What does it mean for a society to master its past, and what is the role of individual citizens? Despite the existence of an extensive archive for the files of the East German secret police, a recent study shows that “the majority of people on whom the Stasi kept files have not opened them.”  (The Guardian, 11/28/22)

“It was wrong to take the bronzes, and it was wrong to keep them for 120 years.” Germany has begun the process of repatriating its more than one thousand plundered Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. When will other countries follow suit?  (The New York Times, 12/20/22; The Guardian, 12/20/22)

“Rachel Posner, a rabbi’s wife in Kiel, Germany, took a photograph in 1931 that she had no idea would one day resonate with people across the world.” Ninety years later years after the Posner family fled for their lives, their descendants and renowned menorah have returned to Kiel.  (The New York Times, 12/19/22)

“The impression one gets from these sanitized histories is that this was a man who had materialized out of nowhere, with no discernible past, like an astrophysical Mary Poppins who had come to teach the people of Huntsville how to make rockets.” U.S. institutions have a long way to go in examining their relationship with pivotal figures of the Nazi war machine, such as Alfried Krupp and Wernher von Braun.  (The New York Times, 12/13/22)

Onkel Toms Hütte is one of Berlin’s most distinctive U-Bahn stations, with a name that references Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, a long-gone Biergarten, and a modernist housing development designed by Bruno Taut. Once a flashpoint in the great “roof war” of 1928, it’s now the center of a 21st-century controversy about the anti-Black slur that “Uncle Tom” has become. NPR, (7/30/08; Atlas Obscura, 1/19/17; The Washington Post, 11/27/22)

The newly renamed Manga-Bell-Platz and Cornelius-Fredericks-Straße in Berlin’s “African Quarter” now honor African resisters, not German colonizers.  (The Guardian, 12/2/22)

“Many of Germany’s most powerful memorials did not begin as state-sanctioned projects, but emerged—and are still emerging—from ordinary people outside the government who pushed the country to be honest about its past.”  (The Atlantic, 11/14/22)

“While we tend to think of courts as the guardrails of democracy, in 1920s Germany they were among its most implacable and insidious enemies.”  (The Washington Post, 10/29/22)

Germany’s fight over which weapons to give Ukraine, says Anne Applebaum, is really a fight over the lessons of 1945. Which is more important: preventing another genocide in Europe, “even if that means a military engagement,” or preventing “war at all costs by refusing to engage in one”?  (The Atlantic,  10/20/22)

Murdered at Dachau in March 1933, Arthur Kahn is believed to be the Holocaust’s first Jewish victim. Mattie Kahn honors and grieves the great-uncle she never knew.  (The Atlantic, 5/5/22)

The Habsburg empress Elisabeth is enjoying a 21st-century media moment—but this isn’t your grandma’s Sisi.  (The Guardian, 7/8/22; The New York Times, 10/7/22)

Not so banal after all: Hours of old tape recordings—once inaccessible to Israeli prosecutors, but now the basis of a new documentary—expose Adolf Eichmann’s “visceral, ideological antisemitism, his zeal for hunting down Jews and his role in the mechanics of mass murder.”  (The New York Times, 7/4/22)

When thousands of perpetrators of Nazi-era war crimes were still alive, German prosecutors were reluctant to pursue them. Now 90- and even 100-somethings are being charged as accessories to murder.  (The Irish Times, 7/2/22)

“It was wrong to take the bronzes and it was wrong to keep them.” Germany is returning two Benin bronzes and more than one thousand other items from its museums’ collections to Nigeria.  (Artnet, 6/29/22; The Guardian, 7/1/22)

“Putin’s selective telling of the past exaggerates the legacy of Nazism in Ukraine while ignoring the state’s historic struggle for pluralism and democracy. There is a good reason for this: he fears democracy more than he fears Nazism.”   (The Conversation, 2/26/22; The New Fascism Syllabus, 2/26/22; New Statesman, 3/2/22)

“Germany’s much-vaunted memory culture,” writes Eric Langenbacher, “is no longer producing the progressive effects that were always a key justification behind it.” Instead, it’s leading to inaction and “providing moralistic cover for anti-democratic, autocratic threats.”  (The New York Times, 1/25/22; AICGS, 2/14/22)

An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky, translated by Jackie Smith, is “a fine example of everyone’s favourite genre: the genre-defying book, inspired by history, filtered through imagination and finished with a jeweller’s eye for detail.”  (The Guardian, 12/4/20;  The White Review, 1/2021)

“The underlying Ostpolitik gambit of Egon Bahr, Brandt’s adviser, was a judo throw: entice your heavy, slow-moving opponent, the Soviet Union, to lean so far into your embrace that with a skilful twist you can throw him over your shoulder. Now it is Putin, a judo black belt, who is trying to throw heavy, slow-moving Germany over his shoulder.”  (Financial Times, 2/9/22)

