The Multidimensional Remembrance Monitor (2)


Michael Papendick and Dr. Jonas Rees

Memorial sites of former concentration camps are emotional points of contact with German history

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 Germans?

Many of the ways participants report to engage with the subject of National Socialism are rather low-threshold accesses, e.g., reading books, watching movies or documentaries. However, visiting memorial sites, though rather effortful, is also among the most commonly used ways to confront National Socialism.

88% of all participants in MEMO report having visited a NS-memorial site at least once in their lives, more than half of all participants (57%) report more than two, almost one third (30%) even four or more visits to memorial sites. When asked about their first visit to a memorial sites, at least 47% of all respondents report the memorial site of a former concentration camp and are able to name it. Those respondents were then asked for their subjective impression of the visit.

It shows that visits of KZ memorial sites serve different purposes:

  • On the one hand, participants report that they learned factual knowledge about the NS-time and their visit motivated them to engage more intensely not only with the topic of National Socialism but also with current societal challenges.
  • On the other hand, the effect participants most frequently report when thinking of their first visit to a memorial site, is being strongly touched on an emotional level.

This subjective emotional impact of the visits correlates with a number of contextual factors:

  • First, those participants who report a particularly emotional experience also report having engaged more intensely with the topic of National Socialism in general and, even more interestingly, report significantly more visits of further memorial sites subsequent to this initial emotional experience.
  • Second, as participants answered questions regarding the circumstances of their visit, we find those who report having visited the memorial site voluntarily to report a stronger emotional impact, and also a stronger motivation to deal with the past and present more intensely.

The essential role of memorial sites as places of remembrance in Germany and elsewhere is undisputable. Memorial sites undoubtedly serve to preserve places of historical importance, e.g., sites of former concentration camps, and to commemorate the victims of the time of National Socialism. Potential impacts of visiting memorial sites seem manifold and range from provoking strong emotions to sparking an engagement with current societal issues.

The MEMO data do not give answers to all the questions arising around the role of memorial sites but clarify the potential of understanding: specific factors of visiting KZ memorial sites have a particularly lasting effect on visitors and motivate them to critically deal with the past or present. On the other hand, it seems valuable to better understand to what extent the visitors’ experiences coincide with their expectations, which questions they have regarding memorial sites and which specific questions arise from visiting memorial sites. Finally, memorial sites themselves may further specify the role they aim to play in the culture of remembrance and reconsider in how far their pedagogical concepts comply with their visitors’ expectations and motivations.

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.

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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