The Language of Silence: West German Literature and the Holocaust

By Ernestine Schlant | Go to book overview

Introduction

Perhaps I write because I see no better way to be silent. 1

There are many kinds of silence and many ways to be silent…. Silence…speaks and is as risky as speech. 2

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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The Language of Silence: West German Literature and the Holocaust
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • One - The First Postwar Decade 21
  • Two - Documentary Literature 51
  • Three - Autobiographical Novels 80
  • Four - Autobiographical Novels 99
  • Five - The War on the Eastern Front 123
  • Six - Ruptures and Displacements 149
  • Seven - Restitution of Personal Identity? 166
  • Eight - Speeches and Controversies 188
  • Nine - Post-Unification 209
  • Conclusion 235
  • Notes 245
  • Selected Bibliography 262
  • Index 273
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