Contrasting silences: the public memory of German women's experiences of the second world war in a divided Germany, 1945-present

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University of New Brunswick


More than 800,000 German women were victims of the sexual violence perpetrated by Allied troops at war’s end, however, rape victims have not been the dominant image in public memories of the German wartime experience. Instead, memorials, ceremonies, speeches, and books lauded women as post-war Trümmerfrauen, “rubble women” who worked to reconstruct war-torn cities after 1945. This thesis sits at the intersection of changing perceptions of German victimhood and theories of memorialization, and examines, through a gendered lens, wartime diaries such as A Woman in Berlin, novels, newspaper articles, documentary films, and stone memorials, including the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin’s Treptower Park, and statues erected in honour of Trümmerfrauen. Both the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany instilled female wartime experiences into the public memory landscape of their nations; however, they did so in limited and intentional ways, in an effort to construct histories that aligned with their political goals. German memory politics shifted throughout the Cold War, and changed again after reunification, to reflect new nation-building projects.