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Date: August 6th, 2007
I, __________________Julia K. Baker,__________
hereby submit this work as part of the requirements for the degree of:
Doctorate of Philosophy
German Studies
It is entitled:
The Return of the Child Exile:
Re-enactment of Childhood Trauma
in Jewish Life-Writing and Documentary Film
This work and its defense approved by:
Chair: Dr. Katharina Gerstenberger
Dr. Sara Friedrichsmeyer
Dr. Todd Herzog
The Return of the Child Exile: Re-enactment of
Childhood Trauma in Jewish Life-Writing and
Documentary Film
A Dissertation submitted to the
Division of Research and Advanced Studies
University of Cincinnati
In partial fulfillment of the
Requirements for the degree of
In the Department of German Studies
Of the College of Arts and Sciences
Julia K. Baker
M.A., Bowling Green State University, 2000
M.A., Karl Franzens University, Graz, Austria, 1998
Committee Chair: Katharina Gerstenberger
“The Return of the Child Exile: Re-enactment of Childhood Trauma in Jewish LifeWriting and Documentary Film” is a study of the literary responses of writers who were
Jewish children in hiding and exile during World War II and of documentary films on the
topic of refugee children and children in exile.
The goal of this dissertation is to investigate the relationships between trauma, memory,
fantasy and narrative in a close reading/viewing of different forms of Jewish life-writing
and documentary film by means of a scientifically informed approach to childhood
Chapter 1 discusses the reception of Binjamin Wilkomirski’s Fragments (1994), which
was hailed as a paradigmatic traumatic narrative written by a child survivor before it was
discovered to be a fictional text based on the author’s invented Jewish life-story. In this
chapter, I also review established adaptations of trauma in literature, as introduced most
prominently into the humanities by Shoshana Felman, Dori Laub and Cathy Caruth, and
subsequently propose a more clinicial view of trauma informed by childhood trauma
research and cognitive psychology. My methodological approach thus links recent
scholarship on Holocaust literature with contemporary trauma theory.
Subsequently, Fragments serves as a point of departure to discuss the links between
traumatic memory, fantasy and narrative in Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt’s pseudoautobiographical texts Der Spiegeltag, Ein Garten in Deutschland, Die Absonderung, Der
unterbrochene Wald, and Die Aussetzung, as well as his autobiography Über die Flüsse
(Chapter 2), Stefanie Zweig’s two autobiographical novels Nirgendwo in Afrika and
Irgendwo in Deutschland (Chapter 3), and Lore Segal’s memoir turned novel Other
People’s Houses (Chapter 4).
Following Lenore Terr’s and other childhood trauma specialists’ insights, I locate the
four most common characteristics found in traumatized children in Goldschmidt’s,
Zweig’s and Segal’s texts. These characteristics are: strongly visualized or otherwise
repeatedly perceived memories, repetitive behaviors, trauma-specific fears, and changed
attitudes about people, aspects of life, and the future.
Finally, in chapter 5, I show how childhood trauma and child exiles have been depicted in
documentary films such as Into the Arms of Strangers (2000), My Knees Were Jumping
(1995), and Vielleicht habe ich Glück gehabt (2003).
Key words: Life-Writing, Childhood Trauma, Jewish Children in Exile, Refugee
Children, Holocaust Literature, Binjamin Wilkomirski, Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt,
Stefanie Zweig, Lore Segal, Documentary Film
my father Peter
my grandmother Marianne
Compiling an (incomplete) list of people to whom I am grateful makes me wonder why I
ever felt lonely during the past three years. In retrospect, dissertation writing is a rather
social process.
I am grateful for the guidance and support of a number of teachers and colleagues for
their questions and suggestions regarding the development of my project. My
“Doktormutter” Katharina Gerstenberger is the best advisor one could wish for. Her
expertise, responsiveness, thoughtful critique, humor and honesty also make her a great
role model for the future. Sara Friedrichsmeyer and Todd Herzog have encouraged and
supported me from start to finish.
For inspiring my work in many ways, I would like to thank Dervila Cook, Christina
Guenther, Marianne Hirsch, Geoffrey Howes, Käthe Kratz, Erin McGlothlin, Leo Spitzer,
Lenore C. Terr, Racelle Weiman, and Liliane Weissberg.
Thank you to Alfred Gottschalk, Trudy Rauh, Harold Kasimow, and Henry Blumenstein
for sharing their childhood stories.
Individuals, whose friendship also supported this work and influenced my state of mind
while completing it, include my fellow graduate students at the University of Cincinnati,
particularly Laura Traser-Vas.
My friend Jeff Hannigan deserves to be mentioned for being the only person who, apart
from my dissertation committee, has repeatedly reminded me that he wants to read the
whole thing when it is finished.
I am grateful to many Austrian, Australian, and German friends for keeping in touch over
the years and for believing in me. A special thank you to Barbara Simons for sending
large boxes of tea from Wales and Scotland.
My dear friend Jan Caporale deserves special recognition for her spontaneity, her
laughter, and her expertise in toddler entertainment.
I am indebted to Emmanuel Wilson, Jay Sinnard, and Ferenc Traser for their help with
the technical aspects of putting together the final version of this project.
For considering my dissertation worthy of financial support, I thank the University of
Cincinnati, the Department of German Studies, the Charles Phelps Taft Research Center
and the Taft Memorial Fund, and the Max Kade Foundation.
My mother Lili and my sister Luci are two remarkable women who live too far away
from me.
I could not have completed this dissertation without the love, support and patience of my
husband Ron, and without being distracted by my beautiful sons Leopold and Clemens.
Finally, I am touched by the lives of my Papi Peter and my grandmother Marianne, to
whom I have dedicated this work.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ............................................................................................ VII
TABLE OF CONTENTS ................................................................................................. 1
HOLOCAUST LITERATURE AND JEWISH LIFE-WRITING ............................... 3
1.1 INTRODUCTION ......................................................................................................... 3
CHILDREN AND CHILDREN IN EXILE ........................................................................... 35
1.3 CHILDHOOD TRAUMA RESEARCH ......................................................................... 45
AND NARRATING CHILDHOOD TRAUMA ...................................................................... 55
LIFE-WRITING ............................................................................................................. 61
2.1 GEORGES-ARTHUR GOLDSCHMIDT’S CHILDHOOD TRAUMAS ............................. 61
TRANSLATOR ................................................................................................................ 63
GOLDSCHMIDT’S LIFE- WRITING ................................................................................ 73
2.3.1 Der Spiegeltag: Literary Influences ............................................................... 82
2.3.2 Ein Garten in Deutschland: Early Traumatization in Germany .................. 90
2.3.3 Der unterbrochene Wald: The Holocaust and Survivor Guilt...................... 97
2.3.4 Die Absonderung: The Body and (Sado-)Masochistic Fantasies ............... 101
2.3.5 Die Aussetzung: Dissolved Body and Liberation......................................... 105
2.3.6 Über die Flüsse : Defictionalization and Judgment of Parents .................. 109
IN DEUTSCHLAND .................................................................................................... 120
3.1 STEFANIE ZWEIG’S VICARIOUS CHILDHOOD TRAUMA ...................................... 120
THE JEWISH “FAMILY ROMANCE” ............................................................................ 126
AFRIKA ....................................................................................................................... 131
DEUTSCHLAND ............................................................................................................ 148
LORE SEGAL’S NOVEL OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES....................................... 160
4.1 LORE SEGAL’S CHILDHOOD TRAUMAS ............................................................... 160
..................................................................................................................................... 166
FILMMAKING............................................................................................................. 191
..................................................................................................................................... 191
REMEMBERING ........................................................................................................... 202
KINDERTRANSPORTS (1995) ...................................................................................... 208
STRANGERS. STORIES OF THE KINDERTRANSPORT (2000) ....................................... 217
5.7 KÄTHE KRATZ VIELLEICHT HABE ICH GLÜCK GEHABT (2003) ......................... 227
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION ............................................................................. 239
BIBLIOGRAPHY ......................................................................................................... 245
Chapter 1: Wilkomirski and Beyond: The “Traumatization” of
Holocaust Literature and Jewish Life-writing
Die Erinnerungen des Kindes nahm niemand ernst, sie galten den Erwachsenen als Ausgeburten
einer wilden Phantasie.
(Excerpt from an announcement text for one of Binjamin Wilkomirski’s live performances as a
Holocaust child survivor; cited in the preface by Sander Gilman in Irene Diekmann, Julius
Schoeps, Eds. Das Wilkomirski Syndrom. Eingebildete Erinnerungen oder Von der Sehnsucht
Opfer zu sein. Zürich und München: Pendo, 2002. 8.)
Live is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to
recount it.
(Writing motto preceding the first volume of Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s memoir Living to Tell the
Tale. Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossmann. New York: Knopf, 2003. No page
1.1 Introduction
In an early review of Holocaust literature, Leslie Epstein writes: “Any honest eyewitness testimony is more moving and more successful at creating a sense of what it
must have been like in the ghettos and the camps than almost any fictional account of
the same events.”1 More than ten years later, Epstein revisits his judgment and
comments: “This was not a very smart remark for one engaged in writing a Holocaust
novel of his own.”2 As a scholar who has written theoretically and creatively about the
Holocaust, Epstein concludes: “My thesis all along has been that the sense of
responsibility and connectedness can be achieved only by the creative artist – and by
creative readers, as well.”3
Works of fiction thematizing the Holocaust have traditionally been considered less
successful and less adequate forms of literature than the testimonies of those who
Cited in Berel Lang and Aharon Appelfeld, Writing and the Holocaust (New York: Holmes & Meier,
1988). 261.
Ibid. 269.
experienced the Holocaust themselves. Accordingly, James E. Young has argued that
“Holocaust writers have assumed that the more realistic a representation, the more
adequate it becomes as testimonial evidence. For the survivor’s witness to be credible, it
must seem natural and unconstructed.”4 In this context, Efraim Sicher notes “Holocaust
writing is morally charged and driven by a testimonial mission.” In the introduction to
the dictionary of literary biographies of Holocaust Novelists, Efraim Sicher maintains
“nowhere is the distinction between fiction and nonfiction so problematic as in
Holocaust literature.”5 Sicher adds: “The transformation of personal and collective
trauma into fiction and art has […] been a major issue in the critical debates over the
uses of history and the authenticity of memoir.”6 As a consequence, Holocaust
testimonies, novels, memoirs and autobiographies have been surrounded by much
One aspect of this controversy concerns the boundaries between fact and fiction.
According to Anne Whitehead, “it has been recognized that Holocaust fiction is often
based on extensive historical research and documentation, while Holocaust testimony is
subject to the inaccuracies and distortions of memory.”7 Whitehead argues that
Binjamin Wilkomirski’s Fragments. Memories of a Childhood, 1939-1948 represented
“a crisis point” in this discussion as it “collapsed the boundary between fact and fiction
in an unprecedented manner and critics were at a loss as to how to categorise the text.”8
James Young, Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust:Narrative and the Consequences of Interpretation.
(Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1988). 17.
Efraim Sicher, Holocaust Novelists, Dictionary of Literary Biography; v. 299. (Detroit: Gale, 2004). xvi.
Ibid. xv.
Anne Whitehead, Trauma Fiction (Edingburgh: Edingburgh University Press, 2004). 30.
Ibid. 31.
Binjamin Wilkomirski’s childhood memories were published in 1995 under the title
Bruchstücke. Aus einer Kindheit 1939–1948 by the Jüdischer Verlag (part of the highly
respected Suhrkamp Verlag). In what the publishers classified as a memoir, the author
claimed to be one of the very few (Latvian) child survivors of a number of
concentration camps. Bruchstücke was eventually published in thirty countries and
translated into sixteen languages. An English translation entitled Fragments: Memories
of a Wartime Childhood 1939-1948 appeared in 1996, published by Schocken.
Although it was by no means a bestseller, as some have claimed,9 Bruchstücke was
generally received rather positively. Anna Karpf praised it in The Guardian, as “one of
the great works about the Holocaust;”10 Katherine Viner compared it with works by Elie
Wiesel, Primo Levi, Paul Celan, Claude Lanzmann, and the diary of Anne Frank.11 It
was favorably reviewed by Maria Ross in the Daily Mail, Patricia Lee in the Literary
Review and Paul Bailey in the Daily Telegraph.
Initially, Fragments was also lionized by academic readers. Thus, James E. Young,
whose Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust (1988) is one of the most noted pieces on
literary responses to the Holocaust, praised Fragments as a “wonderful Holocaust
testimony.”12 Lawrence Langer described the book as “a very compelling work of
literature.”13 Historian Jaques Picard considered Fragments an authentic text by an
Cf. J.J. Long, "Bernhard Schlink's Der Vorleser and Binjamin Wilkomirski's Bruchstücke: Best-Selling
Responses to the Holocaust," German-Language Literature Today: International and Popular?, ed. Arthur
Williams, Parkes, Stuart, Preece, Julian (Oxford Peter Lang, 2000 ).
Anne Karpf, "Child of the Shoah," The Guardian 11 February 1998.
Katherine Viner, "Great art from the Terror," The Guardian 11 February 1998.
Cited in Jörg Lau, "Ein fast perfekter Schmerz," Die Zeit September 17 1998.
Cited in Blake Eskin, A Life in Pieces (London: Aurum Press 2002). 107. In a recent essay on
Fragments, Langer notes that he knew from his very first reading that Fragments was a fictional narrative.
Cf. Lawrence Langer, "Fragments of Memory," Using and Abusing the Holocaust (Bloomington and
Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2006). 50.
authentic Holocaust survivor.14 Saul Friedländer and Sander L. Gilman seemed equally
impressed.15 University professor Deborah Lipstadt recommended Wilkomirski’s memoir
to her students and added Fragments to her syllabus.16 Wilkomirski was invited to appear
on US campuses, participated in radio and television programs as a witness and expert,17
and was interviewed and videotaped by The Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust
Testimonies. Fragments won the National Jewish Book Award in the USA, the Jewish
Quarterly Literary Prize in the UK, and Le Prix Mémoire de la Shoah in France.
What made this memoir and its author worthy of all the attention and rewards? In the
New York Times Book Review, Julie Salomon stated that this “extraordinary memoir
[…] recalls the Holocaust with the powerful immediacy of innocence, injecting welldocumented events with fresh terror and poignancy.” In The Nation, Jonathan Kozol
wrote: “This stunning and austerely written work is so profoundly moving, so morally
important and free from literary artifice of any kind at all that I wondered if I even had
the right to try and offer praise.”18
In the academic world, the appearance of Wilkomirski’s book coincided with an
increased interest in trauma and its representation in literature. Thus, trauma was about to
become a popular topic in the humanities, especially in the context of the Holocaust. This
development was initially influenced by trauma theorists Lawrence Langer, Shoshana
Felman and Dori Laub’s publications, in which they argued that trauma did not only
Cf. Bruno Rauch, “Realität endlich anerkennen.” TA v. 24.5. 1997.
Cf. Stephan Mächler, "Aufregung um Wilkomirski. Genese eines Skandals und seine Bedeutung.," Das
Wilkomirski-Syndrom. Eingebildete Erinnerungen oder von der Sehnsucht, Opfer zu sein., ed. Îrene
Diekmann und Julius H. Schoeps (München und Zürich: Pendo Verlag, 2002). 90.
Cf. Blake Eskin, "Wilkomirski´s New Identity Crisis," Forward 18.9. 1998.
He also appeared on 60 Minutes, in Granta, The New Yorker, and the BBC.
Julie Salomon, "Childhood's End, review of Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood, by Binjamin
Wilkomirski," New York Times Book Review 12 January 1997. Jonathan Kozol, "Children of the Camps,
review of Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood, by Binjamin Wilkomirski," Nation 28 October
1996. 24.
affect the individual who experienced a traumatic event, but also the person who “shares”
or “witnesses” the telling or writing of somebody’s traumatic experience. In Dori Laub’s
view, the therapist not only helps the traumatized individual to heal by assisting in the
creation of a narrative of the trauma, but also comes to co-own the traumatic event:
“through his very listening, he comes to partially experience trauma in himself.”19 Apart
from defining the experience of suffering through and listening to trauma, Felman and
Laub also helped to establish the formal conventions of a new genre, i.e. the Holocaust
testimony. Lawrence Langer contributed substantially to how scholars came to
differentiate between “authentic” and “inauthentic” Holocaust testimony. According to
Langer, a Holocaust testimony consists of a story and a plot: “If the story is the
chronological narrative, beginning with “I was born” and ending with “I was liberated,”
the plot of the testimony “meanders, coils back on itself, contains rocks and rapids, and
requires strenuous effort to follow its intricate turns, revealing that the witness is seized
by instead of selecting incidents.”20 Anne Whitehead has convincingly argued that
producing a fake is only possible in relation to a form with a clearly established genre: “It
was arguably not until the mid-1990s, that the genre of Holocaust testimony was
sufficiently developed or distinct for a text such as Fragments to emerge […] that it
would have been desirable to fake.”21 Whitehead concludes that by following and writing
within the conventions of the Holocaust testimony, “Wilkomirski was able to produce a
powerful and moving narrative of trauma […]”.22
Cf. Dori Laub Shoshana Felman, Testimony: Crisis of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanlaysis, and
History (New York: Routledge, 1992). 57.
Langer cited in Whitehead, Trauma Fiction. 35.
Ibid. 33.
Ibid. 32.
Poststructuralist Cathy Caruth provided more tools for the literary analysis. Her theory
on the representation of trauma in literature made a major impact on how scholars in the
humanities conceptualized trauma in their own theories and analyses. According to
Caruth, trauma is “an overwhelming experience of sudden or catastrophic events in
which the response to the event occurs in the often delayed, uncontrolled repetitive
appearance of hallucinations and other intrusive phenomena.”23 Furthermore, she
describes trauma as something that is not consciously experienced when it happens.
Thirdly, Caruth argues that trauma is not an individual experience, “but it is, like history,
never simply one’s own.” Thus, Caruth concludes, “we are all implicated in each other’s
traumas.”24 Several scholars have commented on the influence of Caruth’s theory on the
scholarly understanding and interpretation of trauma. Germanic Studies scholar Pascale
R. Bos points out that “trauma seems to complicate an exhaustive individual and
collective understanding of the Holocaust. The notion of trauma as articulated by Caruth
[…] has become widely used within Holocaust studies to denote a loss of control, the
limits of language, and of agency.”25 Film scholar Thomas Elsaesser has observed that
Caruth’s theory has generated two different responses:
Trauma in its most general sense is a theory of victimhood and a politics of blame, in
which various ethnic, gender or sexual preference groups vie […] for a place in the sun of
righteous indignation […] In a more academically respectable form, trauma theory is trying
to redefine important theoretical and political ground about the status of fantasy […] and
the crisis of referentiality […].26
Cathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1996). 11.
Ibid. 24.
Pascale R. Bos, German-Jewish Literature in the Wake of the Holocaust: Grete Weil, Ruth Klüger, and
the Politics of Address, Studies in European Culture and History, 1st ed. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan,
2005). 14.
Thomas Elsaesser, "Postmodernism as Mourning Work," Screen: The Journal of the Society for
Education in Film and Television 42.2 (2001). 194.
Interestingly, Caruth’s two influential works on trauma, i.e. Unclaimed Experience:
Trauma, Narrative and History and Trauma: Explorations in Memory were published in
the same years as Fragments.27 Upon the latter’s publication, scholarly readers were thus
equipped and ready to receive it as the trauma narrative par excellence.
Initially, the response to Fragments was shaped by what Elsaesser calls the “theory of
victimhood.” Readers were moved by what Wilkomirski’s childhood memory revealed.
After all, the author maintained that what had caused him the greatest pain was not being
listened to as a child whenever he had attempted to talk about his childhood. Some
argued that one would re-victimize the author by questioning the authenticity of his book
and that doubting the author would support revisionist theories. Fragments with its
disjointed narrative and almost abstract style was said not just to represent, but actually to
demonstrate the effects of trauma on its author.
But not everybody was impressed with Wilkomirski and his memories. In the summer
of 1998, Swiss journalist and writer Daniel Ganzfried, himself the son of a Holocaust
survivor, publicly questioned the veracity of Fragments. Ganzfried’s article in the Swiss
newsweekly Weltwoche argued that Wilkomirski knew the concentration camps “only as
a tourist,” and that he had not been born in Latvia, but was actually a certain Bruno
Grosjean, born in 1941, i.e. several years later than he claimed in his book. According to
Ganzfried’s investigations, Grosjean was the illegitimate child of an unmarried mother
named Yvonne Grosjean. The boy had been sent to an orphanage in Switzerland. In 1945,
Cathy Caruth, Trauma: Explorations in Memory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).;
Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. (Baltimore: John Hopkins University
Press, 1996).
he had been taken in by Dr. Karl and Martha Dössekker, a wealthy couple in Zurich, who
had finally adopted him in 1957.28
Following Ganzfried’s exposure, Wilkomirski insisted that he was an authentic
Holocaust survivor who had been secretly switched as a young boy with Bruno Grosjean
upon his arrival in Switzerland. Consequently, Suhrkamp commissioned historian Stefan
Mächler to investigate what had by then become a scandal, or “the Wilkomirski affair.”
Mächler revealed to the publishers of Fragments that Ganzfried’s accusations were
completely true and that Wilkomirski’s memoir contradicted all essential historical facts.
He described in detail how Grosjean-Dössekker-Wilkomirski had collected Holocaust
material for years, had established an impressive Holocaust archive in his private
residence, had become an expert on trauma by reading all available literature on the topic
and had received trauma therapy himself in order to recover his traumatic childhood
memory. Consequently, although Mächler pointed out that there was no indication that he
had done so with the intention to deceive anyone, the author had developed a fictional life
story over decades and had consequently become Holocaust child survivor Binjamin
As a result of Mächler’s investigations, Suhrkamp announced at the 1999 Frankfurt
Book Fair that they had withdrawn Bruchstücke.29 Consequently, Ganzfried’s and
Mächler’s revelations were received and debated in various contexts and with different
Daniel Ganzfried, "Die geliehene Holocaust-Biographie," Die Weltwoche 27 August 1998.
Cf. Carl Tighe, Writing and Responsibility (London and New York: Routledge, 2005). The Spanish and
Swedish editions were cancelled. The English edition, available in the USA, Canada, the UK and the
Commonwealth had sold 32,800 copies and quietly went out of print. After four years the German, Italian
and French editions combined had sold 27,000 copies. In the USA, Fragments reappeared together with
Stefan Mächler’s report as Stefan Mächler, The Wilkomirski Affair: A Study in Biographical Truth, trans.
Translated from the German by John E. Woods (New York: Schocken, 2001).
attitudes.30 Thus, Fragments prompted a number of intersecting questions of literary,
psychological and sociological interest, which generated numerous articles and (six)
books.31 The scandal around Fragments motivated scholars to approach the text in what
Elsaesser referred to as “a more academically respectable form.” Soon, the “Wilkomirski
affair” and the more or less aggressive attacks on Wilkomirski vanished from newspapers
and magazines. The “hopeless case” turned into the “Wilkomirski syndrome,” which has
since been discussed particularly by (literary) scholars in the humanities.
Academics were challenged by Fragments to shed new light on the literary genres of
the Holocaust testimony, the Holocaust memoir and the Holocaust novel, the aesthetics of
a literary work’s reception, (recovered) memory research, and the literary treatment of
The discussion took a heated and rather negative start: Suddenly, the majority of
academic readers claimed to have been so disgusted by the “pornographic violence”
depicted in the book that they had put it aside after reading only a few pages. Critics, who
had celebrated Wilkomirski’s memoir as an extraordinary and authentic piece of
Holocaust literature defended themselves and were ridiculed by others, who claimed that
they had known all along that Fragments was the work of a liar. The originally positive
aesthetic judgment of the text as one of best Holocaust memoirs ever written was
For a detailed discussion of these different reactions, see for example the essay by Eva Lezzi, "Tell zielt
auf ein Kind. Wilkomirski und die Schweiz," Das Wilkomirski-Syndrom. Eingebildete Sehnsucht oder Von
der Sehnsucht, Opfer zu sein, ed. J.H. Schoeps I. Diekmann (Zürich, München: Pendo, 2002). 180-214;
Chapter 2 in Anne Whitehead, Trauma Fiction. 30-47; Chapter 4 in Langer, "Fragments of Memory." 4863; and the article by David Oels, "A real-life Grimm's fairy tale. Korrekturen, Nachträge, Ergänzungen
zum Fall Wilkomirski," Zeitschrift für Germanistik Neue Folge 2 (2004). 373-390.
