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1989 as Turning Point?: German and Italian History Textbook Representations of the Holocaust and Resistance, 1980-2003

Mon, December 17, 1:15 to 2:45pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Beacon Hill 1 Complex

Abstract

There is general agreement among historians that Western European public memory of the Holocaust and the Second World War changed around the end of the Cold War. In looking at commemorative ceremonies in France and Italy, historian Rebecca Clifford noted that it was only with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communist political parties that “mythic narratives of the Resistance—so important to both communists and their political opponents—began to unravel.” However, in general, historical literature has not fully recognized the longue durée of some these changes in West European Holocaust memory and has inaccurately characterized 1989 as an abrupt rupture. My paper addresses this issue by examining the politicization of the Holocaust and Holocaust memory through the specific medium of school history textbooks, published between 1980 and 2003 in the post-fascist German states and in the Republic of Italy. Considering textbook representations of the Holocaust and resistance, my paper answers the following questions: how did politicized national narratives about the Holocaust and the Second World War, developed in a Cold War context, change with the fall of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany?; what exactly changed after 1989 and were these changes already in motion before the fall of the wall? I challenge the idea of 1989 as an abrupt rupture and argue that some of the changes that became very apparent after 1989 were already percolating throughout the 1980s, especially in the German cases. In the Italian case, many of the major developments in Holocaust memory did not begin until well into the 1990s. In conclusion, this paper, by challenging the idea of 1989 as an abrupt turning point in the German and Italian cases, sheds new light on the mechanisms by which national narratives shift and on how political change affects knowledge production.

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