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Bridging the Silence: Towards a Literary Memory of Nazi Euthanasia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 March 2023

Eleoma Joshua
Affiliation:
University of Edinburgh
Michael Schillmeier
Affiliation:
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
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Summary

IT HAS BEEN thirty years since the American TV series Holocaust was first shown on West German television — a highly controversial event that has come to be seen as a pivotal moment in the history of German Vergangenheitsbewältigung. In the United States, the four-part mini-series had attracted around 120 million viewers the year before, and even at that time there was heated debate as to whether it had done justice to its delicate topic. In Germany, it was criticized even before its broadcast for its alleged trivialization and commercialization of the fate of the Jews in the Third Reich. A sentimentalized, melodramatic treatment of complex historical processes, scholars and journalists agreed, would not be able to help Germans come to terms with their recent past. Thus, the overwhelming success of the series and the totally unexpected eruption of emotional responses among its viewers baffled critics and scholars alike. More than twenty million Germans watched the mini-series, and more than 25,000 called or wrote to the West Deutscher Rundfunk with comments and questions. These viewers were not afraid to show their emotions: they spoke of the tears they had shed, the shame and guilt they had felt, and the discussions the series had triggered. “Bei den ersten drei Folgen war ich noch bewegt und erschüttert,” a forty-seven-year-old mother wrote to the WDR, “bei der vierten Folge jedoch überkamen mich Verzweiflung und Trauer so sehr, dass ich dem hemmungslosen Weinen nur schwer widerstehen konnte. Plötzlich identifizierte ich mich mit jener jüdischen Mutter.[…] In diesem Augenblick wusste ich, dass die grausamen Verbrechen […] nicht verjähren dürfen.” There had been attempts before Holocaust at finding fictional forms of representation that would make a larger audience aware of Nazi crimes, e.g. Max Frisch's play Andorra (1961), Rolf Hochhuth's Der Stellvertreter (1963), or Peter Weiss's Die Ermittlung (1965). The estranging and formalized Bewältigungsdramatik of these plays, however, failed to overcome denial and repression and did not mobilize the Germans.

Holocaust traces the stories of the different members of the Jewish family Weiss, who are each linked to a different phase of the Final Solution.

Type
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Information
Edinburgh German Yearbook 4
Disability in German Literature, Film, and Theater
, pp. 83 - 104
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2010

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