Poland and Post-memory in second-generation German Jewish fiction.
This article discusses three contemporary German Jewish novels by second-generation writers that describe the search of their middle aged protagonists, also children of Holocaust survivors of Polish descent, for their parents' traumatic past. This search takes the protagonists of Jeannette Lander's Die Tochter [The Daughters], Lothar Schone's Das Judische Begrabnis [The Jewish Burial], and Minka Pradelski's Und da kam Fran Kugelmann [Here Comes Mrs. Kugelmann] on a journey to Poland. These fictive journeys into the past are, like the organized group tours to the death camps, structured around destruction and redemption. Poland and Israel, as diametrically opposed spaces, represent the past and the future of Jewish life respectively. Although only in Und da kam Fran Kugelmann is this redemption associated with Israel, in all three texts the journey to Poland is portrayed as a prerequisite for healing transgenerational trauma and for facilitating new self-understanding. The article demonstrates that this belief in the redemptive power of the journey to Poland is grounded in the authors generational affiliation as well as in their intimate connection to Poland.
Since the 1980s, the "second generation"--as it refers first of all to the children of Holocaust survivors--and its work of memory have taken center stage in both academic and public reflections on the remembrance and the legacy of the Shoah. As Eva Hoffman observes in After Such Knowledge: Memory, History and the Legacy of the Holocaust:
Within the larger history of postwar responses to the Holocaust, the direct descendants of survivors--the so-called second generation- form a particular subset and story. The existence of the "second generation" was probably announced in 1979 with the publication of elen Epstein's seminal book Children of (he Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors. ... Since then, however, the "second generation" has crystallized into a recognized entity, and a self-conscious "identity." Children of survivors by now comprise a defined, if hybrid, collectivity which holds international meetings and conferences and which has given rise to a growing body of writing, ranging from highly personal to highly theoretical. (1)
"Post-memory is characterized by Marianne Hirsch as follows: "Post-memory ... has certainly not taken us beyond memory, but is distinguished from memory by generational distance and from history by deep personal connection. Post-memory should reflect back on memory, revealing it as equally constructed, equally mediated by the processes of narration and imagination." (2) In the German Jewish novels that I discuss, Jeannette Lander's Die Tochter [The Daughters] (1976), (3) Lothar Schone's Das Judische Begrabnis [The Jewish Burial] (1996), (4) and Minka Pradelski's Und da kam Fran Kugelmann (5) [Here Comes Mrs. Kugelmann) (2005), (6) middle-aged children of Holocaust survivors seek answers to questions left unanswered during their parents' lifetime. (7) Their parents' trauma manifested itself in silence caused by their unwillingness to talk about their experience. Whether the reason for this silence was fear, shame, anger, or the intention to protect loved ones, it cut their children off from what Aleida Assmann refers to as "individual memory" or, since language is memory's most important vehicle, "communicative memory." (8) In each of the three texts, an intimate connection between the past and Poland is established by the fact that at least one of the protagonists' patents is of Polish descent. In Lander's Die Tochter the three daughters of a Polish Jew who disappeared in the war-torn country of his birth come together in the communist Poland of the late 1960s, accompanied by some of their children, to find their father's grave. Schone's Das judische Begrabnis portrays the identity crisis of a middle-aged German man, son of a Polish Jewish mother and a non-Jewish German father. While the texts by Lander and Schone deal with literal journeys to Poland, Pradelski's novel, set in Israel, takes her protagonist, the daughter of two Polish Jews who stayed in Frankfurt am Main after World War II, on an imaginary journey to the Jewish Poland of the 1930s and 1940s.
