COMMEMORATIONS AND NATIONAL IDENTITY: THE 1967 CENTENARY OF KÄTHE KOLLWITZ IN THE GDR

David J. Zell

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Abstract

The article examines how the political capital of cultural anniversaries may promote national identity in an authoritarian state. It investigates whether the 1967 centenary of Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945) helped the GDR to build a distinct national identity in common with the aims of similar commemorations in the GDR. The twin themes of demarcation from the FRG and appropriation of the German cultural heritage dominated the ideological framework for commemorations throughout GDR history. Primary sources on both sides of the Cold War appear to have accepted the work and life of Kollwitz as essentially linked to the GDR. This reduced the need for the GDR authorities to amplify this framework when planning events. Yet a closer analysis of how she was portrayed reveals discrepancies between the theory and practice of this commemoration. The article examines two types of anniversary activity. Firstly, a film in which various narratives proposing a politicised construct of Kollwitz as an anti‐fascist, communist, and pacifist appear to conflict with a domesticated paradigm of Kollwitz as ‘grieving mother’. Secondly, an anniversary exhibition that concentrates rather on framing the narrative of ‘Kämpferin für das Proletariat’. Despite these inconsistencies, Kollwitz's position as an existing socialist role model who contributed to the construct of GDR national identity was confirmed by the commemoration rather than noticeably strengthened.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)420-440
JournalGerman Life and Letters
Volume73
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2020

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