"Schweigen als Herausforderung": Silence as a Generational Challenge in the Post Holocaust Works of East German Jewish Authors Jurek Becker and Barbara Honigmann
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This dissertation examines how two postwar Jewish writers from the former German Democratic Republic, Jurek Becker, a child survivor of the Holocaust, and Barbara Honigmann, a descendent of returned Jewish communist emigres and a second-generation writer, depicted and challenged a culture of silence, “Schweigen,” concerning Holocaust memory and Jewish identity in postwar Germanophone societies. This study emphasizes the unique East German context that influenced both authors. “Schweigen” is defined as a societal phenomenon of binary emotional trauma. Facing the inevitable "Schuldfrage" (Jaspers, 1946), many postwar Germans found it arduous to come to terms with the inhumanity of the Third Reich, while many Jewish victims suffered from the shame of survival. In the GDR, “Schweigen” was compounded by the state’s propagation of antifascism and a prescriptive cultural heritage, Kulturerbe, encompassing the abdication of guilt from the fascist past, the minimization of Jewish victimhood, and misappropriation of Holocaust memory. Becker and Honigmann, whose parents were victimized by the Third Reich, grew up in the GDR, a communist state. Foremost, their family backgrounds, generational attitudes, and perceptions of East German socialism shaped their contrasting writings concerning the cultural silencing of Holocaust memory and complexity of Jewish identity. Literary trauma theory, memory studies, and gender studies bring these (dis)continuities into focus. Five chapters are devoted to the authors’ development in the GDR and their literary responses to “Schweigen” within the limitations of East German cultural heritage. Both oeuvres are therapeutic undertakings impacted by experienced and inherited Holocaust-trauma. The analyses of Becker's life and his novels, Jakob der Lügner, Der Boxer, and Bronsteins Kinder, reveal his adoption of the humanist tradition of socialism that stands against the dangers of fascism, while dissenting from the GDR’s official cultural doctrine. In life and writing, Honigmann forsakes East German Kulturerbe by recreating her own German Jewish identity and cultural heritage. Her autofictive works reject communism and the generational assimilation of her family in favor of Jewish spirituality, feminist assertions, and multiculturalism. The comparison of both authors and their Holocaust-relevant writings likewise endeavors to counter the dual waning of Holocaust memory and East German national memory.