Nina Gladitz, director of the 1982 documentary Time of Darkness and Silence, spent the rest of her life consumed by Leni Riefenstahl, “in the attempt to find evidence that would finally, conclusively, condemn” the notorious filmmaker as a knowing perpetrator.  (The Guardian, 12/9/21)

The 9th of November—Germany’s Schicksalstag— “is a good moment to remember that democracy should not be taken for granted.”  (The Spectator, 11/9/21)

In 1953 Reinhart Koselleck, “still at the beginning of his career, postulated that we need to discard the conceptions of history that provided ammunition for the ideological furies of the 20th century . . . and start rethinking from scratch what constitute the actual ‘conditions of possible histories.'”  (Aeon, 9/1/20)

“Like an imposing Disneyland castle minus the fun,” the Humboldt Forum is “an institution manufactured to fill a building, rather than the other way around . . . But the symbolism of rebuilding an imperial palace, crowned with a golden crucifix, as a showcase for colonial booty now seems almost comically misjudged.”  (National Geographic, 12/16/20; The New York Times, 7/22/21;  The Guardian, 9/9/21; Hyperallergic, 12/15/21)

“Upon publication, Fin-de-Siècle Vienna was quickly embraced by critics and readers in the United States, Europe, and beyond.” Thomas Bender recalls the historian Carl Schorske and his remarkable work.  (Public Books, 9/21/21)

“Two opposite, potentially even hostile, societies unite—that’s one of the most exciting sociological experiments you could imagine.” Sociologist Steffen Mau discusses Rostock’s Lütten Klein district and the traumas of German reunification.  (Jacobin, 10/3/21)

“There is no archive of spiritual malaise induced by catastrophic defeat or fears of your past coming back to haunt you, the way that there are archives for political parties and institutions of state.” Monica Black investigates the “post-Hitler spiritual and psychological distress” of a demon-haunted Germany after 1945.  (Cabinet, 9/14/21)

Judy Batalion wanted to write about “strong Jewish women,” and she found them: the unsung “courier girls” and other resistance fighters “who paid off Gestapo guards, hid revolvers in teddy bears, flirted with Nazis and then killed them.”  (The New York Times, 3/18/21; The Economist, 5/1/21)

Endpapers “is more than a book of history; it’s a transnational, intergenerational reckoning” about the extraordinary Wolff family and the idea of Bildung, too.  (The Boston Globe,  2/25/21; Lithub, 3/10/21)

Göring’s Man in Paris is “the story of a Nazi art plunderer and his world”—and how historian Jonathan Petropoulos became part of that world more than fifty years later.  (The Art Newspaper, 1/7/21; The New York Times, 1/17/21)

“Stepping into the past, sometimes, happens through art like the Stolpersteine creating unforeseen connections, and via technology bringing strangers across the world with a story to share together.” Now journalist Deborah Cole shares a story with the Ibermann family, who once lived in her Berlin building.  (AFP Correspondent, 2/23/21)

A dilapidated Boeing 707 with an unusual history is the last plane at Berlin’s Tegel airport. It’s slated to be removed by the end of April 2021.  (Atlas Obscura, 2/17/21)

Tom Rapoport‘s family emigrated from the US to the GDR in 1952. After German reunification, the molecular biologist lost his old job and found a new one at Harvard. He’s commuted between Boston and Berlin for the past 26 years.  (Berliner Zeitung, 2/13/21)

Why has it taken so many decades for Germany to charge now-elderly defendants who were once camp guards or other low-level personnel for Nazi war crimes? The 2011 conviction of John Demjanjuk was a watershed moment for the German justice system.  (The New York Times, 2/9/21)

Muslim-background Germans are not engaging “wrongly” with Holocaust education programs, says Esra Özyürek. Rather than remorse, they may respond with anxiety, fear—and radical empathy.  (Haaretz, 2/1/21)

Americans still have a great deal to learn from the Germans about coming to terms with a difficult past.  (Bloomberg, 1/30/21; Foreign Policy, 1/30/21)

“Holocaust museums for years have been asking visitors: ‘Beware the Holocaust because you could have been a victim.’ I suppose we are thinking: ‘Beware the Holocaust because you could have been a perpetrator.'” A new Imperial War Museums gallery reframes the experience of genocide.  (The Guardian, 1/27/21)

Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz, a prisoner at Dachau, secretly recorded his experiences on more than 1,800 pages between November 1942 and October 1944, then buried the diary underneath a concrete floor. He survived, and his testimony was unearthed after the camp’s liberation.  (The New York Times, 9/4/20)