The lives of the protagonists in these three texts show that children of survivors have been traumatized not by the Holocaust experience itself, but by the experience of having been raised by traumatized parents. As Efraim Sicher observes, "a latent damage [is] inflicted on the survivors' children through the intergenerational transmission of anxieties about food, fears of separation, expectancy of over-fulfillment, and constant reliving of traumatic experiences." (9) Since the end of the Cold War, the journey to Eastern Europe--Poland with its iconic Holocaust landscape in particular--has become a way for many Jews, most of them as members of synagogue or community group tours, to visit the country of their ancestors and the cradle of Ashkenazic Jewry. Visits to the death camps are almost always included in the itinerary. According to Jack Kugelmass: "For Jews, visiting Poland and the death camps has become obligatory: it is ritualistic rather than ludic, a form of religious service rather than leisure." (10) The journey to Poland is also a recurring motif in second-generation Jewish writing used to articulate the protagonists' relationship to an inherited past that has become an integral part of their own identity. Looking for ancestral towns, finding family graves, and visiting death camps is a way for many of the protagonists in post-Shoah fiction to come to terms with their parents' suffering as well as with their own. These fictive journeys into the past are, like the organized tours which often conclude with a trip to Israel, structured around destruction and redemption, (11) The way in which the protagonists face the destruction differs in each of the texts, and so does the way in which they find redemption. Only in the most recent of the three texts, Und da kam Frau Kugelmann, is this redemption associated with Israel. But even in this text, the journey to Poland and into the past is a prerequisite for healing and facilitates new self-understanding. (12) Although thirty years passed between the publication of Lander's and Pradelski's texts respectively, the image of Poland as portrayed in them has not much changed. The texts thus confirm Hoffman's observation that"[w]hile Germany, in the last decades, has become a familiar entity to most Western Jews, Poland has remained a terra incognita, an imaginary entity made up of received ideas and fierce opinions, scraps of family anecdotes and almost entire absence of information. " (13)
Each of the first three sections of Die Tochter focuses on one of the sisters' lives. Julie lives with her husband and daughter in West Berlin. Minouche, a mother of four married to an American Jew, has made Atlanta her home, while Helene, her husband, and their three sons live in Haifa. it is Julie, the middle daughter, who has the idea to meet in Poland to search for the grave of their father, who left France in 1941 to look for his own father's grave. (14) However, Helene, the oldest of the three, dreads traveling to her father's place of birth. To her. Poland is dark and frightening. She finds it unnecessary to go in search of the past and suggests that they meet in Israel instead. (15) Here Helene reiterates some of the most common stereotypes associated with Poland as a backward country where crime and corruption are part of everyday life. Most important, because six of the Nazi extermination camps were located in this country, Poland is associated with death. As Oren Baruch Stier observes, when asked what they think about Poland, participants in the March of the Living replied: "When I think of Poland I think of the color grey, cold weather and cold faces. I think of sadness and death and what could have been. When 1 think of Israel, I think of trees, color, and new life. I can see smiles and hear laughter and can imagine people dancing. " (16) in several contemporary German Jewish novels, including the three texts that I discuss here, Poland and Israel, as diametrically opposed symbolic "Jewish spaces," represent the past and the future of Jewish life respectively.
Like Jewish American fiction, (17) German Jewish fiction of the 1980s and 1990s showed a growing interest in Israel. Although few novels are set exclusively in Israel, (18) most contemporary Austrian and German Jewish novels and short stories make some reference to the Jewish state. Yet the portrayal of Israel in contemporary German-speaking Jewish fiction is quire complex and ambiguous. The way in which German Jewish writers perceive Israel and choose to portray it in fiction is determined not only by the relationship between German Jews and the Jewish state, but also by the relationship between Germany and Israel, the relationship between non-Jewish and Jewish Germans, and between German and American Jews. References to Israel sometimes take the form of a critical comment about Israeli politics and/or the mention of tragic events such as the loss of life. The narrator of Esther Discherit's Joemis Tisch (1988) [Joemis's Table] (19) utters one of the most blatant criticisms of Isreal to be found in contemporary jewsih fiction in German. pondering her identity as a Jew in the German diaspora, the narrator concludes that she could never move to Isreal because of its wrongful treatment of the Palestinians. The protagonist of Das judische Begrabnis, one of the texts that I discuss here, briefly considers life in Israel in his attempt to come to terms with his Jewishness, but decides that he would not be able to live there because of the religious extremism of its ultra-Orthodox community. Also, Jews in Germany still face far greater challenges justifying their lives in the diaspora than Jews elsewhere in the world because they choose to live in the country responsible for the Holocaust. They live, as Dischereit cynically puts it in Ubungen judisch zu sein [Exercises in Jewishness], in the "shadow of [the] holy country. " (20) However, the 1990s, a time of increased Holocaust awareness and commemoration in Germany--the establishment of Holocaust Remembrance Day in 1996 is only one example--witnessed German Jewish identity construction shifting away from Israel to the Holocaust. Interestingly, in more recent texts like Lena Kugler's Wie viele Zuge (2001) [How Many Trains], Lena Gorelik's Hochzeit in Jerusalem (2007) [Wedding in Jerusalem] and Und da kam Frau Kugelmann, Israel is portrayed in a much more positive light than in the texts of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Yet Die Tochter, which is set in time between the Eichmann trial and the Six - Day War, hardly represents Israel as redemptive space. Helene only agrees to meet in Poland in order to remove her sixteen-year-old son Benjamin from the immediate danger that he faces as a consequence of his involvement with a group of Israeli Arabs. Benjamin's political conscience serves to criticize the rigidity of class structure in Israeli society because of the racist othering of Oriental Jews by Jews of European descent. He is in love with a woman of Sephardic background, and, against his mother's wishes, spends time with Sephardic Jews as well as Israeli Arabs. His accusation that Israel is a police state seems to receive validation in the depiction of the unjustified force that is used to search the family's home in the middle of the night for evidence that Ben is associated with an Arab terrorist organization.
