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Heimat, Loss and Identity

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

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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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Concluding Remarks

Extract

Over the course of the book we have seen that each of the periods explored is characterized by a distinct memory culture – a focus on German victimhood in the early postwar period was replaced by a growing awareness of German culpability in the 1970s and 1980s, and in postunification Germany a more pluralistic and inclusive memory culture has developed. It has also become apparent that the subject of flight and expulsion was never entirely absent from the public sphere. This means that not only is the notion of a taboo inaccurate, but, more importantly, that the novels that have been published during the recent resurgence of interest in the subject of German suffering are part of a much longer history of literary representations of expulsion in German writing, stretching back to the end of the war.

What has changed significantly over time is the socio-political interpretative framework in which German suffering is articulated, a significant factor which serves to encourage or marginalize the subject in the public realm. As discussed in Chapter 1, the framework in the decade or so immediately following the war was conducive to the memories of flight and expulsion, but at the same time largely blocked those of German culpability. In the following decades, as outlined in Chapter 2, the framework contributed to an increasing awareness and acceptance of German crimes, yet also tended to suppress the theme of German victimhood. Only as a result of the recent cultural and political changes is it...

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