Memory and Migration in Germany: The Nazi Past in German Immigration Discourse Open Access
Downloadable ContentDownload PDF
Despite memory of the Nazi past and immigration politics being two of the most studied aspects of postwar Germany, very little attention has been paid to their intersection. The literature on the German process of coming to terms with the past, or Vergangenheitsbewältigung, has centered on its impact on national identity, religion, racism, extremism, and toleration--all issues related to the challenges of contemporary immigration. Because of this, most scholars have assumed that the process of confronting the Nazi past has been unilaterally liberalizing-- limiting those who seek to restrict immigration while supporting those who promote expansive policies. This dissertation tests this assumption and investigates the ways the Nazi past was used in German immigration discourse since 1980: who used it, how, when, and where it was used, and how this usage changed over time.The core of the dissertation is a quantitative claims-making analysis and a qualitative discourse analysis of Bundestag debates over immigration-related issues from 1980-2003, a period of major changes in the political landscape of memory and immigration. Supplementing the analysis of formal political discourse, the second section analyzes the use of the Nazi past in informal public debates over two immigration-related issues; the status of Turkish and Muslim immigrants in Germany and comparisons of German critics of Islam, or Islamkritiker to anti- Semitism.While this dissertation shows that the Nazi past has played a significant role in influencing policy positions in immigration debates, it all but disappeared in formal political discourse after the 1993 asylum reform fundamentally changed the major immigration policy response to the Nazi past. Doing so diminished the institutional relevance of the Nazi past, confirming the importance of context for historical memory. Additionally, despite the assumption that the lessons of the Nazi past have a bias in favor of expansive policies, this dissertation shows that was used to support expansive and restrictive immigration policies and positions in the Bundestag, with political parties drawing on competing interpretations of the Nazi past and its obligations to support very different policy positions.A similar dynamic is seen in the analysis of contemporary debates over Muslim immigration and Islam. Participants on all sides of the debates draw on the Nazi past, but its use is most successful when it reinforces mainstream sentiments and least successful when employed by minorities, indicating its power to change attitudes is weaker than assumed, that its lessons are limited to issues with clear historical relevance, and that the status of those using the Nazi past matters greatly.This dissertation contributes to the understanding of how historical memory in political science by investigating the political use of the Nazi past in a way that combines methodological traditions, acknowledging and utilizing the nuances of discourse analysis and the specificity of quantitative analysis. Complicated pasts are not unique to Germany. Whether it is genocide, colonialism, authoritarianism, or war, understanding how evolving memory of those pasts influences discourse is a fruitful complement to the standard uses of history by political scientists.