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Traumatic Verses

Traumatic Verses: On Poetry in German from the Concentration Camps, 1933-1945

Andrés Nader
Volume: 13
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 213
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  • Book Info
    Traumatic Verses
    Book Description:

    Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Christianstadt, Dachau. The names of Nazi concentration camps evoke images of radical destitution. The atrocities we call the Holocaust defy comprehension, while thinkers continue to ponder the possibility of "poetry after Auschwitz

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-706-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    A. N.
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-32)

    The goal of this book is to think about a selection of poems. These are disparate poems, but they are marked in two particular ways. The individuals who wrote these poems did so while they were imprisoned in concentration camps set up by the National Socialists, and they wrote in German, the language of their tormentors. These two historical factors alone do not determine the poems, but they condition our reading as they call attention with particular force to the creative act and to the aesthetic dimension in a context of extreme abuse and dehumanization. With the exception of Michael...

  5. 1: Literary Activities in the Camps
    (pp. 33-70)

    Discussions about the role played by the literary and the aesthetic in the concentration camps have tended to revolve around the dichotomy between transcendence and immanence. This focus has had at least two distinct though not unrelated registers, one centered around the experience of inmates and the other, more general, centered around questions of historical rendition. At one level discussions about literature in the camps make claims about the function of the aesthetic in the psychic life of inmates and more generally about the relevance of the aesthetic realm for people in extreme conditions. Given the abject material constraints and...

  6. 2: Identity under Threat
    (pp. 71-93)

    Among the cumulatively traumatic experiences in the concentration camps the attack on individuality was one that victims felt immediately. Brought by force into the concentrationary system, prisoners were robbed not only of their freedom and their civil rights but also of almost all external attributes that indicate and in some sense can be said to constitute a person’s individuality. Circumstances varied greatly by time, location, and the category to which the National Socialists assigned a particular inmate. However most inmates lost their residence, their professional and social status, all contact with family and friends, their possessions, their clothing, and even...

  7. 3: “Everyday Life” in the Concentrationary Universe
    (pp. 94-126)

    As was discussed in the introduction, Saul Friedländer has called for attention not only to the “everyday life” of “ordinary” Germans in the Third Reich but also to the “everyday life” of the victims of the National Socialists (1994, 262). The following poems provide portrayals of daily occurrences in the concentration camps. They also show how daily atrocity alters the nature of “everydayness.” They suggest in other words that everyday living with extreme physical abuse, in harmful conditions, and among corpses numbs the senses and undermines the sense of time. The poems foresee that “everyday life” in atrocity may subsequently,...

  8. 4: Communicating Torture
    (pp. 127-151)

    Composing a poem is an act of verbal communication. As a particular combination of words a poem “makes sense”; at least within its own logical system a poem is a choice, that is, it has been thought out and usually worked on. Even experimental poems that purport to defy meaning operate within a given frame of reference within which they challenge such meaning. To write poems in the concentration camps is to seek to “make sense,” it is to counter the lack of sense that the perpetrators imposed on the life of inmates. As communication, whether internal (with oneself) or...

  9. 5: Contemporaneous Poetry in the Third Reich
    (pp. 152-180)

    While every poem has a cultural and a social history that includes the biography of its author, poems from the Third Reich present critics with a number of peculiar historical and social issues. Poems written by Nazis and their sympathizers are tainted with the cataclysmic history of the National Socialist regime and its genocidal campaigns. This is particularly the case for poems that praise Hitler and his regime, but it is true as well of poems whose concern does not seem directly related to Nazi ideology. Such poems are morally bankrupt, but this does not mean that they should not...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 181-184)

    In this book I have sought to open a number of poems to scrutiny. My hope is that these poems will continue to reverberate and to do cultural work. As I stated in the introduction, other poems also deserve careful attention. The readings constitute an attempt, however humble, to bring some of these poems into wider circulation and to understand the cultural work with words that these poems perform, the work they did then and the work they can do now. By excavating what Susan Gubar has called “eccentric or trivial details from the calamity” one can hope — like...

  11. Appendix of Complete Poems
    (pp. 185-228)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 229-238)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 239-254)
  14. Index
    (pp. 255-258)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-259)