The long shadows of the difficult past? How young people in Denmark, Finland and Germany remember WWII

Kevin Wolnik, Britta Busse, Jochen Tholen, Carsten Yndigegn, Klaus Levinsen, Kari Saari, Vesa Puuronen

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This paper focuses on the question of how young people today evaluate the Second World War today and how this ‘difficult past’ determines their political attitudes. Furthermore, the channels through which the current young generation in Europe is informed about the events dating back to the first half of the twentieth century (e.g. parents and grandparents, schools, the media) are examined. The theoretical basis chosen for addressing these questions is the work of Mannheim (1928) on the formation of successive generations, and the theories of collective memories and identities of Eisenstadt and his followers. Our empirical evidence comes from a transnational comparison of young people’s memories of this difficult past in Denmark, Finland and Germany. From a historical perspective a comparison of the three countries is particularly interesting as they played different roles during the Second World War. The evidence highlights the different perceptions of history among youth and points to the absence of a common European understanding of what happened between 1939 and 1945. The empirical evidence comes from a research project (2011–2015) funded by the European Commission and covering 14 European countries. Its main focus has been on present-day young people’s perceptions of history and politics (MYPLACE = Memory, Youth, Political Legacy and Civic Engagement).
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Youth Studies
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)162-179
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Transmission of history
  • collective identity
  • young people
  • inter-generational discourse
  • generations

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