Without doubt, Germany's politics vis-a-vis Israel has a certain influence upon its portrayal in fiction. The 1950s and 1960s were characterized by Germany's attempt to maintain a delicate balance between Israel, burdened as its relationship is with the Jewish State because of the Holocaust, and the Arab world. While the United States, Great Britain, and France were losing their influence in the Arab world, they urged the Federal Republic to maintain the best possible relationship with the Arab states. Meanwhile, Chancellor Adenauer maintained a secret military relationship with Israel without, however, establishing formal diplomatic ties. (21) Ambassadors were finally exchanged between the two countries in 1965. German pro-Israeli sentiments peaked in 1967 when polls showed that "the West German populace stood solidly and with conviction on the side of the Jewish State. " (22) The general shift away from pro-Israeli sympathies among the German public set in right after the end of the Six-Day War, accelerated throughout the l970s. and culminated in 1981 with Prime Minister Menachem Begin's verbal arracks on Helmut Schmidt and the German people. (23) Since then sympathies for Israel have risen and fallen in response to concrete policies pursued by the Jewish state.
The fact that Lander decided to travel back in time in Die Tochter is significant. The mid-1960s were characterized by internal political conflicts in the three major national contexts in which she sets her novel, Germany, Israel, and the United States, to a much higher degree than the mid-1970s when the novel was published. Minouche, the youngest sister, who emigrated from France to the United States with their mother at the age of fifteen after her older sisters had already left home for Israel and Germany, respectively, is also reluctant to travel to Poland. Yet, utterly frustrated with her marriage and intimidated by the race riots, she agrees to go on this journey. While both Helene and Minouche have Jewish husbands and live in Jewish communities, Julie married a German army deserter in France during World War II with whom she now lives in Berlin. Of the three sisters Julie is the one who, perhaps our of guilt for having married a German and for living separated from Jewish life, has the strongest emotional ties to their childhood in France and to their father and his stories about early twentieth-century Poland.
While Minouche flies directly to Warszawa and books herself into an "American style" hotel to avoid contact with the unfamiliar, Helene and her son take the train from Vienna through Krakow. Julie and her family take a detour through Silesia. The different routes to Warszawa taken by the sisters reflect different perspectives on Poland, the Holocaust, and postwar history. While Minouche intends to avoid Holocaust memory and is not interested in contemporary Poland, Helene hopes that once her son sees the death camps, he will better understand Israel's central role in modern Jewish life. Julie travels with her German husband and daughter through the areas from which German settlers were expelled after World War II, a political event that continues to fuel tensions between Germany and Poland today, At first, Helene and Julie perceive Poland stereotypically through West European eyes: the trains and streets arc overcrowded and dirty, most Poles live in poverty, and Poland's agriculture and economy are hopelessly backward. Helene and her son visit Izbica. But rather than describe the site where Thousands of Jews were murdered, the narrative focuses on the gradual changes in Julie's and Helene's attitudes toward Poland. Julie, who is accidentally separated from her husband and daughter for two days, begins to feel more at ease, savoring the local food that she remembers from her father's stories and talking to fellow travelers on the train to Warszawa. Helene begins to appreciate "the plainness" (24) of rural Poland, which reminds her of her father's lack of pretension.
Yet, the first thing Julie does upon her arrival in Warszawa is to seek out the Jewish cemetery. Holding a photograph of her grandfather's grave in her hands, she walks through the cemetery in an attempt to locate it. But after a while she gives up, deciding that finding the grave is no longer important to her. The fact that Julie no longer needs this material evidence does not imply that remembering the past has lost any of its significance. But the text seems to suggest that visiting cemeteries and memorial sites will not provide answers to questions about the past or help to come to terms with it. It thus anticipates Jack Kugelmass's argument that pilgrimages to Poland's death camps. "because their scripted, nondialogical nature makes them more a reenactment than an engagement with the past, "decrease the opportunity for "interethnic dialogue" that could "facilitate awareness of the complexity and diversity of Jewish experience in Poland before, during, and after the Holocaust." (25) Unlike members of organized tours, however, the sisters do have some contact with the local culture. Yet, because of the brevity of their visit, it remains rather limited.
