Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Word of the day Vergangenheitsbewältigung

I first came across Vergangenheitsbewältigung when I was studying German history, more particularly the Third Reich. It's not easy to render into English - coming to terms with the past, dealing with the past, surmounting the past ...
The word is so culturally embedded in the complex issues of guilt Germans were wrestling with emotionally, academically and politically in the post war generations, that even if there were a perfect English translation for it we still wouldn't really be able to "sense" the meaning in quite the same way. It somehow really represents a process and not just a concept.
I wonder can we ever deal with the past? I remember visiting non-conformist chapels in English villages and listening to people in the congregations speaking as if the English civil war was a recent event; or French Protestants a decade ago claiming in outrage that the Pope had not shown enough sensitivity by celebrating the main mass of his visit to Paris on St Barthélémy (when Protestants had been massacred during the wars of religion). The list of our very real and half remembered sensitivities from the past is long and we do still feel that pain.
Can memories eveer be healed?
I have a very beautiful calligraphy of a Jewish phrase in German "errinern heist Leben" - to remember is to live. Can we learn to remember in such a way as to help us overcome the past, learn from it and enter the future joyously and with more mutual trust?