Rediscovering Intimacy: Intimate Violence and the Holocaust in German-language literature since 2010

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Abstract / Description of output

Since 1945, the concentration camp and wartime civil society (‘everyday’ Germany and Austria under Nazi rule) have come to function as the primary settings for German-language literary representations of the Holocaust, and discrimination, deportation and imprisonment as the primary experiences represented in them. Although legitimate in themselves, these focal points betray a memory culture in which the actual, physical violence committed and witnessed by non-Jewish Germans tends to occupy a marginal position. Holocaust violence is contained and estranged: it takes place behind the walls of the camps, separate from the spaces of the ‘everyday’ and in the schematically imagined space of Eastern Europe, which functions as an ill-defined ‘elsewhere’ even in depictions of the region itself. Despite the wealth of historiography and lived experience that complicates such a view of the Nazi era, that is, as one in which the majority population was distanced from the murder of Jews and other minorities, in literary representations trains continue to disappear east and physical barriers reinforce the imaginary separation between violence and daily life. However, there are some signs that authors are rediscovering the intimate violence – face-to-face killing, slavery and brutality – that was part and parcel of the regime all over Europe and in public spaces, particularly through their engagement with the history of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe.
While many contemporary literary texts about the Holocaust in Eastern Europe reinforce the patterns of estrangement and containment outlined above, for example by depicting the East as an unknowable and inherently savage space, or by placing violence ‘off screen’, there are some authors whose approaches challenge the dominant view of violence as elsewhere. This chapter will explore how three recent novels thematise and complicate the issue of violence, presenting a vision of the Nazi era and of memory that brings the histories they address to bear on contemporary memory culture. Markus Berges, Die Köchin von Bob Dylan (2016), Josef Winkler’s Lass dich heimgeigen, Vater (2018) and Ralf Rothmann’s Der Gott jenes Sommers (2018) each bring intimate violence crashing into the German and Austrian centre in a way that acknowledges the tenuous grip this aspect of the Holocaust has within memory culture. Berges’s documentary-style depiction of mass shootings from the perspective of the German minorities in Ukraine, Winkler’s reversal of colonial tropes of contamination to look at the life of Paul Blöbel and Rothmann’s use of the Thirty Years War as a parallel to the war on the Eastern Front each gesture towards the future inclusion of intimate, uncontained violence in the post-war imaginary. These works reveal how forms of violence that have had little place in post-war representation might cease to be rendered endlessly elsewhere.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationtbc
Publication statusUnpublished - Jul 2023

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