Frank Biess is Professor of History at the University of California-San Diego. He has published widely on the history of post-1945 Germany and Europe, with an emphasis on the enduring legacies of war and violence. His current project is a global history of the interwar Weimar Republic that places special emphasis on Weimar Germany as a post-colonial society.
“Aftermaths: Comparing Confrontations with Genocide in Weimar and Postwar Germany”
The talk will seek to compare and contrast the confrontations with colonial genocide in Weimar Germany and with the Holocaust in postwar Germany. The comparison (and contrast) between Weimar and the Federal Republic is well established and has served an important legitimizing function after 1945 (“Bonn is not Weimar”). At first sight, the divergence between a seeming denial of colonial genocide after 1918 and an eventually extensive memory of the Holocaust after 1945 might confirm this well-established contrast between “Weimar” and “Bonn”. Yet the talk will seek to deconstruct this somewhat overdetermined contrast. It will first argue that the memory of the colonial genocide was quite present in Weimar Germany, where it served a wide variety of political and ideological functions, including German colonial revisionism as well as a critique of persistent Western imperialism. Secondly, the talk will point to widespread patterns of amnesia and selective memory in the Federal Republic with respect to the Holocaust. On the basis of this analysis, the talk will then speculate about potential similarities between Weimar and post-1945 Germany as post-genocidal societies that both needed to confront “civilizational breaks” associated with extreme violence. The historical analogies between Weimar Germany as a postcolonial society and the Federal Republic as a post-fascist society might then also point to possibilities for the historiographical comparison between colonial and fascist genocides.