The six books include Elena Lappin’s Der Mann mit zwei Köpfen, Zürich 2000; Stefan Mächler’s Der
Fall Wilkomirski. Über die Wahrheit einer Biographie, Zürich, 2000. Daniel Ganzfried published his own
version of the case in 2002: ... alias Wilkomirski. Die Holocaust-Travestie. Ed. Sebastian Hefti. Berlin:
Jüdische Verlagsanstalt, 2002; Diekmann, J.H. Schoeps. Eds., Das Wilkomirski-Syndrom. Eingebildete
Erinnerungen oder von der Sehnsucht, Opfer zu sein, Zürich, München: Pendo, 2002; Blake Eskin: A Life
in Pieces. New York, London: Norton, 2002.
increasingly replaced by a moral judgment, which prompted questions not only about the
author: Had Wilkomirski lied consciously?, but also about the reader: Why did so many
people believe that his story was authentic? Sander L. Gilman, one of the few scholars
who admitted that he had believed every word of Fragments when he had first read the
book in 1995, concluded that he had considered Fragments to be an authentic text “weil
dieser Text tatsächlich meiner Vorstellung eines Textes von Kindheitserinnerungen
The belief in Fragments’ authenticity based on one’s own imagination or theory is
what critics Gary Weissman and David Oels criticize most sharply about the academic
reception of Fragments. In his book Fantasies of Witnessing. Postwar Efforts to
Experience the Holocaust, Weissman convincingly argues that Fragments is “less
evidence than illustration of what, according to Holocaust scholars and critics, indicates
authenticity in representations of the Holocaust.” As a consequence, Weissman maintains
that Wilkomirski’s narrative was originally “validated by psychologists and literary
critics because it corresponded to their own conceptions of what authentic Holocaust
testimony should look like, fitting their theories better than actual written Holocaust
testimonies. […]33 Although he did not present the truth, Wilkomirski provided many
readers with the Holocaust they wanted to witness for themselves […] by emphasiz[ing]
the certainty of his testimony, referring to “exact snapshots” and the imprint of feelings
and physical sensations in his “photographic memory”, while, at the same time, drawing
Sander L. Gilman, "Vorwort. Das Phänomen der eingebildeten Erinnerung. Zum Fall Wilkomirski," Das
Wilkomirski-Syndrom. Eingebildete Erinnerungen oder von der Sehnsucht, Opfer zu sein, ed. Irene
Diekmann and Julius H. Schoeps (Zürich and München: Pendo, 2002). 15.
Gary Weissman, Fantasies of Witnessing. Postwar Efforts to Experience the Holocaust (Ithaca and
London: Cornell University Press, 2004). 213.
the reader’s attention to his memory’s gaps and uncertainties.”34 Wilkomirski refers to his
memory as “fragmentary” (as the title of his memoir suggests most poignantly), and as a
“a rubble field of isolated images and events.”35 He explains to the reader that it was
necessary to “give up on the ordering logic of grown-ups” in order to write about his
childhood during the Holocaust, since such a logic “would only distort what happened.”36
In accordance with Langer’s Holocaust testimony theory, Wilkomirski’s story of
survival is interrupted by fragmentary plot elements. The latter are supposedly products
of his childhood memory. Thus, he remembers and describes horrific events, such as
being thrown headfirst into a stone wall (17), being locked in a dog kennel where lice and
beetles attack him (41-42), being kicked in the back of the head (55), seeing camp
wardens pushing sticks up boys’ penises (60), witnessing starving babies who chew their
frozen fingers down to the bone (71), and seeing a bloody rat bursting out of a dead
woman’s belly (86). These scenes have been referred to by one critic as “a numbing
catalogue of atrocities that exposes to view the bare bones of trauma.”37 Like Lawrence
Langer38, Weissman concludes that “more critical readings of Fragments might have
shown that Wilkomirski’s book could not have been what it professe[d] to be.”39
David Oels offers an even more radical view and takes Weissman’s argument a step
further. Like Weissman, Oels emphasizes that Fragments deceived most of all academic
readers who recognized their own theories about traumatic childhood memories in
Ibid. 214.
Fragments, 4.
Susan Jacobus, "Border Crossings. Traumatic Reading and Holocaust Memory," Psychoanalysis and the
Scene of Reading (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). 155.
Langer, "Fragments of Memory." 57. Langer writes: […] the critical investigations of a skeptical literary
analyst might and should have furnished even earlier evidence for the possible bogus authenticity of the
text and the naïve not to say deceitful intentions of its author.”
Ibid. 213.
Wilkomirski’s writing strategy.40 After Fragments had been revealed as a fabricated text,
the same scholarly audience had gone on to point out the large commercial success of the
book and its poor literary quality that, in their view, could have only tricked the naïve
reader. In David Oels’ words:
Der Fall Wilkomirski dient also einer grandiosen Selbstnobilitierung des Feuilletons, einer
Inszenierung zur Elite, die fürderhin wieder ihrer Aufgabe nachkommen wollte, das Gute
vom Schlechten, das Wahre vom Falschen und das Schöne vom Hässlichen zu scheiden.41
In Oels’ view, the important discussion did not take place:
Der Fall Wilkomirski hätte also für erhebliche Verwirrung sorgen können, wurde doch ein
primäres Problem jedweder Wissenschaft virulent: die Konstitution des Gegenstandes.
Denn wenn es offensichtlich möglich ist, einen aufs Genaueste den jeweiligen
theoretischen Postulaten entsprechenden Text zu produzieren, der aber gerade nicht über
die Biografie des Autors garantiert, dass Nicht-Darstellbares tatsächlich enthalten und nicht
nur nicht dargestellt ist, wie kann dann durch literaturwissenschaftlich zugängliche, also
textinterne Kriterien entschieden werden, welcher Text in den eigenen
Untersuchungsbereich fällt?42
Oels thus criticizes scholars who did not take the opportunity to reflect on their own
difficulties with texts that deal with the Holocaust from the viewpoint of the survivor.
Unlike Weissman, Oels does not believe that a more critical analysis of Fragments would
have proven that the author had in fact made up his story. He concludes that the scandal
caused by Fragments should have led to the realization that there simply are no textual
characteristics that enable the critic to differentiate between a made-up text, such as
Wilkomirski’s memoir and an authentic Holocaust autobiography.43
My emphasis.
Oels, "A real-life Grimm's fairy tale. Korrekturen, Nachträge, Ergänzungen zum Fall Wilkomirski." 380.
Ibid. 384.
Ibid. 385. Here Oels agrees with and cites Gerhard Lauer, "Abbilder des Holocausts? Über die
Schwierigkeiten der Literaturwissenschaft im Umgang mit Autobiographien des Holocausts," IASL online
April 3 2003. In this review, Lauer critiques Eva Lezzi, Zerstörte Kindheit: Literarische Autobiographien
zur Shoah (Köln: Böhlau, 2001). In his rather negative view of Lezzi’s approach to what she terms
“Kindheitsautobiographien”, Lauer argues that there are no textual elements that differentiate authentic
from inauthentic Holocaust texts, but does not mention that Lezzi had also made the same point in her
Oels provides an insightful textual analysis of Fragments. Thus, he points out that the
text reveals fragmentary memories on three different narrative levels, which correspond
with the three different ways Wilkomirski claims to remember. The first narrative level
reveals the horrible experiences in the concentration camps; the second level continues
the painful telling of the story in children’s homes in Switzerland after the war; the third
level comprises the adult author’s explanations throughout the text, which provide
insights into his present situation. In Oels’ view, the memories of the second and third
narrative level make sense to the reader because Wilkomirski inserts his comments and
explanations. The memories of the first narrative level, however, remain spatially and
temporarily vague and fragmentary. “Ich weiß nicht mehr wo es war und wann,”
Wilkomirski begins those passages, which go on to dramatically display the brutality he
encountered in the camps as a small child. He thus changes from the easily accessible
memories of the second or third narrative levels to the first, which takes the form of a
dramatic report. Consequently, the tense changes from the distant past to the immediate
present of the intruding memory.44 The author is unable to understand what happened to
him as a child:
I can’t understand what I’m seeing through the billows of smoke, and at the same time I do
understand, but it doesn’t connect up with anything I know, either in pictures or in words. I
just feel that this is a place where everything ends, not just the embankment and the rails.
This is where this world stops being a world at all.45
According to Oels, this way of understanding beyond words and images is a kind of
mystical seeing. “Es kommt für den kongenialen Interpreten dann darauf an, was nie
geschrieben wurde, zu lesen, oder wie bei Wilkomirski, zu verstehen, was nicht gesagt
Ibid. 374.
Fragments, 94.
wurde.”46 As a consequence and in accordance with Cathy Caruth’s notion of trauma, the
reader or critic becomes “der sekundär Traumatisierte, der in seinem eigenen Schmerz
und gerade in seinem eigenen Nichtverstehen das Zeugnis versteht, indem er es ebenso
verfehlt wie der Überlebende die Ereignisse der Vergangenheit.”47
Wilkomirski’s horror story, remembered and narrated from the child’s perspective and
interpreted in a joint effort by the adult narrator and the reader, was considered a
paradigmatic Holocaust trauma text. It responded well to the theory of poststructuralist
trauma scholars on the ethical dimensions of becoming a witness to the primary, and a
victim to the secondary trauma of the Holocaust.
Although Oels’ critique of the (initial) academic response is justified, he - like others
before him - refers to Fragments as an example of a “trauma narrative.” Similarly to the
scholars he criticizes, he mostly relies on Cathy Caruth’s theory of trauma. More
importantly, he ignores the voices who have described the general approach to trauma in
the humanities as problematic. Among them are Ruth Leys, who specializes in the history
and theory of psychoanalysis as well as the history of psychiatry and psychology, and
German Studies scholar Susanne Vees-Gulani. According to Leys, Caruth (as well as
Felman and Laub) assign too much importance to the listener, scholar and analysant.48
Vees-Gulani claims that the majority of scholars “are not interested in engaging in
scholarship about trauma and posttraumatic symptoms,” but instead “actively intend to
convey moral and political messages and provide their own testimony.” 49 She criticizes
Oels, "A real-life Grimm's fairy tale. Korrekturen, Nachträge, Ergänzungen zum Fall Wilkomirski." 383.
Ruth Leys, Trauma: A Genealogy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000). For a critical view
of Ley’s approach see Charles R. Figley, "A Review of Ruth Ley's Trauma: A Genealogy.," Traumatology
VI.2 (2000).
Susanne Vees-Gulani, Trauma and Guilt. Literature of Wartime Bombing in Germany (Berlin, New
York: Walter de Gruyter, 2003). 21.
that scholars solely tend to rely on Cary Caruth, who herself bases her findings
exclusively on Freud, de Man, and Lacan, rather than on contemporary trauma
scientists.50 Vees-Gulani concludes that scholars in the humanities often fail to back up
their notions of trauma with research conducted on trauma and PTSD in other
Apart from applying the same approach to trauma as the majority of critics, Oels also
fails to give credit to a number of (self-) critical academic voices who went further with
Fragments. For example, Ruth Klüger’s allegation that Wilkomirski’s memoir had
become a different text when it had changed from one genre (autobiography) to another
(fiction), and her claim that the presentation of false suffering in Fragments had
inevitably turned into kitsch when it had become fiction,52 triggered criticism by literary
scholar Andrea Reiter. Reiter does not accept Klüger’s argument that the discloser of the
text’s insincerity compromised its literary quality. Thus, she explains:
Although Fragments occasionally borders on the pornographic in its display of violence, and
certainly exploits the theme of pureness and innocence with its child protagonist, it does not
present the cheaper kitschy images and emotions; indeed, it deliberately avoids the
sentimentalisation often found in connection with the representation of suffering children.
Nor is its language of the repetitive, redundant, and hypnotising kind that we associate with
kitsch in its trivial form.53
Ibid. 25.
Consequently, Vees-Gulani calls for a redefinition of trauma studies for the humanities and goes on to
provide a definition of trauma and PTSD. Based on this scientific understanding of trauma, she applies
trauma symptoms to her interpretation of texts, which deal with the trauma induced by the air raid
bombings in Germany from the German perspective.
Klüger writes: “Die Vorspiegelung falscher Tatsachen wird nicht zur Literatur, nur weil das Publikum
gutgläubig ist. Eine Stelle, die vielleicht gerade in ihren (sic) naiven Direktheit erschütternd wirkt, wenn
man sie als Ausdruck erlebten Leidens liest, und die sich dann als Lüge erweist, verkommt in der
Darstellung erfundenen Leidens zum Kitsch.” Cf. Ruth Klüger, "Kitsch ist immer plausibel. Was man aus
den erfundenen Erinnerungen des Binjamin Wilkomirski lernen kann," Alias Wilkomirski: Die HolocaustTravestie. Enthüllung und Dokumentation eines literarischen Skandals. , ed. Sebastian Hefti (Berlin:
Jüdische Verlagsanstalt 2002). 227. Klüger has written on kitsch in relation to the Holocaust before, cf.
“Missbrauch der Erinnerung: KZ-Kitsch,” in Ruth Klüger, “Von hoher und niedriger Literatur.”
(Göttingen:Wallstein, 1996) 29-44.
Andrea Reiter, "Memory and Authenticity: The Case of Binjamin Wilkomirski," The Memory of
Catastrophe, ed. Peter Gray and Kendrick Oliver (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press,
2004). 141.
According to Reiter, what changed when Wilkomirski’s identity became questionable,
were the guidelines for the reception of his text. After admitting that she had originally
read Fragments as an authentic text by an authentic Holocaust survivor, she advises that
“rather than condemning the author in an emotional outburst, it is probably more useful
for the literary scholar to identify the strategies at work in the text.”54
In accordance with Reiter’s suggestion to focus on the writing strategies at work in
Fragments, Anne Whitehead, Froma Zeitlin and Sue Vice are concerned with locating
narrative means in Fragments and other trauma narratives. For Vice, it was the child’s
perspective and Wilkomirski’s use of a simple language that prompted her to investigate
other literary representations of children’s lives during the Holocaust.55 Whitehead notes
that “Fragments notably departs from the techniques of testimony and enters the realm of
Holocaust fiction in Wilkomirski’s use of the child’s narrative viewpoint.”56
Froma Zeitlin’s essay “New Soundings in Holocaust Literature: A Surplus of
Memory” is especially thought-provoking and promising in the aftermath of the
Wilkomirski affair. Like Reiter, Zeitlin focuses on a re-evaluation of Fragments and
finding a new place for it in the discussion of literary representation of the Holocaust.
Unlike earlier scholarly reactions to the text, neither of these authors dismisses
Fragments’ literary effectiveness. Instead of emphasizing the reasons why Wilkomirski
might have consciously or unconsciously deceived his audience and the negative moral
implications of his actions, Reiter, Whitehead, Vice, and Zeitlin acknowledge and point
out the text’s originality and strengths as well as the consequences and positive effects
Ibid. 142.
Sue Vice, Children Writing the Holocaust (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2004). 1.
Whitehead, Trauma Fiction. 38.
Fragments might have on the academic discussion of the literary representation of the
Holocaust in the future. They read Fragments constructively and use it as a point of
departure in their discussions about new developments in writing and thinking about the
literary representation of the Holocaust. Thus, Reiter predicts that Fragments will be read
as a fictional text. Although Wilkomirski violated what Reiter refers to as the “ethical
authenticity” of a Holocaust text, he nevertheless gave scholars the opportunity to discuss
the question of “aesthetic authenticity” in texts by other child survivors (Reiter mentions
Ruth Klüger and Imre Kertész) that deal with the Holocaust in a literary mode. By telling
the survivor story from a subjective angle, Reiter argues, this mode “challenges the
traditional views of how the Holocaust should be represented.”57
Departing from Fragments, Anne Whitehead proposes a structural approach to trauma
fiction which “emphasizes recurring literary techniques and devices.”58 She argues that
“trauma fiction” relies on the intensification of conventional narrative modes and
methods,” and identifies a number of key stylistic features, such as “intertextuality,
repetition and a dispersed or fragmented narrative voice.”59
In the article “A Surplus of Memory. New Soundings in Holocaust Literature,” Froma
Zeitlin reflects on the challenges “creative” representations of the Holocaust have faced
in the past. In Zeitlin’s opinion, […] narrative elements that relate to Holocaust reality
are called in for radical questioning, and […] fiction functions as a weaker kind of
testimony.”60 To prove the opposite, Zeitlin includes the “powerful narrative”61 of
Ibid. 84.
Froma Zeitlin, "New Soundings in Holocaust Literatures: A Surplus of Memory," Catastrophe and
Meaning. The Holocaust and the Twentieth Century, ed. Moishe Postone and Eric Santner (Chicago and
London: University of Chicago Press, 2003). 173.
Ibid. 177.
Wilkomirski’s Fragments in her comparison of other texts, such as Anne Michael’s
Fugitive Pieces and Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader. By focusing on the formal
techniques that proved so effective in creating the illusion of authenticity in Fragments,
Zeitlin acknowledges that “even as a pseudomemoir, Fragments gains a certain symbolic
value, pressing the limits of both recollection and representation.”62
This development, exemplified by the scholars mentioned above, indicates a shift in
perception of what a Holocaust text can be, which narrative strategies it can employ and
how it can be interpreted. Recognizing this shift enables scholars to study Holocaust texts
by survivors who employ strategies other than the direct autobiographical mode. In this
context, Susan Rubin Suleiman has argued that “works of literary merit […] have a
greater chance to endure than others. In a recent article, the author of the survivor memoir
Budapest Diary: The Search for the Motherbook and herself a member of what she
coined as the “1.5 generation” of Holocaust child survivors, (people “too young to have
had an adult understanding of what was happening to them, but old enough to have been
there during the Nazi persecution of Jews”) shares her enthusiasm about writers who
express their Holocaust experience in literary terms:
As it happens, there are an impressive number of contemporary writers who were children
or adolescents during the Holocaust, and who have succeeded in crafting a language that is
adequate to their experience: Aharon Appelfeld, Louis Begley, Madgda Denes, Saul
Friedländer, Elisbeth Gille, Imre Kertész, Ruth Kluger, Sarah Kofman, George Perec,
Regine Robin, Lore Segal, Elie Wiesel, to name only a few. […] Some are better known
than others; some have written only one literary work, others many; some wrote directly
about their experience, others transpose into fiction. All have given powerful accounts of
what it felt like to be a child or adolescent during the Holocaust, encountering loss, terror,
chaos. In their works, we see both the child’s helplessness, retrospectively, in language.
Each of these works is highly individualized, yet they bear family resemblances in tone,
genre, and emotional or narrative content that place them in significant dialogue with each
Susan Rubin Suleiman, "The 1.5 Generation: Thinking About Child Survivors and the Holocaust.,"
American Imago 59.3 (2002). 291-292.
In a footnote, Suleiman notes that “the fact that some of these works are called
memoirs whereas others are called novels is not pertinent, if one considers them as
essentially autobiographical in nature.” 64 Commenting on the “Wilkomirski case,” she
adds: “This does not mean that genre categories are indifferent: a fake memoir is not a
novel, for example.”65 Suleiman refers to Wilkomirski as an author whose “‘fake
memoir’ owed its success to the author’s adoption of the style of authentic
autobiographical writers.”66
While Wilkomirski’s text no doubt points to general problems in the reception and
interpretation of Holocaust texts and the trauma expressed in them, it can also pave the
way for a new approach to texts that denote trauma differently than conventional
testimonies, memoirs, and autobiographies.
I use Fragments as a starting point to call attention to texts by three “authentic” child
survivors, who emphasize the creative representation of the Holocaust experience rather
than their status as survivors. Contrary to Suleiman’s view that the question of genre
classification is negligible, this study problematizes the fact that some of these texts are
classified as novels while others are published and reviewed as fiction, pseudoautobiographies, autofiction, autobiography or autobiographical novels. I am particularly
interested in why the authors mentioned below shift from either the fictional to the
autobiographical realm or vice versa in telling their Holocaust childhood stories, and how
these changes mirror a shift in memory representation over time, or occur due to a change
of context or environment.
Ibid. 294. In her book Crisis of Memory and the Second World War (2006), Suleiman dedicates a whole
chapter to a comparison between Elie Wiesel’s Night and Binjamin Wilkomirski’s Fragments.
Critics and readers in the German-speaking world originally acknowledged GeorgesArthur Goldschmidt’s literature due to Peter Handke’s support of the author and the
latter’s translation of Goldschmidt’s early French work into German. Goldschmidt, on the
other hand, discovered his own language as a writer while translating Peter Handke:
“Dadurch, dass ich diesen präzisen Bildgestalter Handke so sprachnah kennengelernt
habe, dessen Bücher ich am liebsten selber geschrieben hätte, kann ich mein eigenes
Schreiben auf mich zukommen lassen. Mein Warmschreiben ist die Übersetzung
gewesen.”67 In his foreword to the translation of Goldschmidt’s first German text Die
Absonderung, Peter Handke describes Goldschmidt’s first original German text as
“unvergleichlich” and refers to it as “Traumbuch”:
Ja, vergleichbare Bücher schreibt manchmal der Träumer – nur ist hier beim Erwachen das
Buch da, vorhanden, zur Hand: eher als ein Traumbuch vielleicht also das Zeugnis eines so
ausgedehnten wie beengten Traumwandelns, eines jahrelangen, voll des Schreckens und
des Staunens, der Raum- und Zeitsprünge, der fahlen Labyrinthwelt des ewigen Kriegs und
der weiträumigen Farbenwinkel eines episodischen Friedens.68
During the 1980s, Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt explored his “traumatic” childhood in
two texts. Thus, Der Spiegeltag (French 1981; German translation 1982) and Ein Garten
in Deutschland (French 1986; German translation 1988) offered variations and parts of
his life story in fictionalized form. Goldschmidt’s “Traumwandeln” continued throughout
the 1990s with three publications - Die Absonderung (German 1991; French translation
1994), Der unterbrochene Wald (French 1991; German translation 1992), and Die
Aussetzung (German 1996) - featuring a childhood determined by the traumas of
separation, emigration, and exile. The author’s most recent piece of life-writing, his
autobiography Über die Flüsse (French 1999, German translation 2001), provides the
Heinz-Norbert Jocks, "Interview mit Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt," Frankfurter Rundschau 16. August
Peter Handke. “Vorwort.” In Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt, Die Absonderung. Erzählung (Zürich:
Ammann Verlag, 1991). 9.
entire story in one book. According to this autobiography, Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt
was born as Günter Goldschmidt in Reinbek near Hamburg on May 2nd, 1928 as the
youngest of three children to Protestant upper-class parents of Jewish descent. In 1937,
Dr. Arthur Goldschmidt, a high-ranking lawyer who had been forced into early retirement
by the Nazis in 1933, and his wife Katharina make the momentous decision to put their
two sons on a train to Florence, Italy, in order to save them from the Nazis. In 1939,
when the political situation becomes increasingly dangerous for Jews in Italy, the two
boys flee to France where a distant relative pays for their stay in a Catholic children home
in the Savoy Alps. Here, Georges-Arthur is exposed to severe physically, sexually, and
emotionally abusive treatment. While still at the boarding home, Goldschmidt learns
about his mother’s death. Eleven years later, he returns to Germany to visit his sister and
her family. Neither parent is alive to welcome him home: His father had survived
Theresienstadt but died a few years after his return. Goldschmidt’s own journey back to
Germany turns out to be a disappointing, disturbing and painful experience. Overcome by
conflicting emotions of joy and sadness, relief and fear, he feels alienated and
unwelcome. His sister’s family does not empathize with his fate during the war. They
compare his war experience of exile and hiding to their own threatened existence during
the war.69 In their eyes, he was rather fortunate. The visit of his German childhood home
opens up old wounds and convinces Goldschmidt that the “Heimat” which he had longed
for and been afraid of at the same time, is not the right place for him after all. He settles
in France where he obtains a teaching certificate and works as a highschool teacher of
German until his retirement in 1992.
