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The Language of Silence: West German Literature and the Holocaust

de Ernestine Schlant

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Focusing on individual authors from Heinrich Boll to Gunther Grass, Hermann Lenz to Peter Schneider, The Language of Silence offers an analysis of West German literature as it tries to come to terms with the Holocaust and its impact on postwar West German society. Exploring postwar literature as the barometer of Germany's unconsciously held values as well as of its professed conscience, Ernestine Schlant demonstrates that the confrontation with the Holocaust has shifted over the decades from repression, circumvention, and omission to an open acknowledgement of the crimes. Yet even today a 'language of silence' remains since the victims and their suffering are still overlooked and ignored. Learned and exacting, Schlant's study makes an important contribution to our understanding of postwar German culture.… (mais)
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The cover of THE LANGUAGE OF SILENCE tells the story. It is a memorial wall at a Grunewald, Germany, train station. The solid wall surrounds cut out forms of people looking as if they are the ones at the front of the line ready to board the trains. But there are no actual people there, just their remembered shapes.
In an erudite exploration of West German literature, Ernestine Schlant details how the Holocaust has been covered or ignored by authors representing various generations from the ones who were adults during that time to their grandchildren. The differences are stark.
Immediately following the Holocaust, authors tended to either ignore what happened to the victims, mostly Jewish for the purposes of this book, and, at times, focused on the suffering of the Germans: Their leader died, their cities were bombed, they lacked the food and other goods. Many Germans continued to be anti-Semitic. The few Jews who were mentioned had often converted and were unattached to the Jewish community. This matched the reality of the society. Many of the perpetrators, especially civil servants, judges, and military personnel, retained their jobs, received pensions while the survivors of the concentration camps received little compensation, if any.
It was only when the younger generations, especially those who were born long after the Holocaust, began their writings, did they begin to examine what happened to the Jews and why. Distance determined how close they got to the subject as well as how they portrayed both the Germans and the Jews: Who were the victims? What did the others do? Why?
A video of Schlant discussing the book is available at http://www.c-span.org/video/?155648-1/book-discussion-language-silence. ( )
  Judiex | Apr 19, 2014 |
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Focusing on individual authors from Heinrich Boll to Gunther Grass, Hermann Lenz to Peter Schneider, The Language of Silence offers an analysis of West German literature as it tries to come to terms with the Holocaust and its impact on postwar West German society. Exploring postwar literature as the barometer of Germany's unconsciously held values as well as of its professed conscience, Ernestine Schlant demonstrates that the confrontation with the Holocaust has shifted over the decades from repression, circumvention, and omission to an open acknowledgement of the crimes. Yet even today a 'language of silence' remains since the victims and their suffering are still overlooked and ignored. Learned and exacting, Schlant's study makes an important contribution to our understanding of postwar German culture.

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