Discourses of Victim Associations: Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in Comparative Perspective

Project director: Martin Schulze Wessel, K.Erik Franzen

Project time frame: 2007 – 2011

Supported by: Beauftragter für Kultur und Medien der Bundesregierung (Commissioner for Culture and Media of the Federal Government) / Europäisches Netzwerk Erinnerung und Solidarität (European Network for Remembrance and Solidarity)



For the injustice to which they were subjected, victims of the Second World War have demanded and continue to demand social recognition, symbolic and/or material "compensation", an elucidation of the crimes and a conviction of the culprits.

"Discourses of Victim Associations" is a project of the Deutsch-Tschechische und Deutsch-Slowakische Historikerkommission (German-Czech and German-Slovak commission of historians) that is conducted in cooperation with the Collegium Carolinum. The examination focuses on victim groups of the Second World War as well as on the associations in which they were organized, which, after 1945, acted as protagonists in various ways, basing the legitimacy of their actions on their collective experiences.

On the one hand, an examination of the victim associations and their discourses is relevant and makes sense from a scientific point of view, because this is the place where the individual memories are concentrated and become politically influential. On the other hand, in the context of a higher national level, a discourse is initiated by the victim associations, which can – but does not necessarily do so – provide a resource of meaning for state actions. Hereby, the question of relevance is raised as to what degree of individual memory entered the discourse of victims within the associations and also whether the emotional and interpretational analysis conducted by these associations was adopted by the state. Additionally, it is worthwhile to look at the opposite perspective, namely how the state attempted to influence individual commemoration and the commemoration in associations. Was the state possibly not only involved in organizing certain already existing forms of memory, but also in actively contributing to the formation of paradigms of commemoration and narration?

The central questions of the project are concerned with the place that victim associations occupy or should occupy in the historical memory of the societies of the GDR, of Czechoslovakia and its succession states as well as of Poland. It will be asked, which narratives of victims have emerged and asserted themselves in the context of the rivalry of commemoration and the interpretation of history on a national and a European basis. How has the perception of "active" and "passive" victims changed since 1945?

Sacrifices of Heroes/Heroes of Sacrifice. The Committee of Antifascist Resistance Fighters

K. Erik Franzen

The central point of focus of this project is the question concerning the specific contribution of a victim group in the GDR concerning the way how National Socialism and its consequences were dealt with. The main topics will be the spheres of activities, motives and intentions of the commitment of this victim group, its place in the context of the existing historical-political environment and, last but not least, its self-conception as well as the forms of representation and the articulation of its demands.

Even if it can be assumed that the opportunity of autonomous activity was rather small for an organization which was close to the SED at the time of the Cold War, it is useful to take a look at the history, emergence and further development of the committee of antifascist resistance fighters in the GDR. This approach can be useful because on the one hand this case very clearly displays a politically controlled way of dealing with the interests of assorted victim groups and on the other hand the instrumental self-engagement of a certain group at the expense of other victims can be demonstrated.

On the basis of an analysis of the staging and discursive design of the commemoration day of the victims of Fascism the question will be asked, whether the discourse of victims performed in the committee in the time up to the 1980s was really as fixed as it could be expected from an organization of this type. Was this committee really an association of victims at all or was it simply a platform for the demonstration of a predetermined hero paradigm of political resistance against National Socialism

K. Erik Franzen

Jewish Representations of the Holocaust in Czechoslovakia after 1945

Peter Hallama

Between state taboo and Jewish duty to remember: The "Jewish commemoration“ of the Second World War and the Holocaust is the center of focus of this dissertation project. Spanning a relatively long time interval, from 1945 until the 1990s, the examination will focus on the changing opportunities, forms and thresholds of this minority culture of remembrance in a communist state. By doing so it will be possible to elaborate the semantic continuities and changes as well as the discursive regularities and breaks: What was the relation between the national policy on history in socialist Czechoslovakia, the culture of remembrance of the majority of society and the Jewish form of remembrance? Where were the similarities and differences between the antifascist and resistance-oriented picture of history on the one hand and the – for a long time – inconspicuous discussion of the Czechoslovakian Jews concerning the Shoah on the other hand, and above all: where can reciprocal references and dependencies be identified?

