Skip to main content

Burdens and Beginnings:
Rebuilding East and West Germany after Nazism

In Honor of Konrad H. Jarausch



Thursday to Friday, April 6-7, 2017

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


The rebuilding of the two German states – the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) – after the end of the Second World War is often portrayed as a success story in the narratives of both former Allies, the Soviet Union in the East and the United States of America in the West. This perspective, however, contains significant gaps and overlooks the complexity of the transition from war to peace which the FRG as well as the GDR faced. It neglects the “burdens” of the Nazi past and its long-lasting impacts on German society and politics, the scars and problems caused by the Cold War division of Germany, and the many conflicts in both states and societies over the different paths to choose from for the new “beginnings.” It ignores, for instance, the opposition the mainstream policy faced in each newly founded German state: In the West the Left, especially the Communist Party of Germany and the Social Democratic Party, rejected Adenauer’s conservative domestic politics and his rapprochement with the West; in the GDR the Christian-democratic and conservative forces, such as the Protestant and Catholic Church, opposed the centralization and monopolization of state and society by the SED.

Moreover, new approaches in the scholarship such as the emphasis on the legacy of World War II in both postwar societies, the entangled transnational history of both German states and societies or the new perspectives of cultural and gender history have cast doubt on the politic-centered male dominated success narratives of Cold War German history between 1945 and 1961. Until today a controversial debate amongst scholars on how to write the history of the two German states still prevails. Is it expedient to highlight the parallels and the similarities of the two German states at least until the GDR isolated itself after building the Berlin Wall in 1961? Or should differences and divisions be the dominant lenses to examine the history of the two Germanies? Or should we rather analyze the entanglement and interconnections between the two states despite all their differences?

More than twenty five years after the peaceful revolution and German reunification a new look at the competing efforts in East and West Germany to rebuilt their societies after 1945 is necessary in order to understand the roads taken and the alternatives missed in attempting to fashion “a better Germany” out of the wreckage of the ‘Third Reich.’ Since the very concept of German nationalism was discredited, statehood suspended and competing models of society envisioned, it will be especially important to look not only at mainstream trends, but also to examine more systematically the contesting voices of the respective opposition which aimed to “demilitarize” and “democratize” societies and foster more “social justice” and “equality”—even though, the meaning of these political and social concepts was highly contentious.

A first set of issues the workshop will explore revolves around the toxic legacy of the Nazi dictatorship. How did the occupying powers seek to prevent World War Three, reorient a defeated enemy country towards a more peaceful future and deal with the humanitarian emergency of mass population movements? A second cluster of problems involves the construction of two competing states, the Federal Republic and the German Democratic Republic. Which traditions inspired these blueprints, what were their contrasting visions of citizenship and how did they try to reconstruct the gender order? A third set of questions addresses the challenges of dealing with the collapse of society and culture. How did intellectuals restructure their social theories, treat the toxic legacy of anti-Semitism and use the media to cope with problematic memories? A final set of themes concerns the growing estrangement of the victors in the Cold War since it distorted the efforts at a new start by forcing the Germans to choose sides. What were the great power interests, how did the defeated justify their competing departures and what role did the transatlantic ties of a democratic left play? The result of these discussions ought to be a better understanding of the complexities of the post-fascist efforts at a new beginning.

With this workshop we want to honor of Konrad H. Jarausch a colleague, scholar and mentor and explore a theme that played and still plays an important role in his research and writing: postwar German history and its East-West entanglements.




Thursday, April 6, 2017


Luncheon Seminar for Graduate Students

Post-1945 German Histories: New Approaches – New Questions

1:00 – 3:00 PM  I  UNC Chapel Hill, FedEx Global Education Center, 301 Pittsboro St, Room 4003


Luncheon Seminar for Graduate Students with MARY FULBROOK I University College London, Department of German

Organization and Moderation: PETER GENGLER I UNC Chapel Hill, Department of History I BRITTANY LEHMAN  I College of Charleston I LARISA STIGLICH I UNC Chapel Hill, Department of History


Suggested Reading:

Mary Fulbrook, Erfahrung, Erinnerung,Geschichtsschreibung: Neue Perspektiven auf die deutschen Diktaturen  (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2017), pp. 62-111 und 167-196

  • “Questionable Concepts: Trust, Distrust and Normalisation,” pp. 62-87
  • “Doing Justice to the Nazi Past? Remembrance and Perpetrators,” pp. 87-111.
  • “Writing Significant History: Reflections on a Relational Approach,” pp. 167-196.

