Skip to content

Michael Rothberg and Yasemin Yildiz

Michael Rothberg and Yasemin Yildiz (University of Illinois)

“What Does ‘Coming to Terms with the Past’ Mean (in an Immigration Society)? Turkish/German Vergangenheitsbewältigung”

Wednesday June 13, 6 pm, IG 411

In establishing itself as the successor to National Socialism, West Germany faced a paradigmatic dilemma of political transition: how to situate itself in relation to the state-sponsored crimes of the immediate past. Over the course of several decades, and in the face of conflict and controversy, a public embrace of responsibility for the Holocaust came to play a key role in the definition of German national identity, even as private discourses continued to focus more on the fate of non-Jewish Germans than on the Shoah. Although it is rarely remarked, the period in which this public consensus about the Nazi genocide evolved corresponds exactly to the years in which labor migration transformed national demographics. How does it change the narrative of German Vergangenheitsbewältigung (“mastering the past”) when we take account of this other history? What implications does such a conjunction have for other nations dealing with difficult pasts in heterogeneous societies? Immigrants to Germany—especially those coded as “Muslim”—are often described as uninterested in and even hostile to commemoration of the Holocaust; however, a substantial “archive” of immigrant memory work on the Holocaust and National Socialism exists in a variety of arenas. Drawing on examples from diverse realms of cultural production and social activism, this talk will argue that migrant archives can prompt a new approach to attempts to grapple with the traumatic legacies of genocide in Germany and beyond.