This last week in class, we discussed the idea of German collective memory and screened the film Almanya – Welcome to Germany. The week’s discussions started with how the term “melting pot” was used to describe US culture in the early 1900s. The picture found on the Wikipedia page for the term (The Melting Pot) depicts the process of assimilation in a violent manner as it shows immigrants filing into a boiling pot. We concluded that the melting pot was an idealized concept in the United States. Scattered all over the country are Chinatowns and Little Italies, etc that serve as archives of the insular populations that result from cultures interacting with one another.
The struggle to unify the people of a country led us to one of our readings about memory citizenship by Michael Rothberg and Yasemin Yildiz. We focused on how commemoration of the Holocaust became a yardstick of German citizenship/identity. The paper began by describing the ‘paradox and double bind’ that constrained Holocaust memory. The paradox being that “it has seemed necessary to preserve an ethnically homogeneous notion of German identity in order to ensure Germans’ responsibility for the crimes of the recent past, even though that very notion of ethnicity was one of the sources of those crimes” and the double bind being that “migrants are simultaneously told to stay away from the Holocaust and then castigated as anti-Semitic for their alleged indifference to its remembrance.” Both of these conditions point towards a definition of German identity as one that necessitates a collective guilt regarding the Holocaust. Rothberg and Yildiz use the Stadtteilmutter as an example of non-ethnic Germans “performing Holocaust memory in contexts marked by migration.” They propose a comparative perspective of the Holocaust and engage in the negotiation of multidirectional memory being the intersection of collective memories as a shared past.
The second half of the week’s discussion started off with a student presentation that proposed an intersection of collective memories among today’s refugees and the millions of Germans that were refugees in 1945, after WWII. The refugees of past and present Germany share a past, suffering from the consequences of wartime. Their common history brings them together in Germany, ‘a shelter for millions’. In this way, Germany is functioning as a dynamic archive/museum of migration and their shared past. The discussion shifted over to the film Almanya – Welcome to Germany, “the story of three generations of a Turkish immigrant family,” as a depiction of communicative history. A couple of students pointed out that it was interesting to see the story being told as a secondhand account, rather than a firsthand account by one of the older relatives. It drew out our awareness of the mutability of oral history. Since the grandparents are present, viewers may find comfort in them telling the story because it would appear to be more accurate coming from them. However, throughout the movie, different family members contribute to the story and demonstrate how collective memory can be transformed. (WARNING: spoilers!) After Hüseyin dies and Canan reveals that she is pregnant, Fatma reveals that she was pregnant when Hüseyin kidnapped her. This scene emphasized how oral history is permeable and susceptible to change. Canan narrates the story in German to make it more accessible to Cenk, and that accessibility cascades to the intended German audience. Another way the film showed the link between mutability and commemoration of history was with the composite shot of Hüseyin and the millionth guest Armando Rodrigues de Sá, interacting with an archive of migration by embedding him in the shot. The discussion was moving towards how language factors into collective memory, but we ran short on time.
The student presentation on collective memory also proposed a new area of interest for future research/study. The student shared an interview with her grandmother that focused on her life before the war, her home and happy childhood memories. The student suggested that it would be a nice change to see more accounts of the positive memories rather than dwelling on the negative aspects of difficult times. Future research can look into positive/constructive events in collective memory. It would be interesting to look at the implications of commemorating positive events versus dwelling on negative ones, such as the Holocaust, and what kind of affect the composition of collective memory has on national identity.