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Representations of Flight and Expulsion in East German Prose Works

Representations of Flight and Expulsion in East German Prose Works

Bill Niven
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 230
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  • Book Info
    Representations of Flight and Expulsion in East German Prose Works
    Book Description:

    It is by now almost a cliché that the flight and expulsion of Germans from east-central Europe at the end of the Second World War was a taboo topic in the German Democratic Republic. According to this claim, the Socialist Unity Party (SED) suppressed reference to flight and expulsion so as not to upset its socialist neighbors. This book shows that such a view does not hold up to serious scrutiny. While the topic may not have been addressed in the realm of politics or official commemoration, it was picked up again and again in literature, particularly fiction. Representations of flight and expulsion were by no means restricted, as some have asserted, to Christa Wolf's novel Kindheitsmuster: Niven's study documents around 100 novels and short stories published in the GDR that address flight or expulsion. He argues that in the 1950s and early 1960s GDR fiction included many refugee figures. The predominant emphasis was on their integration under socialism rather than their experience of flight and loss of home; nevertheless, flight and to a lesser degree expulsion were depicted, as was their impact on individuals. They continued to be thematized in the late GDR and even, to a degree, after unification. Flight and expulsion, then, were subject to a developing literary discourse in the GDR, a discourse that this book explores. Bill Niven is Professor in Contemporary German History at Nottingham Trent University.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-899-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Film Studies, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    It is a commonplace that the topic of the flight of Germans from the Red Army at the end of the Second World War, as well as the subsequent expulsion of Germans from eastern Europe, had long been subject to the influence of taboos in West Germany. It is a truism that finds expression not just in popular media, but in a number of scholarly works.¹ Essentially, such works restate notions of taboo that have long been a feature of West German discourse on flight and expulsion. For decades, expellee organizations instrumentalized the concept of taboo; in suggesting that it...

  5. 1: Evidence and Interpretation: Flight and Expulsion in GDR Prose Works
    (pp. 18-48)

    In a book chapter on East German perspectives on flight and resettlement (“Umsiedlung”), the literary historian Elke Mehnert claims that at least twenty-five GDR authors hailed from the “historical German eastern territories.” Mehnert does not define this latter term, but even if it does not include those areas of central-eastern Europe outside the German Reich, twenty-five is a conservative estimate to say the least. If we include those authors born into German-speaking areas, enclaves, and communities—such as those in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Romania—outside the 1937 borders of the German Reich, then the number may be nearer eighty, perhaps...

  6. 2: GDR Reconstruction Literature of the 1950s and Early 1960s and the Figure of the Refugee
    (pp. 49-83)

    While the previous chapter was concerned more with exploring representations of flight and expulsionper se, the following chapter examines the contextualization of this experience in GDR prose works of the 1950s and early 1960s. The focus here will be on socialist “reconstruction literature” (Aufbauliteratur), particularly on “reconstruction novels” (Aufbauromane), although I will also discuss some short stories. The chapter begins with some reflections on the genre of “Aufbauliteratur,” a form of literature that undoubtedly, as one lexicon has it, “put itself in the service of creating a new order of society,”¹ and that within this context often allocated a...

  7. 3: From Novels Set in the Nazi Period to Novels of Revisiting
    (pp. 84-124)

    The prose works of “Aufbauliteratur” considered in the previous chapter were written while the (re)construction they were describing was taking place. In many ways this was a literature of corroboration. It was also a literature of prospection, anticipating the deepening of integration under socialist auspices—not least for the refugees who play a significant role in many works of reconstruction prose. Flanking this literature of the 1950s and 1960s were GDR prose works that focused more on the Second World War or the Nazi period as a whole, exploring their dynamics and causes.¹ We could classify such works as a...

  8. 4: The Skeptical Muse: Reassessing Integration
    (pp. 125-164)

    The previous chapter explored literary returns to the lost territories. In the novels of revisiting, the idea that the lives the protagonists had lived there prior to flight or expulsion were no longer of relevance was questioned: there still existed legacies—historical, moral, emotional—that needed to be confronted. Parallel to these prose works, a more skeptical strain of literature was evolving, one that took issue, to a greater or lesser extent, with the official SED position that the integration of refugees and expellees had been entirely successful. Generally, East German literature of the late 1970s and 1980s adopted an...

  9. 5: Flight and Expulsion in East German Prose Works after Unification
    (pp. 165-198)

    This book has set out to dispel the idea that flight and expulsion were taboo topics in GDR literature, by example of GDR prose. If there are still readers who remain unconvinced of the extent of this literary portrayal, despite the evidence so far provided, then I can only emphasize again that the texts explored in this study are examples, albeit key ones. There are numerous other texts I could have chosen, many of which, beyond all individual differences, and in their own ways, would confirm the patterns identified. Thus to demonstrate that GDR prose gradually began to give due...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-212)
  11. Index
    (pp. 213-220)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 221-221)