Registered participants will get the reading by email.


Registration for the luncheon seminar is required before  1 April 2017.
First come, first serve. To register please 
click here



Public Keynote Lecture

Reframing the Past: Justice, Guilt and Consolidation in East and West Germany after Nazism

5:00 – 7:00 PM  I  UNC Chapel Hill, Wilson Library, Pleasants Family Assembly Room


5:00 PM:

KAREN HAGEMANN  I  UNC Chapel Hill, Department of History

JONATHAN HARTLYN  Senior Associate Dean for Social Sciences and Global Programs, UNC Chapel Hill College of Arts and Sciences

SIMONE LÄSSIG  I  Director, German Historical Institute  Washington, D.C. 


5:30 PM:

Introduction of the Keynote Speaker and Moderation: KONRAD H. JARAUSCH  I  UNC Chapel Hill, Department of History

Public Lecture:
I  University College London, Department of German

Reframing the Past: Justice, Guilt and Consolidation in East and West Germany after Nazism

Only a minority of individuals involved in Nazi crimes were prosecuted after the war; and the transnational history of trials is only beginning to be explored. Even less well understood are the ways in which those who were tainted by complicity reframed their personal life stories. Millions had been willing facilitators, witting beneficiaries, or passive (and perhaps unhappily helpless) witnesses of Nazi persecution; many had been actively involved in sustaining Nazi rule; perhaps a quarter of a million had personally killed Jewish civilians, and several million had direct knowledge of genocide. How did these people re-envision their own lives after Nazism? And how did they reinterpret their own former behaviors – their actions and inaction – in light of public confrontations with Nazi crimes and constructions of ‘perpetrators’ in trials? Going beyond well-trodden debates about ‘overcoming the past’, this paper explores patterns of personal memory among East and West Germans after Nazism.

8:00 PM: Dinner


Friday, April 7, 2017



Burdens and Beginnings: Rebuilding East and West Germany after Nazism

8:30 AM – 6:00 PM  I  UNC Chapel Hill, Wilson Library, Pleasants Family Assembly Room




8:30 – 9:00 AM: Welcome Coffee and Registration


9:00 – 10:45 AM:

Panel I: Burdens and Beginnings

Chair and Moderation: TOBIAS HOF  I  UNC Chapel Hill, Department of History


NOAH STRATE  I  NC State University, Department of History
Lions Lay down with the Lambs: The Weimar Generation and the Ideological Preconditions of Post-Fascist Germany

A recent study by a group of historians led by Axel Schildt and Alexander Gallus found that German intellectuals across all levels of the Federal Republic in the 1950s demonstrated a “readiness to discuss” as compared to the ideologically “fissured and hostile” environment of the 1920s. The shift they traced—from a will to power to a will to dialogue—was not confined to any one realm of political discussion, but rather pervaded the culture of post-Nazi Germany. This paper will focus on the so-called Weimar generation, those intellectuals born around the turn of the twentieth century who worked as young professionals (lawyers, economists, advisers, and educators) during the collapse of the Weimar Republic and went on to contribute decisively to the reconstruction of liberal democracy in the Federal Republic. It will demonstrate how the same cohort of Germans who once described their visions for the German future as mutually incompatible began, over the course of Nazi rule, to imagine new conciliatory ways forward based on an ideology of “partnership” and a will to find a common denominator of values out of a mix of competing worldviews. The resulting ideology, I will argue, must be understood as profoundly Christian despite its sometimes secular language of reconciliation and cooperation.