The day following their reunion dinner, the family takes the train to Zamocs, their father's hometown. The Polish coachman, who drives them to their hotel and who takes them all for Germans, openly shows his hostility, reminding the group of the atrocities committed by the Germans. While Julie's husband--the only non-Jew among them--separates from the group to visit the monument for the victims of the Holocaust, the three women set our to see the old synagogue, now converted into a library. They also walk by the rotunda, which has a plaque informing visitors of the shootings that took place here. But again, the novel is concerned neither with describing any of these sites of memory nor with the characters' response to them. At the end of their walk through Zamocs, the three women enter an old mikvah that has not yet been re-utilized. The feet that the novel concludes with the scene of the sisters discussing the meaning of family and their unhappy marriages in the empty mikvah is as ironic as it is significant. For menstruating women, immersion in a mikvah is part of a larger framework known as Family Purity, which involves a set of detailed rules: from the onset of menstruarion and for seven days after its end, until the woman immerses in the mikvah, husband and wife may not engage in sexual relations. (26) The unparalleled function of the mikvah lies in its power of transformation and its ability to bring about metamorphosis. It is ironic that the women discuss their sexual frustration in a place dedicated to Family Purity as well as that the mikvah, empty as it is, should have the power to transform them. As daughters of a family that used to be ruled by silence about their father's disappearance and by their mother's notions of propriety, the three middle-aged sisters finally have a sense of liberation. What Karen Remmler observes in an article dealing with three younger German Jewish writers, i.e., Esther Dischereit, Irene Dische, and Barbara Honigmann, whose texts have no doubt been influenced by Lander's, also applies to Lander: "the rexts by Jewish women writers suggest another body of signification at work-that of the fragmented, gendered body of remembrance. The re-membering of family genealogy recovers the missing parrs of family stories and feminine identity." (27) The mikvah, rather than cemeteries, death camps, and Holocaust monuments, is the site where the three women experience some sort of healing and begin to come to terms with the past. The text seems to imply that defining Jewishness and Jewish memory by way of the Shoah fails to offer a perspective for the future, while a woman-oriented, community-building interpretation of Jewish law might be more constructive. Not only is Lander's text obviously influenced by the ideas of second-wave German feminism, which peaked in the mid-1970s, but also by feminist Holocaust scholarship, which also began roughly at the same rime. Feminist scholars set out to document the differences between men's and women's experiences of the ghettos, deportation, and the concentration camps. One of the arguments was that the bonds of womanhood such as maternal instinct and sisterly solidarity gave women survival strategies to which most men had no access. Lander's text takes these assumptions one step further by suggesting that Holocaust memory too is affected by gender.
Community is also one of the key concepts in Schone's text. But while in Die Tochter the mikvah is the central symbol of healing, in Das judische Begrabnis reciting the mourner's kaddish assumes this function. According to the Halakhah, women are exempt from the obligation to recite the kaddish. As women's lives were traditionally focused upon raising children and maintaining the home, there was no time to fulfill obligations such as kaddish. The novel, set in the mid-1990s in Frankfurt am Main, opens with the death of the protagonist's octogenarian mother. The protagonist faces the dilemma of finding a rabbi or minister prepared to fulfill his late mother's wish to have a Jewish funeral in a Christian cemetery so that she could be buried next to her husband. He, as her only child, would also be required to say kaddish As the son of a non-Jewish German father and a Jewish mother of Polish descent who was sent to Zakrow rather than to Oswiecim because she was married to a German, he was raised Lutheran. A rabbi, whom the protagonist approaches first, refuses to perform a Jewish ritual on Christian ground. Eventually, a Lutheran minister agrees to do it. The novel ends with the mother's funeral at which the protagonist, after a moment of hesitation, steps forward to say kaddish, a gesture of self-understanding and reaching out to the community. It is the psychological aspect of the kaddish that is crucial, as the protagonist seeks to heal himself. The prayer is "the thread that links Jews to their faith and binds the generations to each other." (28) For him it signifies an acceptance of his mother and himself as Jews who are connected to a Tradition that is not solely based on the Holocaust. His recitation of the prayer means that Judaism, even in the contemporary secular German environment, continues to a significant role for the second generation.
Two of the central questions of Schone's novel are: who is a Jew, and what does it mean to be Jewish? The protagonist has suffered from an identity crisis all his life, but at the end of the novel he seems to have worked through it. The protagonist's mother, who was born in Wroclaw, refused to return to Poland for a visit. Having lost five of her six siblings in the Holocaust, she suffered from severe depression all her life. Like so many survivor parents portrayed in contemporary Jewish fiction, she never talked with her son about the Shoah, her time in the camp, or her childhood in Poland. It is the protagonist's older Israeli cousin, a survivor himself, who helps the protagonist to come to terms with the trauma and his identity crisis. By way of flashback, the novel describes a journey to Poland that the protagonist, his cousin Fred, and his cousin's wife Tova made in 1991. It is through this journey that he finds the strength to acknowledge his Jewish heritage. The three first take the train to Wroclaw where they stay at the Monopol which, as Fred comments, Goring, Goebbels, and Himmler used to frequent. But when they try to find the streets and places of his childhood with the help of an old German-Polish map, significantly purchased in Israel, they fail. Wroclaw seems like "a town without memory;" (29) anxious to erase all traces of Jewish life. In Krakow, where Tova was born and which escaped physical destruction, streets, houses, and synagogues are still identifiable. Yet most of the houses that were once owned by Jews are now uninhabited and in a state beyond repair, a sure sign that there is no vibrant Jewish community in Poland.