Goldschmidt’s sister’s marriage to a gentile man prevents the family’s deportation, but the family still
reports that they lived in fear and hunger.
Goldschmidt has written numerous articles for well-known French magazines since
the 1960s. His first literary work, the essay Marcel Béalu, un cas de flagrant délit (1966),
was followed by two novels Un Corps dérisoire (1972) and Le Fidibus (1972)70 and two
essays on Molière and Rousseau in the 1970s. Der Spiegeltag (1982) marks the beginning
of Goldschmidt’s life-writing project. Almost twenty years later, after the publication of
four more “Erzählungen” and a number of essays on language and childhood, the author
concludes his confrontation with the past by translating his autobiography Über die
Flüsse from the original French to the language of his childhood, German.71
Stefanie Zweig has continually and rather obsessively reworked her childhood in exile
as a writer. Before publishing her autobiographical novels, Zweig spent 25 years working
as a journalist and editor-in-chief for the art section of the Abendpost Nachtausgabe in
Frankfurt. Like Lore Segal, Stefanie Zweig is the author of several children’s books, most
of which deal with her African childhood.72 In Nirgendwo in Afrika (1995) and its sequel
Irgendwo in Deutschland (1996), Zweig addressed an adult readership for the first time.
Since the publication of these autobiographical novels, Zweig has continued to write for
an adult audience in novels and short stories about her exile experience in Africa.73 In
Constanze Baethge: “Zwei erste Romane oder eine Archäologie des Leibes und des Leidens.” Ed.
Wolfgang Asholt. Grenzgänge der Erinnerung. Studien zum Werk von Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt.
Osnabrück: secolo 1999. 49-63.
After the publication of Über die Flüsse, Goldschmidt’s confrontation with his childhood seemed
completed. He published three theoretical texts, i.e. In Gegenwart des abwesenden Gottes (2003), Der
Stoff des Schreibens (2005), and Freud wartet auf das Wort. Freud und die deutsche Sprache II (2005).
However, in August 2007, another pseudo-autobiographical text appeared, i.e. Die Befreiung.
Zweig’s book Ein Mundvoll Erde (1980) was on the shortlist for the German Young People' Book Prize,
the honors list of the international Hans Christian Andersen Prize, and in 1995 it was awarded the Glass
Globe by the Royal Dutch Geographical Society as the best book for young people. Its new edition was
published as Vivian und ein Mund voll Erde in 2001. Other children’s books include: Eltern sind auch
Menschen (1996); Hund sucht Mensch (1998); Schnitzel schmecken nicht wie Schokolade (1997); Bum
sucht eine Familie (1999) and Die Spur des Löwen (2000).
Among these are: ... doch die Träume blieben in Afrika, 1998; Der Traum vom Paradies (1999); Karibu
heißt willkommen (2000); Wiedersehen mit Afrika (2002); Owuors Heimkehr. Erzählungen aus Afrika
(2003); Es begann damals in Afrika (2004); Nur die Liebe bleibt (2006).
these most recent works, different protagonists find themselves tired of their lives in
Europe and return to the place of their childhood, Africa.
There is little secondary literature on Stefanie Zweig’s work, and most (lay) readers
evaluate the most recent books rather negatively. Thus one reviewer remarks:
Seit einiger Zeit erlaube ich mir ein Buch durch das ich mich quälen muß, einfach nicht zu
Ende zu lesen. So eines ist für mich Stefanie Zweigs Der Traum vom Paradies. Der Inhalt
verspricht, laut Angabe, interessant zu werden, aber der Schreibstil ist so kitschig und
schwulstig, dass es einen an Hedwig Courts-Mahler erinnert.74
Such negative evaluations misjudge and underestimate the outstanding effort it takes
to turn a difficult childhood into creative literary texts. In addition, the reviewer ignores
that Zweig is telling her own story and that she composes her text in a language she had
to relearn after spending most of her childhood years in exile.
Lore Segal Groszmann was born on March 8th, 1928 into an assimilated, middle-class
Jewish family in Vienna. Her father Ignatz Groszmann was the chief accountant in a
bank; her mother Franzi (Stern) Groszmann, was a well-educated housewife. After
leaving Vienna on the Kindertransport on December 10th, 1938, the then ten-year-old
Lore successfully organized a married couple visa for her parents, which enabled them to
join her in England. As Segal explains “‘married couple’” was the technical designation
for a husband-and-wife team of cook and butler.”75 Since her parents’ employers did not
permit Lore to live with them, she continued to be separated from them and stayed in
“other people’s houses.” For the next seven years, Lore lived in the homes of a wealthy
Orthodox Jewish family, several working-class families, and two elderly sisters in their
formal Victorian household. Ignatz Groszmann died in 1944. Four years later, Segal
Lore Segal, Other People's Houses. A Novel, Fortieth Anniversary Edition ed. (New York; London: The
New Press, 2004).76. In the following cited as OPH followed by page number.
received a B.A. English Honors from the University of London. Shortly afterwards, she
followed her mother in the Dominican Republic where she was also reunited with her
uncle Paul and her grandparents. Segal’s grandfather died in the Dominican Republic.
Her grandmother’s American quota came through in 1949. Lore and her mother arrived
in New York in May 1951. In the USA, Segal taught creative writing at Columbia
University’s School of the Arts, Princeton, Bennington College, Sarah Lawrence, the
University of Illinois at Chicago, and Ohio State University from which she retired in
Segal is known as a novelist, essayist, translator, and writer of children’s books. In
addition, she played a small role in the comedy/drama Crossing Delancey (1988) and
appeared in three documentary films on the Kindertransport, which will be
examined more closely in chapter 5. Apart from Other People’s Houses, she has written
two other novels, Lucinella (1978) and Her First American (1985, translated into German
by the author in 1996), which won an award from the American Academy and Institute of
Arts and Letters. Shakespeare’s Kitchen, a collection of thirteen interrelated stories,
appeared in 2007. Segal has translated Christian Morgenstern’s Gallows Songs with
W.D. Snodgrass, The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm, The Book of Adam to
Moses, and The Story of King Saul and King David. According to Efraim Sicher, Segal
was “attracted to both Gallows Songs and the Grimm’s tales for their dispassion and
ironic equanimity in the face of the unbelievable evil.”76 In Segal’s view, the Grimm’s
brothers did a better job than contemporary writers of children’s literature. “They] scare
[…] us to hell before proceeding to the cover-up in which (if we haven’t died) we will
Sicher, Holocaust Novelists. 306.
live happily for ever after.”77 In her own children’s books, Segal does not - to use her
own expression - “pussy-foot” around the “central terrors of childhood.” At least two of
her children’s books feature lonely, troubled women, who are apparently still “scared to
hell,” and have not progressed to the stage of living happily ever after. For example, Mrs.
Brubeck in The Story of Old Mrs. Brubeck and How She Looked for Trouble and Where
She Found Him (1981) is portrayed as an overly careful woman who constantly worries
about her grand daughter Beatrix.78 She keeps her household in meticulous order to better
look out for “Trouble.” After her grand daughter has gone to bed, Mrs. Brubeck sets out
to find “Trouble.” She looks for him everywhere but only when she is about to give up,
does she see him lying under her own blanket. The illustration reveals that “Trouble”
refers to Mrs. Brubeck’s own shadow. She climbs into bed, lays her arm around
“Trouble” and warns him: “So long as I’ve got you where I can keep my eye on you, I
know you can’t be troubling my darling, and I’m going to keep my eye on you as long as
I live.”79 Read in the context of Segal’s life-story, Mrs. Brubeck shares the narrator’s
anxiety expressed at the end of Other People’s Houses: “but I, now that I have children
and am about the age my mother was when Hitler came, walk gingerly and in
astonishment upon this island of my comforts, knowing that it is surrounded by
calamity.”80 Thus, both Mrs. Brubeck and the grown-up Lore in Other People’s Houses
Lore Segal, "Baby Terrors," Under Fire. Childhood in the Shadow of War June 6th 2006 1999-2003.
Segal’s daughter’s name is Beatrice.
Lore Groszmann Segal and Marcia Sewall, The Story of Old Mrs. Brubeck and How She Looked for
Trouble and Where She Found Him, 1st ed. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981). No page numbers
provided. The other lonely female character features in Lore Groszmann Segal, Mrs. Lovewright and
Purrless her cat, sound recording /, Random House/Miller Brody Productions,, Westminster, Md., 1986. In
this story, a lonely woman, Mrs. Lovewright, adopts a cat, who continuously attacks her and refuses to purr
until Mrs. Lovewright learns to love the cat right.
OPH. 312.
never feel completely safe and secure. Their constant worry also affects their
relationships with their children and grandchildren.81
On the one hand, Goldschmidt, Zweig and Segal belong to an increasing number of
former hidden child survivors and children in exile who have come forward to share their
stories.82 Thus, their texts function as and may be considered Holocaust testimonies. On
the other hand, these writers belong to the minority of Holocaust survivors who have
composed texts that depart from the traditional autobiographical mode to narrate their
childhood before, during and after the Holocaust. This departure mirrors their efforts as
writers to approach and “reinvent” their traumatic childhood by writing about it. Their
narratives recount their personal loss of their childhood homes, their anguish caused by
the separation from their parents, their shock about learning that many of their family
members, friends and neighbors perished in the Holocaust, and finally their loss of their
native language. At the same time, their texts deal with their struggles in exile and in
hiding, their feelings of displacement and belonging, their survival, and their coming of
age in a culture different from that of their parents.
The most obvious difference between Goldschmidt, Zweig and Segal and the author of
Fragments is that the formers’ lives were actually affected by the Holocaust, while the
latter replaced his own identity with that of a Holocaust child survivor. Contrary to
Binjamin Wilkomirski, who emphasizes at the beginning of Fragments that he is neither a
poet nor a writer, Goldschmidt, Zweig and Segal are first and foremost writers and do not
The effects of childhood exile on the relationships between the “Kinder” and their own children and
grandchildren are a major topic of Melissa Hacker’s documentary film My Knees Were Jumping, which
will be discussed in chapter 5.
See for example: Isaac Millman’s Hidden Child (2005), Alicia Nitecki’s Jakub's World: A Boy's Story of
Loss and Survival in the Holocaust (2005), Laura Hillamn’s I will plant you a Lilac Tree: A Memoir of a
Schindler's list survivor (2005), Theresa Cahn-Tober’s Hide and Seek: A Wartime Childhood (2003), Evi
Blaikie’s Magda's Daughter: A Hidden Child's Journey Home (2003).
foreground their own role as witnesses, who ask for the reader’s pity or understanding.
Whereas Wilkomirski supposedly avoids the literary in producing a Holocaust testimony
based on the memory of a three or four-year old, Goldschmidt, Zweig and Segal are
writers who transform their traumatic childhood experiences into creative literary texts
that wrestle with the borderlines between Holocaust testimony, autobiography and
fiction. Finally, Goldschmidt, Zweig, Segal and Wilkomirski also differ in terms of their
writing production: While Wilkomirski’s “childhood memories” only triggered a slim
volume, Goldschmidt, Zweig and Segal have - over a period of several decades - written
extensively about their Holocaust childhood.
However, this study’s discussion of Binjamin Wilkomirski and his book not only
departs from the obvious differences between Wilkomirski and the authors mentioned
above. All authors, including the author of Fragments, share the trauma of being
separated from their parents at a young age. While I agree with Lawrence Langer, who
notes that “the invention – and subsequent exploitation – of a Holocaust past is not
[pardonable],” this study expands Langer’s - somewhat surprising - conclusion that what
is in fact pardonable is “the impulse to create a more sympathetic image of [one’s]
orphaned self than the true story of illegitimacy and abandonment.”83 Thus, Bruno
Grosjean, an illegitimate child of a so-called “Verdingkind,”84 was separated from his
mother at the age of three or four, i.e. exactly the time he claims to have spent in several
Langer, "Fragments of Memory." 63.
According to the website, during the 19th and 20th
century, thousands of children in Switzerland were removed from their homes, separated from their parents
and consequently had to work from an early age. Historians and other scholars have only recently begun to
study the lives of these “Verdingkinder.” Among the most recent publications, including life-writing by
some “Verdingkinder”, are: Lotty Wohlwend and Arthur Honegger, Gestohlene Seelen. Verdingkinder in
der Schweiz. Frauenfeld: Huber Verlag, 2004; Fritz Aerni, Wie es ist, Verdingkind zu sein. Ein Bericht. 3rd
Edition. Zurich: Carl Huter Verlag, 2005; Franz Walter, Der Verdingkinderzug. Vom Kanton Linth ins
Solothurnerland. Allschwil: Verlag Hanhart, 2005; Hans Oppliger, Der Makel - Geschichte eines
Verdingkinds. Frankfurt: edition fischer, 2007.
concentration camps. He replaced his identity as an orphan by creating the life-story of a
Jewish child whose identity has been lost. As it turned out,
Grosjean/Doessekker/Wilkomirski is not Jewish. His life, while being marked by the
traumatic event of being separated from his mother, was not affected by the Holocaust.
As opposed to what he claims in Fragments, he was not there where the Holocaust
happened. Neither were Goldschmidt, Zweig and Segal. They were sent away to survive
or left their parents to struggle with their lives in exile on their own. None of them is
especially aware of their Jewish identity before they leave home. Goldschmidt is raised as
a Protestant. Segal’s family does not particularly observe the Jewish traditions. While
Goldschmidt and Segal were old enough to experience discrimination against Jewish
children before they embarked on their journies to exile, they only realized what being
Jewish meant after leaving their families behind. Stefanie Zweig was too young to
remember what her childhood in Germany had been like before her family emigrated to
Africa. As in the case of Goldschmidt and Segal, she becomes aware of her Jewish
identity by feeling like an outsider in exile.
Wilkomirski dedicated the first third of Fragments to his post-war travel from Poland
to the Swiss orphanage in Switzerland where he remains a frightened outsider, teased and
shunned by the other children because of his strange responses to what they consider a
“normal” life. Goldschmidt’s, Zweig’s and Segal’s experiences in children’s homes and
boarding schools turn out to be very similar.
The moment of separation, which constitutes one of the main aspects of
Goldschmidt’s, Zweig’s, and Segal’s childhood trauma also impacted their work as
writers. Significantly, Bruno Grosjean/Doessekker/Wilkomirki’s initial real-life
childhood trauma - the separation from his mother - does not feature in Fragments. It was
apparently replaced entirely by the trauma of another. “Inspired” and most likely deeply
affected by what he had learned about the childhood trauma experienced by Jewish
children during World War II, Bruno Grosjean/Doesseker thus became Jewish child
survivor Binjamin Wilkomirski.
Autobiographical writing has been described as having the potential to provide
therapeutic benefit to the writer.85 The authors under investigation in this essay are most
likely aware of the potential healing effect of writing. Binjamin Wilkomirski’s text in
particular is motivated by the hope of recovery. In the afterword of Fragments,
Wilkomirski notes: “I wrote these fragments of memory to explore both myself and my
earliest childhood; it may also have been an attempt to set myself free.”86 Wilkomirski’s
second motivation to write Fragments was, according to the author, “that perhaps other
people in the same situation would find the necessary strength to cry out their own
traumatic childhood memories so that they too could learn that there really are people
today who will take them seriously, and who want to listen and to understand.”87
Goldschmidt’s, Zweig’s and Segal’s extensive literary treatment of their life-stories does
not seem to thrive for the same purpose. Rather, their ongoing writing about their
childhood appears to confirm what cognitive psychologist Robert N. Kraft has said about
the telling of a traumatic story: “With public disclosure there is no catharsis. The telling
Jennifer Ire, "Autobiographical writing as part of therapy: A tool for self-understanding and change,"
(University of Massachussetts Amherst, 1997), vol. No page number provided.; for a more recent approach, see Frank Neuner
Maggie Schauer, Thomas Elbert, Narrative Exposure Therapy. A Short-Term Intervention for Traumatic
Stress-Disorders after War, Terror, or Torture (Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe & Huber, 2005).
Binjamin Wilkomirski, "Afterword," Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood (London: Picador
1996). 155.
releases painful emotion but does not diminish it.”88 What changes is the way these
authors integrate their trauma in their life stories.
In looking at Wilkomirski’s and the other three authors’ writing, it is almost
impossible not to partake in the ongoing “fact versus fiction debate” that has shaped the
academic discourse prompted by “the Wilkomirski case.” However, this study will focus
on highlighting how Goldschmidt, Zweig and Segal transformed their childhood traumas
by means of fictional writing strategies into their autobiographically charged texts. While
it may be tempting to use the term “fictional” to refer to the life-story Wilkomirski “made
up” in Fragments, it used here in accordance with conventions and methods generally
linked with creative writing, e.g. “structure, […] literary descriptions of people and
places, ordering of events to create certain effects.”89
The following chapters discuss Goldschmidt, Zweig, Segal as authors who emphasize
the very question of how a traumatic childhood can be narrated. Their texts express the
authors’ childhood experiences during the Holocaust and reveal the effects of childhood
trauma on their adult lives. Unlike Wilkomirski’s Fragments, Goldschmidts’, Zweig’s
and Segal’s texts were not composed to be read as raw testimonies to traumatic
experience. Rather, they are self-consciously stylized and fictionalized accounts,
concerned less with providing an authentic account of surviving the Holocaust as a child
than with exploring different narrative means to tell a story.
Throughout this study I refer to the authors’ literary works and statements as Jewish
life-writing to elucidate the emphasis on their writing about Holocaust childhood trauma
Robert N. Kraft, "Archival Memory: Representations of the Holocaust in Oral Testimony," Poetics
Today 27.2 (2006). 89.
Gunnthórunn Gudmundsdóttir, Borderlines: Autobiography and Fiction in Postmodern Life Writing,
Postmodern studies 33 (Amsterdam New York: Rodopi, 2003). 4.
and their coming to terms with their Jewishness. According to Gunnthórum
Gudmundsdóttir, “life-writing can be said always to contain both autobiographical and
fictional aspects, but an awareness of the problematics involved means the writer has
constantly to negotiate the way in which the autobiographical and the fictional aspects of
the writing process interact in the text.”90
I use the term Jewish life-writing in order to question the relation between a
traumatized Jewish childhood and the writing about it. I argue that the texts under
investigation are produced out of the Jewish childhood trauma experienced during the
Holocaust, yet they do not simply narrate that experience as such; instead, they
foreground the very question of how such experiences can be narrated in fictional as well
as autobiographical forms.
As Cathy Caruth has pointed out, “there can be no single approach to these narratives.
[We face the] difficulty of listening and responding to traumatic stories in a way that
does not lose their impact, that does not reduce them to clichés or turn them all into
versions of the same.”91 This study does not contend that Caruth and those scholars who
have followed her path are wrong in their analyses of “trauma narratives.” Rather, it
offers an alternative, more clinically informed approach to how these “trauma narratives”
might be read and understood. Thus, I present clinical insights by psychoanalysts,
traumatologists, and cognitive psychologists who deal with childhood trauma. It is
important to note that in applying these scientific findings, I do not understand my role as
a therapist who considers the authors to be patients in need of healing. Rather, I aim to
Ibid. 4.
Caruth, Trauma: Explorations in Memory. vii.
show how a traumatic childhood influences the complex of memory, narrative and
fantasy expressed in the authors’ literary works.
Bruno Grosjean/Doessekker provided his audience with a chilling account of a child
survivor. After it had been discovered that he had fabricated his story, further
investigations revealed that he had studied the Holocaust meticulously, that he had
established a Holocaust archive in his home, and that by exposing himself to therapy, he
had become “an expert” on suffering and recovering from (childhood) trauma caused by
the Holocaust.
The following sub chapter traces Bruno Grosjean/Doessekker’s search for knowledge
about child survivors of the Holocaust. It provides an overview of the information that
ultimately led to his identification with Jewish children whose lives were affected by the
events of the Holocaust. At the same time, the information gathered below shows what
Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt, Stefanie Zweig and Lore Segal encountered as Jewish
children who did not comply with Hitler’s theories of the perfect child.
1.2 Jewish Childhood and Child Survivors of the Holocaust: Hidden Children and
Children in Exile
As Lynn H. Nicholas remarks in the prologue of her book Cruel Words. The Children
of Europe in the Nazi Web, Hitler early on recognized the importance of children in his
scheme. Citing from Mein Kampf: “The state must declare the child to be the most
precious treasure of the people,” Nicholas comments: “But not all children.” As Hitler
outlined in Mein Kampf, in order to comply with his idea of a precious treasure,
children had to be healthy “Aryans,” free of “hereditary weakness,” and they had to be
properly educated as well. “Those not complying with the first criterion,” Nicholas
continues, “would be eliminated. The rest would be removed from the influence of
family and religion and be inculcated with Nazi ideology.” Nicholas concludes “as a
result of these theories, thousands of children would have experiences no child should
ever have, spend years in wandering and exile, be separated from their families forever,
and die. The process would begin at home.”92
How did Jewish children perceive the first signs of Hitler’s violence against their
people? How did the early measures of Jewish oppression that ultimately led to six
million dead Jews - including 1.5 million dead children - affect a Jewish child’s life?93
At first, Jewish children experienced the Nazi threat mainly through their parents’ eyes.
From one day to the next, their parents would lose their jobs and stay at home. The
children most likely sensed their parents increased frustration, anxiety, and fear. Jewish
Lynn H. Nicholas, Cruel World: The Children of Europe in the Nazi Web (New York: A.A. Knopf,
2005). 6-7.
1.5 million is the number commonly cited as the approximate number of children who died as a
consequence of the Holocaust. See for example the website on the exhibition “Life in Shadows. Hidden
Children and the Holocaust” provided by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
children’s first direct experience of segregation came in the form of expulsion from
state schools. Little by little, they became aware of their “difference” to former
schoolmates and friends. They had to wear the yellow star; they were banned from
parks, playgrounds, pools, movie theaters and other public places. Consequently, Jewish
children became increasingly restricted to their homes. Discrimination, aggressive
threatening, separation and leave-taking became integral to their lives and ultimately led
to the destruction of daily life. Parents became increasingly distraught, neighbors
disappeared overnight, and relatives and friends were deported. Some children also
experienced loss by witnessing the tragic deaths of those who evaded deportation by
committing suicide. Eventually, many children had to leave their homes and found
themselves in ghettos from which they were deported with or without their parents. 1.5
million Jewish children perished following the implementation of Hitler’s Final
Solution. This study focuses on the unknown number of those child survivors who went
into hiding or managed to escape the - often lethal - consequences of war by means of
In her book on child survivors of the Holocaust, psychoanalyst Judith S. Kestenberg
reflects on the experience of hiding (in childhood):
Perhaps the first experience of hiding is the peekaboo game of the infant. […] He controls
both his own disappearance and how long his mother can abandon him. […] By the end of
the first year, a baby develops stranger anxiety. […] She trusts her caretaker will protect
her from harm. When the protector leaves her for too long, she becomes afraid and sad and
loses her zest for life. […] As children grow older, they are taught not to go away with
strangers and to make sure parents know where they are. Still, the hide-and-seek games
continue until adolescence. They become longer and longer, and the aim shifts. The child
does not want to be found quickly, but as a seeker, he wants to find the hidden person as
quickly as he can.94
Judith S. Kestenberg and Ira Brenner, The last witness : the child survivor of the Holocaust, 1st ed.
(Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, 1996). 28.
In Kestenberg’s view, the events and conditions of the Holocaust interrupted and
distorted this progressive developmental process, which ususally ends in the young
adult’s ability to separate without conflict from his or her parents. For Jewish children,
the rules of the familiar game changed dramatically when Hitler came to power. Not only
did they no longer have any control over the course of the game, they were also forced to
violate the rules. As their parents handed them over to more or less trustworthy people,
the children had to go with strangers. Due to their young age, they were not ready to
separate from their parents. Thus, the separation was a conflictual, traumatic experience
that had a devastating impact on the children’s development.
Separation from parents constitutes an untimely and forced end of childhood, as the
child knew it. It can mean that the child has to grow up more quickly or it can mean the
opposite, i.e. that childhood takes on a state that seems eternal. Separations usually take
place with the hope to be reunited but they can also turn out to be permanent and final.
The feelings of guilt among children who spent the war years alone in exile or hiding can
be linked to the fact that they think they survived because they left their parents.
According to psychoanalysts León Grinberg and Rebeca Grinberg, “the one who leaves
dies and so does the one who stays behind. The unconscious association between leaving
and dying is extremely intense.”95
According to historian and exile scholar Wolfgang Benz, the majority of Jews did not
consider leaving necessary in the spring of 1933.96 Until 1939, the National Socialist
government both encouraged and hindered emigration simultaneously. Forcing Jews out
León and Rebeca Grinberg, Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Migration and Exile. (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1989). 67.
Wolfgang Benz, "Emigration as Rescue and Trauma: The Historical Context of the Kindertransport,"
Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 23.1 (2004). 2-3.
of the economy increased their desire to emigrate, but the plundering of Jewish capital
and high taxes, such as the Reichsfluchtsteuer emigration tax, hindered them from doing
so. In addition, the harassment of Jews by the immigration authorities which demanded
proof of available means, professional qualifications, affidavits and guarantors in order to
consider Jews suitable for emigration, made it difficult to act, even if someone had
decided to take the difficult step to emigrate.
As Benz points out, at the time of Hitler’s rise to power, 550,000 Jews lived in
Germany. Only 38,000 left in 1933. In 1934, the number of emigrants came to 23,000,
whereas in 1935 20,000 German Jews emigrated. The Nuremberg Laws, which classified
the Jews as second-class citizens without political rights, caused a small increase
(25,000). During the year of the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936, emigration declined
again. The biggest exodus, amounting to 40,000 emigrants, took place in 1938 following
the Anschluss of Austria, which had a Jewish population of 190,000, and following the
November pogrom in Germany. In 1939, 75,000 to 80,000 Jews managed to emigrate. By
1939 it had become obvious that anti-Jewish policies were being enforced more
aggressively; this became apparent in the violent expulsion of 17,000 Polish Jews, in the
November pogroms and in numerous laws and policies including required registration of
Jewish possessions and the compulsory addition of Sara and Israel as additional
forenames for Jews.97
After the Anschluss and annexation of the Sudeten German regions, the flight of Jews
drew attention from the neighboring countries. Switzerland especially tried to prevent
refugees from entering, while Poland even denied reentry to its own Jewish citizens who
had been living in Germany and Austria. In July 1938, an international conference on the
issue of Jewish emigrants took place near Lake Geneva. Hosted by President Roosevelt
and attended by representatives of 32 states and Jewish organizations, the conference did
not yield an improvement of the situation for Jewish refugees. The pogroms of November
1938 opened the eyes of even those Jews who had previously hesitated, not realizing the
seriousness of the situation. The increased pressure to emigrate at the beginning of 1939
was followed by more and more restrictions that culminated in an official emigration
prohibition in the autumn of 1941.”98
In the beginning, France was the most favored country of exile. Up to 1938, 11,000
Jews fled to Great Britain, and after the November pogrom, another 40,000 found refuge
there. Palestine and the U.S. were also among the most popular destinations for exile.
Because of the restrictive quota system introduced by Britain in Palestine, which it held
under a League of Nations mandate, only a small number of the Jews managed to obtain
visas. The British tried to prevent illegal immigration by all possible means. A quota
system also regulated entry to the U.S.A. In addition, the prospective immigrant had to
provide an affidavit from a U.S. citizen guaranteeing that s/he would not become a
burden to the welfare system. Fewer than 50,000 German Jews found exile in Palestine,
whereas 130,000 came to the U.S.A. Overall, only half of the German Jewish population
succeeded in escaping National Socialist persecution by emigrating.99
Jewish parents increasingly found themselves in a desperate situation: Often, the only
chance to give their children the chance to survive was to separate and to send the
children away. Once the deportations began, underground efforts to hide Jewish families
and children went on in every occupied country. In the Netherlands, student organizations
Benz, "Emigration as Rescue and Trauma: The Historical Context of the Kindertransport." 2-3.
Ibid. 3.
formed the Utrecht Kindercomité, which took Jewish children out of Amsterdam and
organized their hiding with farmer families in the country. Some children were hidden in
attics while others roamed the streets unprotected. Many were caught and deported to the
former refugee camp Westerbork, which had been transformed into a transit camp to the
“East.”100 In France, Jews were kept in the deportation camp Drancy, from which many
very small, unaccompanied children were rescued. Child welfare workers and religious
groups opened group homes, from which they secretly moved the children to the
countryside. According to French organizations there were eventually 6000
unaccompanied children hidden in France.101 In Poland, the Council for Aid to Jews,
known as Zegota, took hundreds of children out of the Warsaw Ghetto through secret
tunnels and placed them in families and convents.102 United Kingdom’s contribution to
the rescue efforts began with The World Movement for the Care of Children from
Germany, which was the response of the British people to the November pogrom of
1938. Representatives went to Germany and Austria to select, process and accompany the
children. The World Movement collaborated with the Inter-Aid Committee for Children
from Germany , the Save the Children Fund, the Quaker German Emergency Committee
and the Jewish Refugee committee. These organizations’ combined efforts resulted in an
operation under which almost 10,000 (mostly) Jewish children were rescued from
Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia to Great Britain. This operation became known as
Lynn H. Nicholas, Cruel World: The Children of Europe in the Nazi Web (New York Knopf, 2005). The
Chapter on hiding children (pp. 352-378) provides general information on the situation of hidden Jewish
children and highlights the particular conditions in the Netherlands, France and Poland. Two other recent
sources which provide a good overview of the situation of Jewish children in Nazi Europe are the
introductory chapter in the dissertation by Amalia Rechtman, "Child Survivors of the Holocaust; Literature,
Trauma, Memory," The City University of New York, 2005. 12-26, and the book by Kerry Blueglass,
Hidden from the Holocaust. Stories of Resilient Children Who Survived and Thrived. Foreword by
Anthony Clare. (Westport and London: Praeger, 2003).
Ibid. 361 and 368.
Ibid. 372-373.
the Kindertransport.103 As Rebekka Göpfert explains in a detailed overview of the
Kindertransport ’s history, by taking in young (mostly Jewish) refugees aged 2-16, the
British government hoped to represent a role model which would encourage other
countries to follow its example:
[…T]he government did not wish to give the impression that Britain had opened its doors
to allow even more refugees to enter the country. It also wanted to avoid encouraging the
German government to carry out further expulsions. The danger of provoking further
persecution and expulsion of the Jewish population by adopting over-liberal refugee
regulations was an argument which was constantly drawn upon both before the outbreak of
war, and also during the war itself, to justify the British asylum policy.104
According to Göpfert “the decision to issue group visas for Jewish children reflected
to a degree this attitude and was, moreover, relatively easy to carry out with the
agreement of the British public.”105 Children aroused sympathy in the majority of the
population and they were not considered a threat to the labor market. In addition, the
children’s stay in the United Kingdom was at first supposed to be temporary. At the time
of their arrival it was believed that they would either return to their home countries at the
end of the war, or would move on to the U.S.A. or Palestine.
The first Kindertransport left Berlin on December 1, 1938 only two weeks after a
Jewish delegation had presented the proposal. 320 children arrived at Harwich on 2
December; when the war broke out 9,354 children had come, of whom 7,482 were
Jewish. Shortly after the arrival of the first Kindertransport, The Refugee Children’s
Movement (RCM) was founded and became responsible for all the children’s needs. In
For general information and a detailed historical overview of the Kindertransport, cf. also Wolfgang
Benz, Claudia Curio, Andrea Hammel and Ilse Aichinger, Die Kindertransporte 1938/39: Rettung und
Integration, Originalausg. ed. (Frankfurt: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 2003)., Rebekka Göpfert, Der
Jüdische Kindertransport. Von Deutschland nach England 1938-39 (Frankfurt am Main;New York:
Campus, 1999)., Chapter 9 and 10 in Amy Zahl Gottlieb, Men of Vision. Anglo-Jewry's Aid to Victims of
the Nazi Regime 1933-1945. (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1998).
Rebekka Göpfert, "Kindertransport: History and Memory," Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of
Jewish Studies 23.1 (2004). 22-23.
Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, Jewish communities spread the news about the
possibility of emigration to Great Britain for children and helped prepare and organize
their departure. Upon their arrival in Great Britain, the young refugees were at first
housed in reception camps, such as Dovercourt (a summer camp for British children).
Göpfert points out that at first, “host parents were allowed to choose ‘their children.’”
However, “this resulted in younger girls finding new homes, while older boys were often
disadvantaged. Because caregivers recognized how humiliating this procedure must be
for the children […] it was changed, and the RCM took over wherever possible the
matching of foster parents and Kinder.”106 Following the outbreak of the Second World
War, many children had to relocate yet again to escape the bombing raids of London. In
addition, those children who had reached the age of 16 found themselves interned as
enemy aliens.
Because the Kindertransport was limited to children and adolescents up to the age of
16, most of them had to leave their parents behind. Only very few “Kinder,” as the now
60-80 year old former child refugees still refer to themselves today, were reunited with
their parents after the end of the war.
From these different rescue operations and the descriptions of circumstances in which
Jewish children found themselves, it becomes clear that the states of hiding and exile
were perceived very differently. The children’s perception of hiding and exile depended
on when they went into hiding and/or left home, why, and at what age, and there were
also differences in terms of actual ostracism or persecution they had suffered and in their
awareness of it. As Kerry Blueglass summarizes:
Ibid. 23.
These children witnessed traumatic events, including beatings or deaths of relatives and
strangers. They were often expected to function in ways that were inappropriate for their
years, smuggling, lying, working like adults, or living like partisans in the forests. They
were in constant fear of impending danger, beyond the degree of apprehension felt by other
children during raids and bombardments. They were required to change identity, religion,
and sometimes to conceal gender.107
In order to “protect” them or because such a conversation would have been too
difficult for the parents, the children were often not told why they had to leave. In many
cases, children believed that they had done something wrong and had therefore been
abandoned by their parents. They blamed themselves for causing their parents problems
and grief, and thus minimized their own pain and loss. They did not understand the
positive motivation behind their parents’ decision to send them away.
Some children were more fortunate than others as far as the countries that accepted
them as refugees, and the people who took them respectively were concerned. Whereas
some families accepted the young refugees into their homes and eventually loved them as
their own, other children were abused as cheap laborers or mistreated in other ways.
No matter how they were treated, all children were deeply affected by the separation
from their familiar surroundings and especially from their parents and the effects of
emigration, exile, and hiding. As children, they perceived their parents’ actions as
abandonment. As adults, they were ashamed to compare their fate with that of
concentration camp survivors. In many people’s eyes, as well as in their own, they did
not deserve to be called Holocaust survivors. After all, they had not experienced the war
where it had taken place. They had survived in relative safety, away from the battlefields
and concentration camps.
Kerry Blueglass, Hidden from the Holocaust. Stories of Resilient Children, 27.
From a series of 35 interviews conducted between 1993-97 with individuals who had
come to Great Britain on the Kindertransport, Rebekka Göpfert deduces that the
“Kinder” find it difficult to this very day “to decide in retrospect what was most
important, having been rescued, having their dignity protected, or having their Jewish
roots respected and nurtured.”108 According to Göpfert, it became clear that these former
child exiles face a “dilemma between gratitude and bitterness” which came to play a
“significant role in their life-stories.”109 Göpfert convincingly argues that the “Kinder”,
similarly to those individuals who survived the Holocaust in hiding, struggle with
different feelings from those who survived the concentration camps:
In the face of the horror of the camps the Kinder are not so readily allowed to grieve over
their experiences and losses. Society and their own consciences seemed to say that only
those who were freed from the extermination camps were real survivors, while nothing
really happened to them because they spent the worst period in the security of Great
Britain, without suffering hunger or pain.110
Göpfert locates this form of survivor guilt in “guilty feelings towards those who were
murdered, but still more in relation to the family and friends who survived the
concentration camps.”111 She points out that reunions for Kindertransport survivors, as
well as for former hiding children took place relatively late, i.e. towards the end of the
1980s, after many concentration camp survivors had already passed away: “One can see
here a coming out from under the shadow of the Auschwitz survivors. Many “Kinder”
were for the first time enabled to articulate for themselves and society that they had also
survived traumatic experiences about which they grieve and must to this day come to
terms.”112 The next subchapter takes a closer look at this “ traumatic experience” of exile
Göpfert, "Kindertransport: History and Memory." 24.
and hiding and presents an overview of early and more recent (childhood) trauma
1.3 Childhood Trauma Research
As Amal Treacher has argued, “childhood seems to be a space, and children objects,
about which many people seem to feel entitled to hold strong opinions based on little
knowledge.”113 “But while assumptions and opinions about it permeate the media and
everyday conversation,” Treacher continues, “childhood remains a marginalized topic
within some theoretical framework.”114 Psychoanalysis and developmental psychology
are considered the two main theoretical frameworks most associated with conceptualizing
children and childhood. Traditionally, as Treacher points out, developmental psychology
has focused on the mechanisms of human functioning - cognition, language and
perception. This approach, however, does not take into account the aspects of fantasy and
emotions. Psychoanalysis, on the other hand, has conventionally prioritized “the
conscious and unconscious structure of subjectivity” and focused on emotion, desire and
fantasy. Treacher concludes: “It is around the issues of forgetting that cognitive
psychology and psychoanalysis meet, for while cognitive psychology argues that the
child can regulate its memories, psychoanalysis argues that the child has to repress
difficult emotions and fantasies.”
This study suggests that cognitive psychology and
psychoanalysis also meet when it comes to the treatment of trauma and the traumatic
memory of children.
Amal Treacher, "Children: Memories, Fantasies and Narratives: From Dilemma to Complexity."
Memory and Methodology. Ed. Susannah Radstone. Oxford and New York: Berg, 2000. 133.
Ibid. 137.
The majority of psychiatrists and psychologists before, during and after the 1930s and
1940s did generally not believe that children had been harmed by the experience of the
Holocaust.116 Paradoxically, children were treated as if they had not been affected by
their Holocaust experiences at all, whereas adult Holocaust survivors were belittled as if
they were children. Thus, the lack of empathy towards children negatively mirrors
Pascale R. Bos’ observation of the inadequate treatment adult Holocaust survivors
received after the war: Traumatized survivors were seen as “damaged goods,” or as
having “regressed” to an “infantile state,” as their trauma was interpreted as the
expression of an earlier neurosis, which they had suffered as children. In Bos’ view, “this
discourse stems in part from the inability of the medical community to grasp the full
psychological or cultural implications of the Holocaust in the first years after the war.
Furthermore, mental health specialists worked from within a Freudian psychoanalytic
paradigm that proved wholly inadequate, and that led to misdiagnose of profound trauma
as rooted in childhood, instead of in the experiences of Nazi persecution.”117
In October 1940 Sigmund Freud’s daughter Anna Freud, a child psychologist, set up a
home for small children in London that took in children who were removed from their
families during the German bombardments of London or whose parents could not care
However, it is interesting to note that research in psychology and psychiatry concerning the child starts
and develops at the turn of the century and is thriving at the beginning of the 1930s. Sigmund Freud’s
psychoanalytical theories are largely based on his interest in his patients’ childhood. Works such as “On
The Sexual Theories Of Children” (1908), “A Child Is Being Beaten” (1919), “Two Lies Told By Children
(1913) or “The Infantile Genital Organization” (1923), to mention only a few examples of his work. No
doubt these early works influenced other psychiatrists’ and psychologists’ research, such as for example
Alfred Adler’s “Lehrbuch” Kindererziehung (1930) or René A. Spitz’ research on the psychology of infants
(conducted from 1935 onwards).
Pascale R. Bos, German-Jewish Literature in the Wake of the Holocaust: Grete Weil, Ruth Klüger, and
the Politics of Address. 7.
for them. All children were considered particularly vulnerable psychologically.118 As Ute
Benz points out, in the 1940s, Anna Freud’s insights on the psychological state of these
children were revolutionary. In one of her reports, Freud writes:
We would never have opened the Hampstead Nurseries, a policy which ran counter to the
government program of that period, nor would we have proclaimed free visiting years
before this became an issue in hospitals, if it had not been for our conviction that
evacuation without the mother and institutional care away from the mother were threats to
the infants’mental health and would lead to serious repercussions. […] We saw the same
sequence: a first stage of the child's loud protest, painful longing and hope, a second stage
of increasing anger and despair; and a third stage, which we called withdrawal and which
we described as characterized by severe regressions, i.e., loss or disturbance of bodily or
mental functions.119
Anna Freud related the childhood rejection reactions she observed to the pain of
separation, fear, and war. However, she left untouched the specific Jewish and political
aspects of National Socialist aggression.
It was Dutch teacher, doctor, and psychoanalyst Hans Keilson, who first devoted
attention specifically to the effects of separation and traumatization among Jewish
children under the political conditions of National Socialist persecution. Keilson’s studies
consider the entire situation of surviving children, both before 1945 and, especially,
afterwards. Keilson thus extended the terminology for psychoanalytical trauma, which
had been limited to Sigmund Freud’s definition of the phenomenon. According to Freud,
trauma described “an experience that makes such a severe impact on the psyche within a
short time that accustomed ways of dealing with or coming to terms with this are
unsuccessful.”120 Keilson applied psychoanalytical working models, such as separation
Ute Benz, "Traumatization through Separation: Loss of Family and Home as Childhood Catastrophes,"
Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 23.1 (2004). 88.
Anna Freud, ""Discussion of John Bowlby's Work on Separation, Grief and Mourning (1958, 1960),"
Anna Freud, Research at the Hampstead Child Therapy Clinic and Other Papers, 1956-65 (London: 1970).
169, cited in Ute Benz, Ibid. 88.
Sigmund Freud, "Die Fixierung an das Trauma, das Unbewusste," Studienausgabe: Vorlesungen zur
Einführung in die Psychoanalyse und Neue Folge [zur Einführung in die Psychoanalyse] (Frankfurt am
Main: 1969). 274. The term “trauma” originates from the Greek word for “injury” or “wound.” It was first
from primary persons of reference, to evaluate the traumatic event.121 In Keilson’s view,
traumatic events suddenly prevent the individual from reacting normally, destroy the
personal context, and destroy integrative capabilities, so that the individual must feel
completely helpless. He differentiated among three additional consecutive sequences of
stresses, showing that it was not enough to observe single traumatic experiences because
these are inevitably part of a sequential traumatization whose postwar consequences far
too often were neglected. The first traumatic sequence corresponds with the onset of the
threatening situation for Jews:
It contained all the fears that begin with the crumbling of legal protection and the wearing
of the yellow star and the ever increasing persecution (culminating in raids and
deportations); the attack on values and the integrity of the family, the destruction of
economic existence, ghettoization, anxiety about future atrocities, the sudden
disappearance of relatives, acquaintances, friends, playmates and classmates.122
The second traumatic sequence contains, “alongside the direct threat to life,
lawlessness, deportation to a hostile environment with constant stress of deprivation,
hunger, illness, the attrition, questioning and destruction of social behavior, confrontation
with brutal power, horror, and death, the sudden interruption and cessation of regular
play, learning and educational possibility.”123 The third sequence involves questions of
life after the war, renewed contact with family members, organizing guardianship, and
accommodations. This phase is marked by questions about processing the confrontation
used in the field of medicine to describe bodily injury, such as with emergency medicine (physical trauma
after an accident) or neurology (traumatic brain injury).
Hans Keilson, Sequentielle Traumatisierung bei Kindern. Deskriptiv-klinische und quantifizierendstatistische Follow-up-Untersuchung zum Schicksal der jüdischen Kriegswaisen in den Niederlanden. – A
clinical and statistical follow-up study on the fate of the Jewish war orphans in the Netherlands. with
Herman R. Sarphatie. Jerusalem 1992.) (Stuttgart: 1979). Cited in Benz, "Traumatization through
Separation: Loss of Family and Home as Childhood Catastrophes." 85-99.
Ibid. 57.
Ibid. 430.
with the Holocaust, reunification with surviving relatives, questions of identity
development and job training, and confrontation with sadness and feelings of loss.
As a result of his research, Keilson pointed to the importance of environment: whether
and how the surrounding society responded in the post-war phase, whether it understood
the renewed stresses on the children and whether or not they received assistance.
Identity, loyalty, and grieving problems of the orphan put significant pressure on the
caregiving milieu after 1945. In order to assess the psychological impact of traumatic
experiences, Keilson suggested certain hypotheses and checked them both clinically and
statistically using the available case studies. The first hypothesis is: “There is a
connection between the age at the start of traumatization and lasting personality
changes.”124 Keilson marks the start of traumatization with the separation of mother and
child and creates three age categories for statistical evaluation (I: up to the age of four; II:
ages 4-10; III: ages 10-18). The term “lasting personality changes” includes three main
diagnoses determined through the follow-up investigation: neurotic character
development, anxiety development, and chronic reactive depression. The second
hypothesis is: “There is a connection between the degree of massive cumulative
traumatization and the gravity of disturbance of psycho-social functioning”125 in
marriage, career, and leisure activity. In other words: “The degree of wartime
traumatization (second traumatic sequence) does not permit any prediction about how the
affected person functioned after the war and in his future life. The measure of
traumatization during the third sequence, however, easily permits this prediction.”126
Thus, according to the third hypothesis, the processing of preceding traumas, which
Ibid. 313.
Ibid. 316.
Ibid. 318.
enables the child to lead a fairly satisfactory life as an adult, depended largely on
circumstances after 1945.
Since Anna Freud’s and Hans Keilson’s pioneer work, other psychologists and
psychiatrists have focused on the phenomenon trauma and its impact on adults and
children. As British counselor Kim Etherington points out, in the last decade “trauma has
been explained and defined in terms of neurology, pathology, psychopathology,
psychology and “events” that cause it.”127 According to Etherington, all ways of
explaining trauma are “culturally and socially constructed and therefore limited by the
socially defined stocks of knowledge available at the time.”128 Consequently, for a long
time, trauma and its symptoms were not clearly defined. At first, much of the research
was based on returning soldiers, who had fought in World Wars II and I. During World
War I, these traumatized men were considered “weak”; some of them were shot as
“deserters” when they attempted to escape from the battlefields in order to avoid the
repetition of trauma. As Etherington points out, today this behavior is classified as
“avoidance,” i.e. one of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. In addition, war is now
officially considered “one of the many traumatic experiences that create ‘traumatic stress’
in some people. When this stress persists after the source of threat has been removed, it
becomes known as post traumatic stress, which may progress over time to produce
symptoms that interfere with a person’s life and become post traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD).”129 In the 1970s, research studying the consequences of traumatic stress was
enhanced by studies on Vietnam veterans who had major difficulties reintegrating into
Kim Etherington, "Trauma, the Body and Transformation," Trauma, the Body and Transformation
ed. Kim Etherington (London and New York: Kingsley, 2003). 22.
