8
DISCOVERING A TABOO: THE NAZI PAST IN LITERARY-POLITICAL DISCOURSE 1958-67

Helmut Peitsch

I n Günter Grass's novel Die Blechtrommel, published in 1959, the name of a club fashionable among the better off in Düsseldorf is Tabu.1 Here they can do what they normally avoid doing both in public and in private; they can cry and remember. Grass's highly satirical description of a space reserved for mourning has been taken by later critics 2 as proof of the view put forward in 1967 by Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich in their famous book Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern that West German memory in the 1950s 'derealised' the entire National-Socialist period.3 Grass's characters can only enjoy their grief because in everyday life their private and political pasts have been forgotten. The problematic relationship between the West German present and the Nazi past also preoccupied the Italian writer Carlo Levi who travelled widely in West Germany in 1959. In the travelogue which he published three years later, a Munich bar with the name Tabu was given a similar symbolic significance.4 In this paper I should like to question the assumption which led to the psychoanalytical term 'taboo' being applied to the ways in which German history of the years 1933-45 was remembered in the 1950s. At the same time I shall try to explain why the term came to be so widely used.


'DEREALISATION' OF THE NAZI PAST: FACT OR FICTION?

A reassessment of the different levels of memory at work in the FRG during the 1950s -- the official, the public and the popular -- casts doubt on the assumption of a silence about the past.5 Factual evidence suggests a) that certain subjects were selected for

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