The Politics of Memory: Contested Cultures of Remembrance | Max Czollek & Yasemin Yildiz in Conversation

September 24, 2022, 2 p.m. PST
Wende Museum


Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Photographer: Wolfgang Staudt, Germany.


“Memory culture” (German Erinnerungskultur) is a central concept in current debates about the ways Germans remember, commemorate, and historicize the era of National Socialism and its aftermath. The term relates to the question whether Germany has largely accepted responsibility for and learned from its past crimes. From school education and memorials to art monuments, films and public discourses, the idea of an active and successful memory culture plays an important role in contemporary German discourses, for instance about a post-Berlin Wall united identity for Germany after 1989. While many international voices praise Germany’s self-reflexive commemoration of its national trauma, a new generation of German-Jewish artists and intellectuals raise an important point of critique: What if Germany’s culture of memory is merely a “theater of reconciliation”? Whom does this form of remembrance actually serve, and to what end?

German poet Max Czollek, who writes about contemporary Jewish life in Germany, argues that German memory culture created a “symbolic Jew” as a counterfigure to a German “we.” According to him, Germany is mistaking remembrance for reconciliation, with the recent rise of racist and anti-Semitic violence and right-wing populism as a consequence. For Czollek, a functioning and productive culture of memory must confront its “fantasies of homogeneity,” question concepts of national greatness, and include contemporary minority voices into its discourse. 

Yasemin Yildiz, Professor at in the Department of European Languages and Transcultural Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, engages with questions of German memory culture from another angle. She is currently working on the book project Memory Citizenship: Migrant Archives of Holocaust Remembrance, co-authored with Michael Rothberg, in which she explores the effect of transnational migration on German cultural memory relating to National Socialism, the Holocaust, and World War II, opening up new ways of conceptualizing the relationship between memory and migration at present.  

Max Czollek and Yasemin Yildiz will engage in a conversation around cultures of remembrance: What new perspectives and critiques do minority discourses offer on the questions and debates surrounding contemporary German memory culture? And what is the takeaway for those of us in the United States? How can these discussions inform our local debates and controversies about commemoration and memory practices? The conversation will be moderated by Joes Segal, Chief Curator and Director of Programming at The Wende Museum. 

The event is a collaboration between the Thomas Mann House & the Wende Museum. 


Max Czollek is a German lyric-poet, writer and stage performer. In 2012, he received a degree in political science from the Technical University of Berlin. In 2016, he completed his doctorate studies at the Center for Research on Antisemitism. Since 2009, Czollek has been a member of poetry collective G13, which has published books and organized lectures. His essay collection Desintegriert Euch (“De-Integrate!”) transformed the debate about the integration of minorities in Germany when it appeared in 2018. His perspective on the roles of contemporary Jews in German society and its “theater of memory” struck a nerve not just among Jews, but other minority groups as well.

Yasemin Yildiz is Associate Professor of German and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research areas include Twentieth- and Twenty-First Century German Literature and Culture; Literature of Migration; Turkish-German Literature; German-Jewish Literature; Literary Multilingualism and Translation Studies; Transnational Studies; Gender Studies; Memory Studies; and Holocaust Studies. Prof. Yildiz is the author of Beyond the Mother Tongue: The Postmonolingual Condition (2012). Her current book project Memory Citizenship: Migrant Archives of Holocaust Remembrance, co-authored with Michael Rothberg, assembles and analyzes a wide range of memory work by Germany-based immigrant writers, artists, and activists relating to National Socialism, the Holocaust, and World War II.