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Heimat, Loss and Identity

Flight and Expulsion in German Literature from the 1950s to the Present


Karina Berger

What became of ethnic Germans in Eastern Europe during the Second World War? In recent years, their suffering, flight and expulsion during and after the war has attracted increasing critical attention. A wave of literary fiction has accompanied this trend, contributing to, and sometimes triggering, heated debate in the media and German-speaking society more widely. Often said to have broken a ‘taboo’, these postunification novels are in fact only the latest in a long history of literary representations of flight and expulsion in German writing.
This book offers the first comprehensive account in English of ‘expulsion literature’ in West Germany from the early 1950s to present-day Germany, providing detailed readings of both canonical and lesser known texts and carefully placing the novels in their broader literary and historical context. The book demonstrates that these literary representations have often been viewed too narrowly and offers an alternative and, arguably, more positive perspective on the representation of flight and expulsion over six decades in German literature.
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Chapter 2: ‘A Clear Counter-Discourse’: Expulsion Novels during the Politicized 1970s and 1980s



In the 1970s and 1980s, the number of novels thematizing wartime suffering reached a second peak after the 1950s. The new wave of titles coincided with a generational shift: although many of the authors experienced flight or expulsion first-hand, they were children during the Third Reich. The other main difference is the sociopolitical context in which these novels were written – that is, in the wake of the tumultuous events of the 1960s, notably the Eichmann trial in 1961 and the developments of the student movement. These events contributed to the shift towards a more self-critical assessment of the National Socialist period, and a growing willingness to confront German culpability and Jewish suffering. They propelled West Germany towards a ‘culture of contrition’, and away from its earlier preoccupation with German suffering.1 More specifically relevant to expellees and the Heimat discourse was West Germany’s foreign policy, especially the SPD-driven Ostpolitik of the early 1970s. This was the SPD-FDP coalition’s attempt, under Chancellor Willy Brandt, to ‘normalize’ the relations with West Germany’s eastern neighbours twenty five years after the end of the war. A series of treaties called the Ostverträge, especially the Warsaw Treaty signed in December 1970, held particular importance for the status of the former eastern territories. In this treaty, West Germany confirmed the Oder–Neiße-Line as the official (East) German-Polish border and stated that it would refrain from making territorial demands now and in the future – a commitment standing in direct opposition to the...

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