Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name



Classical and Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures

First Advisor

Anne Rothe


My dissertation analyzes the representation of Germans as victims of the Third Reich and the Second World War in post-1990 German memory. After unification, there no longer were two states that could each blame the other as the heir of National Socialism and this past had to be renegotiated. The claim that many Germans had been victims became central as evidenced by the vast number of popular literature, commercial cinema and television programs of this subject. I argue with Wulf Kansteiner (2006) that to understand collective memory, we should explore mass media representations. As the majority of highbrow artifacts do not reach the general public, only interpretations of the past that become part of the mainstream media influence historical consciousness. My discussion therefore analyzes both popular literature and television as well as their official and vernacular reception.

After contextualizing the dissertation in the increasingly expansive discourse of cultural memory, and briefly tracing the discursive history of West German cultural memory since 1945, the core of the dissertation explores the cultural memory of Germans as victims embodied in and disseminated through post-unification popular cultural artifacts. I explore the representation of German women as rape victims in Anonyma's Eine Frau in Berlin (2003), its 2008 German film adaptation and its reception. Secondly, I analyze Bernhard Schlink's bestselling novel Der Vorleser (1995) and its 2009 American film, which exculpate a former concentration camp guard on the dubious grounds that her illiteracy made her morally illiterate. The textual and film analysis are likewise extended to the analysis of the reception. In the last chapter, I analyze the made-for-TV movie Dresden (2006), which constitutes Germany's first feature film about the British fire bombing of Dresden, and its reception.

The dissertation examines how each artifact transforms Germans from bystanders, followers and even perpetrators into victims. Since the artifacts themselves only contain the potential to shape historical consciousness, which needs to be actualized in the reception process, I primarily explore how these media products are interpreted in newspaper reviews and teaching materials (official reception) as well as in online postings of readers and viewers (vernacular reception).