“The presiding scientific genius of the Romantic age, when science had not yet been dispersed into specialties that rarely connect with one another, Alexander von Humboldt wanted to know everything, and came closer than any of his contemporaries to doing so.”  (The New Atlantis, Winter 2021)

The Dolchstoßlegende and the Big Lie are back in the news—and historians are here to explain why this is very bad news.  (The Washington Post, 11/23/20; The Washington Post, 1/9/21; The New York Times, 1/9/21; New Statesman, 1/13/21; Foreign Policy, 2/6/21)

The Jewish Museum in Berlin has a new director and a new permanent exhibition.  (The Wall Street Journal, 8/21/20; The New York Times, 8/26/20)

The Bohemians by Norman Ohler, translated by Tim Mohr and Marshall Yarbrough, is “a detailed and meticulously researched tale about a pair of young German resisters that reads like a thriller.”  (The New York Times, 7/14/20; The Spectator, 8/6/20)

The message of “Unveiled: Berlin and Its Monuments” at the Spandau Citadel is clear: “A monument is not a descriptive account of history, but instead a historical artifact that tells a story about power. In a setting that invites scrutiny, visitors can study Berlin’s monuments to grasp more clearly who had power and how that power was used.”  (Atlas Obscura, 8/14/20)

The message of “Unveiled: Berlin and Its Monuments” at the Spandau Citadel is clear: “A monument is not a descriptive account of history, but instead a historical artifact that tells a story about power. In a setting that invites scrutiny, visitors can study Berlin’s monuments to grasp more clearly who had power and how that power was used.”  (Atlas Obscura, 8/14/20)

One hundred years after the redrawing of the German-Danish border, a once “bloody European frontier” has become “one of the world’s most successfully integrated and multilingual border regions.”  (The Economist, 8/22/20)

Hitler’s Northern Utopia, by Despina Stratigakos, “tells the story of a broad range of completed and unrealized architectural and infrastructure projects far beyond the well-known German military defenses built on Norway’s Atlantic coast.”  (Metropolis, 7/24/20; The Washington Post, 8/20/20)

Suzanne L. Marchand “uses porcelain as a vehicle to weave a sweeping economic, social and cultural history of central Europe. Along the way, she traces the transformation of the hundreds of German principalities into a powerful state that, by the late 19th century, was producing porcelain on an industrial scale.”  (The Economist, 7/16/20; The Wall Street Journal, 7/28/20)

Scott Calonico’s short documentary Betrayal tells “the story of how the flight of an East German spy affected the family members he left behind.”  (The New Yorker, 8/5/20)

How do we identify Albert Einstein? For the man himself, “being Jewish and German were not questions of identity but rather mutable matters of identification.”  (Aeon, 4/2/20)

“With its heavy armour plating, its second horn halfway up the back, its three-toed feet and its cruel face, the poor animal looked more like a tank than the real thing.” Albrecht Dürer’s oddly inaccurate rendering of a rhinoceros shaped Europeans’ imagery of the animal for centuries.  (History Today, 8/2020)

The villa where it happened: a new exhibition at Cecilienhof commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Potsdam Conference.  (The New York Times, 6/29/20)

“For postwar Germany, the United States was savior, protector and liberal democratic model. Now, Germans, in shock, speak of the ‘American catastrophe.'”  (The Guardian,  7/23/20; The New York Times, 7/24/20)

Pömmelte, a sacred site from the Late Stone Age, is helping scholars “build a picture of the dawn of the Unetice culture, sometimes described as Europe’s first ‘state.'” You can visit the reconstruction near Magdeburg.  (The Art Newspaper, 6/2/20)

Freya von Moltke held onto her uncensored correspondence with her husband Helmuth, written during his last months in a Nazi prison, until her own death in 2010.  Last Letters: The Prison Correspondence, 1944–1945 has been newly translated by Shelley Frisch.  (Lithub, 9/18/19; National Review, 2/29/20)

“Available at train stations, supermarkets, bakeries, kiosks, factories, Portuguese beach resorts, online, and everywhere else Germans buy things, Bild Zeitung squats like a large toad on German life.” Thomas Meaney examines the history and persistent influence of Germany’s largest tabloid newspaper.  (The Guardian, 7/16/20)

Learning from the Germans? Thomas Laqueur explains why “it seems far-fetched to imagine that comparing slavery to the Holocaust can help us to come to terms with the granular ubiquity of American racism.”  (London Review of Books, 6/18/20)

“The well-intentioned determination of German politicians and academics to take exclusive responsibility for the Nazi genocide is now aiding other perpetrators to whitewash their participation”: A thoughtful critique by historian Jan Grabowski.  (Haaretz, 6/22/20)

