Academic journal article German Quarterly

Post-Shoah Jewish culture in Germany and Austria: An introducion

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Post-Shoah Jewish culture in Germany and Austria: An introducion

Article excerpt

This issue of The German Quarterly features articles that grew out of an international symposium entitled "Politics, Memory and Representation. Post-Shoah Jewish Culture in German-speaking Countries," held at the University of Illinois at Chicago in November 1998. The purpose ofthe event was to bring together an interdisciplinary panel of experts from German Studies, Jewish Studies, History, Anthropology, Art, Political Science, and the Berlin Jewish community. As a result, diverse perspectives on the topic unfolded, as the volume at hand reveals.

Since the early 1990s, increasing attention has been paid to Jewish identity after the Holocaust, a trend which is continuing into the 21st century. Thus, in January 2000 the Holocaust Memorial Museum of Washington, DC, sponsored a three-day conference entitled "Life Reborn: Jewish Displaced Persons 1945-1951," which focused on the life of Jewish Holocaust survivors in DP (displaced persons) camps. In these holding places, people were re-establishing their lives and identities while waiting up to six years to leave for Palestine, the United States, and other countries. Of the 230,000 European Jews in approximately 90 camps in Germany and Austria, only very few remained in German-speaking countries-only approximately 15,000 persons had survived within Nazi Germany. By 1952, only 12,000 Jewish DPs had stayed, and by 1955 only 999. Although there was a general assumption that only the weakest among them remained in Germany,1 some survivors remained because they had managed to establish themselves in business, while others chose to live in Germany for idealistic or personal reasons. The poet Gerty Spies, for example, strongly identified with the German language and culture and wanted to reveal her experiences as a prisoner in Theresienstadt to her fellow citizens.2

Survivors who had left their former home countries began to look back to the past. The Vienna-born US scholar of German Studies Ruth Kluger did so in her 1992 autobiography weiter leben,3 in which she revived her life as a young girl in Vienna and her experiences in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, but her main focus was her experiences in Gottingen in the late 1980s as the director of the study abroad program at the University of California. Likewise, the Israeli writer Aharon Appelfeld focused on the time after the Holocaust in his 1992 book The Iron Tracks, a work that appeared in Germany in 1999, translated from Hebrew by Stefan Siebers.4 Appelfeld portrays the post-Shoah era through the eyes of a fictional character. He states, "Das Material ist tatsachlich Material aus dem eigenen Leben."5 The remaining trauma and the wish for revenge, often absent in other works dealing with the same topic, are expressed in Applefeld's novel. Likewise, authors who returned from exile to live in Germany examined their post-Shoah experience in the 1990s, for example Edgar Hilsenrath in his autobiographical novel Die Abenteuer des Ruben Jablonski.6

The Chicago symposium included presentations from scholars concerning Holocaust survivors, such as the contribution of the political scientist Norma Moruzzi, whose intellectual and professional identity is strongly influenced by post-Holocaust questions, as demonstrated in her paper. Esther Parada, a Chicago-based artist and professor of photography, is aware that a displacement of her Jewish identity is characteristic of her art. During the general discussion concluding the symposium, she mentioned that she and her family had transferred their "Jewish" concern to concern for non-Jewish minorities.

The Jewish communities in today's Germany and Austria are made up of formerly displaced persons who remained in Germany and Austria, their children, German- and Austrian-born Jews, and Jews who moved there subsequently. The younger members of this group express themselves in a manner distinct from the mainstream, having come to speak out on their life in Germany and their Jewish identity more directly than the previous generation. …

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