The Great Patriotic War, as the Second World War was and is called in the Soviet Union and its successor states, played a major role in postwar Soviet political performance and propaganda. The celebration and memory of fight and victory served the political leaders as the central instrument to unify, create collective identity and – first of all – legitimize communism and constitute a historical proof for its supremacy. Thus the war was very present in public space and daily life: memorials, street names, poster campaigns, the pompous parades on memorial days, continuous references in media and political speeches; school and university teaching, the yearly bestowal of decorations; the authority and privileges of the veterans in Soviet society – all that conveyed a proud and glorious image of World War II. The official interpretation of the war followed the theories of historical materialism and focused upon fight and war – other occurrences were fitted into that pattern: suffering was declared struggle, concentration camp inmates were declared freedom fighters. Victims became heroes, other victims became traitors.
This interpretation clashed with many Soviet citizens´ own experiences and memories – particularly those who had experienced German occupation, deportation and forced labour. Biographical narratives reflect these tensions between individual experience and memory on the one side and official interpretation and propaganda on the other. Interestingly so, people deal differently with these disparate narratives. Analyzing interviews with survivors of war and persecution form Belarus and Ukraine, among them of Jewish and Roma origin, I will show how individual and collective memory interact, integrate, melt and create new images and explanation patterns of history.
Imke Hansen, PhD., is a historian and political scientist, specializing in Eastern European Contemporary History, Memory Studies, and Oral History. Currently based at the NorthEastInstitute at Hamburg University, she has previously lived and worked in Uppsala/ Sweden, Cracow/ Poland and Minsk/ Belarus.
Her doctoral dissertation (2012) entitled “Nie wieder Auschwitz!“ Die Entstehung eines Symbols und der Alltag einer Gedenkstätte (“Never again Auschwitz!“ The emergence of a symbol and the daily life of a memorial) was awarded the Polish Ambassador´s Prize and the International Auschwitz Foundation Award.
She collaborated on the document collection project “Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der europäischen Juden durch das nationalsozialistische Deutschland 1933-1945” (“The Persecution and Murder of the European Jews by National-Socialist Germany 1933-1945”), editing the volume on Belarus and Ukraine as well as on several international Oral History projects. As a court expert, she has provided evidence for the highly debated Ghetto pension claims cases (ZRBG). She has continued to publish widely on Holocaust history, memory and East European transformation.