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Germans as Victims in the Literary Fiction of the Berlin Republic

Germans as Victims in the Literary Fiction of the Berlin Republic

Stuart Taberner
Karina Berger
Volume: 33
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81p9c
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  • Book Info
    Germans as Victims in the Literary Fiction of the Berlin Republic
    Book Description:

    In recent years it has become much more accepted in Germany to consider aspects of the Second World War in which Germans were not perpetrators, but victims: the Allied bombing campaign, expulsions of "ethnic" Germans, mass rapes of German women, and postwar internment and persecution. An explosion of literary fiction on these topics has accompanied this trend. Sebald's 'The Air War and Literature' and Grass's 'Crabwalk' are key texts, but there are many others; the great majority seek not to revise German responsibility for the Holocaust but to balance German victimhood and German perpetration. This book of essays is the first in English to examine closely the variety of these texts. An opening section on the 1950s -- a decade of intense literary engagement with German victimhood before the focus shifted to German perpetration -- provides context, drawing parallels but also noting differences between the immediate postwar period and today. The second section focuses on key texts written since the mid-1990s shifts in perspectives on the Nazi past, on perpetration and victimhood, on "ordinary Germans," and on the balance between historical empathy and condemnation.Contributors: Karina Berger, Elizabeth Boa, Stephen Brockmann, David Clarke, Mary Cosgrove, Rick Crownshaw, Helen Finch, Frank Finlay, Katharina Hall, Colette Lawson, Caroline Schaumann, Helmut Schmitz, Kathrin Schödel, and Stuart Taberner. Stuart Taberner is Professor of Contemporary German Literature, Culture, and Society at the University of Leeds. Karina Berger holds a PhD in German from the University of Leeds.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-736-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

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)
    S. T. and K. B.
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)
    Karina Berger and Stuart Taberner

    Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, how the Nazi past is discussed, represented, and commemorated in what has come to be known as the Berlin Republic now appears somewhat different from the “memory culture” of the “old” Federal Republic (FRG, or West Germany) and certainly distinct from the state-directed memorialization of the former East Germany. In place of a rather rigid opposition between a West German “official” culture of Holocaust remembrance, modesty in foreign affairs, and ritualized gestures of contrition — at least from the early 1970s — and an uneasiness on the part...

  5. 1: W. G. Sebald and German Wartime Suffering
    (pp. 15-28)
    Stephen Brockmann

    Since W. G. Sebald was largely responsible for putting “German wartime suffering” back on Germany’s intellectual agenda with his 1997 Zürich lectures about the air war and German literature — published in book form in Germany in 1999 under the title Luftkrieg und Literatur (Air War and Literature) — it is reasonable to inquire how he dealt with the problem of German suffering in his own literary works. After all, in Luftkrieg und Literatur Sebald argued that German writers, far from dwelling excessively on the problem of German suffering in the Second World War — and in particular on the...

  6. 2: The Natural History of Destruction: W. G. Sebald, Gert Ledig, and the Allied Bombings
    (pp. 29-41)
    Colette Lawson

    First published in 1956, Gert Ledig’s novel Vergeltung (Payback)¹ is an unremittingly brutal account of sixty-nine minutes of an Allied air raid on a German city toward the end of the war. Following the success of his first novel, Stalinorgel (The Stalin Organ, 1955),² a similarly stark narration of warfare on the Eastern front, Ledig had been celebrated and invited to meetings of the Group 47. The novel Vergeltung, by contrast, was uniformly dismissed by critics as everything from unrealistic and sensationalist to badly written and ungrammatical. It achieved none of the commercial success of the first novel and sank,...

  7. 3: Expulsion Novels of the 1950s: More than Meets the Eye?
    (pp. 42-55)
    Karina Berger

    At the end of the 1950s, critic Karl Heinz Gehrmann spoke of the “unmanageable abundance” of literary works dealing with expulsion.¹ Indeed, the decade produced a vast amount of texts — novels, diaries, and autobiographies — often written by expellees themselves to document or come to terms with their experience. Many of these stories retell the harrowing ordeal of being expelled, while others concentrate on the beauty and virtues of their lost Heimat. Tarnished perhaps by the sometimes aggressive calls by Vertriebenenverbände (expellee organizations) in the postwar years to reinstate the borders of 1937 and reclaim lost territories, expulsion texts...

