The Multidimensional Remembrance Monitor (1) - Divided (in) Remembrance


Michael Papendick and Dr. Jonas Rees

The culture of remembrance in Germany, widely appreciated internationally, is grounded in numerous state-funded institutions and an extremely  vital civil society engagement. But what do we know about its impact on the attitudes of [ordinary?] Germans? Researchers in Bielefeld have begun to study this question systematically and have developed the Multidimensional Remembrance Monitor (MEMO) for this purpose. They present some of their findings in a series of five short articles.

According to the MEMO data there is no single German culture of remembrance . On the one hand, there seems to be some societal consensus regarding the importance of historical remembrance, with 86% of all participants reporting being at least “somewhat interested” in German history and, more specifically, 93% stating that topics such as “the extermination of human beings in concentration camps” are “(very) important” to be taught in German schools.

On the other hand, the data reflects clear-cut differences in the content participants regard as important, in the ways they access remembrance and in their attitudes towards this remembrance. As one example, when asked for “the most important event to take place in Germany since 1900” respondents split into at least two subgroups, with 39% naming “the Reunification of Germany” as the single most important event in recent German history, and 37% “the Second World War”.

When comparing these groups, we find participants to systematically differ in terms of their demographic background: Those regarding the Second World War as most important are, on average, older, more educated, and more likely to have grown up in the West of Germany.

We also find differences in participants’ ways of remembering the time of National Socialism. Amongst other things, the younger participants in MEMO are, the less people, who have lived through the Second World War themselves, are reported to being known. With decreasing personal contact to contemporary witnesses for younger generations, other sources become more accessible: The younger participants are, the more often they report using the internet as a source to gather information about the topic of National Socialism and the more frequently they report having dealt with the topic in school.

As one may assume that different ways of access convey different content and require different ways of processing this content, e.g., when comparing personal reports about the NS-time to a more fact-oriented education in school, these shifts can be regarded as current and ongoing shifts in the German culture of remembrance itself.

As a final example for individual differences in the culture of remembrance, the MEMO data reflect fundamental differences in the interpretation as well as in the evaluation of historical remembrance, as we find a number of generational differences in the perception of the past. When asked for the most relevant reasons why Germans did not act against the systematic murders during the time of National Socialism, younger participants are significantly more critical, negating that the German population did not know about the murders or did not have an opportunity to act against it, whereas older participants are less accusing and hold the NS regime but not the population accountable for the crimes. Despite a general interest in German history, 26% of all respondents (MEMO I/2018) agreed that “it is time to draw a line under Germany’s National Socialist history”, with an increase to 33% in MEMO II/2019 - a development that may be seen as further cracks in the consensus that Germans should remember their past. This development and others should be monitored and better understood in the upcoming surveys.

These are only excerpts of the variety of responses in our data, but they confirm a fundamental and important conclusion of the first MEMO studies: The assumption of one culture of remembrance is an oversimplification and cultures of remembrance in German society differ in terms of what, how and why people remember. Projects such as MEMO may help understand these differences and monitor their developments.


About MEMO

The MEMO-project (Multidimensional Remembrance Monitor, “Multidimensionaler Erinnerungsmonitor” in German or MEMO for short) is led by the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence at Bielefeld University in collaboration with the foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future (Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft, EVZ).  Since 2017, MEMO observes the state of Germany’s culture of remembrance and its developments, using annual representative surveys conducted as Computer Assisted Telephone Interview (CATI), involving 1.000 randomly selected respondents. In the standardized survey, respondents answer questions both in open as well as in closed formats. Participation in the survey is voluntary and anonymous.

MEMO examines the historical memories amongst the German population, attitudes towards historical remembrance, factors that can shape or distort such remembrance as well as attitudes towards current political issues. One focus of the study is on remembering the persecution, displacement and annihilation of people and groups of people during the time of National Socialism in Germany and the questions, what, how, and why Germans remember. More specifically, we are interested in specific events and contents of family narratives (what), different ways and places of remembrance (how), as well as future consequences, derived from the critical examination of the past (why). MEMO is designed modularly in such a way that some parts of the survey are repeated, allowing for long-term observations, while other parts of the survey are adapted to specific issues in each wave.

Results of the studies are made available online for the general public in the form of reports – accessible at the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” website.

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Michael Papendick is a Psychologist and Psychotherapist, working as a Research Associate at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence since 2018.

Dr. Jonas Rees is a Psychologist, working as a Research Coordinator at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence since 2017

Issue: Impact

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