8 May in different perspectives – part 3

We always tell and negotiate history from our present and with a view to the future. Let’s ask ourselves: Which narratives about the end of the war were developed in Germany?

Starting from 1949, Germany was divided into two states: In West and East-Germany respectively, different interpretations and points of emphasis were developed.

Photo: Destroyed houses in spring 1945 (Bundesarchiv, 183-J31399 / unkown / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

In the GDR, which was shaped by the Soviet Union, it was primarily the anti-fascist resistance fighters who were remembered, while persecuted Jews, homosexuals, Sinti and Roma remained mostly unmentioned. Great importance was also attached to the memory of the Soviet fallen in WW2 the memorial in Treptower Park in Berlin still points at this today. In the Federal Republic of Germany, it was above all the flight and expulsion from the former German eastern territories that found its way into the history books.

Today’s textbooks are gradually trying to break up these limited narratives. For some years now, attempts have been made to take up different perspectives, including post-colonial ones. These invite us to critically reflect on the fact that there are different cultures of remembrance.

Photo: Axb / CC BY-SA

Due to new border demarcations and shifts in the balance of power, for many people around the world 8 May 1945 did not constitute an “end” but rather the beginning of a new phase of insecurity, fear and threat.

Let us look, for example, at the so-called displaced persons. With the end of the war, countless former concentration camp inmates and forced labourers were freed from the camps in Germany alone. But were they free? After having suffered discrimination, exploitation and violence, a period of fear and insecurity begins for them. They are on their way back to their old home or in search of a new home. Many of them end up spending several more years in so-called DP camps. They often continue to be confronted with racist or anti-Semitic discrimination, because people’s way of thinking changes only slowly.

Photo: No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Mapham J (Sgt) / Public domain

One of many displaced persons camps in Germany was in Hamburg. There this picture was taken. The camp was within the grounds of Hamburg Zoo. It was build during WWII to house the forced labourers. The camp was taken over by the British on 5 May 1945 and quickly given over as an arrivals centre for displaced persons. On arrival displaced persons were organised into groups of 50 for processing through the reception centre. They were dusted with anti-louse powder and given a registration card (D.P.3) bearing such details as their name, nationality and place of residence. All were then allotted a bed in one of the accommodation huts. In times of overflow a large former air raid shelter was used as overspill night accommodation. After a few days at the camp and when transport was available displaced persons were sent to the appropriate ‘National Camp’ ready for repatriation to their country of origin. On 4 May 1945, the German authorities estimated there were 45,000 displaced persons in Hamburg. This figure was later increased to 120,000.

Photo: No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Mapham J (Sgt) / Public domain