The Language of Silence: West German Literature and the Holocaust

The Language of Silence: West German Literature and the Holocaust

The Language of Silence: West German Literature and the Holocaust

The Language of Silence: West German Literature and the Holocaust

Synopsis

Focusing on individual authors from Heinrich Boll to Gunther Grass, Hermann Lenz to Peter Schneider, The Language of Silence offers an analysis of West German literature as it tries to come to terms with the Holocaust and its impact on postwar West German society. Exploring postwar literature as the barometer of Germany's unconsciously held values as well as of its professed conscience, Ernestine Schlant demonstrates that the confrontation with the Holocaust has shifted over the decades from repression, circumvention, and omission to an open acknowledgement of the crimes. Learned and exacting, Schlant's study makes an important contribution to our understanding of postwar German culture.

Excerpt

Perhaps I write because I see no better way to be silent.

There are many kinds of silence and many ways to be silent…. Silence…speaks and is as risky as speech.

In Berlin, outside the Grunewald train station where the trains left for Auschwitz, there is a monument to those who were deported and killed. It is a long straight wall of exposed concrete, perhaps 15 feet high, which appears to hold back the earth rising up behind it. Cut into the wall are the outline of human figures moving in the direction of the station. The figures themselves are nonexistent; it is the surrounding cement that makes their absence visible.

This monument, in which presence is stated as absence, and in which the solidity of the wall serves to make this absence visible, has its analogue in literature. It is my contention that in its approach to the Holocaust, the West German literature of four decades has been a literature of absence and silence contoured by language. Yet this silence is not a uniform, monolithic emptiness. A great variety of narrative strategies have delineated and broken these contours, in a contradictory endeavor to keep silent about the silence and simultaneously make it resonate. My aim in this study is to convey some sense of the multiplicity of these strategies and of the motives that prompt them.

The Holocaust has been a presence in German literature from the early postwar period to the present, and the strategies employed in the

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