III. Subjectivity
    • Chapter 8 A Common Experience of Death: Commemorating the German-Jewish Soldiers of the First World War, 1914–1923
      (pp. 179-196)
      Tim Grady

      Some four weeks after the Nuremberg Laws had irreparably altered the lives of Germany’s Jewish population, the Nazi regime turned its attention to the Jewish dead. In October 1935, Joseph Goebbels’s Ministry for Enlightenment and Propaganda issued a decree targeting the public commemoration of the Jewish soldiers killed fighting for Germany in the First World War. According to the ministry’s statement, the names of the Jewish war dead should no longer be displayed alongside those of non-Jews on German war memorials.¹ In some areas, but by no means all, the decree was rigorously applied and the names of the Jewish...

    • Chapter 9 Laughing about Death? “German Humor” in the Two World Wars
      (pp. 197-218)
      Martina Kessel

      In 1915, the journalist Peter Scher published a collection entitledKampf und Lachen(Fighting and Laughter).¹ Scher worked for Simplicissimus, one of the best-known satirical journals in Wilhelmine Germany.² He did not explain and did not need to explain the connection he evoked between fighting and laughter. During the First World War, every print medium carried jokes that dealt with the hardships of war and rendered the Allies ridiculous;³ countless joke collections, ranging from just a few to several hundred pages, periodicals likeSimplicissimusorDie lustigen Blätter,well-established newspapers like theVossische Zeitung,which included an additional “funny page”...

    • Chapter 10 Death, Spiritual Solace, and Afterlife: Between Nazism and Religion
      (pp. 219-231)
      Alon Confino

      Hitler and die-hard Nazis set out to transform radically German society by providing an alternative to Christian ways of life and thought. An important element of this project was the attempt to create a new Nazi liturgy of death for the national community, orVolksgemeinschaft.At the same time, German society was still overwhelmingly religious. Perceptions of death and practices of bereavement were linked to belief in God, to the church, and to notions of redemption and salvation. Nazism as a radical, revolutionary worldview faced traditional rites of death that are, after all, notoriously resistant to change.¹ By looking at...

    • Chapter 11 Yizkor! Commemoration of the Dead by Jewish Displaced Persons in Postwar Germany
      (pp. 232-258)
      Gabriel N. Finder

      Since the slaughter of Jewish communities during the Crusades in the eleventh century, it has been the custom of Ashkenazi Jews—Jews from Central and Eastern Europe—to hold a communal memorial service for the dead on the last day of the three pilgrimage festivals, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot, and on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This service is known by the Hebrew termyizkor(yizkerin Yiddish), which is the opening word of its central prayer. This prayer asks God to remember departed relatives and then all Jewish martyrs. (The wordyizkoris a form of the verb...

  8. IV. Ruins
    • Chapter 12 The Imagination of Disaster: Death and Survival in Postwar West Germany
      (pp. 261-274)
      Svenja Goltermann

      For some time now, the concept of trauma has enjoyed an inflationary career in public discourse as well as in historical studies. It is no longer just the Vietnam veteran or the Jewish survivor of the Holocaust who can count on being counted among the “traumatized.” “Trauma” appears to have taken over almost every where. This is not to deny that the Holocaust is still regarded, again and again, as the defining and most outstanding traumatic event of the twentieth century. But, as Andreas Huyssen argues in a recently published article, the discourse of trauma “radiates out from a multinational,...

    • Chapter 13 European Melancholy and the Inability to Listen: Sebald, Politics, and Death
      (pp. 275-297)
      Daniel Steuer

      When we contemplate this display of passions, and consider the historical consequences of their violence and of the irrationality which is associated with them (and even more so with good intentions and worthy aims); when we see the evil, the wickedness following from it, and the downfall of the most flourishing empires the human spirit has created; and when we are moved to profound pity for the untold miseries of individual human beings—we can only end with a feeling of sadness at the transience of everything. And since all this destruction is not the work of mere nature but...

    • Chapter 14 A Cemetery in Berlin
      (pp. 298-313)
      Peter Fritzsche

      Between Südwestkorso and Laubacher Strasse, in the Berlin district of Wilmersdorf, there is a cemetery surrounded by tall brick walls and shaded by comfortably old trees. It is a peaceful place and looks like a garden. Some of the dead buried there died young, but the number who died in the prosperity of old age is much greater. Their graves are carefully, sometimes whimsically attended, so that the cemetery has a warm, harmonious feel to it. But only on first glance. There are two outlying parts of this burying ground that are different and distinguish it from so many other...

  9. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 314-316)
  10. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 317-321)
  11. Index
    (pp. 322-329)