PETER GENGLER  I  UNC Chapel Hill, Department of History

“Between “New Settlers” and “Community of Fate”: Contending With “Flight and Expulsion” in the Two Germanies, 1945-1960

Standard assessments of the postwar integration of some eight million German expellees in the Western Occupation Zones stress factors such as the “economic miracle” and the 1952 “equalization of burdens” law as crucial milestones. Meanwhile, studies on the integration of a further four million in the Soviet Zone emphasize the rapid granting of equality and engagement of the “new settlers” in the labor market. While wartime fates and lost homeland were prominent subjects in public discourse in the Federal Republic, such discussions were strictly prohibited in the German Democratic Republic. By examining how the two German states discussed “flight and expulsion” from a cultural historical perspective, we are granted fresh insights not only into the dynamism and evolution of the collective memory of the largest forced migration in European history, but also into the two varying and competing methods of how over 12 million refugees were ultimately integrated. While in the immediate postwar period of the Western Occupation Zone the expellees themselves made a concerted effort to educate domestic and international audiences through the use of “sympathy narratives” that emphasized suffering and aided in their integration, in the Soviet Zone discussions of the expulsions were framed as a consequence of fascism and an educational tool to build a “New Germany.”

DEREK HOLMGREN  I  Wake Forest University, Department of History

“Papers or Humanitarianism?”: The Friedland Refugee Camp and West German Management of Displaced Populations in Cold War Context
Using the refugee transit camp located in Friedland, Lower Saxony as a case study, this paper examines West German efforts to aid and resettle millions of persons during and after World War II. These populations included German evacuees, expellees, and soldiers released from prisoner of war camps. Established in September 1945, the camp at Friedland was the lynchpin in a system designed to collect, register, aid, and resettle displaced populations. After discussion of the camp’s operation within the broader history of humanitarianism, an analysis of the interplay between imperatives for control (registration, categorization, and transit restrictions) and amelioration (aid distribution and medical services) shows how this regulatory form of humanitarians served the state and displaced individuals. Focus on this humanitarian approach to POWs and adolescent refugees traveling between the nascent German states furthermore helps to deconstruct Friedland’s Cold War mythos as the “Gateway to Freedom.”

Commentator: MICHAEL M. MENG  I  Clemson University, Department of History


10:45 – 11:00 AM: Coffee Break


11:00 AM – 1:00 PM:

Panel II: New States

Chair and Moderation: ADAM R. SEIPP  I   A&M University, Department of History


JAMES CHAPPEL  Duke University, Department of History
Revisiting the Welfare Dictatorship: Volkssolidarität, East German Eldercare, and the Socialist Style of Welfare in the 1950s

This presentation will question Konrad Jarausch’s influential depiction of the East German state as a “welfare dictatorship” through a close study of Volkssolidarität, the Communist organization devoted to care for the elderly. While his depiction certainly captures something important about East German statebuilding, it is important to note that socialists developed their own concept of “welfare” [Fürsorge], and one that is quite different from the one articulated in West Germany and in contemporary political science. Archival research in the recently-opened collection of Volkssolidarität shows in detail how East Germans in the 1950s theorized a uniquely socialist approach to the problem of aging—one that bore little similarity with the more traditionally “welfarist” approach present in the West.

BRITTANY  LEHMAN  I  Charleston College, Department of History
Naturalization and Ethnic Minorities in West Germany: Exceptions to Jus Soli, 1949-1974

The provisional West German Grundgesetz from 1949 connected German citizenship explicitly with German ethnicity, rejecting the idea that non-German migrants or their children could naturalize. Basing citizenship on blood, the West German law echoed Nazi statutes rather than reflecting pre-1933 German citizenship laws and traditions. West German officials argued that West Germany had to maintain its exclusive citizenship law in order to prevent cases of dual citizenship in accordance with international agreement. This stance proved impractical. The West German government was forced to reconsider its inflexibility first for Displaced Persons, living in West German as a direct consequence of Nazi action and later for as the number of children with ethnic German mothers and foreign fathers climbed into the hundreds of thousands. Exploring those early exceptions to the connection between citizenship and paternity, this paper argues that many West German politicians used that international law to excuse continued exclusionary behavior until forced to change.

ALEXANDRIA RUBLE   I   UNC Chapel Hill, Department of History
Postwar Paternalisms: Combating Fascism Through the Family in 1950s East and West Germany

After 1945, Germans on both sides of the Iron Curtain inherited a Civil Code that dated back to 1900 and designated women as second-class citizens in marital property, spousal rights, and parental authority. East and West German politicians and female activists pursued parallel reforms of the longstanding law as part of their larger postwar reconstruction projects. This paper compares how East and West German legislators envisioned the role of women, gender, and the family in their new, post-fascist German states. It demonstrates that in both states, Nazism’s treatment of women and the family served as a negative reference point for legislators. As the Cold War intensified, East and West German politicians often went one step further and cast the other Germany’s policies on gender and the family as “fascist” in nature in an attempt to distance themselves from the past and from each other.

