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Redefining Heimat : language and the search for homeland in modern German Jewish writing Schallié , Charlotte

Abstract

The example of Jewish writers living in post-Shoah Germany can be taken as a case study for the ways in which language creates a homeland—a Heimat. Because the concept of Heimat lies outside the realm of national affiliations, German-speaking Jews have been able to redefine and establish a German homeland without having to associate themselves with the German national state. Heimat in language creates an environment which they can—for the most part—safely inhabit. Since the heterogeneous Jewish population of postwar Germany lacked a well-defined identity, German Jewish authors born or raised after 1945 needed a new way to find a sense of belonging. Both the prewar notion of the "German citizen of Jewish faith" and the postwar model of "Jews in Germany" proved inadequate for the post-Shoah generation. This required German Jewish authors to create their own models of identity and homeland. This paper also scrutinizes how the political culture of post-reunification Germany has affected Jews in contemporary Germany. I probe to what extent the current Erinnerungskultur—Germany's collective project to consolidate the trauma of the Shoah—influences and shapes Jewish identity. Jewish writers such as such as Henryk M. Broder, Barbara Honigmann, Esther Dischereit, Richard Chaim Schneider and Rafael Seligmann are confronted with the issue of how to be themselves if Gentiles try to define or appropriate Jews for their own agendas. In the context of a united Germany, and its increased preoccupation with Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung (working through the past), this paper emphasizes that the notion of Heimat remains a difficult concept for Jews. Thus, the process of writing allows them to find a homeland outside the German nation. Language may hold the key to the understanding why German Jews choose to live where the history of the Shoah remains most painfully present.

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