The Dynamics of German Remembering
: The Rosenstraße Protest in Historical Debate and Cultural Representation

  • Hilary Potter

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis examines patterns of German memory and identity construction as reflected in historical debates around the Rosenstraße protest in 1943 and cultural representations of it since 1990. It positions them within the wider context of debates in Germany on resistance on the one hand and shifting conceptions of national identity on the other. It argues that although the increase in public interest in the protest may appear to be a consequence of unification and the ensuing shift in coming to terms with the past, it in fact precedes them.Drawing on the work in cultural memory theory of Maurice Halbwachs, Jan Assmann, Benedict Anderson, Eric Hobsbawm and others, arguments about the social construction of memory and identity are employed to show how and why patterns of memory, attitudes and ideas about the Nazi past, as expressed through different media of memory, have shifted and how these are tied to conceptions of national identity. This thesis focuses first on debate amongst historians, before moving on to discuss popular history, biography, film and the different forms of memorialisation. It asks why the protest has become a more prominent feature of cultural memory since unification, and demonstrates that its increased currency is a product of trends in resistance historiography and in Holocaust discourses. It argues that cultural memories are multi-layered and developed in relation to one another. The interplay between these different media is therefore analysed, with particular attention given to who is involved in shaping memories of the protest and why, how these memories and surrounding debates have altered over time, and what this indicates about continuing impact of, and attitudes towards the past. This allows for a consideration of the multiple notions of national identity which these representations foster, and an exploration of how conceptions of identity influence what is remembered. The question is asked whether the Rosenstraße resistance narrative has, since the 1980s, facilitated the emergence of a more inclusive and a more nuanced remembering, particularly as this narrative highlights the complexities of opposition and attempts to integrate conceptions of Jewish and non-Jewish suffering, centring them within the one narrative. It asks whether these notions are juxtaposed, and whether either victimhood or German responsibility is relativised. The thesis explores how Germans’ relationship with Jews is reconfigured, how German-Jewish solidarity is foregrounded, who is represented as victim, and of what. At the same time, the extent to which a more hybrid sense of identity, one that transcends national and ethnic boundaries, is promoted through the representations of the Rosenstraße protest is also considered. Lastly, it is argued that the competing representations of events in Rosenstraße which are examined here exemplify the fraught, complex and politicised dynamics of Germany’s historical memory, which is characterised by tension between the wish for normalization and the desire to maintain a critical awareness of the past in which opposition may be recognised but accountability is not relativised. The thesis explores which view predominates and speculates whether this is likely to shift in the near future.
Date of Award11 Apr 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorRenate Rechtien (Supervisor) & Axel Goodbody (Supervisor)


  • Rosenstrasse Protest
  • Cultural memory
  • national identity
  • historical debate
  • resistance
  • post-unification Germany

Cite this