Remembering Dresden; Forgetting Hamburg:Professor William Donahue 15th February 2022

Remembering Dresden; Forgetting Hamburg

The assertion of radically different numbers of victims of the horrific bombing of Dresden in February of 1945 prompted the founding of a special historical commission to ascertain the truth of the matter. While its investigations produced valuable insights, the question considered here has more to do with the public “uptake” of such information. National myths, ideology, and personal experience prove from this perspective to be the far more influential determinants of what is remembered, repressed or overwritten. Prompted by Sven Hanuschek’s Wir leben noch, I ask what literature and the arts more generally can contribute to this process. Whereas Sebald drew our attention to the “what” (the alleged absence of Allied bombings and German suffering more generally in contemporary German literature), I focus on how literature and film can both succeed and fail in offering the “better” history promised by that special commission. Finally, the talk raises questions about the place occupied by the bombing of Hamburg within British and US public culture.

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