Germans and Genocide after the Holocaust
by Andrew I. Port
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Pub Date 02 May 2023 | Archive Date 02 May 2023
Harvard University Press, Belknap Press
Germans remember the Nazi past so that it may never happen again. But how has the abstract vow to remember translated into concrete action to prevent new genocides abroad?
As reports of mass killings in Bosnia spread in the middle of 1995, Germans faced a dilemma. Should the Federal Republic deploy its military to the Balkans to prevent a genocide, or would departing from postwar Germany’s pacifist tradition open the door to renewed militarism? In short, when Germans said “never again,” did they mean “never again Auschwitz” or “never again war”?
Looking beyond solemn statements and well-meant monuments, Andrew I. Port examines how the Nazi past shaped German responses to the genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, and Rwanda—and further, how these foreign atrocities recast Germans’ understanding of their own horrific history. In the late 1970s, the reign of the Khmer Rouge received relatively little attention from a firmly antiwar public that was just “discovering” the Holocaust. By the 1990s, the genocide of the Jews was squarely at the center of German identity, a tectonic shift that inspired greater involvement in Bosnia and, to a lesser extent, Rwanda. Germany’s increased willingness to use force in defense of others reflected the enthusiastic embrace of human rights by public officials and ordinary citizens. At the same time, conservatives welcomed the opportunity for a more active international role involving military might—to the chagrin of pacifists and progressives at home.
Making the lessons, limits, and liabilities of politics driven by memories of a troubled history harrowingly clear, Never Again is a story with deep resonance for any country confronting a dark past.
Andrew I. Port is the author of Conflict and Stability in the German Democratic Republic and the recipient of the DAAD Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in German and European Studies. He is Professor of History at Wayne State University and former editor-in-chief of the flagship journal Central European History.
“A thrilling accomplishment. Ingeniously conceived and intrepidly executed, Never Again explores how German mastery of the Holocaust past proceeded through reflection on foreign atrocities, first in the postcolonial world and then in Europe itself. This is the most important study of memory, politics, and the ongoing construction of public norms written in a long time.”—Samuel Moyn, author of Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War
“A brilliant new perspective on postwar German history. Even with hundreds of books written on attempts to cope with the Nazi past, the political consequences of shifting memory culture have seldom been discussed. In exploring how the Holocaust became an argument in German foreign policy, humanitarian aid, and military interventions, Port offers a wealth of insight—not only on Germany, but also on its global context.”—Frank Bösch, author of Mass Media and Historical Change: Germany in International Perspective, 1400 to the Present
“A fascinating, carefully crafted look at how the powerful and dynamic factor of German memory of the Second World War and the Holocaust affected German foreign policy on the genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, and Rwanda. Port’s nuanced and suggestive analysis also contributes in important ways to our understanding of the making of Berlin’s zigzag policies on Ukraine today.”—Norman M. Naimark, author of Stalin and the Fate of Europe: The Postwar Struggle for Sovereignty
“This deeply researched book tells the story of how, by embracing human rights and engaging in humanitarian actions, Germany rejoined ‘the community of nations as a peaceful member.’ In doing so, Port illuminates the highly topical question of how Germany’s past both shapes and constrains its responses to contemporary bloodshed.”—M. E. Sarotte, author of Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post–Cold War Stalemate