One scene in particular recurs so often in novels dealing with "return" journeys to Eastern Europe that it has become a topos: a character's visit to his or her former apartment or the former home of a close relative. When in Wroclaw, the three locate the former apartment of the narrator's mother where Fred grew up. But the latter is overwhelmed to a degree that he is unable to talk to the current tenants. In Krakow, however, they have a brief conversation with Alina, who now lives in the apartment which Tova's parents used to share. Alina tells them that in 1946 an emaciated woman, apparently Tova's mother, came knocking at their door. Taking her for a "madwoman," Alina's father drove her away. Apologetically, Alina explains that her parents' house had been taken by the Germans, and that the vacated apartment had been assigned to them.
The protagonist, who has been a passive witness to the pain that Fred and Tova feel as they confront the sites that hold childhood memories for them, decides to visit Auschwitz. Fred and Tova, however, are reluctant to join him. The protagonist, burdened by his generation's guilt for not having shared the experience of the camps with its parents and older relatives, is still strongly affected by trauma. As he points out: "Mama did not go to Auschwitz. But I did. Auschwitz was a constant threat to her while I had a look at it." (30) According to Karein Goertz,"[p]sychoanalytic research reveals that the vicarious sharing in past traumatic experiences is not ... a ploy, albeit unconscious, to validate one's identity in the shadow of catastrophe. Rather, it is quite often a psychological reality for children who inherit the incomplete mourning of their parents and are left to come to terms with this often silenced past that resurfaces as intrusive images, behavioral reenactment, and even physical sensations" (31) Arriving at the site, the narrator observes:
Three young people were sitting by the entrance, speaking German and writing postcards. The famous gate with the sign "Arbeit macht frei" had once stood here, and over there had been the barracks and the sire where the shootings rook place. Everything looked quire neat, tidy, and harmless now. I was reminded of Primo Levi's description of his arrival at Auschwitz. They had been without water for four days. Now they were locked up in a room chat was stripped of anything but a water faucet. But there was a sign saying: "Do not drink." (32)
Whereas the narrator initially relies on the mediated experience (33) about Auschwitz, i.e., Primo Levi's autobiographical account, what follows is a detailed description of how he responds emotionally and physically to the site. Fred and Tova, who have been waiting for him outside, are surprised char he also intends to visit Birkenau, the "other Auschwitz," where predominantly Jews were taken. What he wants to see is the lake of ashes where he has an uncanny experience:
I bent forward and tried to look through the water. I saw my face reflected in the water and lost my balance. I fell into the lake and immediately sank down to the very bottom into the mud. What was 1 looking for here? I did not belong. I was only a tourist who writes postcards after touring the camp. Because of my fall the ash particles had been stirred up and began their own odd life. They floated around me, going up and down, drifting by me, and refused to settle. I was lying on my back. The bottom of the lake was in turmoil. And yet I could see all the way through to the surface. (34)
The memory of his experience in Birkenau while visiting Poland with Fred and Tova, which returns to him shortly after his mother's death, serves as a substitute for his mother's memory, a memory she chose nor to share with him.
Survivors' guilt is also a major concern in Und da kam Fran Kugelmann, along with bearing witness through the telling of stories. Transgenerarional trauma manifests itself in the eating disorder of the narrator/protagonist Zippy Silberberg, the only daughter of early deceased Polish Jewish survivor parents, who gorges herself on bags of frozen vegetables and suffers from a number of other anxiety disorders. Zippy, who dislikes fish, travels to Israel to collect her inheritance: a case with eight forks and nine fish knives of a set of twelve that her late aunt Halina, her father's sister, left her. It is in her hotel room in Tel Aviv where Zippy first meets the mysterious Bella Kugelmann, teller of Hasidic stories. Every day, Mrs. Kugelmann appears our of nowhere in magic realist fashion and visits Zippy's room to tell her humorous stories about her childhood in Bedzin, a small Jewish industrial town in Upper Silesia, close to the German border. (35) While Zippy is at first rather reluctant to listen and angrily asks Mrs. Kugelmann to leave, with time she comes to depend on her presence and her stories. In other words, the two women develop a symbiotic relationship. Mrs. Kugelmann claims that she needs to tell stories in order to save her hometown and that she survived the Holocaust so that she could tell her stories. Zippy observes: "I imbibe the warm milk of the stories like a baby, thrive, and regenerate myself in a matter of hours. ... I have a warm feeling inside as if a tree engulfed by the sun was growing inside me, a tree of knowledge and experience." (36) Toward the end of the novel, when Zippy realizes how exhausted Mrs. Kugelmann has become, she offers to serve as her "ear witness" and help her to tell her stories. Bur Mrs. Kugelmann, a compulsive story teller, angrily replies: "You have to leave the telling to the survivors as long as we are still alive." (37) While Mrs. Kugelmann's early stories are concerned with the everyday life of the Jewish community of Bedzin, such as conflicts between the generations, different views about religion and assimilation, the relationship between Christians and Jews in the village, and the pranks of school children, the later stories deal with the horrors of the extermination of the Jewish community. When Zippy finds out that Mrs. Kugelmann has two adult sons with whom she has never talked about Bedzin, just as her own parents never revealed anything about their past to Zippy, she wonders: "You have given so much to me. Don't you mind that I am so much richer than your children?" Mrs. Kugelmann's answer is: "Perhaps ... all survivors should tell their stories to other people's children because it is so difficult to tell them to your own." (38) Mrs. Kugelmann's gift is that through her storytelling she heals Zippy's anxiety disorder and helps her reach our to the Jewish community. A new bond is humorously confirmed at the very end of the novel when it is revealed that Zippy will marry a Jew from Iraq and stay in Israel rather than return to Germany.
