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Subproject C4

Transformation of Rituals Commemorating the Holocaust in Germany (1945-2000)

Department and Research Field: Educational Science and Sociology
Subproject C4 has been concluded June 30, 2005.

Subproject Management

Prof. Dr. Micha Brumlik

Fritz Bauer Institute
Grüneburgplatz 1
60323 Frankfurt am Main
Phone: +49  (0) 69 - 97 58 11 32
Fax: +49 (0) 69 - 79 83 22 41


Dr. Franz Maciejewski

Department of Germanic Studies
Heidelberg University
Haupststr. 207-209
69117 Heidelberg

Phone: +49 (0) 6221 - 54 32 07

Project Program

Today, ritual speeches about the Holocaust and ritual remembrance of the victims are in the core of (not only) German commemoration culture. Its scope includes socially agreed forms of public commemoration in the shape of confession and mourning rituals.


Our project aspires to reveal the underlying logic in the development of ritual dynamics in this complex commemoration history - with regard to politics, liturgy, as well as arts and aesthetics.


We will gather the historically divergent patterns of Holocaust commemoration in three different ways:

a) through the analysis of texts, discourses and rhetoric of typical ritual texts,

b) through the assessment of audio-visual material from archives and museums, and

c) through an empirical field study at the Buchenwald   

    Memorial (as an example for memorials).


Our aim is to inventory the core ritual commemoration profiles and first to compare them on an intracultural, and in the second step on an intercultural level.


As a standard of comparison, we will use the diachronic order of rituals based on (at least) three calendric rites:

  • November 9 - the yearly commemoration of the "Kristallnacht" (Crystal Night) in 1938,
  • July 20 - the attempted assassination of Hitler in 1944, and
  • January 27 - the liberation of the concentration camp Auschwitz in 1945.
  • We can further imagine an extension to include Mai 8 as the end of war and liberation day in 1945.


This approach promises to provide a good starting point for the research on this topic, since it allows us to objectify the moral-philosophical discourse that inevitably accompanies every "normative memory".


Public rituals of commemoration as defined above are understood as conventional forms of collective mnemonics. They are invariables in the cultural memory of a group or nation and either record (script) or demonstrate (performance) diverging feelings or memories. They are the indispensable but insufficient attributes of a torn and restored morality.


The failure of the ritualistic commemoration of the Holocaust is not rooted in "too little" remembrance or the inability to mourn. It is rather measured by its success to translate the impulses from commemoration politics and narratives serving to enhance the cultural space of a non-egocentric solidarity, into requirements on the performance of authentic gestures and creditable symbols as well as meaningful memorials. At the same time, it must refuse all attempts of instrumentalization.


The Buchenwald Memorial near Weimar is not only an instructive example of failure (being a place where a commemoration program was ordered by the state to legitimate authority), but also allows us to study the process of a sudden ritual inversion (indicated by the multiplicity of victim remembrance rituals, the staging of negative ceremonies and the emphasis on anti-memorials).


The formation of such a post-conventional remembrance code in the German commemoration culture serves as backdrop for our second project phase. During that second phase, we will assess the topos of "inventio", the invention of rituals that became exemplary, by comparing the genuine victim-centered ritual patterns of Holocaust commemoration in Israeli and US-American culture.


As an additional step, we consider extending the comparison of cultures to include a contemporary phenomenon: the globalization of public apology rituals.

Main Topics