Review of H. Marcuse, Legacies of Dachau (Cambridge University Press, 2001)

From Publishers Weekly
[text from webpage][back to Harold Marcuse homepage]
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

The title of this creative, dense book is slightly misleading: in fact, it casts a wider net over the ways in which Germany as a whole, not just Dachau, has dealt with the legacy of Nazism. Marcuse, a professor of history at UC-Santa Barbara, examines Germany's attempts during the past half-century to come to terms with its horrific wartime actions. Using a variety of sources, including interviews with survivors and Nazis, Marcuse shows how historical myths were constructed and how these myths affected the memorials built at places like Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp; such memorials, says Marcuse, "generally reveal far more about the groups that create them than about the history they purport to represent." Marcuse, grandson of philosopher Herbert Marcuse, posits that the struggle to memorialize the events of the Holocaust is a generational one. The first generation, many of whom were complicit in Nazism, shielded themselves from the past by claiming themselves to have been the victims, and by claiming ignorance and by resisting attempts to memorialize the past. Dachau itself had no memorial for many years. Many in the second generation, who came of age during the tumultuous 1960s, reacted against their parents' denial, he argues, by launching a full-scale political critique of German society, European democracy and even the Vietnam War. Only in the past few decades, Marcuse concludes, has a synthesis been reached that is beginning to allow Germany to create memorials that promote the "experiential learning" he believes is most beneficial for its hundreds of thousands of visitors. What is most striking about Marcuse's complex analysis is his innovative look at history through a culture's acts of memorialization; still, this book will appeal more to those within the scholarly community than to lay readers.

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