Transcultural Memory in Eastern European Migrant Literature: The Holocaust Revisited

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The “transcultural turn” of memory studies focuses on the fluid and dynamic aspects of cultural memory. This paper is concerned with the traveling of memories along the paths of migration. As migrants carry along “collective images and narratives of the past” (Erll 2011), migration is one of the major processes that circulate memories across cultural and national borderlines. This paper will investigate the circulation of memories in Eastern Europe migrant-literature that since 2000 has become an increasingly influential literary tendency in Germany. Articulating an eastern perspective on the past, the writers express memories and “postmemories” of Stalinism, the German occupation, and the Soviet regime. By exposing their experience of a two-fold victimization, both as Jews and as people subjected to Communist suppression, writers such as Vladimir Vertlib and Katja Petrowskaja challenge the Western European perception of the uniqueness of the Holocaust. Vertlib does so by shaping multidirectional interconnections between the Holocaust and other atrocities such as ethnic cleansnings, the siege of Leningrad or the russification of Estonia, which he recollects by the means of well-established narrative strategies of Holocaust-memory. Petrowskaja contests the decontextualizing of Holocaust inherent in its universalization by focusing on marginalized aspects of its execution like the massacre of Babij Jar or the death marches of the Hungarian Jews after the liberation of Auschwitz. Both authors consciously follow the mission to “enlighten and inform Western readers about their eastern neighbours” (Haines 2008). Causing an “eastern enlargement” of German literature (Bürger-Koftis 2008), the wave of migrant authors broadens Germany’s cultural memory by supplementing it with “new” memories. Furthermore, by telling history through the lens of family history, they facilitate emotional identification and – in the sense of Avishai Margalit (2002) – “‘thicken imaginative relations” between their German readers and the fates of individuals in “another zone of Europe” (Rigney 2012).
Original languageDanish
Publication date17 Mar 2017
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2017
EventWinter Symposium: Transcultural Memorial Forms: Contemporary remembrance of war, displacement and political rupture - Tallinn, Estonia
Duration: 16 Mar 201719 Mar 2017


ConferenceWinter Symposium: Transcultural Memorial Forms

ID: 176851160