  8. 4: “In this prison of the guard room”: Heinrich Böll’s Briefe aus dem Krieg 1939–1945 in the Context of Contemporary Debates
    (pp. 56-69)
    Frank Finlay

    Heinrich Böll (1917–1985), the first citizen of the old Federal Republic of Germany to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, established his literary reputation with the antiwar novels Der Zug war pünktlich (The Train Was on Time, 1949), Wo warst Du Adam (Adam, Where Art Thou?, 1951), and the anthology of short stories, Wanderer, kommst Du nach Spa . . . (Traveler, If You Come to Spa, 1950). The title story of the latter volume, a satire on military heroism, remains required reading in German schools and the enduring impact of war surfaces to a greater or lesser...

  9. 5: Family, Heritage, and German Wartime Suffering in Hanns-Josef Ortheil, Stephan Wackwitz, Thomas Medicus, Dagmar Leupold, and Uwe Timm
    (pp. 70-85)
    Helmut Schmitz

    From around the mid-1990s, there has been a veritable renaissance of the family novel in German-language literature. A strikingly large number of texts address issues of German twentieth-century history through the medium of family stories by way of fictional, biographical, and autobiographical narratives. In contrast to the condemnatory tone of a first wave of family narratives in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with their often explicit dissociation from family and tradition,¹ recent family novels investigate continuities of tradition and legacy between wartime and postwar generations.

    According to Sigrid Weigel, these intergenerational texts substitute the previously dominant model of generation...

  10. 6: Lost Heimat in Generational Novels by Reinhard Jirgl, Christoph Hein, and Angelika Overath
    (pp. 86-101)
    Elizabeth Boa

    In one of the Untimely Meditations, “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life,” Nietzsche warns that history may become a “hypertrophied virtue” or “consuming fever.”¹ It can sometimes seem that Germany is afflicted by historical overload. Since unification, the political aspiration to build a common national identity has, if anything, intensified reflection on the meaning for the future of how the German past is perceived. Competing political and ethical perspectives fuel debate and different media shape different messages. As a recent study puts it, “memory contests are highly dynamic public engagements with the past that are triggered by...

  11. 7: “A Different Family Story”: German Wartime Suffering in Women’s Writing by Wibke Bruhns, Ute Scheub, and Christina von Braun
    (pp. 102-117)
    Caroline Schaumann

    “War is almost always and every where the business of men,”¹ quotes Ute Scheub of Barbara Ehrenreich. It is a statement that recalls Ruth Klüger’s well-known words in weiter Leben: Eine Jugend (Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered, 1992): “wars, and hence the memories of wars, are owned by the male of species.”² Clearly these generalizations simplify the complexities of historical reality and omit women’s roles as supporters, participants, and onlookers in wars and what leads up to them. Yet they lay bare the fact that men begin, wage, and justify wars, while women generally suffer from them. Even though...

  12. 8: The Place of German Wartime Suffering in Hans-Ulrich Treichel’s Family Texts
    (pp. 118-132)
    David Clarke

    The renewed prominence that has been given in recent German family novels to the suffering of Germans who fought in the Second World War, who were caught up as civilians in the bombing of German cities or in the expulsion of ethnic Germans from parts of Eastern and Central Europe, has, as Helmut Schmitz points out, often been linked to a sense of dissatisfaction with the political legacy of the so-called generation of 1968.¹ The work of Hans-Ulrich Treichel has also been understood in this context as a “contribution to the inner history of the post-war generations.”² In a number...

  13. 9: “Why only now?”: The Representation of German Wartime Suffering as a “Memory Taboo” in Günter Grass’s Novella Im Krebsgang
    (pp. 133-146)
    Katharina Hall

    The publication of Günter Grass’s novella Im Krebsgang (Crabwalk) in 2002 signaled the author’s return, after thirty-three years, to the subject that had dominated his first four literary works from Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum, 1959), to örtlich betäubt (Local Anaesthetic, 1969): the German wartime past. However, whereas Grass’s early works depict everyday life under National Socialism and the involvement of “ordinary” Germans in the regime, Im Krebsgang focuses on the sinking of the former Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy) ship the Wilhelm Gustloff on 30 January 1945, and, by extension, on the issue of German wartime suffering. The...

