Off topic: Coming to terms with the past: the cases of Germany and Russia
Thread poster: Susan Welsh

Susan Welsh  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:09
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
Feb 15, 2009

This not a translation question, but one regarding today's culture and how people today are "processing" a national past that includes dictatorship. Of course, the question is by no means limited to the cases of Germany and Russia, but these countries happen to be of particular interest to me, as their languages are my language pairs (with English).

I have become particularly intrigued with the way some recent (or even not-so-recent) German films are seriously confronting the country's Nazi history (or GDR history) in a way that, if I'm not mistaken, did not occur previously. Some of these are produced by international directors/casts, some by Germans only. For example (in no particular order):

* Der Untergang (The Downfall)
* Im toten Winkel (Blind Spot; und auch das Buch von Traudl Junge, Bis zur letzten Stunde)
* Das Leben der anderen (The Lives of Others)
* Mephisto
* The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl(don't know the German title; it's mostly an interview with her)
* Der Fall Furtwängler (Taking Sides)
* Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod (Gloomy Sunday)

I don't know of comparable Russian films--the newer ones that I have seen tend to be about post-Soviet times, not looking back much at the past.

I would also be interested in knowing of books, in English, Russian, or German, that usefully take up these issues.

I've just read a review of The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia, by Orlando Figes. It sounds interesting, but I would also like to read works written by Russians. A review of a new English translation,Germany and the Second World War, Vol. IX/I: German Wartime Society, 1939-1945: Politicization, Disintegration, and the Struggle for Survival, by Jörg Echternkamp, is interesting. (The review in the New York Review of Books is interesting; it describes the book as "ponderous, bloodless, passionless, almost obsessive in its anxiety to acknowledge German guilt and eschew judgmentalism." That is, of course, the reviewer's opinion. But at $330 and 1,035 pages, I think I'll skip this one!) The reviewer praises the Potsdam institute for military history for raising the issues that were hitherto taboo, while noting that American and British official histories of the war were written soon after the war's conclusion, and are therefore way out of date compared to current knowledge; "the Russian official histories of 1941-1945 are farragoes of nonsense..."; and the French never attempted to produce any official history, since they could never agree on what to say. (The Potsdam book is not an "official" history, but something like it.)

Personal observations are also welcome, to the extent that people avoid "bashing" the nationals of another country. The 20th Century was a hellish time, and no country is exempt from blame for things that happened.

Thanks for any discussion this sparks,

[Edited at 2009-02-15 17:04 GMT]


chica nueva
Local time: 22:09
Chinese to English
Sergei Bodrov's 'Mongol' (the rise to power of Genghis Khan) Feb 15, 2009

Hello Susan

Interesting topic. How about this one?:
Mongol - Trailer for Oscar-nominated movie of Genghis Khan
Sergei Bodrov



chica nueva
Local time: 22:09
Chinese to English
'Hero' (The First Emperor of Qin) Feb 15, 2009
Hero: The Qin Army 260 B.C.

‘Qin Shi Huang's rule was built on the foundation of the ruthless exploitation of the peasant class by the landlord class. There existed a brutal and benighted side to the feudal autocracy from the beginning; Qin Shi Huang's campaign to "Burn the books and resist Confucianism" reflects this side. In Qin Shi Huang's lifetime, the large-scale construction and continual warfare imposed heavy requisitions, land tax, corvée, and military service on the peasants, cutting off their means of livelihood. Therefore, "tormented by his tyranny they rebelled against his regime", the Qin Dynasty finally collapsed, and the Qin Emperor's tomb was burnt out in the war between Chu and Han. Today, the horse and warrior figurine pits have been excavated and have become an underground treasury of sculptural art, famous throughout the world. They have left a glorious page in the cultural history of humankind. ’

Translated from 'Native land', China Youth Press, Beijing, 1983

[Edited at 2009-02-15 23:45 GMT]


chica nueva
Local time: 22:09
Chinese to English
'The Soviet Novel - History as Ritual', Katerina Clark Feb 15, 2009

Susan Welsh wrote:

I don't know of comparable Russian films--the newer ones that I have seen tend to be about post-Soviet times, not looking back much at the past.

I would also be interested in knowing of books, in English, Russian, or German, that usefully take up these issues.