Ibid. 23.
their pre-war roles. At the same time, researchers influenced by the women’s movement
responded to the observation of increased severe psychological problems in rape victims
and began research in this area. In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association’s
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) recognized PTSD as a
stress disorder related to trauma for the first time. From this point onwards, “trauma” no
longer referred to the reactions to the event, but to the event itself, whose nature is
traumatic. In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association defined such a traumatic event
as “beyond the scope of normal human experience.” For an event to be traumatic, it had
to be “subjectively perceived as threatening to a person’s life or physical integrity, and
should include a sense of helplessness along with fear, horror, or disgust. Such events
might include being in a car accident, house fire, or natural disaster; being raped; or being
assaulted.”130 Soon it became clear that this definition was too general and that the effects
of trauma had to be seen in the context of a person’s individual perception and history.
DSM-IV introduced a more specific definition in 1994, which involved both a
characterization of the stressor and of the individual’s reaction of. According to DSM-IV
and its sequel edition DSM-IV-TR, the traumatic event has to pose a threat to one’s life
or that of others, involve actual death or serious injury or threaten one’s physical integrity
or that of others. DSM-IV also paid particular attention to trauma induced by sexual
abuse in childhood. In addition, according to this updated definition, trauma now refers to
an event experienced or witnessed by the individual. Most recently, psychologist and
PTSD expert John P. Wilson defined trauma as a condition that is “usually inflicted from
an external source, causes damage, a loss of well-being, and a change in physical or
Ricky Greenwald, ed., Child Trauma Handbook. A Guide for Helping Trauma-Exposed Children and
Adolescents (New York et. al.: Haworth Maltreatment and Trauma Press, 2005). 9.
mental status that is painful, aversive, and may result in a condition of prolonged
traumatization.”131 Individuals experience trauma by “being victimized through sexual or
other violent infringements, experiencing murder and death in war or other (natural)
disasters, finding someone who has committed suicide, or witnessing an automobile
accident.”132 The current definition of PTSD in the DSM-IV manual outlines six criteria,
which must be met at some level for a diagnosis of PTSD. 133
PTSD is observed in adults as well as children who have experienced a traumatic
event. However, as Elin Hordvik points out, for a long time, the common attitude toward
childhood trauma continued to be “forgetting is still the best.”134 Hordvik explains that
children often react differently to the exposure to trauma than adults. For example, after
being exposed to a traumatic event, “children are often active and restless, while adults
tend to be sluggish and move at a slower speed.”135 In addition, “children rapidly
recognize when it is better not to say anything or to not express their emotions. They
sense when adults are unable to bear hearing about the children’s intense feelings and
want to “protect their protectors.” A commonly expressed reaction from traumatized
children is that “I didn’t want to upset them. It would only have made things worse.”
“Children,” as Hordvik concludes, “have a tendency to repress their thoughts and
John P. Wilson, "Introduction and Overview: A Positive Psychology of Trauma and PTSD," The
Posttraumatic Self. Restoring Meaning and Wholeness to Personality, ed. John P. Wilson (New York and
London: Routledge, 2006). 1.
Elin Hordvik, "What is psychological trauma? Methods of Treatment," Childhood and Trauma.
Separation, Abuse, War, ed. Elisabeth Ullmann and Werner Hilweg (Aldershot Ashgate, 1999). 23.
For a detailed discussion of these criteria, see Maggie Schauer, Narrative Exposure Therapy. A ShortTerm Intervention for Traumatic Stress-Disorders after War, Terror, or Torture. 8.
Ibid. 24.
Child psychiatrist Lenore Terr, a key-figure in the field of childhood trauma, has
dedicated her entire career to studying the impact of trauma on children. She defines
childhood trauma as:
The mental result of one sudden, external blow or a series of blows that render the young
person temporarily helpless and break past ordinary coping and defensive operations. All
childhood traumas originate from the outside. None is generated solely within the child’s
own mind. The trauma begins with events outside the child, but once the events take place,
a number of internal changes occur in the child. These changes last.137
Terr considers four characteristics to be particularly important in traumatized children
no matter when one observes the child and no matter what age the child is at the time.
They are strongly visualized or otherwise repeatedly perceived memories, repetitive
behaviors, trauma-specific fears, and changed attitudes about people, aspects of life,
and the future.138
While tactile, positional, or smell memories are common in traumatized children, the
tendency to resee appears to be the strongest of all reperceptions in childhood trauma.
Thus, children sometimes revisualize a traumatic event even when the original experience
was not at all visual. Children tend to see their traumas at leisure, when they are bored
with classes, at night, before falling asleep, while listening to the radio or watching TV.
Children sometimes act out their traumas in what Terr refers to as “posttraumatic play – a
long-lasting, and particularly contagious form of childhood repetitive behavior.” 139
Thirdly, traumatized children often develop trauma-specific fears of specific things that
are related to experiences precipitated by traumatic events. These literal kinds of fear
Lenore C. Terr, "Childhood Traumas. An Outline and Overview," Psychotraumatology. Key Papers and
Core Concepts in Post-Traumatic Stress, eds. Jr. George S. Everly and Jeffrey M. Lating (New York and
London: Plenum Press, 1995). 304.
Ibid. 304-305. My emphasis.
Ibid. 306.
“label the traumatic condition.”140 Fourthly, traumatized children undergo changes of
attitudes about people, life, and the future. As they rethink what happened to them, they
might say: “I live one day at a time,” or “I can’t guess what will happen in my lifetime.”
These utterances reflect the child’s expectation hat more traumas are bound to follow.141
Terr differentiates between three types of childhood trauma. Type I traumas are
linked to a single, intense terror. Type I childhood trauma victims experience full,
detailed, etched-in memories, “omens” (retrospective reworkings, cognitive reappraisals,
turning points; misperceptions and mistimings). Type II traumas are linked to exposure
to more than one traumatic event. While the first event creates surprise, the subsequent
unfolding of horrors creates a sense of anticipation. Children exposed to this type of
trauma employ defenses and coping operations such as repression, dissociation, selfanesthesia, self-hypnosis, identification with the aggressor, and aggression turned against
the self. According to Terr these mechanism often lead to profound character changes in
the child. The third type of childhood trauma, defined by Lenore Terr as Crossover Type
I-Type II occurs when a single psychological shock takes a child’s parent’s life, leaves a
child homeless, handicapped, or disfigured, or causes a child to undergo prolonged
hospitalization and pain. The ongoing stresses tend to push the child towards the changes
characteristic of the Type II childhood traumas. In these cases one often finds features of
both the Type I and the Type II conditions.
To deal with the pain induced by trauma, children may employ self-hypnosis, they
may experience self-revulsion, unremitting guilt and shame, impotent rage at peers who
Ibid. 307.
Ibid. 308.
shun and tease them, and sadness. Finally, some children have been found to associate
their pain with sexuality and to divert themselves from the pain by self-stimulating.
Research suggests that traumatic memory is remembered differently than other
memories. There exist a number of different treatments to help traumatized individuals
cope with their traumas.
1.4 Tracing The Interplay of Trauma, Memory and Fantasy: Remembering and
Narrating Childhood Trauma
During a traumatic event, mainly sensory and perceptual information is stored in memory
during a highly emotional state. The mind and body become extremely aroused (rapid
heartbeat, sweating, trembling) and are set for action, like hiding, fighting, or running
away. This emotional and sensory information is stored separately from the information
related to the content. It is stored in an interconnected neural network from which a socalled “fear-network” is established. The “fear-network” includes sensory, cognitive,
physiological, and emotional experiences, including the action disposition related to the
experience. The sensory-perceptual-emotional representations of the traumatic event have
also been called “hot memory” or situationally accessible memory. Environmental
stimuli (e.g. smell or noise) and internal cues (e.g. a thought) can activate this fear
structure later at any given time. The ignition of only a few elements in the network is
sufficient to activate the whole structure. This is thought to be a “flashback”, i.e. the
feelings as if one is back in the traumatic situation with its sounds, smells, feelings of
fear, response propositions and thoughts. Since the activation of the “fear-network” is a
frightening and painful recollection, many PTSD patients learn to avoid thinking about
any part represented in the “fear-network”, not to talk about it, and to keep away from
persons and places that remind them of the frightening event. Individuals who suffer from
PTDS have difficulties with autobiographical memory (which has also been referred to as
“cold memory” or verbally accessible memory); that is, they are unable to place the fear
of the events appropriately in time and space and to clearly position them in a lifetime
period. This, and the avoidance of activating the “fear-network,” makes it difficult for
PTSD patients to narrate their traumatic experience.142
Cognitive restructuring and exposure therapy are two of the main approaches to treat
individuals who have experienced trauma and suffer from PTSD. While cognitive
restructuring aims at teaching the individual to identify and evaluate dysfunctional
thoughts and behavior, exposure therapy subjects the trauma victim repeatedly to images
or thoughts of the trauma. According to Margie Schauer, “the main goal of PTSD therapy
is to construct a consistent autobiographical representation of the sequence of events
experienced by the individual who suffered a trauma. The act of creating this coherent
narrative enables the patient to be exposed to a sensory image of the events.”143
Following psychologists Meadows and Foa, this “imaginal exposure” relies on visual
images. By telling the story of the trauma, the trauma victim can finally include the
traumatic event in his or her memory structure and consider it part of his or her lifestory.144
Cf. Maggie Schauer, Narrative Exposure Therapy. A Short-Term Intervention for Traumatic StressDisorders after War, Terror, or Torture. 18. Schauer and her colleagues developed the “Narrative Exposure
Therapy (NET)” to treat PTSD in populations of civilians affected by war and torture.
Ibid. 23.
Cf. Elizabeth A. Meadows and Edna B. Foa, "Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Traumatized Adults,"
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Comprehesinve Text, ed. Philip A. Saigh and J. Douglas Bremner
(Needham Heights: Allyn and Bacon, 1999). 376-77.
Another approach to evaluating patients with PTSD is linked to a “positive psychology of
trauma and PTSD” and the idea of transcending the experience of trauma.145 Thus, John P.
Wilson notes that since the beginning of the 21st century, there has been increased interest in
positive psychology, which had first emerged as a school of thought in the 1960s and 1970s. It
became known as The Third Force after behaviorism and psychoanalysis. Wilson refers to
Martin E. Seligman as one of the principal organizers of this new positive psychology
according to whom “the aim of positive psychology is to catalog a change in psychology from
a preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building the best qualities in
life.”146 Consequently, John P. Wilson believes that “it is more important to study the healthy,
self-transcendent survivors of trauma than those most dehumanized by it.”147 Some of the
questions Wilson asks are:
How does the individual engage in a process of change, creating a posttraumatic self, a
reinvented architecture of oneself with a capacity to grow from the horrors and perils of
trauma? How do resilient survivors find the pathways to meaning and wholeness in their
lives? What does the inner world of a healthy and transcendent survivor look like in its rich
tapestry of self-reinvention?148
Wilson points out that while some trauma survivors “remain frozen in time” and
unable to move beyond their trauma experience, “many people bounce back from trauma
and resume the trajectories of their lives.”149 At the center of this process is the concept
of transcendence of self, which Wilson defines as the “cardinal characteristics of the
posttraumatic self in which stages of traumatization, including PTDS, have been
overcome and integrated within a new identity structure as part of the architecture of the
John P Wilson, "Introduction and Overview: A Positive Psychology of Trauma and PTSD." The
Posttraumatic Self. Restoring Meaning and Wholeness to Personality. Ed. John P. Wilson. New York and
London: Routledge, 2006. 144.
Seligman cited in Wilson, Ibid. 4.
Ibid. 5.
self.”150 While Binjamin Wilkomirski portrayed himself successfully as the
“dehumanized version of the survivor,” Goldschmidt, Zweig and Segal appear as selftranscendent survivors of trauma, whose writing serves as a tool to integrate, transform
and transcend their childhood trauma.
Researchers have found that those trauma survivors who successfully integrate their
traumatic experience into their lives are often those who attempt to transform the story of
their trauma into a (written) story. As Richard Pennebaker’s and P. Penn’s studies
suggest, writing stimulates and facilitates the motor and sensory regions of the brain and
helps recover additional fragments of the former trauma.151 Pennebaker points out that it
is not the story itself that is beneficial when telling or writing down one’s trauma account,
but the very process of composition, which combines the exposure to trauma and its
effects together with a cognitive evaluation of the event.
Lenore Terr’s insight in the trauma experience of children is not only vital to this
study as the primary source for childhood trauma-related theory. What makes Terr a
particularly interesting figure is her ability to apply her scientific findings about
childhood trauma to literary texts as well as art.
The traumatic product in and of itself is not art. It takes a genius – someone creative
enough to produce interesting works – to give us the art that expresses a trauma. The
artistic product will reflect the trauma in two ways: in the literal re-creation of the artist’s
experience, and in the establishment of a tone of trauma – of helplessness, confinement,
and panic.”152
In a series of articles, Terr examined the early lives and later works of Edgar Allen
Poe, Edith Wharton, Henri Magritte, Alfred Hitchock, Ingmar Bergman, Stephen King
Ibid. 3.
Cf. P. Penn, "Chronic illness: trauma, language and writing: breaking the silence," Family Process 40.1
(2001). 33-52; and James W. Pennebaker, "Telling Stories: The Health Benefits of Narrative," Literature
and Medicine 19 (2000). 3-18.
Ibid. 546.
and Virginia Woolf. Terr determined that childhood trauma had set a theme for the
subsequent work of these artists. They had not only reenacted childhood traumas
behaviorally throughout their lifetimes, but had also played out their traumas in artistic
works spanning their entire careers.153
Consequently, the main questions at the center of the following chapters, each of
which examines the life-writing of Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt, Stefanie Zweig and
Lore Segal are: How do individuals who experienced the Holocaust as children in hiding
and/or exile remember their childhood and how do they transform their traumatic
childhood memories as writers? What kind of narratives do the authors choose to write
about themselves and their families in exile? How do class, ethnicity, and religious
identity – in other words, the individual’s cultural and social space - impact the
production of these narratives? And finally, what is the interplay of trauma, memory,
emotionality and fantasy that find expression in their texts?
Each subsequent chapter is dedicated to one particular author and begins with the text
passage that denotes the trauma of separation from parents and/or leaving one’s home.
Subsequently, I introduce each author and present his/her approach to writing and
reinventing his/her childhood story. The main themes and topics include the authors’
concept of memory, their use of language and their descriptions of their relationships
with their parents and other people. In addition, I show that all authors’ texts are marked
by a tone of panic, futurelessness, and helplessness. I examine how the texts’ narrative
structure reveals the impact of childhood trauma on the authors’ protagonists’ outlook on
life, their spirituality in general, and their Jewish identity in particular. As far as the
Lenore C. Terr, "Childhood trauma and the Creative Product. A Look at the Early Lives and Later
Works of Poe, Wharton, Magritte, Hitchcock, and Bergman," Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 42 (1987).
fictionality and the narrative strategies of their life-stories are concerned, I discuss
intertextuality, the point of view of the child, change of perspective, and fragmentary
narration as as well as the fact that all authors have repeatedly thematized their traumatic
childhood in writing.
Chapter 2: “Alles erzählen und doch nichts verraten?”: Childhood
Trauma in Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt’s Fictional, Pseudoautobiographical and Autobiographical Life-writing
Alles erzählen und doch nichts verraten.
(Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt’s writing motto in Ein Garten in Deutschland, borrowed from Peter
Handke’s Die Geschichte des Bleistifts)
2.1 Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt’s Childhood Traumas
Und plötzlich setzte sich der Schnellzug langsam in Bewegung, obgleich sich die Breite
des Abteils nicht veränderte. Die Eltern standen draußen auf der hellen Fläche des
Bahnsteigs nebeneinander. Während der Zug langsam und stoßweise anfuhr, traten sie bis
zum anderen Bahnsteigrand zurück, um länger sichtbar zu bleiben. Der Vater trug einen
Filzhut mit breitem, schwarzen Band und einen dunklen Mantel, der gerade an ihm
herabfiel. Die Mutter griff plötzlich mit beiden Händen nach ihrem Hut, um die Nadel, die
ihn festhielt, herauszuziehen, sie nahm ihn ab und drehte den Kopf nach dem Vater um, der
das gleiche tat. Sie hatten die Hüte abgenommen, damit das Kind sie ein letztes Mal so sah,
wie sie waren. Auf dem Bahnsteig, der vor ihnen ganz schmal wurde, wurden sie immer
kleiner. Die dunkelgrüne Wand des Zugs schnitt den Vater als ersten ab, senkrecht, auf
dem äußersten Rand des Bahnsteigs blieb nur noch die Mutter für die Zeit eines Blicks
zurück, dann verschwand sie ebenfalls ganz plötzlich.”154
Thus, the author Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt describes his (nameless protagonist’s)
memory of being separated from his parents in Ein Garten in Deutschland. Yet, the
separation from his parents and his departure into exile are not the only traumatic
experiences to be found in Goldschmidt’s Jewish life-writing. Goldschmidt seems to have
experienced a crossover Type I-Type II trauma consisting of a series of at least four
different blows. The first blow manifested itself in his parents’ and other adults’
prolonged emotionally and pysically abusive treatment. Goldschmidt received frequent
slappings and was subjected to other punishments such as being locked up, being beaten
by his parents and other people in his parents’ presence, having his hands tied to the crib
railings to prevent him from masturbating, and his mother’s hysterical and violent
Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt, Ein Garten in Deutschland. Erzählung, 1. Aufl. ed. (Zürich: Ammann
Verlag, 1988). 181. In the following cited as GD followed by page number.
outbursts whenever she was unable to discipline him. His baby nephew’s sudden death
for which he secretly blamed himself, and finally the ongoing physical and sexual abuse
at the children home in his French exile constitute the other aspects of his childhood
trauma. All these traumas are overshadowed by the major trauma of a child who was
raised as a Protestant German until he suspects that he is Jewish and as a consequence
must leave his parents in order to survive in exile. This major trauma is enhanced and
prolonged by the grief of never seeing his parents again and having lost them as a result
of the Holocaust.
The shock and grief Goldschmidt endured at home and abroad continue to drag on
throughout his childhood. As Lenore Terr points out, in children who experience
Crossover Type I-Type II trauma, mourning does not proceed through its ordinary stages:
“The young trauma victim is reinjured from the inside through prolonged exposure to
sadness and loss.”155 All four characteristics, which Terr considers particularly important
in traumatized children, find expression in Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt’s literary texts.
They depict strong visualized or otherwise repeatedly perceived memories, repetitive
behaviors and changed attitudes about people, aspects of life, and the future. In addition,
Goldschmidt’s texts also describe a traumatized child’s defense and coping operations –
massive denial, repression, dissociation, depersonalization, self-anesthesia, selfhypnosis, identification with the aggressor, and agression turned against the self.156
Furthermore, Goldschmidt’s child protagonist displays the emotions mentioned by Terr
as typical in traumatized children who are affected by type II traumas: He exhibits an
absence of feeling, a sense of rage and unremitting sadness. Finally, and particularly
Ibid. 317.
Ibid. 312.
important in the context of Goldschmidt’s work is Terr’s finding that painful events
during childhood may lead to extreme adult sado-masochistic behavior. As Terr points
out, such children perpetually associate their pain with sexuality.157
Goldschmidt’s protagonist is described as a repeatedly abused child, who employs
massive denial, which develops into “adult narcissistic, antisocial, and avoidant
behaviors.”158 He considers both – being Jewish and masturbation - secrets of which he
is ashamed. At the same time, masturbating and sado-masochistic fantasies become
coping mechanisms that help him divert the sadness and physical pain which he
experiences in exile.
All of Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt’s life-writing is determined by variations of one
and the same story: the turmoil of a man who is facing the trauma of being separated
from his parents as a child, and his attempts to make sense of his ambivalent response to
the abusive treatment he experienced in Germany as well as during his exile years in
2.2 Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt as French/German Author and Translator
In Der unterbrochene Wald Goldschmidt describes the landscapes his nameless
protagonist sees through the train window on his journey back to Germany:
Rückwärts gleichsam, begegnete er Landschaften, die sein Vater gemalt hatte, mit
langsamen Pinselstrichen, vortretend mit gezücktem Werkzeug, zum Prüfen zurückgehend,
ein unaufhörliches Vor und Zurück. [...] Grotesk dieser Mensch im städtischen Aufzug
mitten im Wald, den Hut auf dem Kopf, wie er verkleinert die Landschaft nachzog. Er gab
sie auf der Leinwand wie zerschnitten wieder [...].159
Ibid. 317.
Ibid. 315.
Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt, Der unterbrochene Wald: Erzählung (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1995).
22. In the following cited as UW followed by page number.
Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt’s memories and literary depiction of his father’s
landscape painting techniques resemble his own writing style. Almost all of
Goldschmidt’s texts contain references to his father’s paintings. After the Nazis abruptly
end his career as a lawyer, Dr. Arthur Goldschmidt dedicates more and more time to this
Similarly to his father’s paintings, Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt’s texts prior to the
autobiography are characterized by “ein unaufhörliches Vor und Zurück.” Like his
father’s landscape paintings, Goldschmidt’s early reproductions of his childhood seem
“wie zerschnitten.” In an interview, Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt has even spoken about
“das Sehen, das Bilder zeugt” and referred to himself as “ein Maler mit Worten.”160
In his writing, Goldschmidt also shifts back and forth between languages. As Hermann
Wallmann poignantly states: “Aus der einen Sprache vertrieben, in der anderen Sprache
nicht heimisch, steht er jetzt in und neben beiden Idiomen.”161 As a child, Georges-Arthur
Goldschmidt was forced to block out his native language. From one day to the next,
speaking German would have endangered, or even killed him because it would have
given him away as the enemy - a German Jew in hiding. Suppressing his native language
and learning the languages spoken in the places of his exile (first Italy, then France) was
a necessary prerequisite for his survival.
As a writer, Goldschmidt not only analyzes the linguistic systems of both languages,
he also judges the speakers and educators of each language respectively:
Dazu reden die Franzosen ganz anders mit den Kindern als die Deutschen, ohne jenen
süßlichen langgezogenen Tonfall. Das Deutsche, welches man für die Kinder braucht, wird
Jocks, "Interview mit Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt."
Hermann Wallmann, "Wie ein Buch das andere gibt. Anmerkungen zu Ein Garten in Deutschland und
Die Absonderung," Grenzgänge der Erinnerung. Studien zum Werk von Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt ed.
Wolfgang Asholt (Osnabrück: Secolo, 1999 ). 131.
mit einer Plärrstimme gesprochen, welche die Zärtlichkeit simuliert, es nimmt fast immer
dann einen demonstrativen, verlogen-betulichen Charakter an, der mir immer angst
gemacht hat. Die Leute, die derart mit Kindern reden, können sie auch nebenbei erwürgen,
mir nichts, dir nichts.162
One wonders whether this rather violent image of German as a mendacious language
stems from Goldschmidt’s observations of German parents and children during his visits
of Germany as an adult. The fact that “it has always scared him” indicates, however, that
his negative view is also, if not predominantly, rooted in his own childhood. As will be
shown below, Goldschmidt’s texts provide a number of references to his parents’ rather
problematic pedagogical methods and their uses of German respectively. However,
Goldschmidt’s judgment of the German language is certainly also based on his
encounters with Nazi soldiers during his exile in France. During these encounters, he is
tempted to speak German to them, but at the same time intuitively knows that this might
cost him his life. Consequently, Goldschmidt’s opinion of the German language is a
conflicted one: on the one hand, German stands for everything he lost and longed for as a
child in hiding and exile. On the other hand, German is the language of those responsible
for his loss (the Nazis) as well as that of parents whom he resented for having sent him
away and who did not always treat him lovingly. Finally, German is also the langauge of
his sister’s family who rejected him after the war.
As far as French, the language of his long-term exile is concerned, he credits the other
children at the French boarding home for having taught him “das Wesentlichste des
Französischen, […] de[n] Wortschatz der kindlichen Sexualität.”163 According to
Goldschmidt, sexuality opens all doors to the second language: “Wer nicht seine ersten
Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt. Über die Flüsse. Autobiografie.Zürich: Ammann, 2001. 166. In the
following cited as ÜF, followed by page number.
