The history and memory of the Shoah is one of the most contested, but also one of the most dynamically developing fields in Central and Eastern European historical culture. Throughout the region, extraordinary historical research has shed much needed light on local circumstances and the perspective of victims. Moreover, numerous new memorials and museums have been established to document and commemorate the stories of those who no longer exist; textbooks have been revised and educational activities launched to raise public awareness. Historical feature films and critical documentaries have gained widespread public acceptance (and even popularity), and interest in the Jewish history of the region is growing consistently.
Contrary to expectations, however, European integration after the 2004 EU enlargement has not established a consensus on the meaning of the Shoah for these societies today. Discussions about local collaboration with the Germans continue to be painful and antagonistic, and the wider relevance of new memorials and other initiatives is often challenged. In particular, debates in the region tend to juxtapose and compare the Shoah with the suffering of local civilian populations under the Stalinist regime often involving claims for remembrance on equal terms. The complex entanglement of local populations in the crimes and propaganda of both regimes has led to many controversies surrounding the designation of victims, martyrs, heroes and perpetrators. Proponents of national histories have struggled to integrate the Shoah into their master narratives.
The recent rise of right-wing populist forces has further accelerated the politicization of history and public memory. This concerns not only, but in particular, the memory of the Shoah. By limiting free speech and cutting public funding for museums and research institutions, the infrastructure underlying popular and scholarly engagement with the Shoah is at risk. The articles collected in this special FOCUS furnish evidence of this. At the same time, they provide rich insights into the ongoing public negotiations over historical legacies and contemporary memory cultures across the region.
With this FOCUS, the Cultures of History Forum launches a new kind of open-ended special issue that serves multiple purposes: It gathers previously published Forum-articles on issues of Shoah remembrance and memory politics in one collection; it will continue to publish analyses of public debates and cultural representations of the Shoah; and it will feature publication formats that fall outside the established sections ‘exhibitions’, ‘debates’ and ‘policy’.
The open character of this FOCUS also means that we would like to extend an invitation to all our readers to keep us informed about ongoing controversies, interesting exhibitions or new films, and to send us proposals for possible contributions. The format of such contributions can range from more classical analyses and exhibition reviews to film or literature reviews, interviews, new media analysis or annotated picture reports. We will consider all proposals and are looking forward to seeing this FOCUS grow.