The Language of Silence: West German Literature and the Holocaust

By Ernestine Schlant | Go to book overview

eight

Speeches and Controversies

On the one hand [is] the Jewish tradition that to remember is the secret of redemption and Santayana reminding us that to forget the past is to be condemned to repeat it. On the other side stand Cicero, Renan, Gladstone, and Churchill, who think that to forget should be as much a part of a nation's tradition as its memory of past glories. 1

As the 1980s wore on, the prominence of literature in attempting to work through the Holocaust was challenged by more public expressions: political speeches on the anniversaries of events that occurred in the Nazi regime, academic controversies conducted in the media, demonstrations and protests. This chapter presents some of the political, academic, and literary debates; they demonstrate that the strategies of the language of silence continued to prevail even when the Holocaust was at the center of attention.

In the early 1980s, the last years of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's Social Democratic government, a new Tendenzwende or change of tides started to take shape, gaining momentum with the election of the Christian Democrat Helmut Kohl in 1982. In fact, Kohl's election as chancellor was in itself an expression of this change, and inaugurated a more conservative period in which politicians and intellectuals began to speak publicly in terms of national pride. Kohl, a historian by training, wanted to establish historical continuity with a German pre-Nazi past, and two new museums were to be the visible symbols of this goal: the German Historical Museum in Berlin would present the national past; the House of History in Bonn would focus on the forty-year history of West Ger-

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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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