ÜF, 166.
sexuellen Verwirrungen in einer Zweitsprache erlebt hat, wird jene Sprache
wahrscheinlich nie vom Grund seines Wesens auf beherrschen.”164 For Goldschmidt,
language and sexuality are intricately linked together. As a small child in Germany, he
was not allowed to express himself sexually. His “first sexual confusions” took place in
Germany. He sees his mother naked. His parents and a nurse punish him when they catch
him masturbating. Yet, he never acquires the German “Wortschatz der kindlichen
Sexualität,” because he feels it is taboo and thus expresses something forbidden.
Following Goldschmidt’s own argument, he never acquired German “vom Grund seines
In addition, Goldschmidt claims that he owes France not only his survival but also the
fact that he did not forget his native language: “So ist mir trotz allem, [...] die deutsche
Sprache unversehrt, unberührt, fast wie ein Geschenk erhalten geblieben. [...].”165 Yet,
Goldschmidt’s German does not exactly appear “intact or untouched.” Although his
writing can generally be described as sophisticated, it contains unusual dictions and
occasional incorrect syntactic structures, which remind the reader that the author’s native
language acquisition was abruptly terminated by his parents’ decision to send him into
exile. Goldschmidt’s exposure to abusive treatment began in Germany, long before he
was sent into exile. He thus did not leave Germany “unberührt” and “unversehrt” either –
both his language acquisition and sexual development were affected by the worsening
political conditions for Jews, which no doubt had a devastating impact on his parents and
their parenting, and ended in the traumatic separation of the parents from their child(ren).
Ibid. 167.
Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt. “Osnabrücker Rede,” Grenzgänge der Erinnerung. Studien zum Werk von
Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt. Ed. Wolfgang Asholt (Osnabrück: Secolo, 1999). 22.
Goldschmidt’s repressed developing sexuality also might explain his fascination – or
obsession - with the linguistic and literary differences between German and French in
terms of their approaches to childhood, sexuality, and shame. In his essay Als Freud das
Meer sah Goldschmidt suggests that psychoanalysis is nothing but “eine Frage nach der
Sprache, eine Aufdeckung dessen, was sie (sich) selber verschweigt oder im Gegenteil
hervorhebt, im Gegensatz zu einer anderen Sprache.”166 This statement reflects what the
French language meant for Goldschmidt: It unveiled mysteries and provided (French)
answers to his (German) questions about sexuality. However, Freud’s psychoanalysis is
also interpreted in a larger political and sociological context: According to Goldschmidt,
Freud’s work should be reconsidered as a “Warnruf angesichts der bedrohlichen
Vorzeichen, die damals am Horizont des deutschen Sprachgebiets auftauchten.”167 In his
detailed comparative analysis of French and German words and concepts, Goldschmidt
concludes that Freud attempted to bring up something for which there were no words,
before it was too late, “bevor das in der repressiven deutschen Gesellschaft vom Ende des
19. bis zu den ersten Jahrzehnten unseres Jahrhunderts Unterdrückte sich in Krieg und
absolutes Verbrechen entladen mußte.”168 He argues that Freud
- like Goethe and
Nietzsche - showed “was die Sprache sagen wollte, wenn sie sprach”169:
[D]ie Sprache in ihrem tiefsten Grund zu erkennen, das war wohl die Absicht Freuds und
der Dichter: [...], das, was bei den Dichtern anklingt, zum Klingen zu bringen.. [...] Diese
Wahrheit, in der der Baum des Lebens und der Baum der Erkenntnis ihre gemeinsamen
Wurzeln haben, hat Freud gesucht, damit der Mensch am Ende sei wie das Kind, wenn
nicht unbezähmt, so doch ungreifbar.170
Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt, Als Freud das Meer sah. Freud und die deutsche Sprache., trans. Brigitte
Große, Dritte Auflage ed. (Zürich: Ammann, 1999). 9. In the following cited as FM followed by page
FM, 31.
Ibid. 32.
Ibid. 30.
Ibid. 150-154.
Goldschmid’s life-writing project seems to correspond with Freud’s intention. Like
Freud, Goldschmidt writes in order to capture the language and story of his childhood.
Similarly, Michaela Holdenried has argued in the context of Goldschmidt’s difficult
undertaking of composing his “Kindheitsautobiographie”: “Die eigentliche Textarbeit
besteht darin, dem Geheimnis auf die Spur zu kommen, es zu versprachlichen und es
dennoch partiell in den mythologisch-vorsprachlichen Tiefen der Vergangenheit zu
belassen.”171 In Goldschmidt’s view, both German language and literature frequently
mention the child. He points out that whereas the German word “Kind” is derived from
“Art, Rasse, Geschlecht” and therefore is related to the idea of “Zugehörigkeit, Herkunft,
Abstammung,” the French word “l’enfant,” which is derived from the Latin word
“infans,” translates as “speechless.” From this, Goldschmidt concludes: “Im Deutschen
setzt sich das Kind gewissermaßen in der Sprache fort, im Französischen dagegen ist es
von der Sprache getrennt und abgeschieden, in sein Schweigen eingehüllt.”172 However, a
German child, such as Goldschmidt, who was forced to leave his country of birth because
he was Jewish according to Nazi law (although his family had converted to Protestantism
long before his birth) and who was forbidden to speak his native language, did not
continue but rather ceased to exist. Once in exile, Goldschmidt thus turned into the
speechless French “l’enfant,” until he mastered the language of his long-term exile,
French. The French language then provided him with a terminology for what he had been
doing all along but for which he had had no German words. Thus, masturbation had
become a pain reliever for him long before he left; a coping strategy that helped him deal
Michaela Holdenried, Im Spiegel ein anderer. Erfahrungskrise und Subjektdiskurs im modernen
autobiographischen Roman (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1988). 466.
FM, 142-143.
with the daily bullying at school as well as his parents’ behavior, which he perceived as a
Throughout Als Freud das Meer sah, Goldschmidt convincingly argues that one’s
language background influences how one feels about one’s body. Thus, he points out that
whereas the French expression for “to feel ashamed,”
i.e. “avoir honte” creates a
distance between the exterior and interior shame by the use of the auxiliary “avoir” (to
have), the German expression “sich schämen” is reflexive and therefore involves, in
Goldschmidt’s view, “die ganze Seele”:
Die Scham, germanisch *skem, verdeckt, verhüllt, verbirgt die Scham. Scham heißen
nämlich einerseits die äußeren Geschlechtsteile, die vom Schamhaar bedeckt sind; aber
vor allem ist Scham, wie das Wörterbuch sagt, das Gefühl des Bloßgestelltwerdens, und
aus diesem Gefühl der Blöße erhält das Verb sich schämen seinen ganzen Sinn.173
These different attitudes towards shame are, in Goldschmidt’s view, conveyed best in
the literatures of both languages. Consequently he suggests that French literature rarely
deals with shame. In contrast, he locates an abundance of shame and self-hatred in
German literature:
[...] Seit Luthers Hämorrhoiden liegt den Deutschen ihre Seele besonders schwer im
Magen. Von Adam Bernd über große Schriftsteller wie Jung-Stilling oder Karl Philipp
Moritz bis zu Reinhold Lenz sind Selbstanklage und Selbsthaß immer wiederkehrende
Leitmotive. Kleist, Klinger, Hebbel – lauter zerrissene Seelen, bis heute, bis zu Hermann
Hesse oder Arno Schmidt.174
Goldschmidt’s own texts, which are themselves dominated by self-accusation and selfhatred, may be seen in this literary tradition. However, at the same time his French
background allows the author to address and express these feelings more directly than his
German predecessors. Not surprisingly, Goldschmidt’s emphasis on sexual phantasies are
perceived as provocative. Thus, Hans Ulrich Treichel notes: “Denn natürlich ist der
Ibid. 144.
Ibid. 169.
Verfolgte, dem sein Verfolgtsein zum Anlass lustvoller Unterwerfungsphantasien wird,
eine Provokation.” 175 Goldschmidt’s literary celebration of sado-masochistic practices, and
cruel (self-) punishment must be seen in the context of the interplay between the author’s
problematic early German childhood in which his sexual development was silenced and his
French exile, which taught him the French terminology of child sexuality. In exile,
masturbating and (self-) punishment turned into what will be considered a posttraumatic
behavior that functioned as a coping mechanism for the exiled child.
The choice of language, i.e. whether Goldschmidt writes in French or German, is,
according to the author, dependent on the part of his childhood he “remembers” and
“reinvents.” Thus, his life-writing about his early childhood in Germany is composed in
French, whereas the years in French exile and in hiding have been depicted in German. For
Goldschmidt, writing and translating are two tasks that are strangely connected but also
separated from each other. Thus, he maintained in the epilogue of Ein Garten in
Deutschland that he would have found it impossible to translate the French original of his
own text into German himself: “Hätte der Autor seine Erzählung selbst übersetzt, wäre es
gewesen, wie wenn die Geschichte rückgängig gemacht werden könnte, wie wenn man in
die Vergangenheit zurückspringen und sie ungeschehen machen könnte.”176 Moreover,
Goldschmidt believes that he could not have written a text such as Ein Garten in
Deutschland in his native language due to the experienced past (“erlebten Vergangenheit”)
and the experience of separation from his parents. Only the transfer of this experience into
French, a language in which he had to invent everything without having to relive his
Wolfgang Asholt, Grenzgänge der Erinnerung: Studien zum Werk von Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt
(Osnabrück: Secolo, 1999). 125. My translation.
“Seine eigenen Texte übersetzen?” Vorwort des Verfassers. GD. 184.
childhood again, enabled him to write the book.177 The autobiography Über die Flüsse
constitutes a general shift in the author’s attitude towards his work as a writer and
translator. Although an accomplished French-German translator himself,178 all texts written
prior to the autobiography were translated by other translators.179 In the prologue of Über
die Flüsse, Goldschmidt revises his conception of translating his own texts from one
language into the other:
Möglicherweise weiß doch der Autor am besten, was und wie er es meinte, er versteht den
Text, so wie er ihn im Entstehen in sich fühlte; jedenfalls wenn er das Glück hat,
„zweisprachig” und selbst Übersetzer zu sein, weiß er genau, wie und ob er seinen Text in
der anderen Sprache erkennen würde. 180
From the perspective of the 73-year-old author, the fact that he is bilingual is seen as
“ein Glück.” Prior to the writing and translation of his autobiography, his bilingualism
was considered a prerequisite, a necessity needed in order to write at all. According to
Goldschmidt, Ein Garten in Deutschland showed the “unüberwindliche, endgültige
Trennung von der Heimat.”181 The fact that he was expelled from Germany as a child,
made it impossible for the author to write about this part of his childhood in German. In
other words, his native language was not suitable, perhaps not even available, to produce
memories or phantasies that were created in the language of his German childhood. Only
French, the acquired second language, connected to his liberation and exile, allowed him
to recreate and reenact his German childhood. German, on the other hand, served to
Ibid. My translation and emphasis.
Goldschmidt has translated Goethe, Nietzsche, Stifter, Kafka, Benjamin and Handke into French.
Such as Peter Handke, Jean-Luc Tiesset, Marielle Müller, Brigitte Große or Eugen Helmlé.
“Vorwort.” Über die Flüsse. Autobiografie. Aus dem Französischen übersetzt vom Verfasser. 7. My
“Epilog,” GD. 184.
produce ideas, perceptions, memories and events that took place after his emigration, in
Goldschmidt’s words, “weil da die Übertragung in umgekehrter Richtung stattfindet.”182
Goldschmidt’s reflections on his language acquisition and literary use of both French
and German reveal a basic principle that underlies his work: learning different languages
may cause forgetting of certain aspects of the self. Thus, identity is considered as unfixed
and as subject to constant reinterpretation; the self, constructed by one language is only
one self among an infinite number of possible ones.
However, in Goldschmidt’s autobiography, these different selves of the preceding
texts seem to come together and to reunite. Here, Goldschmidt as author, narrator, and
translator is determined to let the reader know that the protagonist of the earlier texts was
indeed Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt, a former Jewish child in exile and in hiding. In
addition, his own translation of the text appears to be an act of self-empowerment
enriched by a hint of defiance:
Vor allem soll gezeigt werden, daß keiner die Sprache eines anderen bestimmen kann, im
Namen irgendwelcher sogenannter Zugehörigkeit. Jede Sprache gehört jedem. Mir aber
wurde von den Hitlerbarbaren die deutsche Sprache verboten, ich wurde als zehnjähriger
Junge aus ihr verstoßen. Mir wurde bestellt, ich löge, wenn ich ein deutsches Wort in den
Mund nähme, ich sei nicht zum Deutschen berechtigt.183
For Goldschmidt, an author who “sits between two languages, writing is like finding a
way out.”184 By translating his own autobiography, Goldschmidt accomplishes what he
had considered impossible before; he himself (as opposed to another translator) manages
to transfer das “Sehen des Autors” from the source language into the entity of the target
Ibid. 185.
“Prolog,” ÜF. 8.
“Epilog,” GD.186. My translation.
language. He delivers a text in which he is able “to recognize himself while also
remaining free toward himself.”185
2.3 From Fiction to Pseudo-autobiography to Autobiography: Remembering and
Narrating Childhood Trauma in Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt’s Life- Writing
The fact that Goldschmidt is confronting and writing his own life-story is less noticeable
in his early work, which German critics have referred to as “literarische
Autobiographien,”186 “autobiographische Erzählungen,” “Bewusstseinsprotokoll”187 or as
“Autofiktion.”188 German critics generally use the term “Autofiktion” to refer to texts in
which fictional and nonfictional codes are combined through the use of poetic language,
which covers fragments of authenticity relating to biographical fact. This rather
simplified use seems to ignore the French origin and discussion of the term. It was
originally defined by French literary critic and writer Serge Doubrovsky, who shares with
Goldschmidt the experience of hiding during the Holocaust as a child.
More recently,
Ibid. My translation.
Cf. The title of Eva Lezzi, Zerstörte Kindheit: Literarische Autobiographien zur Shoah. Köln: Böhlau,
2001. In the following cited as Lezzi, Zerstörte Kindheit followed by page number.
Holdenried, Im Spiegel ein anderer. Erfahrungskrise und Subjektdiskurs im modernen
autobiographischen Roman. 466.
For example, Chryssoula Kambas notes “Dem autofiktionalen Text geht es um die sich selbst
vergewissernde Authentizität im Blick des Kindes. Er erfasst das Verdrängte – das eigene und das der
anderen.”188 Chryssoula Kambas. “Als Kind verboten werden. Autobiographie und Erinnerung bei
Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt und Saul Friedländer.” Wolfgang Asholt. Ed. Grenzgänge der Erinnerung.
Studien zum Werk von Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt. Osnabrück: secolo, 1999. 81-106.
Cf. Patrick Saveau, "Serge Doubvrosky (22 May 1928-) " Holocaust Novelists. Dictionary of Literary
Biography, ed. Efraim Sicher, vol. 299 (Detroit, New York, San Diego Thomson and Gale, 2004).
70. Patrick Saveau describes Doubrovsky as “a major contributor to the renewal of autobiography in
France since the mid 1970s.”189 According to Saveau, Doubrovsky “explores the elusive divide that
separates autobiography from fiction in a new genre termed “autofiction,” a word he coined to mark off his
writing in Fils from traditional autobiographical writing. On the back cover of Fils Doubrovsky used and
defined the word autofiction for the first time: “Autobiography? No, this privilege is granted to the great
people of this world, on the eve of their life: fiction, from absolutely real facts and events; autofiction
perhaps, from having entrusted the language of an adventure to the adventure of language, with a disregard
for the moderation and syntax of the novel, whether traditional or new.” In Saveau’s view, this definition
expresses Doubrovsky’s “desire […] to give the narrative the feel of fiction and to find a language to make
literary critic Dervila Cooke has arrived at a more refined theoretical definition of
[…A]utofiction mixes events from the author’s life with fiction, combines the conventions
of autobiography with those of fictional writing, and presents the author as both himself
[…] and a fictional character and does this within a single work, thus encouraging
confusion between fiction and autobiographical fact independently of the reader’s
knowledge of other texts or of paratextual information. […] A text with an
autobiographical basis [that] produces an autofictional effect without any other knowledge
on the part of the reader […] has a greater claim to the title of “autofiction” than
autobiographically based texts that seem autofictional due to extratextual information
known only to some readers, or back-cover declarations that vary from edition to edition.190
One might be able to locate some autofictional elements in Goldschmidt’s earlier lifewriting, i.e. the texts written prior to the autobiography. Most noticeable, Goldschmidt
applies a highly poetic language to write about his experiences as a child in hiding and
exile. However, unlike other “autofictional writers,” Goldschmidt has also published his
life story in traditional autobiographical form and thus finally offered a conventional,
seemingly unambiguous story of his life.
All of Goldschmidt’s texts except the autobiography are written from a distant thirdperson perspective, which refers to the protagonist as “the child,” or “the boy.”
Commenting on (Peter Handke’s) autofiction, critic Ingeborg Hoesterey remarks that “the
manipulation of the grammatical person in autobiographical narrative, moving it closer to
autofiction distinct from autobiography.” This language is marked by consonantal writing, which is based
on alliteration, assonance, homonyms, paronyms, antonyms, and anagrams. Finally, Saveau points out
“autofiction allows for processes of participation and identification on the part of the reader that are more
acute than in a traditional autobiography. As one follows the narrative sequence dedicated to the Holocaust
and the author’s life as a young Jew during World War II, one is compelled to feel what Doubrovsky went
through at the time and still goes through when writing about it.”
Dervila Cooke, Present Pasts: Patrick Modiano's (auto)biographical Fictions (Amsterdam; New York:
Rodopi, 2005).176.
fiction, shows an author’s awareness of the constructedness of artistic selfrepresentation.”191
Goldschmidt’s child protagonist is only named in Goldschmidt’s first “Erzählung,”
Ein Garten in Deutschland, where he is twice referred to as “Arthur.” This creates
“autofictional confusion” for the reader, who might wonder whether Goldschmidt is
indeed writing about himself as a child. However, (the first edition of) Ein Garten in
Deutschland also features a family photo of the Goldschmidt family taken before the war
on the cover. In addition, in almost all editions, the publisher’s blurb192 reveals that the
author, narrator and protagonist are one and the same person. Consequently, the reader of
Ein Garten in Deutschland will suspect that the author is mixing autobiographical fact
with fiction. In addition, Goldschmidt reflects in prologues or epilogues on the act and
process of writing. These elements disrupt the fictional mode of the main text body and
encourage an autobiographical reading.193
The publication of Goldschmidt’s autobiography, as the most recent (and to this day
last piece of life-writing) simultaneously confirms and changes how his earlier texts
ought to be read and interpreted. The autobiography does not only determine that the
author, narrator and protagonist of the earlier texts share the same identity. The shift from
the “Roman” Der Spiegeltag to the “Erzählungen” Ein Garten in Deutschland, Der
Ingeborg Hoesterey, "Autofiction: Peter Handke's Trilogy of Try-Outs," The Fiction of the I.
Contemporary Austrian Writers and Autobiography, ed. Nicholas J. Meyerhofer (Riverside: Ariadne Press,
In fact, the biographical information provided by the publisher contains wrong information. It indicates
that the eleven-year old Goldschmidt emigrated to France with his family.
Cooke differentiates between different kinds of readers: the single-text and the multi-text reader, the
paratextually informed reader, the non-paratextually informed reader, and the yard-stick reader, who is
defined as “the single-text, non-paratextually informed reader” by whom she judges the strength of the
autofictionality of a text. While the autobiographical nature of Goldschmidt’s other pseudoautobiographical texts might escape Cooke’s “yard-stick” or single-text reader, multi-text readers especially those who will also have read Goldschmidt’s autobiography - will most likely assume that the
author continuously writes the same story, i.e. his own life-story.193
unterbrochene Wald, Die Absonderung, and Die Aussetzung to the autobiography Über
die Flüsse also elucidates the more artistic mode of life-writing in the earlier texts. In
other words, the autobiography confirms that the author’s earlier texts were indeed about
himself. At the same time, the reader is retrospectively prompted to (re)read the same
texts in autobiographical reading mode. Conversely, the autobiography might also have
the opposite effect and reinforce the reader’s impression that the earlier texts are more
fictional attempts to tell the same story. I suggest that the fragmentary nature of
Goldschmidt’s “Roman” and his “Erzählungen” and their almost complete defiance of
temporal chronology and factual information had to be written first, before the author
embarked on what has often been considered the climax of an author’s “Lebenswerk,” i.e.
his autobiography.
This study will refer to Goldschmidt’s “Erzählungen” as “pseudo-autobiographical”
rather than autofictional texts. This term defines texts in which the author incorporates
parts of his real life into the fiction of his life-writing, but decides to remain anonymous,
which enables him to take certain liberties with the account. I propose that Goldschmidt’s
life-writing project consists of several pseudo-autobiographical, and one autobiographical
texts and that the use of these different sub-genres of life-writing allowed the author to
approach his problematic and traumatic childhood step by step.
A number of critics have analyzed Goldschmidt’s writing in reference to the author’s
childhood traumatization.”194 Generally, these critics have pointed out trauma signs in the
Lezzi, Zerstörte Kindheit: Literarische Autobiographien zur Shoah.; Wolfgang Asholt, Grenzgänge der
Erinnerung: Studien zum Werk von Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt, Mona Körte, "Geschichten von der
Angst. Überlegungen zu Georges-Arthur Goldschmidts "Die Absonderung" und "Die Aussetzung"," Für
ein Kind war das anders. Traumatische Erfahrungen jüdischer Kinder und Jugendlicher im
nationalsozialistischen Deutschland, ed. Barbara Bauer and Waltraud Strickhausen (Berlin: Metropol,
1999). 270-285; Alfred Bodenheimer, "Zur literarischen Jugendautobiographie Georges-Arthur
Goldschmidts.," In der Sprache der Täter. Neue Lektüren deutschsprachiger Nachkriegs- und
texts without explicitly referring to them as such. For example, Michaela Holdenried
notes Goldschmidt’s tendency to visualize his memories, and compares the structure of
Ein Garten in Deutschland to that used in films, or “dem in Standbildern angehaltenen
Film.”195 However, Holdenried does not point out that strong visual memories are signs
of PTSD in traumatized children. Furthermore, Holdenried states that the text appears to
tell itself. She notes that Goldschmidt’s texts lack “eine ordnende Erzählfigur.” Instead
she locates an “epic I,” which is removed from the typical autobiographical mode – the
“authentic I” - and which recollects events from the mid-1930s to the late 1940s.196
Traumatized children do not talk about themselves. Therefore, this anonymous and
distant “epic I” can also be interpreted as a sign of traumatic depersonalization.
Similarly to Holdenried, Martin Rector and Eva Lezzi provide an excellent analysis of
Goldschmidt’s stylistic devices. They mention disassociation and repetition as two of
Goldschmidt’s basic means of narration. However, although both scholars refer to
Goldschmidt’s texts as “traumatic narratives,” they are apparently not aware of the fact
that disassociation and repetition are also actual signs of trauma and PTSD in traumatized
children. In what follows, I expand Holdenried’s, Lezzi´s and Rector’s textual analysis by
defining Goldschmidt’s narrative devices and the actual posttraumatic signs in his texts.
In other words, I will locate trauma signs, emotions, behaviors and coping mechanisms in
Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt’s literary works.
Gegenwartsliteratur., ed. Stephan Braese (Opladen/Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1998). 149-166.;
Barbara Breysach, "Verfolgte Kindheit. Überlegungen zu Ilse Aichingers frühem Roman und GeorgesArthur Goldschmidts autobiographischer Prosa.," Bilder des Holocaust, ed. Köppen/Scherpe (1997). 4761.; Martin Rector, "Frühe Absonderung, später Abschied. Adoleszenz und Faschismus in den
autobiographischen Erzählungen von Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt und Peter Weiss.," Peter Weiss
Jahrbuch 4 (1995). 122-139.
