The Language of Silence: West German Literature and the Holocaust

By Ernestine Schlant | Go to book overview

one

The First Postwar Decade

Heinrich Böll and Wolfgang Koeppen

Speaking is silver, silence is gold.

German proverb

The end of World War II and the first public realizations of the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime called out for voices that would speak to these horrors. As early as 1946, the German philosopher Karl Jaspers posed "the question of German guilt" 1 and Eugen Kogon published The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System behind Them, based on his experiences as an inmate at Buchenwald. 2 Yet even as the Nuremberg war crimes trials were taking place and the atrocities of the Nazi regime were exposed, denial and rationalizations began to prevail. These attitudes were further strengthened since most Germans were absorbed in their own postwar misery, brought on by the considerable destruction of the cities, the influx of many millions of refugees and displaced persons, the lack of food, and the generally chaotic conditions in the country. Most Germans were pre-occupied by three questions: how to get food, how to find housing, and how to locate missing family members. The incipient cold war and the farce of the denazification trials, which Jean-Paul Bier has characterized as "a crafty system of fakes, truncated biographies, and exchanges of mutually accommodating testimony" only hardened this posture. 3 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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