Conversations about Mother: Mnemonic Strategies for Narrating Survival in (Post-) War Germany
This article explores the strong correlations between mnemonic strategies and mnemonic triggers within family narratives. Families form narrative collectives with their own codes of narrative evocation. One sentence, even only one word, might open up a bundle of memories shared by all immediate kin. Such sharing can, however, be practised and interpreted differently by each family member; stories are also utilised strategically to bond with one family member and sideline another. Given the specific German context of this analysis, its stories and mnemonic devices demonstrate strategies of collective and individual dissociation and victimisation. They also lead us to better understand how very normal, average Germans might have tried to live a decent life with Christian and left-leaning political values, while having no techniques, post 1945, for articulating or reflecting on either trauma or National Socialism and their lasting impact on their nation. As with most other families, the war and post-war period was dominated by memories of struggle and collective grief. Survival narratives use emplotments that can be traced through generations of grandparents, parents, and grandchildren. Exploring such transgenerational conversations enables us to widen the perspective from transgenerational trauma towards a framework of compassion and narrative agency.
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