Commentator: HELGA WELSH  I  Wake Forest University, Department of Politics and International Affairs


1:00 – 2:00 PM: Lunch Break


2:00 – 3:45 PM:

Panel III: New Societies and Cultures

Chair and Moderator: RICHARD LANGSTON  I  UNC Chapel Hill, Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literature)


JAKOB NORBERG  I  Duke University, Department of Germanic Languages and Literature
Adorno and the Nation

Theodor W. Adorno was one of the most important and influential public intellectuals in the Federal Republic of Germany from his postwar relocation to Germany until his death in 1969. By looking at a lesser-known text about his decision to return to Germany, this paper reconstructs Adorno’s thoughts on nationhood. It argues that Adorno has a keen eye for the individual psychological benefits of national belonging and something we could call the philosophical status of the nation in modernity, but that he remains peculiarly blind to the crucial institutional dimensions of nation-building, such as the importance of a national (and nationalizing) schooling system.

ANDREA A. SINN  I  Elon University, Department of History and Geography
Returning to Stay? Jews in East and West Germany after the Holocaust 

This article discusses the various forms of isolation and stigmatization experienced by Jewish communities in Germany in the postwar period and the ways in which they contributed to the process of democratization and rehabilitation of Germany into the family of nations. Aiming for a better understanding of the position that Jews in Germany took up within the German as well as the Jewish environment after the end of the Second World War, this article stresses the institutional dimension of Jewish return by focusing on the question of rebuilding Jewish life in East and West Germany. Based on this comparative analysis, this paper argues that competing and conflicting German, Jewish, and international conceptions of Jewish life in Germany that were voiced during the early postwar years play an important role in understanding the process of development within individual Jewish communities and the position that German-Jewish organizations occupy within the German as well as the Jewish environment today.

PRISCILLA LAYNE  I  UNC Chapel Hill, Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literature
Zwischen Halbstarken und Rowdys: Depictions of Consumerism, Rebellion and Gender in the 1950s 

In the late 1950s, several American rock ‘n’ roll films took West Germany by storm. Though these films addressed the problem of delinquent American youth, their themes and music resonated with German audiences. And though these films were not screened in the East, the open border between East and West allowed for both populations of young people to see these films and as a result adopt American clothing style and music. In 1956 and 1957 respectively, the West German film Die Halbstarken and the East German film Berlin-Ecke Schönhäuserallee addressed this youth problem in a German context. I will compare these two films regarding their portrayal of femininity specifically. Although both films link the problem of delinquent youth to consumerism, pop culture and “weak parents,” they take a strikingly different approach to young women. I argue that while consumerism in the West German film is clearly gendered and linked to femininity, in the East German film consumerism is linked to class.

Commentator:  JONATHAN HESS  I  UNC Chapel Hill, Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literature


3:45 – 4:00 PM: Coffee Break


 4:00 – 5:45 PM:

Panel IV: New National and International Orders

Chair and Moderator: HOLGER MOROFF  I  UNC Chapel Hill, The Department of Political Science


ANDREW PORT  Wayne State University, Department of History
Rethinking Regime Stability: The Loyalty of Ordinary East Germans in the Early GDR

In the early 1950s, the Maxhütte steel mill collected short autobiographies or “life stories” (Lebensläufe) written by more than 350 blue- and white-collar workers who had recently become Stakhanovite “activists.” These handwritten or typed documents shed light on a number of important issues that have attracted the attention of scholars working on the history of the GDR, namely, the political and economic viability of the regime, especially during the transformation process of the immediate postwar decade. The previous training and workplace experience of these activists suggests ways in which 1945 was not a complete caesura in economic terms: their prior know-how and expertise assured the proper functioning of the Maxhütte – the site of the only functioning blast furnace in the Soviet zone of occupation – and thus of the East German economy more generally. Just as important, these autobiographies shed light on a group that has received little systematic scholarly attention: ostensibly loyal and ordinary East Germans at the grass roots, whose support of the regime and its economic goals ensured – this paper will argue – the longer-term stability of a largely unloved regime.

