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Tailoring Truth

Tailoring Truth

Jon Berndt Olsen


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By looking at state-sponsored memory projects, such as memorials, commemorations, and historical museums, this book reveals that the East German communist regime obsessively monitored and attempted to control public representations of the past to legitimize its rule. It demonstrates that the regime’s approach to memory politics was not stagnant, but rather evolved over time to meet different demands and potential threats to its legitimacy. Ultimately the party found it increasingly difficult to control the public portrayal of the past, and some dissidents were able to turn the party’s memory politics against the state to challenge its claims of moral authority.

Jon Berndt Olsen is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the Dean of Waldsee, the German language and culture immersion program of Concordia Language Villages. He has been the recipient of awards from the Fulbright Commission, the Robert Bosch Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council’s Berlin Program.

“Olsen excellently and clearly demonstrates the discussions around the GDR’s memory work and drive to depict itself both domestically and internationally as the ‘better Germany.’” · Canadian Journal of History

“…Tailoring Truth provides fascinating insight into the policies and strategies of the fledgling socialist state, and convincingly argues that despite the SED’s attempts to monopolise the representation of memory and history, its efforts were, increasingly, limited… Olsen’s style is both accessible and engaging, making this not only a useful text for students and scholars of the GDR, but also an enlightening read for lay readers and those from other fields.” · Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe

“This book is a fresh approach to the field of memory and commemoration studies….Its rich source-base gives a multi-perspective, nuanced approach to how the GDR attempted to create and then nurture a collective consciousness through foundational myths rooted in the physical and emotional landscapes of its citizens….[Olsen] has written a book that cleverly and seamlessly stitches social and cultural history with political history.” · Benita Carol Blessing, University of Vienna

“[This book] addresses a significant historical issue, particularly for an understanding not only of German history but of contemporary Germany itself….[it] goes beyond much literature on memory work in totalitarian countries, which often portrays the State as a unitary actor and state-imposed memory efforts as rather rigid and static.” · Daniel Hamilton, Johns Hopkins University

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
Contents vii
Illustrations viii
Acknowledgments x
Abbreviations xiii
Introduction: Tailoring Truth in East Germany 1
Chapter One — Mobilizing Memory in the Soviet Occupation Zone 18
Chapter Two — The Politics of State Memory 51
Chapter Three — Emotional Bonds 102
Chapter Four — Broadening the Historical Roots of the State Narrative 137
Chapter Five — The Collapse of State-Imposed Memory Culture 183
Conclusion 213
Bibliography 238
Index 254