Of all the stories, "Der schlaue Gonna" ["Clever Gonna"] has the most profound effect on Zippy. Gonna and his friend Kotek intend to submit their applications to study together in Palestine. The high school diploma, which the young men are supposed to receive later in the summer, is one of the required documents. While Gonna submits his application without his diploma, expecting that by the time it is processed he will already have passed his exams, Kotek decides to waif until he has his diploma in hand. Gonna's strategy saves his life while Kotek perishes in the Holocaust. When Gonna later learns about his friend's fate, he feels responsible for his death and returns to Europe. This rerurn can thus be interpreted as an act of penance in itself. Zippy begins to wonder if her father's anxieties and seeming indifference to her can be explained by the fact that he, the survivor, might also feel responsible for someone's death. When Mrs, Kugelmann tells her that upon their arrival in Israel, Gonna's sister Halina gave her and three of her surviving friends each a fish fork from a set of twelve in memory of Bedzin, Zippy is convinced that Gonna was her father, As Victoria Aarons remarks, "bearing witness ... is far from a static recovery of past 'stories.' It is rather an active dialectic between what is given and what is possible in an individual life, what is 'history' and what is made in the ongoing narrative of individual lives." (39) Regardless of whether Gonna is really Zippy's father or not, Mrs. Kugelmann has given Zippy the gift of a family, made plausible the reason for her father's rejection of her, and provided her with a new sense of self as well. Her newly found identity also enables her to write.
Although the three novels use humor and irony, they all seem to express an almost naive belief in the healing powers of the pilgrimage to Poland. This belief is also reflected in their rather conventional narrative strategies and hopeful endings. The yearning for redemption in these works of fiction is perhaps a symptom of: the authors' generational affiliation as well as of their ethnic roots. The representation of the journey to Poland and to the sites of memory in these three novels by second-generation writers born during or shortly after World War II differs dramatically from that in the texts by the younger generation. Maxim Biller, for example, who was born in 1960 and is the most prominent representative of the "third generation" in Germany, describes his protagonist's visit to Birkenau in a very different tone in his short piece "Auschwitz sehen und sterben" ["To See Auschwitz and Die"] (1992), set in 1987. (40) The narrator describes his experience at the Lake of Ashes as follows:
There was no escape from pathos in Birkenau--and why should there be? Wasn't the small pond called the Lake of Ashes, because the Germans dumped the ashes of the dead into and around it, in Birkenau? And when we moved all the way to its edge, we immediately saw that the water was murky and soapy. ... The pond was full of little fat frogs. Hundreds of frogs were jumping around or were lying motionless in the sun. And while Gaby was wondering aloud if these frogs could be reincarnations of those murdered here, Esti yelled 'Careful! 'At the very last moment, I jumped out of the way realizing that I could have crushed one of these Holocaust frogs by stepping on it. (41)
This provocative description of the lake and the effect it has on the Jewish visitors is in stark contrast to that of Schone's narrator. Biller, who has made it his mission to stir things up and who advocates a kind of literature that does not shy away from looking the hydra in the eye, is concerned with the commodification of the Holocaust and particularly that of Holocaust tourism to the memorial sites in Poland. By contrast, Lander and Schone describe the experience of individual travelers, and Pradelsky relates the story of a Polish Jewish eye witness.
