Ambiguous Memory examines the role of memory in the building of a new national identity in reunified Germany. The author maintains that the contentious debates surrounding contemporary monumnets to the Nazi past testify to the ambiguity of German memory and the continued link of Nazism with contemporary German national identity. The book discusses how certain monuments, and the ways Germans have viewed them, contribute to the different ways Germans have dealt with the past, and how they continue to deal with it as one country. Kattago concludes that West Germans have internalized their Nazi past as a normative orientation for the democratic culture of West Germany, while East Germans have universalized Nazism and the Holocaust, transforming it into an abstraction in which the Jewish question is down played. In order to form a new collective memory, the author argues that unified Germany must contend with these conflicting views of the past, incorporating certain aspects of both views.
Providing a topography of East, West, and unified German memory during the 1980s and the 1990s, this work contributes to a better understanding of contemporary national identity and society. The author shows how public debate over such issues at Ronald Reagan’s visit to Bitburg, the renarration of Buchenwald as Nazi and Soviet internment camp, the Goldhagen controversy, and the Holocaust Memorial debate in Berlin contribute to the complexities surrounding the way Germans see themselves, their relationship to the past, and their future identity as a nation. In a careful analysis, the author shows how the past was used and abused by both the East and the West in the 1980s, and how these approaches merged in the 1990s. This interesting new work takes a sociological approach to the role of memory in forging a new, integrative national identity.