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Second-Generation Holocaust Literature

Second-Generation Holocaust Literature: Legacies of Survival and Perpetration

Erin McGlothlin
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Second-Generation Holocaust Literature
    Book Description:

    Among historical events of the 20th century, the Holocaust is unrivaled as the subject of both scholarly and literary writing. Literary responses include not only thousands of autobiographical and fictional texts written by survivors, but also, more recently, works by writers who are not survivors but nevertheless feel compelled to write about the Holocaust. Writers from what is known as the 'second generation' have produced texts that express their feeling of being powerfully marked by events of which they have had no direct experience. This book expands the commonly-used definition of 'second-generation literature', which refers to texts written from the perspective of the children of survivors, to include texts written from the point of view of the children of Nazi perpetrators. With its innovative focus on the literary legacy of both groups, it investigates how second-generation writers employ similar tropes of stigmatization to express their troubled relationships to their parents' histories. Through readings of nine American, German, and French literary texts, Erin McGlothlin demonstrates how an anxiety with signification is manifested in the very structure of second-generation literature, revealing the extent to which the literary texts themselves are marked by the continuing aftershocks of the Holocaust. Erin McGlothlin is assistant professor of German at Washington University in St. Louis.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-685-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

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)
    E. McG
  4. Introduction: Rupture and Repair: Marking the Legacy of the Second Generation
    (pp. 1-40)

    In The War After: Living with the Holocaust (1996), Anne Karpf writes of growing up as the child of Holocaust survivors in postwar England, an experience that, as she discovers as an adult, has profoundly shaped her identity and her understanding of the world around her. For much of her childhood, youth, and early adulthood she is plagued by excessive fear of potential danger to her family, anxiety about breaking her close but at times stifling bond with her parents, and unfocused rage at having been bequeathed such a difficult and often incomprehensible history of family trauma. She struggles with...

  5. Part I. The Legacy of Survival

    • 1: “A Tale Repeated Over and Over Again”: Polyidentity and Narrative Paralysis in Thane Rosenbaum’s Elijah Visible
      (pp. 43-65)

      In “Romancing the Yohrzeit Light,” the second short story in Thane Rosenbaum’s collection Elijah Visible, Adam Posner, a New York painter, seeks a viable medium through which he can articulate his grief over the death of his mother, a Holocaust survivor. His sense of obligation to honor his mother becomes even more difficult because of his history of rebellion against the religious traditions that were important to her. His radical break with Judaism has long since erased any familiarity with Jewish mourning ritual: “Adam didn’t know the prayers; the kaddish remained a mystery, like a foreign language. The Hebrew vowels...

    • 2: “In Auschwitz We Didn’t Wear Watches”: Marking Time in Art Spiegelman’s Maus
      (pp. 66-90)

      Midway through the second volume of Art Spiegelman’s comic novel Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Vladek, the Holocaust survivor, during a walk through a Catskills resort, explains to his son the procedure for Selektionen at Auschwitz, the terrifying periodic physical evaluations in which prisoners were sorted according to those who seemed capable of further performing slave labor and those who were too weak and therefore condemned to be murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau:

      “In the whole camp was selektions,” Vladek begins in the first panel of a four-panel block, “I went two times in front of Dr. Mengele.” In...

    • 3: “Because We Need Traces”: Robert Schindel’s Gebürtig and the Crisis of the Second-Generation Witness
      (pp. 91-124)

      Gebürtig,¹ Robert Schindel’s novel about the lives of second-generation Austrians in the early 1980s, is marked by a radically heterogeneous narrativity and an almost obsessive concentration on problems of signification and referential representation. The novel’s complex, multi-layered, decentralized narrative structure, its overabundant significatory synapses, and its dense, often paradoxical poetic language contribute to an exercise in reading that, in its refusal to grant the reader clarity, closure, or narrative certainty, mirrors the confused and impotent struggle of its characters with the presence of the Holocaust past in an Austrian society that, in effect, abdicates responsibility for its perpetration of the...

    • 4: Documenting Absence in Patrick Modiano’s Dora Bruder and Katja Behrens’s “Arthur Mayer, or The Silence”
      (pp. 125-140)

      In Katja Behrens’s 1993 short story, “Arthur Mayer oder das Schweigen” (“Arthur Mayer, or The Silence,” 2002), the autobiographical narrator becomes aware of a neglected stone monument that commemorates Arthur Mayer, a Jewish doctor whose family, prior to the Holocaust, had lived in her small German town for over 200 years. The text of the monument reads: “In memory of Dr. Arthur Mayer. Born 20 January 1888, died at Auschwitz. We remember him in place of all those who lost their lives for political, racial, or religious reasons. The Citizens of Town S” (Behrens, “The Silence,” 34).¹ The narrator is...

  6. Part II. The Legacy of Perpetration

    • 5: “Under a False Name”: Peter Schneider’s Vati and the Misnomer of Genre
      (pp. 143-173)

      Peter Schneider’s 1987 narrative Vati (“Daddy”) tells the story of the relationship between a notorious Nazi, in hiding to escape prosecution for atrocities he committed as a concentration camp doctor, and his adult son, who in the late 1970s secretly travels to Brazil to meet his father for the first time since his infancy. Written as a sort of letter from the son (who, like his father, remains unnamed in the story) to a childhood friend, the narrative documents the son’s attempt to get to know his father and his struggle to come to terms with his father’s culpability in...

    • 6: My Mother Wears a Hitler Mustache: Marking the Mother in Niklas Frank and Joshua Sobol’s Der Vater
      (pp. 174-198)

      In the previous chapter I explored the discourse that defines Väterliteratur, citing in particular Michael Schneider, whom I term the “father” of Väterliteratur. Michael Schneider claims that the father texts represent a particular historical problem of the “generation damaged by its fathers” (“Fathers and Sons,” 4),¹ a group of rebellious adult children (mostly sons) who question their fathers’ participation in Germany’s fascist past. Although this rebellion and challenge on the part of the sons fall under the general concept of generational conflict, Schneider stresses the unique historical position of this particular nexus of texts. According to Schneider, the conflict around...

    • 7: The Future of Väterliteratur: Bernhard Schlink’s Der Vorleser and Uwe Timm’s Am Beispiel meines Bruders
      (pp. 199-227)

      According to most histories of postwar West German literature, Väterliteratur is a phenomenon that erupted onto the literary scene in the late seventies and dominated German literary representation of the Nazi past through the mid-1980s. This conception of the genre certainly aligns with the notion of the Tendenzwende (change in trend), which holds that the very public political activism that marked the art and literature of the late 1960s and early 1970s gave way to a withdrawal into the private sphere, which in turn manifested itself as a concentration, often in autobiographical form, on the subjective individual experience of social...

  7. Conclusion: The “Glass Wall”: Marked by an Invisible Divide
    (pp. 228-232)

    In his notorious statement from The Differend (1998), the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard likens the Holocaust to a powerful earthquake that has demolished not only the physical landscape but also the very instruments that can measure the earthquake, which, in the case of the Holocaust, include documentation that might help the historian analyze and reconstruct the event (56–58). Although Lyotard’s analogy is widely known and quoted, scholars, in particular historians, have vehemently objected to it, for it appears to ignore the massive amount of data gathered on the events of the Nazi genocide of the European Jews, information that...

  8. Works Cited
    (pp. 233-246)
  9. Index
    (pp. 247-254)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 255-255)