An additional difference between Biller and the authors discussed here (and for their protagonists) is that Biller, the son of Russian Jews, was born in Prague. Neither for his narrator nor for him has Poland the significance of ancestral home. By contrast, the protagonists of Lander's, Schone's, and Pradelsky's texts all have a "deep personal connection," (42) not only to the traumatic experiences of their survivor parents, but also to Poland. But since their parents were unable to break the silence, they depend on mediated images and experiences. As in a number of his short pieces, Biller seeks to break up the dichotomy of Germans and Jews to draw attention to the complexity of victim and perpetrator constellations. In "Auschwitz sehen und sterben," he provocatively juxtaposes Polish antisemitism with German philosemitism. In this piece, Poland has become a kind of displaced Germany in the Jewish post-memorial imagination. When the narrator sighs with relief as the returning tour bus reaches West German territory, "from afar we recognized the high rises of Frankfurt in the early morning sun. We were home again," (43) the reader becomes complicit in this displacement. (44)
In Lander's and in Schone's texts, both the Poland of the communist and the post-communist era is a country scarred by the Holocaust, by antisemitism, and by a history with which it has not come to terms. The Holocaust geography of Poland, as it is described, thus becomes a kind of objective correlarive for the protagonists' post-memorial condition. But as such it remains a" heterotopia of crisis," to use Michel Foucault's term, (45) and not a place where Jews return to live permanently. In Und da kam Frau Kugelmann, the portrayal of Poland oscillates between descriptions of the holistic and cohesive intimacy of shtetl life and the Polish betrayal of the Jews. Storytelling plays the central role in Pradelski's text. Alter all, words on paper are "the most ancient of Jewish memorial media," and the first "memorials" to the Holocaust were survivor narratives. (46) Magic realism enables Pradelski to blend the fantastic and the real and to juxtapose the unimaginable horror of the Shoah with the psychic pain of its descendants. When Mrs. Kugelmann suddenly disappears from Zippy's life, she goes on a frantic search for her. After a period of mourning the loss of her mentor, Zippy begins to write down the stories about Bedzin. Zippy has thus become Mrs. Kugelmann's "ear witness" after all. In "The Audacity of Aesthetics: The Post-Holocaust Novel and the Respect for the Dead," Thane Rosenbaum defends the second generation's creative response to the Holocaust as follows:
Now, I know that there arc critics who do nor believe chat the second generation has anything meaningful to say about the Holocaust, certainly not in art. For them, this claim to inherited suffering and trauma is artificial, precisely because of its generational remove. It also diverts attention away from the seminal crime--the Holocaust itself--and places it on an unworthy substitute, the victims of the victims. The legacy of the Holocaust may be a curious artifact of genocide, but its voice is hardly one of testimony or literature. But I think this criticism misses the point in so narrowly defining what the crime is. If only the Holocaust is sacred, and not the post Holocaust, then such thinking plays directly into the hands of the Nazis, because they made no such distinctions, Spiritual murder was also part of the crime and the enduring damage of the Nazis. ... And in that interior, intangible world of the spirit, which is so hard to describe literally, the imagination may be the best way to speak to the post-Holocaust consciousness. (47)
Once the generation of survivors has passed on, the challenge for subsequent generations is to "reflect back on [their] memory." The three novels make similar suggestions of how to cope with inherited suffering: dialogue, reach out to the community, learn about Jewish law, and have the "audacity" to treat in fiction the impact of the Shoah on the second generation. The journey to Poland, real or imagined, serves as a catalyst in the three novels. Traveling to Poland also means traveling into the past and into memory. The Polish Jewish past is what the Jewish protagonists turn to on their quest to find out who they are. The journey to Poland thus becomes a metaphor for the struggle to come to terms with the deep and long-lasting repercussions of historical horror.
Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario
(1) Eva Hoffman, After Such Knowledge: Memory, History and the Legacy of the Holocaust (New York: Public Affairs, 2004), pp. xi-xii.
(2) Marianne Hirsch, "Family Pictures: Maws, Mourning, and Post-Memory," Discourse, Vol. 15, No. 2(1992), pp. 8-9.
(3) Jeannette Lander, Die Tochter (Berlin: Aufbau, 1996).
(4) Lothar Schone, Das judische Begrabnis (Munich: DTV, 1999).
(5) Minka Pradelski, Und da kam Frau Kugelmann (Frankfurt/Main: Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt, 2005).
(6) Although several recent German Jewish novels have been translated into English, none of these three texts has. The literal translations of the tides are mine.
(7) Jeannette Lander was born in 1931 in New York to parents of Polish Jewish descent and grew up in Atlanta. She moved to Germany in 1950 where she still lives. Minka Pradelski was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1947 as the daughter of survivor parents from Poland. Lothar Schone was born in Saxony in 1949.
(8) Aleida Assmann, Der lange Schatten der Vergangenheit: Erinnerungskultur und Ge-scbtchtspolitik (Munich: Beck, 2006), p. 25.
(9) Efraim Sicher, The Holocaust Novel (New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 133.
(10) Jack Kugelmass, "The Rites of the Tribe: American Jewish Tourism in Poland," in Ivan Karp et al., eds., Museums and Communities: The Politics of Public Culture (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992), p. 402.
(11) Kugelmass, "The Rites of the Tribe," p. 389-90.
(12) The protagonists of these German texts share this experience with the protagonists in a number of recent Jewish American novels, such as Duncan Katz in Thane Rosenbaum's Second Hand Smoke (1999) and Phoebe in Rebecca Goldstein's Mazel (1995).
(13) Hoffman, After Such Knowledge. p. 138.
(14) The search for the grave of an ancestor is a recurrent theme in contemporary German Jewish writing. It is probably most prominent in the texts of Barbara Honigmann. The importance of this theme for her texts might have something to do with the fact that, having left Germany for France, she is a writer in exile.
(15) Lander, Die Tochter, p. 131.
(16) Oren Baruch Stier, Committed to Memory: Cultural Mediations of the Holocaust (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003), p. 155-56.
