On 2 September 2020, the globe celebrated the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II (WWII). This war remains one of the most painful and conflicting episodes in common European history. To mark this date, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum and its history programme “Different Wars: Remembering the Past” held a virtual discussion “75 Years Since: How We Remember World War II in Europe” in partnership with the EuroClio, European association of history educators in the Netherlands.
At the beginning of the discussion, the short film “Clash of Memories: 75 Years after the End of WWII in Europe” was presented to the audience by its director Stefano di Pietro. The film was released by the Forum in May 2020 and it deals with historical memory and different modes of remembrance in Germany, Poland and Russia.
The discussion was moderated by Steven Stegers from the EuroClio (The Netherlands) and the topic was introduced by Kristina Smolijaninovaite of the Forum. The speakers Jörg Morré from the German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst (Germany), Alexandra Lozinskaya from International Memorial (Russia) and Jan Szkudliński, historian and former specialist at the Museum of World War II (Poland), addressed the topic and tried to find the answers to the following questions:
• What are the main narratives of remembering WWII in different European countries? Who are the major actors of the commemoration process?
• How does the clash of memories emerge? In which way do the current conflicts of memories relate to each other?
• How is the topic reflected in the history school education? Is a unified history (or a unified textbook) possible?
• What can be done to resolve these conflicts deriving from the historical past?
During the discussion, the speakers shared their views and experience and identified that different historical narratives of remembrance of WWII exist in Germany, Poland and Russia.
In Russia, the heroic narrative of the victory of the war prevails today. The sufferings that the heroes and the victims of the war had to undergo are usually obscured by the shadows of the Victory.
In Poland, it is usually the opposite to the Russian narrative with the victims and the sufferings of the war being highlighted in the “official” history of WWII. Jan Szkudliński also stressed that some unpleasant events such as the Jedwabne pogrom, are being forgotten in today’s official Polish narrative.
In Germany, the culture of guilt and the historic memory predominates. Germans honor the victims of the Nazis in all affected states and pay special attention to the distribution of the facts and the commemoration of the terrible events that happened before and during the war.
The speakers also emphasised that it is essential to take into account the approaches of every state affected by WWII and to show both the positive and the negative sides of the history (i.e. between the heroes and the victims, the “good” and the “bad” actors, the ones who sympathised with the Nazis and their opponents, so called “grey zones”).
You can watch the discussion on our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/Kal-k6AWCZg