Reverberations of War
Communities of Experience and Identification in Germany and Europe since 1945
Dr Christiane Wienand
Christiane Wienand investigated discourses, narratives and practices of reconciliation in post-war Europe and Israel. Her research particularly focused on the role of youth and the young generation for reconciliation. She analysed various practices of reconciliation, diverging reconciliation narratives and public discourse on reconciliation from the early post-war y years onwards, but with a specific focus on the 1960s and 1970s as these two decades can be seen as the heydays of post-war reconciliation efforts. For her project Christiane explored several case studies of reconciliation activities of young West Germans who traveled to Poland, France and Israel in the 1960s and 1970s in order to undertake practical reconciliation work in social institutions, at war cemeteries, memorials and museums, and in Kibbutzim.
These young West Germans (who either experienced the war as children or were born afterwards) formed specific communities of connection and identification as they took over the task of reconciliation from the parent or grandparent generation. Christiane was particularly interested in those young West Germans who did their reconciliation activities under the aegis of two West-German organisations: Aktion Sühnezeichen/Friedensdienste (Action Reconciliation Services for Peace) and the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (German War Graves Commission). Both institutions organised work stays for young West Germans abroad, and both organisations placed these activities under the particular notion of reconciliation or atonement.
In her project Christiane combined various perspectives by analysing the ways in which the young reconciliation activists themselves perceived of their activities, how the notion of reconciliation was understood and debated within the two organisations, and how the reconciliation activities were placed and discussed in the wider contexts of German-French, German-Israeli and German-Polish post-war international relations. The primary sources she analysed range from ego documents (diaries, reports, memoirs) and oral history interviews to diplomatic documents, official speeches and newspaper articles. In order to gather her source material Christiane has conducted archive research in archives and libraries in Germany, France and Israel.
Christiane has published the results of her findings in several book chapters, covering various aspects of her research, such as the contested notion of reconciliation, the political mobilisation of reconciliation activists, the historical development and institutionalisation of transnational reconciliation efforts in the post-war decades, and the disturbing aspects of reconciliation. In her monograph she concentrates on the history of German-Israeli relations and the role the young generation played in setting up and maintaining these relations under the ideas of mutual understanding and reconciliation between Germans and Israelis, Christians and Jews.
An important result of Christiane's research is that a practical and discoursive focus on the youth as reconciliation agents made many reconciliation activities possible and welcomed in the first place. Yet the focus on the young generation at times also led towards obscuring and distracting attention from the violent past that has created the need for reconciliation. A wider ethical question arising from Christiane's research therefore is whether reconciliation can actually be achieved by those generations who have no personal guilt for what happened in the past. In other words: Is there reconciliation without perpetrators?