Try this book:,M1

Maybe, it's about reworking national culture myths, founding legends, etc.
History as a national narrative, of a nation or a people, etc. Or a counter-narrative.

[Edited at 2009-02-15 23:44 GMT]


Tae Kim  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:09
Member (2007)
English to Korean
+ ...
It's a tremendous time for historiographical changes Feb 16, 2009

I read your writing and I concur with you. I majored in history and am currently an MA student in history. I particularly studied 19th and 20th century European diplomatic history, although I'm focusing on Cold War in East Asia at the moment, and I fully understand your point of view about the way things are changing in the field of the related historiographies. Particularly, the German historiography has seen a brisk pace as to its remarkable tone of changes in the recent years in terms of popular arts form, such as the movies you mentioned. The Downfall movie was a real noticeable case, for it portrayed the last days of Hitlerian Germany from the way how it actually happened.

I saw the movie, and it wasn't really portrayed from a German point of view, per se, but it quietly showed what really happened in that underground bunker. It was neither German point of view or the so called official historical explanation that mainstream academia and popular culture all have been injecting onto the whole populace.

I think same changes in historiography are also taking place for the Russian history as well. But I do not know too much about it at this point.

I predict that some day Hitlerian Germany will be vastly differently viewed even from today's changed perception after such revisionistic occurrences that are taking place in the popular art field.

Other brisk changes in other fields of historiography are also happening. For example, the changing perceptions of the Vietnam War. There was a series of movies about the war in recent years also, and they were vastly different from the the Deer Hunter or Apocalypse Now. These two were made in 70s, and of course the new ones came out in late 90s and 2000s. Platoon would be the middle of the road kind of movie that signaled changing perception of the war for the eyes of the general public.

I very much enjoyed reading your post and your post made me appreciate my job as a translator. Translation, both technical and non-technical fields, requires far more than mere technical word abilities.

[Edited at 2009-02-16 05:22 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-02-16 05:43 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-02-16 06:06 GMT]


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:09
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Hitler's voice Feb 16, 2009

When I saw the movie "Der Untergang" at the cinema I said to my wife, that Bruno Ganz must have been listening to the YLE tapes. Later I read an interview of Ganz, where this was confirmed.
You can listen to the secret recording here:

The recording was done without knowledge of the German party when Hitler met Field-Marshal Mannerheim in Finland on June 4, 1942, when Hitler arrived uninvitedly to honour Mannerheim's 75th birthday.

Before this recording was made public, Hitler was always depicted like Chaplin's Dictator, because it was not known how he really talked to people.

Many books and films were published already shortly after the war, which depict Nazi-Germany quite realistically. I read Eugen Kogon's Der SS-Staat at the end of the 1950's. A few years later German tv showed a large serial, Das Dritte Reich. Also in schools documentaries were screened.
There are also early reports of the Soviet system, but they did not receive much popularity. One political prisoner escaped the Gulag via Finland to the West already 1928 and published a book about it. It was all in place already, the whole cruel system. Two Finnish persons published their books about the life in Soviet prisoner camps in 1958. So all was already "known" when Solzhenitsyn published his novels.

There has never been a single way of how Nazi-Germany was seen in the world. The horrendous crimes against Jews, Roma and other ethnic groups are one side of the picture, the struggle against Bolshevism another. It was often too easily overlooked, that the developement up to WWII cannot be understood without the thread from Moscow. Soviet Russia had already destroyed its own society and wanted to destroy also the rest of the world. They called it World Revolution of the Proletariat. Fascism's roots were the fear of Bolshevism.


[Bearbeitet am 2009-02-16 08:14 GMT]


Vito Smolej
Local time: 11:09
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
suggested reading / viewing Feb 16, 2009

Hi Susan:

Sebastian Hafner (anything), Siegfried Lenz Deutschstunde (for instance, it's his best known book, and for a reason too)

Viewing: Baader Meinhof Komplex (have not yet seen it, but I will / must) , Die verlorene Ehre der K. Blum (I liked the book, when reading it chapter by chapter in Spiegel, better) , Der deutsche Herbst and pretty much anything by R.M. Fassbinder.

I am missing out on Russia, otoh you have provoked me to go on a Russian diet - the last thing I read was "My', but there must be something written later than that (g).




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