Through the Darkest of Times and Attentat 1942 are among a new breed of video games that seek to portray the historical experience of National Socialism, and the difficult moral choices that accompanied it, in a more nuanced way.  (The New York Times, 3/20/20; The Washington Post, 7/6/20)

“The Habsburgs are a writer’s gift, offering a regal cast of mad, colourful and deeply flawed characters.” In a new book, Martyn Rady charts the rise and fall of one of history’s most powerful families.  (Financial Times, 5/20/20; TLS, 6/26/20)

“In the postwar era, Germany fundamentally redesigned law enforcement to prevent past atrocities from ever repeating. Its approach may hold lessons for police reform everywhere.” (The New York Times, 6/23/20)

Hello, Lenin? As a 35-year-old statue of the Soviet leader stands firm in Schwerin, Gelsenkirchen bucks worldwide trends to become the first western German city to display a statue in his honor.  (Digital Cosmonaut, 6/2020; Deutsche Welle, 6/20/20)

The biographies of Wolfgang Leonhard and Markus Wolf were “strikingly similar” until March 1949. “Yet one remained an enthusiastic collaborator, while the other could not bear the betrayal of his ideals. Why?” Anne Applebaum has answers; please read them.  (The Atlantic, July/August 2020)

Samuel Moyn weighs in on a stubborn problem for (not just) German historians: “It is true that in the face of novelty, analogy with possible historical avatars is indispensable, to abate confusion and to seek orientation. But there is no doubt that it often compounds the confusion as the ghosts of the past are allowed to walk again in a landscape that has changed profoundly.”  (The New York Review of Books, 5/19/20)

The bottom half of Kang Sunkoo’s Statue of Limitations, an 11-meter-high sculpture referencing Germany’s colonial past, has just been installed at the Humboldt Forum in Berlin. The upper half will be placed in the city’s Afrikanisches Viertel, so-called for its streets that were in named in the colonial era.  (London Review of Books, 10/4/19; The Art Newspaper, 5/18/20)

Of course, there’s a history behind the history. In History after Hitler: A Transatlantic Enterprise, Philipp Stelzel positions “the dialogue between German and American historians as a key part of the intellectual history of the Federal Republic and of Cold War transatlantic relations.”  (Mosse Program Blog, 1/11/19; New Books in History, 12/2/19)

“We have to sort this through and say: ‘These parts of my national history I can be proud of and I can stand by, and these parts I’m sorry for and I’d like to do my best to somehow make up for.'” A good place to start is Learning from the Germans: Confronting Race and the Memory of Evil, Susan Neiman’s comparative study of how Germans and Americans have come to terms (or not) with the injustices and atrocities in their national histories.  (The Guardian, 9/13/19; The New Yorker, 10/21/19; The New Republic, 10/31/19; The New Yorker, 7/6/20)

What lessons can we take away from the previous history of pandemics? Richard J. Evans, author of Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years (1830–1910), places Covid-19 in historical perspective.  (The New Yorker, 3/18/20; New Statesman, 4/2/20)

Konrad Adenauer, who served as the Federal Republic’s first chancellor between the ages of 73 and  87, “shaped West German politics and Germany’s relationship with the wider world more than any other single person.”  (The Washington Post, 3/9/20)

Did the Hohenzollern family “substantially abet National Socialism”? Millions of euros, and the fate of important cultural treasures, depends on the answer.  (Berlin Policy Journal, 2/20/20; The New York Review of Books, 2/26/20)

“The gulf between America’s ideals and its realities hit home particularly hard for one group: the thousands of black occupation troops sent to a defeated Germany to promote democracy.”  (The New York Times, 2/19/20)

Sinclair McKay has written a new history of the firebombing of Dresden on February 13, 1945.  (The Spectator, 2/1/20; The Economist, 2/6/20)

Donna Rifkind shines an overdue spotlight on Salka Viertel, “a destroyer of walls, a builder of bridges, a welcome among strangers,” in a new biography, The Sun and Her Stars.  (Harper’s, 1/2020; Time,  1/2/20)

Sheindi Miller’s diary, which documents her ordeal as a 14-year-old prisoner and forced laborer at Auschwitz, is now on display at the Deutsches Historisches Museum. Seventy-five years after the camp’s liberation, she attended the opening of the exhibition with her extended family.  (The Wall Street Journal, 1/24/20)

Mietskasernen, or “rental barracks,” have shaped Berlin’s culture and counterculture for more than a century.  (Citylab, 1/13/20)

“But even as Germany is regularly commended as a nation that has faced and taken responsibility for dark periods of its history, it is struggling to reckon with its colonial role.”  (The Washington Post, 1/3/20; Deutsche Welle, 1/19/20; Jacobin, 7/3/20)