The Multidimensional Remembrance Monitor (3): An active engagement with the past is associated with a felt responsibility for the present


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 Germans?

MEMO monitors how intensively participants engage with the subject of National Socialism, asking whether and how often they, among other things, read books, watched documentaries or movies, visited memorial sites or met contemporary witnesses. If we sum up these different ways of engaging with the NS-topic, the outcome can be interpreted as an indicator for the extent to which participants have critically dealt with the time of National Socialism.

Similarly, MEMO monitors participants’ self-reported civic courage regarding the prevention of discrimination and exclusion of people or groups of people due to their ethnic background, religion or other group affiliations today. This indicator consists of participants’ self-evaluation regarding the perception of and concern for discrimination and exclusion of others and regarding the felt responsibility, means and willingness to actively engage in preventing and fighting discrimination and exclusion today.

When analyzing the correlation between these indicators, engagement with the NS-time and self-reported civic courage for the present, we find that those participants who have more intensely confronted themselves with the time of National Socialism report a significantly higher degree of civic courage and feeling more responsible, more self-effective and more willing to prevent others from being discriminated or excluded in Germany today.

As the correlational data does not allow for inference of causal relationships, different interpretations of these results are possible:

First of all, those who have dealt with the German NS-history more intensely may feel more responsible for the present and be more sensitive to perceive parallels between political and societal developments in the NS-time and today because of their amount of critical examination of the past.

Secondly, those who perceive the issue of discrimination and exclusion of others in today’s society and who feel responsible to act against it, may consciously use the German NS-history to look for answers to present-day challenges in the past.

A third option is that both of these interpretations are true and that the examination with the past and civic courage in the present mutually affect each other.

No matter which of the potential interpretations applies, the MEMO data illustrates that the engagement with the past is positively interrelated with the examination of the present. A better understanding of this interrelation and its mechanisms may help to improve contexts where past and present are content of political education, e.g., in school, in the media or at memorial sites.

If practitioners better understand, which specific questions and motivations arise from a confrontation with the past and the time of National Socialism in particular, they can provide specific answers. If practitioners better understand, which questions courageous citizens have with regard to the past, they can make answers to these questions more salient and accessible.

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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Issue: Impact

Transitional Justice is value-oriented and aims to help build sustainably peaceful and just societies. What do we know about its real impacts?


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