History, Culture and Memory
Edited By Katia Pizzi and Marjatta Hietala
10 Vilnius and the Vanishing Grave
In his 1992 novel Unkenrufe [The Call of the Toad] Günter Grass settles the Cold War saga of divided Europe with a love story between a middle-aged German man, Alexander, and a Polish woman, Alexandra. Grass initiates their amorous affair in the context of the funerary landscape of the Polish city of Gdansk, opening his novel on All Soul’s Day – 2 November – ‘a few days before the Wall came down’ – and closing it with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the union that for almost forty years kept Eastern Europe under the Soviet boot.1 The male protagonist, Alexander, was born in the Free City of Danzig but grew into adolescence under the Nazi rule of the city. For generations of Alexander’s forefathers, Danzig was home, and it seemed only natural that his grandparents were laid in the family tomb in one of the local cemeteries. His parents, too, expected to join them when their time came, resting side-by-side in the expanding family grave. The war changed it all. With the western advancement of the Red Army in 1945, Alexander and his parents became refugees, joining millions of displaced Germans who were prohibited from returning home after peace finally arrived. Extensively bombed out and depopulated, Danzig was no more; out of the ruins, however, emerged Gdansk, a Cold War replica of its former self. By and large, the postwar reconstruction of Gdansk went hand-in-hand with the dismantling of German memory of the place, eventually not even leaving the...
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