Holdenried, Im Spiegel ein anderer. Erfahrungskrise und Subjektdiskurs im modernen
autobiographischen Roman. 468.
According to Lezzi, disassociation in Goldschmidt’s texts takes place on a number of
levels: “Aufgelöst und in einzelne Aspekte dezentralisiert werden die zeitliche
Chronologie, die räumlichen Koordinaten der Erzählung, die Erzählsperspektive, die
Identität und Körpererfahrung des Protagonisten ebenso wie seine Wahrnehmung von
anderen Personen.”197 Lezzi notes that in all his texts, Goldschmidt chooses one
particular stage in his life, which he then narrates by means of “erzählerischer
Ausdehnung und Raffung, durch Auslassungen und Wiederholungen.”198 Indeed,
Goldschmidt’s pseudo-autobiographical “Erzählungen” are multi-temporal and display a
lack of chronological order. Thus, the plot constantly jumps back and forth from the past
to the anticipated future. Lezzi adds that Goldschmidt’s narrator sometimes also pauses to
focus on certain narrative moments. Thus, second-long moments seem to last forever.
During these moments, the protagonist notes that he does not feel any fear. Time also
comes to a standstill whenever the child experiences physical pain.
There is a third temporal level, which Goldschmidt himself refers to as “zukünftiges
Erinnern.”199 This kind of memory, which is rooted in the past as well as in the present, is
characterized by a fear of the future as experienced by traumatized children. It features in
all texts and refers to instances in which the child is especially aware of himself and of
what is happening to him. It begins early on while the boy is still at home in Germany:
Eines Tages würde es sein. Woher wußte er nur, daß ihn diese Strafe, tränenüberströmt,
mit gefesselten Händen, flehend, nackt, aufwallen lassen würde, daß er stolz darauf wäre,
so stolz, daß er im Wäldchen vor sich selber auf die Knie fiele?200
Lezzi, Zerstörte Kindheit, 285-286.
Ibid. 286.
AB, 135.
GD 144.
In Der unterbrochene Wald, Goldschmidt writes that the child impatiently awaits the
day of departure, “als sei die Zukunft schon da, irgendwo darauf wartend, daß man sich
bei ihr einstelle.”201 This foreboding goes hand in hand with the knowledge that things
will remain the same after he leaves:
Um ihn herum sprach man von Ereignissen, die er nicht erleben würde und ein lauter
Schluchzer zerschnitt ihm plötzlich die Brust; im Juni würde der Wind über die Bäume im
Garten wehen, als wäre er noch da; nichts hätte sich verändert, alles wäre noch wie
For Goldschmidt’s child protagonist, time dissolves as a consequence of loss, pain and
fear, which are three of the basic aspects of childhood trauma. He becomes increasingly
aware of the quality of time when he is told that he has to leave Germany. His ability to
remember seems to be heightened when he realizes that he needs to store irretrievable
moments and places of the familiar environment. From the time of his departure onwards,
he turns into a child who does not seem be aware of the time around him. Rather, he
appears to live separated from time and space. Thus, he is surprised by the changes of the
seasons, by the first snow as well as the beginning of summer. In exile, the present and
past lose their significance. The past is too painful to remember whereas the present is
filled with too much physical pain. The future is marked by a sense of hopelessness:
“Von nun an hatte man zu nichts mehr Zeit. Man würde sich die Orte allzu schnell
ansehen, man würde sich keine Zeit mehr lassen, weil es sich nicht mehr lohnte.”203
Apart from the obvious lack of chronology and the disassociation of time and space,
Goldschmidt also transfers childhood trauma by breaking apart the spatial coordinates in
the text. Thus, he depicts those moments, which the child experiences as threatening from
different perspectives. Lezzi writes: “Aufgrund angstvoller Anspannung rücken fast
UW, 18.
Ibid 164.
GD, 161.
mikroskopisch kleine Teile – etwa die einzelnen Stoffasern der Uniformen der deutschen
Soldaten (Die Absonderung, 171) oder die Hautporen im Gesicht der Anstaltsleiterin (Die
Aussetzung, 159) – in den Vordergrund.”204 In Holdenried’s view, the coordinates of the
text (she specifically refers to Ein Garten in Deutschland), its diagonal and longitudinal
axes, the movements in the familiar spaces of childhood (house, street, attic and garden)
do not only function as a framework for childhood memories, but become part of the
narrative construction themselves. Moreoever, Holdenried argues that the space and time
coordinates become the actual subject, in which the textual events are situated. The
subject of the text (“das Text-Ich”), on the other hand, turns into a blank space.205 In
other words, the child disappears in the text – it depersonalizes and dissolves.
Apart from disassociation, critics have noted repetition and intertextuality as main
narrative devices in Goldschmidt’s texts. Thus, single motives and expressions reappear
within the same book but also beyond the text’s limits, in other texts: “Türme und Züge,
Berge und weite Ebenen, Wind, Türen, Türrahmen, Türflügel, […] das Faszinosum von
Gegensätzen, von innen und außen, vom Verschwinden und Sichtbarkeit, Bleiben und
Fortmüssen, Konstanz und Zerstörung.”206 Lezzi notes that repetition and disassociation
parallel two conflicting but nevertheless complementary text levels: “Einerseits bricht die
Narration in Einzelwahrnehmungen und –phänomene, in dissoziierte Raum- und
Zeitelemente auseinander, andererseits wird sie untergründig gerade durch die
Wiederholung dieser herausgerissenen Aspekte zusammengehalten.”207 Again, Lezzi’s
excellent analysis describes posttraumatic symptoms without expliciting defining them as
Lezzi, Zerstörte Kindheit, 288.
Holdenried, 471-472.
Lezzi, Zerstörte Kindheit, 289.
such. Repetitive and disassociative tendencies are considered two of the main signs of
posttraumatic behavior in traumatized children.
Both disassociation and repetition are also shown as affecting the protagonist’s body.
Whenever the boy feels intense fear, his body or parts of his body dissociate/s. For
example, in Die Absonderung, Goldschmidt writes:
Die Beine nur waren ihm zu kurz geworden, als ginge er auf Stümpfen, er fühlte genau den
Umriß seines Körpers, wie er in der Luft ausgeschnitten sich nach vorne schob; er wurde
gegangen, wie wenn ein anderer es in ihm besorge.208
Lezzi notes that certain elements that describe the body and its reactions reappear in
different texts: Wiederkehrend ist beispielsweise die Vorstellung, daß Scham, Ekel oder
Angst den eigenen Rücken höhlen.”209 The effects of childhood trauma on the body are
particularly described in those texts, which focus on the years in exile, i.e. the two
German “Erzählungen” Die Absonderung and Die Aussetzung. In Lezzi’s view, the body
is not only the center of the boy’s pain and lust, but also “Austauschorgan zwischen
Außenwelt und inneren Vorstellungen, zwischen Vergangenheit und Gegenwart,
Landschaftswahrnehmung und Erinnerung.”210
Finally, disassociation and repetition can be found in the way Goldschmidt depicts
other characters and his protagonist’s attitude towards them. Holdenried points out that
people remain either anonymous and lifeless (particularly the other children in the French
home and the Jews the child encounters in the village) or appear grotesquely contorted.211
The child’s perception of adults is based on their bodies. He is surprised and often feels
disgusted by how much space their bodies occupy:
AB, 173.
Lezzi, Zerstörte Kindheit, 289.
Ibid. 321.
Holdenried, 467. Also see Lezzi, Zerstörte Kindheit, 307.
Es durchzuckte ihn vor Scham, wenn er an jenes Gemänner dachte, mit so viel Körper und
dem kleinen Kopf oben drauf. Schon immer hatte es ihn gewundert, daß so ganz im
Unterschied zu den Kindern, die Erwachsenen so viel Körper brauchten und daß sie
redeten, während das Ganze so unter ihnen mitstand oder mitsaß.212
While some text elements reappear in all texts, each text also foregrounds certain
topics and themes. By looking at each text separately, one finds that there is a progression
of themes, which allows Goldschmidt to eventually write the whole story of his life in the
autobiography Über die Flüsse.
2.3.1 Der Spiegeltag: Literary Influences
Der Spiegeltag, Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt’s first text about his childhood, appeared
originally in French in 1981 as (the “recit”) Le miroir quotidien. Two quotes precede the
book, which was published by Suhrkamp as “Roman” in the following year, in a
translation by Peter Handke. Both quotes depict an individual’s physical reactions to
shame. Thus the passage from A. C. Swinburne from Lesbia Brandon describes a boy’s
behavior and emotions after being caught or while awaiting punishment: “Die Wangen
des Knaben verkrampften sich, und sein ganzer Körper erzitterte vor Scham, während er
irgend etwas vor sich hinmurmelte, dabei kaum die trockenen und aufgesprungenen
Lippen bewegend, und ein bleiches und heißes Gesicht zu Boden gesenkt hielt.” The
second quote is taken from Marcel Béalu’s Journal eines Toten: “Sooft man in meiner
Gegenwart gewisse Wörter ausspricht, nimmt mein Körperumfang derart zu, daß die
Kleidungsstücke an mir auf der Stelle lächerlich werden.” Michaela Holdenried has
called attention to the fact that Goldschmidt’s mottos perform a text-related function. In
Holdenried’s view, the mottos signal “die im Text angestrebte Ausbalancierung von
Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt, Die Aussetzung.Erzählung (Zürich: Ammann, 1996). 98-99.
Fiktionalität und Authentifikation.”213 Thus, the quotes from other texts denote feelings
and behaviors Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt recognizes as his own.
Der Spiegeltag begins with the 25-year old’s awakening in a small attic room located
in the outskirts of Paris:
Wie jedesmal beim Erwachen überwältigte ihn die Angst und schnürte ihm oben den Bauch
zu: ein Punktdruck, mächtig, ohne Leben. Diese Angst war immergleich, beständig,
unerträglich. Man würde ihn ausforschen, ihn bestrafen [...] Überall wäre er auffällig, Erbse
aus dem Märchen, von der Prinzessin bemerkt trotz aller übereinandergeschichteten
Right from the start, one of the dominating themes of Goldschmidt’s work appear in the
text: the (posttraumatic) fear of being discovered, of being punished, and of being
recognized. The reader learns that the young man’s fear is clearly rooted in his childhood:
“Beim Erwachen erinnerte er sich der Kindheit in Deutschland: der unbestimmten Angst,
der Entdeckung seiner Herkunft.”215 The protagonist remembers to have eventually
understood, as a child, that he was guilty of his Jewish heritage. “Von jetzt an würde er
nie mehr von sich lassen; nichts könnte in ihm dieses Geheimnis zerstören.”216 Here,
another leitmotif of Goldschmidt’s work is introduced. The secret is two-dimensional: it
refers to the boy’s Jewishness, which is itself kept a secret from him before he is sent
away. As soon as he suspects that he is Jewish (his parents never seem to discuss the
family’s Jewish heritage openly), he senses that it is vital to keep it a secret from the
Nazis. Consequently, he takes on the secret identity of a hidden and persecuted child in
exile. Finally, there is a link between the secret of being Jewish and the secret of the
Holdenried, 464. Her observation focuses on Goldschmidt’s mottos in Ein Garten in Deutschland, but it
can also be applied to Goldschmidt’s other texts.
Georges-Arthur Golschmidt, Der Spiegeltag. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1982. 9-10. In the
following cited as SP followed by page number.
SP. 11.
boy’s sexual activities. Even before he leaves Germany, he frequently masturbates, a
practice he tries to conceal from his parents, and later on from the staff at the children
home. The boy perceives both being Jewish and the compulsion to masturbate as
shameful, “dirty” secrets. Moreoever, he comes to think that he was sent away as a
punishment not only because he is Jewish but (most of all) because his parents caught
him masturbating.
Like all of Goldschmidt’s pseudo-autobiographical lifewriting, there is neither a coherent
time line nor a plot in Der Spiegeltag, which makes it difficult to summarize the text. The
protagonist’s memories shift back and forth from his childhood in Germany to his exile in
Italy and France and to the time of his return to Germany after the war. The sudden shifts
correspond with the way these visual memories surprise and overwhelm the protagonist:
his childhood returns to him “jäh”217, or, as Goldschmidt writes: “mit einem genauso
weißen Strahl, blitzgleich, kehrte auch die Erinnerung an die Bestrafung in der Jugend
zurück.”218 Elsewhere, Goldschmidt’s protagonist wonders “wie kam es freilich, daß der
Körper immer noch zu gewissen Gebärden bereit war, daß er eher erwartete als sich
erinnerte?”219 Goldschmidt’s protagonist has been traumatized several times as a child;
consequently, he has come to anticipate more disasters.
Another important sign of childhood trauma and its posttraumatic reenactment in the text
is the link between memory, guilt and shame: whether he remembers his childhood in
Germany, the years in exile, or his return to Germany after the war, he feels ashamed
whenever this traumatic memory strikes: “Erinnerung hieß für ihn Beschämung.”220 He
Ibid. 22.
Ibid. 28. My emphasis.
Ibid. 158. My emphasis.
Ibid. 129.
wonders: “Und sein Schuldgefühl, kam es daher, daß er keine Zeit gehabt hatte für die
Kindheit?”221 Clearly, Goldschmidt’s protagonist blames himself for having missed out
on his childhood. Afraid and attracted by these memories, the protagonist decides to visit
his German relatives and the place of his childhood. Goldschmidt refers to this trip as
follows: “Es gibt Reisen, die man besser nicht unternimmt, eine Heimkehr, die nur ein
Als-ob sein kann.”222 After a disappointing reunion and overwhelmed by the feelings of
futurelessness and of not belonging, the protagonist breaks down:
Die weiße Gartentür mit den zugespitzten Latten erschien jetzt gar klein: sie ging ihm kaum
bis zum Bauch. Er versteckte sich, mit den Tränen, die ihm jetzt, zehn Jahre später kamen,
hinter einem Rosenstrauch, der angeblich auch von damals war, und riß büschelweise das
Gras aus. Es gab kein zurück.223
He is overcome by the “reißende Trauer um eine versäumte Kindheit, nie geschlossene
Freundschaften, heimliche Pfade, an deren Ende alles hätte möglich sein können.”224 He
feels overwhelmed by his relatives’ expectations: “Es ging darum, ein paar Nachmittage
lang aufleben zu lassen, was nie erlebt worden war.”225 He senses that they do not believe
that his fate during the war was as bad, or even worse than their own. He feels ashamed
and displays the rage typical of childhood trauma, when they reprimand him like a child:
Und man sagte ihm, dem schon lange “Großjährigen”: Du, nimm nicht zuviel [...] Dieses Du
aus der Kindheit vernahm er mit dem ganzen Körper [...] Mordlust erfaßte ihn. Da stand er in
der Küche, umgestülpt, entblößt: jemand, der einen “Nachschlag” wollte. Nur noch ein Töten
Ibid. 57.
Ibid. 52.
Ibid. 47.
war denkbar, und die Hände fühlten schon das Eisengewicht. Was hatten diese Deutschen
vom Krieg begriffen?226
However, guilt is not only conveyed to the protagonist by his relatives. Self-blaming
and feelings of guilt and shame for having survived and for being alive, are intricate parts
of his traumatized psyche before and after his return. Thus, another theme of Der
Spiegeltag is the protagonist’s wish to remain unnoticed, to disassociate: “Das Grauen er
selbst zu sein, war so stark, daß er den Kopf zwischen beide Beine nahm.”227 He
repeatedly tries to identify with people he sees in public, and especially with characters in
the books he reads.
Der Spiegeltag contains a number of references to several Grimm’s fairy tales, which
the protagonist stumbles upon when opening the edition he bought at a train station in
Germany. Whenever he opens the fairy tales, “enthoben ihn die so einfachen und so
geheimnisvollen drei Worte ‘Es war einmal …’ in ein Land, in dem er seit je gelebt
hatte. Er hörte das Blätterwerk dort rauschen, und er kannte alle Wälder alle Paläste am
Ende der Pfade.”228 He reads these fairy tales “to overcome his own anxiety”229 and to
reconnect with this childhood fears. At the same time, these less well-known tales also
seem to incite his childhood traumas. “Das Laster,” “Die Hand mit dem Messer,” “Das
eigensinnige Kind,” and “Wie Kinder Schlachtens miteinander gespielt haben” depict
children who are not being loved by their parents, but abused, punished, neglected and
killed. The little prince in “Das Laster” reminds the protagonist of himself as a child. The
prince is spoilt and refuses to sleep in the same room twice until one day, he opens a door
Ibid. 144. My emphasis.
Ibid. 130.
Ibid. 162-163.
Ibid. 95. My translation.
and falls into a well. The prince’s screaming, as he falls down the well, never stops and
so the king and his court are forced to leave the castle. “The one who sees,” Goldschmidt
writes after reiterating “Das Laster,” is the guilty one – “der Sitz des Lasters, das waren
die Augen.”230 As an adult, Goldschmidt’s protagonist thrives to remain invisible while
he watches other people. He desperately wants to be another. At the same time, he is
ashamed of watching other people.
He also recognizes himself while reading the tale “Das eigensinnige Kind,” in which a
child is so stubborn and never obeys his mother that God sends an illness upon it. Soon
the child dies, but when they bury it, its little arm continually reaches out of the grave.
Finally, the mother walks to the grave and beats the child with a hazelrod, “und wie sie
das getan hatte, zog es sich hinein, und das Kind hatte nun erst Ruhe unter der Erde.”231
In later texts, Goldschmidt will repeatedly describe his protagonist as a difficult,
stubborn, evil child who simultaneously fears, fantasizes about, and yearns to be
punished. While reading the fairy tale “Die Hand mit dem Messer,” the protagonist feels
another hot flash of recognition. In this fairy tale, a mother favors her three sons over her
daughter whom she sends out to cut peat with a dull knife. The little girl has a lover, an
elf, who lives in a rock. Everytime the girl walks by, the elf hands her a sharp knife,
which helps her work much more efficiently. Because she returns home sooner and
happier than usual, the mother suspects that somebody is helping the girl. So she prompts
her sons to follow their sister. The brothers take the knife from the elf and cut his hand
off. From this day onwards, the elf, who believes that the girl betrayed him, disappears
and never helps the girl again.
Ibid. 57.
Ibid. 96.
Reading the fairy tales helps Goldschmidt’s protagonist recognize that he is innocent
after all: “Es hatte also schon die Vorwegnahme gegeben: auf diese Weise verband sich
der Abend von einst mit dem Abend von jetzt. Er stand auf und zeigte die Hände vor:
man konnte ihm nichts vorwerfen.”232
A fourth story has a similar effect: In “Wie Kinder Schlachtens miteinander gespielt
haben,” a group of children play butcher and kill a child, who plays the pig. The child
who performed the killing must appear in front of the townspeople who decide over his
fate. A wise man suggests to show the child a beautiful red apple and a coin and to make
him choose between them. The child takes the apple and is found innocent. “Jede Scham
fiel von ihm ab. Auch er hätte den Apfel genommen,”233 Goldschmidt writes about his
protagonist’s relief after reading the tale.
Apart from these fairy tales, there are other texts mentioned as particularly important
to the protagonist. One of them is Karl Philipp Moritz’ Anton Reiser.234 Once again, the
protagonist identifies with the main character whose story reminds him of his own:
Anton Reiser, ‘von der Wiege an’ unterdrückt, [...] ist ein Heranwachsender, der aus
christlicher Nächstenliebe gekleidet und genährt wird [...] Überzeugt ein Ausgewählter zu
sein, der zu Außerordentlichem bestimmt sei, erlebt er eine Demütigung nach der anderen.
Unaufhörlich zurückgestoßen (oder es sich auch bloß einbildend), ständig in einem Maße
verletzt, [...], lebt Anton Reiser in einem Wechsel von Verzweiflung und Überschwang,
woran das Dauerhafte einzig der Wechsel ist.235
Like Anton Reiser, Goldschmidt’s protagonist feels rejected by his parents. His
mother’s cousin pays for his stay at the Catholic boarding home where he experiences
humiliation and abuse. On the other hand, the extremely sensitive child is torn between
Ibid. 59-60.
Ibid. 164.
It is apparently also important to the author. Goldschmidt has published an essay on Anton Reiser:
Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt, "Die beflügelte Wahrnehmung des Leidens. Zu Karl Philipp Moritz Roman
Anton Reiser.," Text und Kritik.118/119 (1993). He has also included Anton Reiser in the essay Der
bestrafte Narziss.
SP, 110-111.
feelings of insecurity and overconfidence. Like Reiser, Goldschmidt’s protagonist
displays narcissistic as well as masochistic tendencies: he both despises and relishes his
status as a servant, while dreaming of a successful career as an artist. The tension
between his lack of confidence and self-pity on the one hand, and the exaggerated belief
in his talents on the other, is also reflected in his identification with Friedrich Hölderlin:
“Die verdichtete und doch einfache Sprache seines Werks würde verglichen werden mit
dem Deutsch Hölderlins. […] Hätte nicht auch er der Bursche Hölderlin sein können?”236
Other literary characters who remind Goldschmidt’s protagonist of himself are A. C.
Swinburne’s Herbert Szeton, Walter Lunsforder, and Reginald Harewood who, like him,
experience physical abuse in the British boy’s school Eton.237
To sum up, in his first piece of life-writing, Goldschmidt takes inventory and produces
an exposition of his traumatic childhood and its consequences. His protagonist, who
repeatedly emphasizes his childlike status as a 25-year-old orphan238, revisits his German
childhood not only by going there, but also by reading fairy tales composed to educate
(and scare) German children. In addition, he identifies with young protagonists and their
creators who experienced similar ordeals like himself. Der Spiegeltag depicts childhood
trauma by reenacting the memory and sense of futurelessness as well as the feelings of
fear, shame, guilt, and rage of a previously traumatized child. At the same time,
Goldschmidt’s first text, which emphasizes on the adult’s problems, sets the tone for the
subsequent texts, in which he will explore certain aspects of his childhood more closely.
Ibid. 142-143.
In his essay Der bestrafte Narziss (1990), Goldschmidt remarks that there is a tradition of writing about
abused children and expands his list of “ins tiefste Unglück gestürzte Kinder” by adding examples of
German literature by Adam Bernd, Jung-Stilling, Hermann Hesse, Leopold von Wiese and Franz
SP, 21.
Finally, the emphasis on literary texts by other authors in Der Spiegeltag and their impact
on the protagonist, as discussed above, suggests that this literature also played an
important role in inspiring Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt to deal with his own childhood
trauma in writing.
2.3.2 Ein Garten in Deutschland: Early Traumatization in Germany
The author’s second piece of life-writing, published in French as the “récit” Un Jardin en
Allemagne in 1986, appeared in German translation as Goldschmidt’s first “Erzählung”
in 1988. Goldschmidt’s writing motto for all of his life-writing, “Alles über sich erzählen
und doch nichts verraten” (borrowed from Peter Handke’s Die Geschichte des Bleistifts),
precedes the text. A family photograph depicting the Goldschmidt family in their garden
was chosen as the cover for the first edition. Ein Garten in Deutschland is the only text
apart from the autobiography, which mentions the author by name.
Once again told from a third-person perspective, Ein Garten in Deutschland consists of
three parts, separated by quotes taken from Karl Philip Moritz’ Anton Reiser and Franz
Kafka’s Hochzeitsvorbereitungen auf dem Lande. The first quote refers to Anton Reiser’s
perception of his environment, the streets and houses that constitute the only stable things
in his life; the Kafka quote anticipates Goldschmidt’s protagonist’s emotions upon
leaving his parents behind at the train station: “Der Zug fuhr an, verschwand wie eine
lange Schiebetür und hinter den Pappeln jenseits der Gleise war die Masse der Gegend,
daß es den Atem störte.”239
In this text, Goldschmidt focuses on the first ten years of his life at home in Germany.