LORN HILLAKER  I  UNC Chapel Hill Department of History
Forging a “Better Germany”: Competing Images of West and East Germany, 1949-1960

The early years of FRG and GDR cultural diplomacy were largely defined by the need to establish a role within their respective Cold War alliance blocs. The importance of competition, particularly among Western states and the so-called “Third World,” was further reinforced by the FRG’s Hallstein Doctrine of 1955 which strained relations between the two states even as the GDR sought international recognition. Cultural diplomacy offered a route outside of traditional channels of diplomacy to attempt to convince foreign citizens to support or at least have favorable views of either German state. Thematically, much of the cultural diplomatic media from this early period described the rebuilding of each state, adherence to international treaties such as the Potsdam Agreement, and worked to counter the immediate legacy of the Second World War among audiences who had only recently been enemies. As division progressed in to the later 1950’s the GDR and the FRG began to focus more on cultivating an image of a peaceful, friendly state superior to both the Nazi past and each other, ultimately setting the terms for the image-building contest to continue throughout the Cold War.

SCOTT KRAUSE  I  Center for Contemporary History, Potsdam
Revisiting Willy Brandt’s Berlin: The German-American Campaign to Reintroduce an Anti-Fascist Activist as a Cosmopolitan Cold Warrior, 1946-1966

Willy Brandt enjoys iconic status as the Chancellor who implemented the détente “Neue Ostpolitik.” Yet the Nobel laureate rose to prominence as West Berlin Mayor in the Cold War, denouncing the Wall as “barriers of a concentration camp.” Contextualization of Brandt’s years in Berlin, from arrival during the Allied occupation until departure as West German Foreign Minister, reveals that he sculpted a public persona utilizing the city’s rancorous urban politics. Brandt emerged as standard-bearer of former “revolutionary Socialists” who had returned under the banner of “anti-totalitarianism.” Hounded by accusations of disloyalty in exile, Brandt and a support network of local Social Democrats and American officials introduced him as a dependable anti-Communist to local voters and steadfast ally to American diplomats. Through friendly news coverage, high-profile travel itineraries, and commissioned autobiographical works, the anti-fascist activist Brandt reinterpreted his exile past, offering a post-Nazi electorate the kind of internationalism it craved.

Commentator: THOMAS PEGELOW-KAPLAN  I  Appalachian State University, Center for Judaic, Holocaust and Peace Studies


A publication of selected and rewritten workshop papers in a Special Issue of the journal Central European History under the title “Burdens and Beginnings: Rebuilding East and West Germany after Nazism and War—Comparative and Entangled Perspectives” is planned. The special issue will be edited by Karen Hagemann, Tobias Hof and Konrad H. Jarausch.


Reception in Honor of Konrad H. Jarausch
German History in Transatlantic Perspective

6:30 – 8:00 PM  I  UNC Chapel Hill, Carolina Club, 150 Stadium Dr, Chapel Hill, NC 27514


Welcome by KAREN HAGEMANN  I  UNC Chapel Hill, Department of History


Laudatio: CHRIS BROWNING  I  UNC Chapel Hill, Department of History

Laudatio: ELIZABETH HEINEMAN  I  University of Iowa, Department of History

Laudatio: HANNO HOCHMUTH  I  Centre for Contemporary History, Potsdam

Presentation of the FestschriftGerman History in Transatlantic Perspective” by MICHAEL L. MENG   I  Clemson University, Department of History and ADAM R. SEIPP   I  Texas A&M University, Department of History


8:00 PM: Reception                                                          


8:30 PM: Dinner


A registration for the reception and the dinner is required before 1 April 2017. The number of participants is limited.  First come first serve. To register  please click here


Co-Conveners and Sponsors of the Workshop:

  • Centre for Contemporary History, Potsdam (Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung, ZZF)
  • Duke, Department of History
  • German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)
  • NCGS Seminar and Workshop Series
  • UNC Chapel Hill, Department of History
  • UNC Chapel Hill, Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literature
  • UNC Chapel Hill, Center for European Studies
  • UNC Chapel Hill College of Art& Sciences



  • Karen Hagemann  I  UNC Chapel Hill, Department of History, email:
  • Tobias Hof  I  UNC Chapel Hill, Department of History, email:
  • Peter Gengler  I  UNC Chapel Hill, Department of History
  • Brittany Lehmann  I  Charleston College, Department of History
  • Larisa Stiglich  I  UNC Chapel Hill, Department of History