Accepted Paper:

Silencing German memories: a case study of collective amnesia in Czech Silesia  


Johana Wyss (Czech Academy of Sciences)

Paper short abstract:

This case study examines the politics of collective amnesia in the city of Opava in Czech Silesia in response to an attempt commemorate pre-war German speaking populations.

Paper long abstract:

The very recent response of the city council of Opava, the historical capital of Czech Silesia, to cede to populist opinion within the region has led to the refusal to grant dedication of a commemorative plaque to formerly expelled German populations. Spearheaded by the Silesian German Association, the response of Opava's authorities and populous to the plaque was one of annoyance and disregard, relegating the prominently German character of pre-war Silesian language and culture once again to a silent memory. Drawing on a vast body of literature considering cultural trauma and collective amnesia, through this case study I examine the dynamics of identity formation and commemoration politics in Opava. The situation in the city demonstrates both how cultural trauma affects a group of people which had previously achieved some degree of cohesion and the role of group agency in overcoming the collectively traumatic experience. I argue the prevailing strategy emerging from this agency is a denial which I theorize in terms of Collective Amnesia which sharply contradicts the academic understanding of the vernacular memory of marginalized groups. Understanding of Collective Amnesia as a strategic response to collective trauma through this case study can aid both our understanding of the local context as well as how human groups adapt to the disintegration of their collective identities.

Panel Heri014
Heritage of silenced memories