In the House of the Hangman: The Agonies of German Defeat,1943-1949

In the House of the Hangman: The Agonies of German Defeat,1943-1949, University of Chicago Press, 2005.
by Jeffrey Olick

The central question for both the victors and the vanquished of World War II was just how widely the starin of guilt would spread over Germany. Political leaders and intellectuals on both sides of the conflict debated whether support for National Socialism tainted Germany's entire population and thus discredited the nation's history and culture. The tremendous challenge that Allied officials and German thinkers faced as the war closed, then, was how to limn a postwar German identity that accounted for National Socialism without irrevocably damning the idea and character of Germany as a whole.

In the House of the Hangman chronicles this delicate process, exploring key debates about the Nazi past and German future during the latter years of World War II and in its aftermath. What did British and American leaders think had given rise to National Socialism, and how did these beliefs shape their intentions for occupation? What rhetorical and symbolic tools did Germans develop for handling the insidious legacies of Nazism? Considering these and other questions, Jeffrey K. Olick explores the processes of accommodation and rejection that allied plans for a new German state inspired among the German intelligentsia. He also examines heated struggles over the value of Germany's institutional and political heritage. Along the way, he demonstrates how the moral and political vocabulary for coming to terms with National Socialism in Germany has been of enduring significance - as a crucible not only of German identity but also of contemporary thinking about memory and social justice more generally.

Given the current war in Iraq, the issues contested during Germany's abjection and reinvention - how to treat a defeated enemy, how to place episodes within wider historical trajectories, how to distinguish varieties of victimhood - are as urgent today as they were sixty years ago, and In the House of the Hangman offers readers an invaluable historical perspective on these critical questions.

"In the House of the Hangman is a moral drama that shows how postwar German officials tried to defend the dignity of the state and its citizens against the stigma of National Socialism and the Holocaust during the aftermath of World War II. This is a brilliant book that radically rejects reductive statements about the construction of memory and the invention of the past by recognizing the complexity of the relations between history and human experience."
-- Barry Schwartz, University of Georgia

"Jeffrey K. Olick knows that national identities emerge from the way a people makes sense of - which is to say constructs - a shared memory of the past. He has become a reigning master of that intellectual terrain, as this important study of German political culture in the years following World War II attests brilliantly."
-- Kai Erikson, Yale University

"Sixty years after the war, Jeffrey K. Olick revisits German self-understanding regarding the profound questions of who bears responsibility for wrongdoings of the past. This deft interdisciplinary exploration illuminates the moral, legal, and political discourses of the time to offer a revelatory, nuanced, and fresh account of the critical process of reconstruction of memory in shaping national culture. Olick makes an important contribution as well to the growing fields of collective memory and transitional and postconflicts justice, offering a sobering and timely message about the potential and limits of imposing democratic transition."
-- Ruti Teitel, New York Law School