Gerhard Richter and Adolf Eichmann
The conditions of artistic work in postwar West Germany included a surprisingly high degree of political debate in response to the contemporary relevance of the Nazi past. Gerhard Richter was more preoccupied with these issues than has previously been assumed. Richter investigated crucial themes that raise questions about the relation of his work to a more precise political history of the period and our understanding of its artistic culture. Specifically, identifying the political terms of the debate on the Nazi past helps us to clarify characteristic decisions made by Richter. Two inter-related and high-profile events that affected West Germany significantly framed how the recent past was understood and instrumentalised by public and politicians alike: the Israeli trial of former SS bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann; and the Frankfurt trial of the Auschwitz guards. Far from any psycho-social concept of repression, the political terms of debate concerning particularly how to deal with former National Socialist perpetrators formed a consistent point of reference for many aspects of contemporary West German society not excluding culture. Identifying these terms and analysing their relation to Richter's work helps to clarify the potential political and aesthetic import of West German culture in the early 1960s.
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