The approach of this project intends to expand the often politically- and historically-oriented analysis of cultures of remembrance by including a "social history of memory" (Peter Burke) which allows taking into account the assorted "communities of memory" which are simultaneously in contact and in conflict with each other.

Peter Hallama


The National Socialist Victim Associations in Czechoslovakia and its Succession States from 1989 until today. The Czech Republic and Slovakia in Comparative Perspective

Václava Kutter Bubnová

The victim associations founded or revived after 1989 and their discourses are the center of attention of the dissertation project "The National Socialist Victim Associations in the Czech Republic and Slovakia from 1993 until today". The political situation in the two examined countries differed greatly during the Second World War. This greatly influenced the subsequent culture of commemoration which will be examined in the context of the following organizations: the "Association of Freedom Fighters" (Verband der Freiheitskämpfer), the "Theresienstadt Initiative" (Theresienstädter Initiative), the "Committee for the Compensation of the Sinti and Roma Holocaust" (Komitee für die Entschädigung des Sinti- und Roma-Holocaust) and the "Circle of the Citizens of the Czech Republic which were expelled from the Border Area in 1938" (Kreis der Bürger der Tschechischen Republik, die 1938 aus dem Grenzgebiet vertrieben wurden) on the Czech side as well as the "Association of Antifascist Fighters" (Verband der antifaschistischen Kämpfer), "Hidden Child" and the "Association of Prisoners of the National Socialist Concentration and Prison Camps" (Verband der Häftlinge aus den nationalsozialistischen Konzentrations- und Gefangenenlagern) on the Slovakian side.

The project analyzes and compares the development of the culture of commemoration and of the discourses of victims in the examined associations. Special attention will be paid to the detailed examination of the development, definition and semantics of the notion of "victim" in the individual associations and to examining and discussing the self-perception as well as the perception by other victim groups and by the majority society.

It is the goal of this project to at least reduce the research gap currently existing in the Czech Republic as well as in Slovakia on the topics of discourses of victims and victim associations.

Václava Kutter Bubnová

Discourses on National Socialist Forced Labor in the Czech Republic and Poland from 1945 to 2005

Katrin Schröder

The dissertation project shows, in comparative perspective, how the discourses in the Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic and Poland concerning forced labor for the National Socialist regime have developed from 1945 until the current day. Persons who were compelled to forced labor by the National Socialists were not officially recognized as victims in the communist states. The main focus of remembrance was directed to the heroic battle against Nazi-Germany, these allegedly passive victims did not fit into the discourse of legitimacy supported by the state. Despite this, there are belletristic works, autobiographies and scientific works that throw light on the way the topic was dealt with. What was the account of forced labor and forced laborers given in these works after 1945? And what were – at a later point in time – the consequences for the effected persons concerning their status as victims, the recognition of their suffering and their demand for compensation? At the time of political transition the former forced laborers were able to found independent associations. These acted as lobby groups to assert their right for compensation and as communities of remembrance. How did these groups influence the discourse concerning the commemoration of the Second World War and claim their demands in the 1990s? In this context the political influence of commemoration is of relevance as well as the question of whether and how these associations joined existing discourses concerning the national identity of their countries.

Katrin Schröder


Konkurrenzen und Deutungskämpfe in Deutschland und im östlichen Europa nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg

Conference 2010

Medien zwischen Fiction-Making und Realitätsanspruch – Konstruktionen historischer Erinnerung

Opfernarrative. Konkurrenzen und Deutungskämpfe in der Nachgeschichte des Zweiten Weltkriegs
(Ústí nad Labem/Aussig, 5./6.10.2010)