The World War Essay

The World War Essay

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The Second World War, perhaps more than any other recent conflict offers a vast swathe of monuments and memorials that are designed to best encapsulate a specific reference to a certain point of the war. Memorials that offer provocation, transformation, insist on communication, and invite pluralistic meanings, form what James E. Young describes as ‘counter-monuments’. ‘Counter-monuments’ contribute to the alternative future of the memory debate amongst academics which stems from a fundamental crisis in our imagination of memory and monuments, which led to a reimagination of what monuments and memorials best fit the events of World War Two. Specific monuments and memorials that do so are the ‘Soviet War Memorial’ in Treptow; the ‘Monument against Fascism’ in Hamburg; and a collection of memorials in Germany’s capital, Berlin, namely the Holocaust Memorials, and the ‘Stumbling Stones’ located in both Berlin and other European cities. All examples have specific references to one or more of the factors that form a ‘counter-monument’ and will be duly assessed. To begin with, the memorial in Treptow will be critically analysed.

The Soviet War Memorial located in Treptower Park, Berlin was built at a time when Soviet War memorials were designed to commemorate the war as Stalin’s great victory and paved the way for the cult of war dead in the Soviet Union. The Treptow Memorial was designed by the Soviet Union as a way of coercing Germany as an ally against the West during the Cold War, and as a means of giving the Soviet War dead a new political life. The memorial in Treptow invites the use of ‘semantic flexibility’ to the audience and allows for several different interpretations of itself. It achieves this by including symbols of the So...


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... history or its background of how it came from conception to birth. These questions do not have a definitive answer, thus pluralistic readings can be deduced from them, the beauty in this is that any audience can read and infer different meanings from them. However, this is not to say that more traditional monuments and memorials are less fitting, rather these ‘counter-monuments’ are a new facet of memorialisation. One that combines a crisis of alternative memory with a ‘hermeneutical triangle’, which as Wulf Kansteiner implies has an open end, here lies the future of ‘counter-monuments’. Their ‘open endedness’ allows for future change, incitement to offer uncomfortable narratives, and invite interaction with various interpretations. Which, the monuments and memorials, since their conception have achieved and are fitting examples of memorials to the Second World War.

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