Academic journal article Shofar

Poland and Post-Memory in Second-Generation German Jewish Fiction

Academic journal article Shofar

Poland and Post-Memory in Second-Generation German Jewish Fiction

Article excerpt

This article discusses three contemporary German Jewish novels by second-generation writers that describe the search of their middle-aged protagonists, also children of Holocaust survivors of Polish descent, for their parents' traumatic past. This search takes the protagonists of Jeannette Lander's Die Töchter [The Daughters], Lothar Schöne's Das Jüdische Begräbnis [The Jewish Burial], and Minka Pradelski's Und da kam Frau Kugelmann [Here Comes Mrs. Kugelmann] on a journey to Poland. These fictive journeys into the past are, like the organized group tours to the death camps, structured around destruction and redemption. Poland and Israel, as diametrically opposed spaces, represent the past and the future of Jewish life respectively. Although only in Und da kam Frau Kugelmann is this redemption associated with Israel, in all three texts the journey to Poland is portrayed as a prerequisire for healing transgenerarional trauma and for facilitating new self-understanding. The article demonstrates that this belief in the redemptive power of the journey to Poland is grounded in the authors' generational affiliation as well as in their intimate connection to Poland.

Since the 1980s, the "second generation" - as it refers first of all to the children of Holocaust survivors - and its work of memory have taken center stage in both academic and public reflections on the remembrance and the legacy of the Shoah. As Eva Hoffman observes in After Such Knowledge: Memory, History and the Legacy of the Holocaust:

Within the larger history of postwar responses to the Holocaust, the direct descendants of survivors - the so-called second generation - form a particular subset and story. The existence of the "second generation" was probably announced in 1979 with the publication of Helen Epstein's seminal book Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors. . . . Since then, however, the "second generation" has crystallized into a recognized entity, and a self-conscious "identity." Children of survivors by now comprise a defined, if hybrid, collectivity which holds international meetings and conferences and which has given rise to a growing body of writing, ranging from highly personal to highly theoretical.1

"Post-memory is characterized by Marianne Hirsch as follows: "Postmemory . . . has certainly not taken us beyond memory, but is distinguished from memory by generational distance and from history by deep personal connection. Post-memory should reflect back on memory, revealing it as equally consttucted, equally mediated by the processes of narration and imagination."2 In the German Jewish novels that I discuss, Jeannette Lander's Die Töchter [The Daughters] (1976),3 Lothar Schöne's Das Jüdische Begräbnis [The Jewish Burial] (1996),4 and Minka Pradelski's Und da kam Frau Kugelmann5 [Here Comes Mrs. Kugelmann] (2005),6 middle-aged children of Holocaust survivors seek answers to questions left unanswered during theit parents' lifetime.7 Their parents' trauma manifested itself in silence caused by their unwillingness to talk about their experience. Whether the reason for this silence was fear, shame, anger, or the intention to protect loved ones, it cut their children off from what Aleida Assmann tefets to as "individual memory" or, since language is memory's most important vehicle, "communicative memory."8 In each of the three texts, an intimate connection between the past and Poland is established by the fact that at least one of the protagonists' parents is of Polish descent. In Lander's Die Töchter the three daughters of a Polish Jew who disappeared in the war-torn country of his birth come together in the communist Poland of the late 1960s, accompanied by some of their children, to find their father s grave. Schöne's Das jüdische Begräbnis portrays the identity crisis of a middleaged German man, son of a Polish Jewish mother and a non-Jewish German father. While the texts by Lander and Schöne deal with literal journeys to Poland, Pradelski's novel, set in Israel, takes her protagonist, the daughter of two Polish Jews who stayed in Frankfurt am Main after World War II, on an imaginary journey to the Jewish Poland of the 1930s and 1940s. …

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