(17) Examples are Anne Roiphe's Lovingkindness (1987), Deena Metzger's What Dinah Thought (1989), Carol Magun's Circling Eden: A Novel of Israel (1995), Tova Reich's Master of the Return (1988) and The Jewish War (1995), and Philip Roth's The Counterlife (1986) and Operation Shylock: A Confession (1993).
(18) See Anna Mitgutsch's Abschied von Jerusalem (1996) [Lover, Traitor: A Jerusalem Story] and Rafael Seligmann's Die jiddische Mamme (1990) [The Yiddish Mama] and Schalom meine Liebe (1998) [Shalom, My Love].
(19) Esther Dischereit Joemis Tisch (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1988).
(20) Esther Dischereit, Ubungen judisch zu sein (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1998), p. 194.
(21) Michael Wolffsohn, Eternal Guilt? Forty Years of German-Jewish-Israeli Relations, trans. Douglas Bokovoy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), pp. 21-22.
(22) Wolffsohn, Eternal Guilt, p. 29.
(23) Wolffsohn, Eternal Guilt, p. 108.
(24) Lander, Die Tochter, p. 194.
(25) Jack Kugelmass, "Bloody Memories: Encountering the Pas: in Contemporary Poland," Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 10, No. 3 (1995): 281.
(26) It is important to keep in mind here that most of these rulings were devised by men.
(27) Karen Remmler. "En-gendering Bodies of Memory: Tracing the Genealogy of Identity in the Work of Esther Dischereit, Barbara Honigmann, and Irene Dische," in Sander L. Gilman and Karen Remmler, eds., Reemerging Jewish Culture in Germany: Life and Literature since 1989 (New York: New York University Press, 1994), p. 191.
(28) Alfred J. Kolatch, The Jewish Mourner's Book of Why (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 1996), p. 120.
(29) Schone, Das judiscbe Begrabnis, p. 42.
(30) All translations from German into English are my own. Schone, Das Judiscbe Be grabnis, p. 91.
(31) Karein Goertz, "Transgenerational Representations of the Holocaust: From Memory to 'Post-Memory,'" World Literature Today, Vol. 72. No. 1 (1998): (34).
(32) Schone, Das judiscbe Begrabnis, p. 92-93.
(33) See Thomas Nolden on the role of the mediation of the Holocaust experience between the first and second/ third generations of German Jews. As he claims in "Contemporary German Jewish Literature" referring to Maxim Billet's short story" Verrat" ["Betrayal"]: "The mirror-image of the Jewish mother in the window of a bookstore displaying books of the Holocaust condenses the enterprise of contemporary German Jewish literature that cannot approach its subject directly. The experience of the older generation of Jews does nor affect the younger ones in an unmediated way; even in the light of knowledge and rational understanding of the past, they cannot recognize the origins of their own identity without forms of mediation "(Thomas Nolden, "Contemporary German Jewish Literature," German Life and Letters, Vol. 47, No. 1 : 84).
(34) Schone, Das judiscbe Begrabnis, p. 97.
(35) Pradelski, Und da kam, p. 18.
(36) Pradelski, Und da kam, p. 174.
(37) Pradelski, Und da kam, p. 249.
(38) Pradelski, Und da kam, p. 221.
(39) Victoria Aarons, A Measure of Memory: Storytelling and Identity in American Jewish Fiction (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1996), p. 9.
(40) Maxim Biller, "Auschwitz sehen und sterben," in Die Tempojahre (Munich: DTV, 1992), pp. 115-31.
(41) Biller, "Auschwitz sehen und sterben," p. 123.
(42) Hirsch, "Family Pictures," p. 8.
(43) Biller, "Auschwitz sehen und srerben," p. 131,
(44) In her yet unpublished "Of Mice, Cats and Pigs: Postmemorial Relations in the Jewish-German-Polish Troika," presented at the "Polish-German Post-Memory: Aesthetics, Ethics, Politics" conference at Indiana University on 21 April 2007, Erica Lehrer argued that in recent "popular Jewish imagination" Poland has replaced Germany as the perpetrator nation and that "Poland is the key site not only for Jewish rage and sorrow, but also for Jewish cultural intimacy and nostalgia." Likewise, in Und da kam Frau Kugelmann Zippy observes that her parents' hatred for the Poles was much Stronger than that for the "anonymous German murderers."
(45) Foucault describes "crisis heterotopia" as follows: "they are privileged or sacred or forbidden places, reserved for individuals who are, in relation to society and to the human environment in which they live, in a state of crisis" (Michel Foucault, "Of Other Spaces," Diacritics, Vol. 16, No. 1 : 24).
(46) James E. Young, The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning in Europe. Israel, and America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), p. 7.
(47) Thane Rosenbaum, "The Audacity of Aesthetics: The Post-Holocaust Novel and the Respect for the Dead," Poetics Today, Vol. 27, No. 2 (2006): 492.
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2009|
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