Between histories and memories: Torgau’s Memorial Museum for Germany’s short twentieth century

Andrew H. Beattie


Germany offers numerous examples of memorial museums, although beyond Berlin they are poorly represented in recent studies of the phenomenon. In studying the development of the Torgau Documentation and Information Centre in provincial Saxony, the article seeks to promote a more complex understanding of institutionalized remembrance in contemporary Germany. It argues for a closer look at the agency of East and West Germans and at the relationship between the Nazi and communist pasts. In particular, it considers dilemmas posed by depicting the history of Soviet internment camps in postwar eastern Germany, where former Nazi officials and bystanders and opponents of communist rule all became victims of Soviet mistreatment. The article raises key issues for the practice and study of memorial museums. It considers the difficulties of addressing multiple, interconnected histories within a single institution and the near impossibility of satisfying diverse and divided communities of memory. It also explores problems associated with the combination of historical documentation and morally grounded commemoration of victims that constitutes memorial museums’ defining characteristic. It suggests that curators, administrators and scholars need to reflect upon, and weigh up the competing demands of moral certainty and historical complexity.

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Copyright (c) 2015 Andrew H. Beattie

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360

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