What Does Coming to Terms with the Past
Mean in the “Berlin Republic” in 2007
by Jeffrey Herf

This is the English translation of a speech delivered in German on November 16, 2007, at the Schauspiel in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in the 35th Annual Römerberggespräche (Römerberg Conversations).

From 1949 to today, in all three German postwar states, the Federal Republic, the German Democratic Republic and in unified Germany after 1989, the memory of the Holocaust and other crimes of the Nazi regime has had political consequences. To be sure, memory has had a great deal to do with memorial, days of memory and historical writing about the Nazi era and the Holocaust. But in the last sixty years, the unspoken eleventh commandment of German politics after Hitler was more important than memorial and days of commemoration. It was that the German government and German society should do all it could to prevent a repetition of mass murder of the Jews. This, to quote Theodor Adorno, was the most important answer to the question he made famous: What does coming to terms with the past mean?