  14. 10: Rereading Der Vorleser, Remembering the Perpetrator
    (pp. 147-161)
    Rick Crownshaw

    Bernhard Schlink’s 1995 novel der Vorleser (The Reader, 1996)¹ has attracted a critical consensus that deems it to have reconfigured the perpetrator generation as victims of Nazism and the second generation as victims of Nazism’s legacy.² Such an appropriation of victim status is part of a wider discourse of German suffering, prevalent in the 1990s and 2000s, which has often sought to elide the memory of suffering caused by Germans. In this chapter, however, I argue that Schlink’s novel actually attempts to intervene critically in these proclivities of German cultural memory. This intervention needs to be understood in relation to...

  15. 11: Narrating German Suffering in the Shadow of Holocaust Victimology: W. G. Sebald, Contemporary Trauma Theory, and Dieter Forte’s Air Raids Epic
    (pp. 162-176)
    Mary Cosgrove

    Since W. G. Sebald railed in his Zurich lectures of 1997 against what he described as postwar German writers’ lily-livered, even calculated evasion of the experience and consequences of the Allied bombing campaigns of German cities, the literary representation of this phase of the Second World War has been the subject of some debate.¹ The argument, now more than ten years old and modified by others, centered on the repression and taboo of the memory of the bombings. Sebald claimed that the writers of the immediate postwar period chose not to focus on the devastation that, leaving aside the traumatization...

  16. 12: Günter Grass’s Account of German Wartime Suffering in Beim Häuten der Zwiebel: Mind in Mourning or Boy Adventurer?
    (pp. 177-190)
    Helen Finch

    “What do I retain from the war and my camp experience besides episodes that have been bound together into anecdotes or wish to remain variable as true stories?” Günter Grass’s narrator asks this question at the end of the wartime section of his 2006 autobiography, Beim Häuten der Zwiebel (Peeling the Onion).¹ He concludes that the ability to create a literary feast out of the stuff of his imagination, to invite invisible guests to a dazzlingly heterogeneous dinner table, is the most lasting element of his wartime and immediate postwar experiences. Grass tells us, then, that this period has provided...

  17. 13: Jackboots and Jeans: The Private and the Political in Uwe Timm’s Am Beispiel meines Bruders
    (pp. 191-204)
    Frank Finlay

    As this volume amply demonstrates, the explosion of recent interest in “German wartime suffering” is but the latest manifestation of contemporary Germany’s often tortuous attempts since 1945 to define its relationship to National Socialism along a continuum that has German perpetration at its opposite pole. A recent feature of this multifaceted “memory work” has been a particularly intense preoccupation across a wide range of cultural and historical texts with the everyday fate and the choices faced by the German population at large in the Third Reich.

    The literary arena since 1989–90 has witnessed a burgeoning trend in “life-writing,” that...

  18. 14: Memory-Work in Recent German Novels: What (if Any) Limits Remain on Empathy with the “German Experience” of the Second World War?
    (pp. 205-218)
    Stuart Taberner

    In his excellent discussion of “historicism, sentimentality and the problem of empathy,” Helmut Schmitz argues that “an uncritical representation of Germans as victims is [. . .] frequently in danger of reproducing collective notions of identity based on ethnically dubious concepts.”¹ In a second piece, Schmitz argues more forcefully that the ultimate aim of “discursive attempts to ‘contain’ the Holocaust within a nationalised memory discourse” — the attempt to refocus contemporary perspectives onto “Germans as victims” — is to “relegitimise a German perspective on National Socialism from the vantage point of empathy.”² Empathy, in Schmitz’s view, may be all too...

  19. 15: “Secondary Suffering” and Victimhood: The “Other” of German Identity in Bernhard Schlink’s “Die Beschneidung” and Maxim Biller’s “Harlem Holocaust”
    (pp. 219-232)
    Kathrin Schödel

    It has often been claimed that until the 1990s there had existed a taboo, or at least strict discursive rules in German public discourse, regarding depictions of “Germans as victims,” which made it difficult for Germans to remember and mourn their own wartime suffering. According to this interpretation of the history of German Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with the past), the taboo was finally lifted in the years following German unification, allowing for the slow emergence of a long-neglected, more differentiated account of the experiences of “normal” Germans during the Nazi period, which is still in need of elaboration today....

  20. Works Cited
    (pp. 233-250)
  21. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 251-254)
  22. Index
    (pp. 255-259)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 260-260)