After Desintegriert euch! (2018) and Gegenwartsbewältigung (2020), Max Czollek has now followed up with a third volume, Versöhnungstheater (Theatre of Reconciliation), which is an equally confident and lively intervention in current debates. In his latest essay, Czollek criticises German politics of remembrance – that is, the changing relationship to its own National Socialist history – as a staging of German rehabilitation. “In the theatre of reconciliation, the reconciling of Germany’s past and its victims is already presupposed as a fait accompli” (27). And this is a problem, since it does not acknowledge the violence and destruction that happened and obscures the view of the Jewish present.
There’s a lot to say about Czollek’s book; in the context of poco.lit., it seems particularly pertinent to me to draw out the aspects which, despite the specific focus on post-national socialist continuities, bear similarities with postcolonial aims. As Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang demand that, in the context of settler colonialism, decolonisation should not be understood as a metaphor, Czollek explains that in the German context actual rather than symbolic reparation would be desirable. In the chapter “Reparation without Reparation”, he criticises that symbolic gestures such as public apologies for the Holocaust are often not followed by action. In doing so, he himself draws parallels to settler colonialism, which is central to Tuck and Yang’s argument, by recounting an experience of attending a University of British Columbia digital conference: The organisers began by symbolically giving thanks for being allowed to hold the conference on First Nations land. Such non-committal courtesies rarely result in actual compensation or structural changes – neither in the German nor in the Canadian context.
Czollek critically examines the role of places of remembrance and monuments. From a postcolonial perspective, the Humboldt Forum in Berlin has been criticised especially for the objects that are exhibited there – partly made up of colonial loot. Czollek expands the criticism by pointing out that the reconstruction of the Berliner Stadtschloss was promoted, among others, by right-wing antisemites. The Stadtschloss, moreover, as Czollek would have it, expresses a desire for a positive national history, ignoring problematic historical entanglements. Czollek rather applauds those “who throw paint on monuments that glorify fallen Wehrmacht soldiers as victims of the German Volk” and calls them “representatives of a living politics of remembrance” (146). This is very reminiscent of the toppling of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol or the #RhodesMustFall movement that originated at the University of Cape Town as a critique of structural racism.
Different forms of discrimination and their histories are specific, but there are possibilities for connection and alliance. Thus, Czollek also argues for “acting together in recognition of our differences” (80). His essay Versöhnungstheater is an invitation to remain critical and not to get too comfortable. The brisk and sometimes flippant tone gives the arguments a lightness that make for an enjoyable read.
(No English translation yet.)
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