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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 3: The Volte-face in the Reception of Walter Kempowski: Shifting Attitudes towards (Representations of) German Wartime Suffering



As discussed in the previous chapter, the 1970s and 1980s are usually perceived to be defined by a ‘culture of contrition’, and marked by strong suspicion towards the subject of German suffering, as it appeared to directly contradict the emerging left-liberal consensus in the wake of the student movement. Seemingly flying in the face of the SPD’s conciliatory Ostpolitik, the topic of flight and expulsion was broadly seen as revisionist, and largely ignored by scholars and critics. In the new millennium, however, we have witnessed a considerable shift in the way that Germany’s Nazi past has been approached and represented, resulting in a more differentiated and more ‘normalized’ perspective. Caroline Pearce has referred to the change in government in 1998 as a ‘sea change in terms of attitudes to the National Socialist past’, while Bill Niven has written more generally of a ‘more inclusive’ presentation and understanding of the past.1 An examination of Walter Kempowski’s work over four decades and, in particular, how it was received during this time, illustrates well the shifting framework and shifting attitudes towards the Nazi past that has taken place since Germany’s reunification. Thus, while the author’s approach to representating the past and German wartime suffering has remained broadly the same, the sociopolitical interpretative framework in which it is evaluated has changed considerably. ← 109 | 110 →

This chapter, then, examines the way in which Kempowski’s status as a persona non grata with the literary establishment in the highly politicized 1970s...

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