It ends with the separation from his parents and the farewell scene on the train station.
The text depicts the child’s fears and experiences of abandonment as well as his self239
GD, 153.
accusatory reasoning of why his parents will send him away. This reasoning is informed
by the forbidden idea of nudity and the boy’s increased awareness of his own sexuality.
One of the first instances in the text that indicate a repressed childhood attitude towards
nudity is the boy’s reaction to seeing his mother naked in front of a mirror:
Er hatte sie gesehen, aber noch nicht begriffen; sie war nackt: er wußte nicht, daß seine
Mutter nackt sein konnte, daß sie soviel Körper besitzen konnte; seine Augen waren zur
schwarzen Dichte des Zentrums gegangen: gelocktes Roßhaar. Sein Rückgrat wurde hohl
vor Ekel.240
His mother’s objection to her husband’s painting of nude males enhances her son’s
confusion and fascination with nudeness and sexuality. “Ich will keine nackten Männer in
meinem Haus!,”241 he overhears one of her hysterical outburst. During the long afternoon
naps his mother forces him to take, the child is so bored that he begins to explore his own
body. At a physical examination, he receives beatings from a deaconess who sees his
erection and consequently calls him “ekelhafter Bengel, kleine Drecksau, dann nach
kurzem Schweigen, du kleiner … kleiner Dreckjude.”242 Eva Lezzi has referred to this
episode as the “traumatische Urszene” in Goldschmidt’s life. From this moment on, he
links his Jewishness with his sexuality and perceives both as shameful secrets.
His worried parents take him to a doctor who examines his genitals and informs them
in front of their son: “Ein ganz böser Junge ist er auf jeden Fall.”243 The same night, his
parents try to tie his hands to the bed railing. Curiously, as the autobiography reveals, the
nine or ten-year old still sleeps in a crib:
Plötzlich standen sie beide an seinem Bett, und mit einer einzigen Bewegung – sie hatten
sie sicherlich vorher geübt, der Arzt hatte ihnen gesagt, wie sie sich zu verhalten hätten –
nahm jeder eine seiner Hände und versuchte, sie in ein Lederfutteral zu stecken – so, dass
Ibid. 15-16.
GD, 18.
Ibid. 44. Cf. Lezzi, Zerstörte Kindheit, 316.
Ibid. 47.
noch etwas Bewegungsfreiheit blieb, wie bei Hunden – das am Bettrand mit einer kleinen
Kette festgemacht war.244
Goldschmidt’s protagonist reacts with rage, which leads him to destroy everything
he can reach. Later, when everything is calm, he overhears his parents’ arguing and
the repeated word “fummeln”, which defines what he is doing to himself in a negative
way. More and more, nudity, arousal, shame, guilt, and punishment become the
defining and interconnected themes and conditions of his childhood.
In addition to their repressed attitude towards sexuality, the parents also exhibit a
very odd behavior when it comes to disciplining their son. While his mother forbids
her husband to beat the child (“Dieses Kind rührst du mir nicht an!”245), she herself
frequently slaps him:
Vor ihm, wie mit etwas anderem beschäftigt, trällert die Mutter ein Lied, während sie
weiter ohrfeigt – immer ist es Mozart, lebhaft und heiter mit Begleitung von
Lippengeräuschen. Dann die Ellbogen vor dem Kopf, lief sie von einem Zimmer zum
andern, man sah sie dabei im Profil, und schrie: ich habe mein Kind geschlagen, ich habe
mein Kind geschlagen.246
The boy is also beaten by other people, for example by the gardener to whom his
father takes him and where he joins others to watch his son’s beating. Arthur feels
humiliated and is – once again - overcome with rage:
Der Haß brach aus ihm heraus, ergoß sich: zerstören, auf seinem Knie zerbrechen, daß die
Knochen krachten. Er begann seinen Vater anzuschreien: Saujude, Fickjude, Drecksau,
Judensau. Beleidigungen, von denen er sich erinnerte, sie schon einmal gehört zu haben,
und von denen er im gleichen Augenblick, in dem er sie hinausschrie, fragte, woher er sie
Arthur’s first encounters with anti-semitism do not take place at home. Rather, his
parents apparently try to keep the fact that the family is Jewish according to the
GD, 47-48.
Ibid. 67.
Ibid. 57-58.
Ibid. 52.
Nuremberg Laws a secret as long as possible. In the autobiography, Goldschmidt writes
that his parents often spoke English or whispered in the company of their children.
Retrospectively, he assumes that they were discussing their status as outlawed Jews and
the impact of Nazi measurements on the family life. However, Arthur also feels that he is
different by the way the pastor looks at him at church, by the way he is treated by the
students in school (his classmates call him antisemitic names: “Sag es doch, daß du so ein
Dreckjude bist, sagten sie zu ihm […]”) and some townspeople deny him the things they
offer to the other children.
In order to calm her son, his mother finally takes him to the North Sea where she
leaves him in a children’s home. Arthur interprets his mother’s departure as a betrayal.
He lashes out in anger and hurts another child. Again, he is punished, but this time, the
punisher also threatens him: “ Du wirst noch einmal in der Erziehungsanstalt enden.”248
This announcement does not particularly affect Arthur. However, he connects his lack of
response to the memory of his nephew: “Als sein kleiner Neffe gestorben war, hatte er
auch nichts empfunden, und dabei war er die Ursache seines Todes.”249 While
entertaining the baby, Arthur had put a plastic ring around his own neck. Moments later,
the nephew had been found dead, the plastic ring was lying next to him. “Da er nicht
weinen mußte, hatte er Angst bekommen, man könne ihn verdächtigen.”250 Here, the
narrator interrupts to interject: “Fünfundvierzig Jahre später ist alles noch deutlich und
intakt. Alles ist wie damals, das Licht, die Beschaffenheit des Reifens und der gierige
Blick auf diesen kleinen Toten, der er gern gewesen wäre um stolz darauf sein zu können,
Ibid. 58.
Ibid. 59.
tot zu sein.”251 This guilt-complex in connection to the baby’s death will be mentioned
repeatedly in Goldschmidt’s work. The autobiography reveals that
decades later,
Goldschmidt approached his sister to confess what he had done. According to Über die
Flüsse, his remorse was met with ridicule and laughter. Thus, his sister could not believe
that he had blamed himself for the death of her child.
The remainder of Ein Garten in Deutschland is marked by the protagonist’s increased
awareness that his parents are planning to send him away. While his mother spends time
at a sanatorium, Arthur is taken to his former nanny in Hamburg and afterwards to Frau
Mannel, a sexually frustrated and violent woman who explains to him the secrets of the
passion flower and introduces him to the idea of being hit with the hazel rod. Once again,
this punishment is connected to Arthur’s behavior while he is naked: embarrassed by her
sexual innuendos, he refuses to be washed by Frau Mannel. As a consequence of this
experience, he adds the hazel rod to the inventory of his submissive sexual fantasies.
At school, he is blamed by the other students for something he has not done and, as a
consequence, receives beatings from the principal. He also watches older boys being hit
on their bare bottoms. Finally, he acts out his fantasies by secretly watching an older boy,
Hans-Joachim, while the latter is being beaten by his father. Alone with Hans-Joachim,
he asks him to beat him as well:
Plötzlich war seine Stimme aus ihm herausgekommen, ohne daß er überhaupt merkte, daß
er Worte formulierte: “Gib mir auch eine Tracht Prügel.” Mit steifen, gebrochenen und
doch geschmeidigen Bewegungen, die nicht zu ihm zu gehören schienen, rückter er näher
zu Hans-Joachim, der plötzlich seinen Kopf packte, und ihn an sich drückte. Er war
eingeschlossen in eine dunkle, sanfte Nacht, in der er vielleicht schon immer gewesen war:
eine Nacht, die sich warm den Umrissen seines Gesichts anschmiegte. Über sich spürte er
die Bewegungen Hans-Joachims als seien es die eigenen.252
Ibid. 141.
Of course these sexual epsiodes and fantasies are kept secret from his parents. At
home, Arthur witnesses his parents’ increasing fear and confusion:
Eine undeutliche Angst hatte sich bereits in dem großen Haus breitgemacht Sie sanken
jeden Tag etwas mehr in sich hinein und zuckten jedesmal zusammen, wenn es klingelte.
Sie hatten keinen Platz und keine Zeit mehr für sich selber. Sie schlossen keine Tür mehr
ab und wenn sie eine Schublade aufzogen, vergaßen sie, sie wieder zuzuschieben, sie blieb
offen. [...] Ein Kleiderbügel schaukelte in einem offenen Schrank. Und ihm kam der
Gedanke: vielleicht waren auch sie Juden!253
At this point, Arthur no longer goes to school. He sees the suitcases being moved from
the attic. While his departure is coming closer, he wonders why he is being sent away. He
concludes that it must be a punishment for having seen his mother naked, for having
stared at and fantasized about the paintings of nude people in his father’s books, for
causing his nephew’s death and most of all for having masturbated.
The last chapter of Ein Garten in Deutschland begins with the depiction of the last day
at home: “Zu diesem letzten Tag kehrt alles unaufhörlich zurück. [...] Dieser letzte Tag
hat noch nicht aufgehört: ein Morgen, über dem alle Morgen aufgehen.”254
Goldschmidt, it is “a day without terror,” but the“light, time, smell and noise” perceived
that day have remained with him among the daily smells, lights and noises since.255 Here
the narrator stops for a moment to give an example of how the visual
childhood memory impacts the adult protagonist’s perception. While waiting at an
intersection, he observes hitchhikers with signs around their necks that indicate their
destinations. All of a sudden he knows “- man hatte es immer gewußt - daß sie es
genauso machen wie der Jude. Der Jude auf dem Naziplakat, das er Jahre später
abgebildet gesehen hatte und das ihm alles erklärt hatte.”256 The poster shows a Jewish
Ibid. 158.
Ibid. 173.
Ibid. My translation.
Ibid. 174.
man with a sign around his neck announcing that he sleeps with German women. The
woman besides him also wears a sign, which reads: “Ich bin am Ort das größte Schwein
und lass mich nur mit Juden ein.”257 In Goldschmidt’s/Arthur’s view, the poster does not
reproduce the fear felt by the people shown in it. The fear is invisible, like his own fear.
He concludes that he is guilty as the people in the picture:
Auf diese Weise ist also auch er schuldig. Er hatte es immer gewußt: Er mußte das
Elternhaus verlassen wegen eines Verbrechens, das in ihm war, und dessentwegen man ihn
sechs oder sieben Jahre später bestrafen würde; mit den Händen auf den Boden schlagend,
seine Kleider über die Knöcheln verwickelt, würde er heulen, vom Feuer des Schmerzes
durchbohrt, den um ihn herumstehenden Zuschauern ausgeliefert, die ihm genügend Platz
ließen, damit er vor Schmerz um sich treten, mit dem Kopf auf den Boden hämmern
konnte, aus lauter Verzweiflung, er selber zu sein, von neuem vorgenommen, von neuem
bestraft, atemlos, mit weit geöffnetem, nach Luft schnappendem Mund, seinen Haß
umkehrend und den Tode der verschollenen Eltern wünschend, während er mit den
Fingernägeln den Fußboden zerkratzte. Die Erinnerung durfte nicht zurückkehren, dieser
von ferne gekommene Schmerz durfte die Brust nicht noch einmal durchbohren. Da war
dieser kleine Tod der Züchtigung in jedem Fall noch besser.258
Thus, this last passage contains a description of Arthur’s way of coping with the
trauma of losing his childhood home and his parents as well as images of the punishment
that he will receive in his French exile. His coping mechanisms, as described in the text,
shows posttraumatic signs of disassociation, denial, impotent rage, unremitting guilt and
shame, and sadness. He exhibits relative indifference to pain and fails at acknowledging
his feelings:
Er hatte Übung bekommen und ließ die Erinnerung nur noch in kurzen Bildern in sich
hochsteigen, die jedoch, damit er überleben konnte, sogleich erlöschen und verschwinden
mußten. Nach der Züchtigung, wenn der Körper brannte und die Verzweiflung zu mächtig
war, um noch größer zu werden, konnte er die Erinnerung an diese letzten Tage in der
Heimat zurückkehren lassen, die sein Gedächtnis nie verließen.259
The child finds it easier to bear the violent treatment than to think of his parents and
the day he saw them for the last time. Right before he had to leave, his parents had told
Ibid. 176.
Ibid. 176-177.
Ibid. 177-178.
him that Hitler wanted him to die and that he was going abroad to be safe and happy. The
parents would follow later. With the exception of the Nazi-poster, Ein Garten in
Deutschland does not contain any other direct Holocaust references. The Holocaust and
its impact on the child protagonist in exile will be expanded in Goldschmidt’s next
pseudo-autobiographical text, Der unterbrochene Wald.
2.3.3 Der unterbrochene Wald: The Holocaust and Survivor Guilt
Peter Handke translated Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt’s next “Erzählung,” Der
unterbrochene Wald (1992), which originally appeared as La Forêt interrompue in 1991.
This text was written around the same time as Goldschmidt’s first German original text,
Die Absonderung. Both narratives focus on the exile experience of the protagonist in the
earlier texts. Der unterbrochene Wald is characterized by an even greater lack of
chronological order than the other texts. Klaus Bonn describes this narrative structuring
as follows: “Wer den Wald metaphorisch auf die Erzählung selber wendet, wird im Falle
des Forêt interrompue von einem durchbrochenen Textwald reden können, einem
zerfurchten Gebilde sich überlagernder, kreuzender Erinnerungsschichten.”260 Thus, the
forest is not only the physical place where Goldschmid’s protagonist runs and hides from
the Nazis, but also a metaphor for the impenetrable memories which strike the
protagonist by surprise. Places and themes of the previous texts reappear in Der
unterbrochene Wald. The farewell at the trainstation in Hamburg is only briefly
mentioned at the beginning. As in Der Spiegeltag, Goldschmidt’s narrator recounts the
disappointing return to Germany and reveals more about the children’s home in France,
the farmers who hid him from the Germans, as well as the orphanage near Paris. In many
Ibid. 13.
ways, this text, like the first - Der Spiegeltag - is an exposition of childhood experience.
However, this time Goldschmidt does not primarily focus on his early childhood in
Germany. Rather, he approaches the years in exile and hiding before dedicating his last
two pseudo-autobiographical texts specifically to those years.
More than any other text, Der unterbrochene Wald
features references to the
Holocaust. Thus, the protagonist’s journey to Germany after the war does not only
refresh memories of his own train journey into exile as a child. In a subtle way, the text
also brings the transport of Jews to concentration camps to the protagonist’s (and the
reader’s) conscience: “Da stand er, auf der Fahrt durch die Landschaft in dieser
länglichen Schachtel, welche sich fortbewegte. Er war da INHALT. Und das alles war
fabriziert worden zum Transport von Körpern, sitzenden, stehenden oder gegen die
Richtung des Zugs sich bewegenden.”261 The reduction and simultaneous reification of
Holocaust victims to “contents” of trains are inscribed in this passage. A few pages later,
the protagonist remembers that as a child in exile, he had been able to recognize Jews on
the spot:
Man erkannte die Juden auf der Stelle. Sie wandten sich ohne Unterlaß um, warteten einer
auf den andern und stiegen jeweils sehr früh ab zum Dorf. Im Dorf gingen sie schnell, mit
starrem Blick, großen Augen, die in sich hineinschauten, so als vermieden sie diese
Ferienlandschaft, welche ihnen verboten war, in die man sie wie zum Hohn gesteckt hatte,
[...] die sie sich nicht einprägen mochten, um in der Folge nicht gar zu leiden.262
Although his own existence as a hidden Jewish child in exile does not differ much
from the Jews he encounters – like them, he had to escape and since then lives a
threatened existance - Goldschmidt’s protagonist considers himself fortunate whenever
he leaves the town behind to climb up the hill to the children home. However, the
UW, 23.
Ibid. 32-33.
children home is by no means a happy place where the boy takes a vacation. In many
ways, his existence during these years may be perceived as a mockery (just like the time
the Jews spend in the village before they are deported to the camps), as he is confronted
with a disturbing
mix of sex and violence. Ironically,
as far as his sexuality is
concerned, he experiences exactly what his parents had wanted him not to experience.
The narrator recalls to have seen photographs of Holocaust victims and concentration
camps. These photos are displayed in newspapers and on the walls in the small French
village: “das längliche Gebäude, ebenerdig […] ein Gleis, völlig gerade, läuft darauf zu.
[…] Vielleicht waren die Leute auf dem Lastwagen da eingetreten, mit ihren Gesten, mit
ihren Fischgrätenmänteln, ihren Mappen, so wie sie auf der Straße gewesen waren, jetzt
da sie sterben sollten.”263
Later on, the boy witnesses the public humiliation of a woman. She is dragged to an
open space in the village. Surrounded by the village people, she is tied to a chair and
somebody shaves her head. Appalled by what he sees, the boy runs away: “Er floh, kehrte
um, wußte nicht, was tun. Verzweiflung und Grauen leerten gleichsam sein Inneres, und
zugleich verharrte sein Blick auf dem Gesicht, wie um in sich einzusaugen, was er
wahrnahm, dabei aber er selbst zu bleiben.”264 A few days earlier, he had been
congratulated by the townspeople for having survived. Now he feels guilty because he
does nothing to stop the woman’s public humiliation: “Hätte er sich eingemischt, er wäre
zu ihr hingelassen worden. [...] er hätte die Masse durchquert, hätte die Frau an der Hand
genommen, und die Geschichte wäre eine andre geworden. Es war anders gekommen,
Ibid. 34.
Ibid. 165-66.
weil er sie nicht an der Hand nahm.”265 This episode proves to the boy that everything he
has seen on the photos displayed in newspapers and on the walls, is true. Being
confronted with the humiliation of another intensifies his survivor guilt. Later on, he will
also feel ashamed of regretting to learn that his father has survived Theresienstadt. He
does not want to imagine his father’s humiliation. He rather imagines him dead.
A complicated train of thought marks the end of Der unterbrochene Wald. During a
walk in a park in Paris, the narrator describes how a small house that he sees on the
horizon, reminds him of an excerpt of a Flemish painting that had been glued to the
flyleaf of a book he once owned. The poplars in the painting are similar to the trees he
has seen in another photo. The main portion of that photo is dominated by the backsides
of two boys. Both boys are grasping the fence behind which two women are standing.
The taller boy touches his mother’s face through the fence: “Wenn auf dem Photo auch
nur die Haare, ein Auge und ein Mundwinkel zu sehen sind: es ist klar, sie weint.
Darunter die Legende: Kinder des Ghettos von Lodz beim Abtransport in die Lager. Das
todgeweihte Kind hätte ebenso auch er sein können, hätte er sein sollen [...]”266 Der
unterbrochene Wald thus reveals that the child in exile has developed a sense of
survivor’s guilt that will continue to shape Goldschmidt’s life-writing. His next two texts,
the two German “Erzählungen”, explore the conditions of the child’s survival as well as
their effect on the boy’s body and psyche.
Ibid. 166-68.
2.3.4 Die Absonderung: The Body and (Sado-)Masochistic Fantasies
The first of Goldschmidt’s German “Erzählungen” was published in 1991.267
Goldschmidt’s narrative strategy of disassociation has now also become the title. Die
Absonderung refers to the traumatic process which takes place on several levels before
and during his ten years of exile. The first three levels of disassociation are imposed on
the boy from the outside. There is the separation from his parents, as addressed in most
detailed form in Ein Garten in Deutschland. Secondly, his Jewishness, which the boy
perceives as one of the main, yet unclear, reasons why he had to leave. The third
disassociation is the boy’s isolated status in the children’s home. At first, he feels
separated due to language problems and the fact that, unlike the other children at the
home, he is considered a German Jew. These “Absonderungen” are forced upon the child
from the outside. Consequently, and typically of a traumatized child, the boy goes on to
show more and more disassociative tendencies that become increasingly self-imposed.
In the center of these self-inflicted disassociations is the child’s body. Even before he
leaves Germany, he equals the guilt of being Jewish with that of masturbation. Being
Jewish is like masturbating: a taboo and a secret sin. Martin Rector thus differentiates
between the “sinnliche Absonderung von Elternhaus und Heimat” and the
“schuldbesetzte innere Absonderung als Jude und Onanist.”268 In exile, these disturbing
and cumbering guilt complexes gain momentum and cause the boy to spin out of control.
He repeatedly assures himself that the reason why he had to leave was because he had
masturbated. Eva Lezzi argues that by accusing himself of a sexual deed, Goldschmidt
takes up the antisemitic cliché of the hypersexual Jew. Yet, the protagonist’s body cannot
It appeared in French translation as La Ligne de fuite in 1994.
Rector, "Frühe Absonderung, später Abschied. Adoleszenz und Faschismus in den autobiographischen
Erzählungen von Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt und Peter Weiss.." 129.
maintain this cliché. In Die Absonderung, the boy’s body is displayed as non-Jewish, i.e.
he is not circumcized which becomes clear in the following text passage: “Ganz langsam
ließ er die Finger die Vorhaut hinauf- und hinuntergleiten, bis er sich vor Wollust
To Mona Körte, it almost seems as though the experience of exile is added as a new
organ to the child’s body, “der in jeder seiner Verrichtungen die Erfahrung erinnert.”270
In other words, the word “Absonderung” does not only describe the boy’s social status as
an outsider, it also refers to secretions released from the body, i.e. tears (caused by
homesickness), urine (shortly after learning that his mother has died, he starts to wet his
bed), and finally sperm (released during his nightly activities).271 The child’s body is
exposed to food deprivation and severe physical pain. He does not get the same amount
of food as the children of wealthier parents who pay more for their children’s stay. Food
is also withheld from him as a form of punishment. In addition, he is frequently beaten
and humiliated by both the adults and the children at the home. The other boys at the
home quickly recognize the boy’s shyness and weakness. They mock him as a girl and
force him to wear a donkey’s head to show his inferiority. They also relegate him to clean
their shoes and serve them food. Finally, their aggressive behavior towards him shows
violent and sadomasochistic tendencies. The adults at the home do nothing to stop this
harmful development. Instead, they enforce the child’s humiliation even more. For
example, after wetting his bed, he is sent to the balcony where he has to sit with the bed
sheet over his head, so that tourists, who walk by can see him. Moreover, the director of
AB, 139. Cf. Lezzi’s analysis in Zerstörte Kindheit, 320.
Körte, "Geschichten von der Angst. Überlegungen zu Georges-Arthur Goldschmidts "Die Absonderung"
und "Die Aussetzung"." 273.
Cf. Klaus Bonn, Zur Topik von Haus, Garten, Wald und Meer - Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt
(Bielefeld: Aisthesis, 2003). 9-10.
the home as well as the workers abuse him sexually. The boy himself perceives this
abusive treatment as the deserved punishment for his sinful heritage and behavior: “So
steigert sich im Heim, das ihn in Sicherheit bringen sollte, sein mitgebrachter diffuser
Abstrafung und Demütigung. Zugleich verbindet sich nun sein seelischer HeimwehSchmerz mit den Qualen körperlicher Züchtigung und Folterung.”272 Living through all
this humiliation helps the child to disassociate from his first traumatic experience, i.e. the
loss of his parents, his home, and his language. The meaning of physical punishment and
pain becomes especially evident after the boy learns that his mother has died:
Bloß nicht das Weinen, das einen wie von unten anfiel, an sich heranlassen, es abschütteln,
laut schreien, sich den Kopf gegen Stühle schlagen. Er wünschte sich die Strafe herbei, mit
der Haselgerte gezüchtigt zu werden, sich unter der Rute zu winden, zu brüllen, zu
While he initially bears the physical and psychological torture in order to make
himself immune against his ”Heimweh,” he soon develops the ability to detach himself
while being tortured and to thus separate his “Bewusstseins-Ich” from his “KörperIch”.274 Inspired by the martyrs he saw in his father’s books at home and the servant role
he takes on in the children’s home, the child begins to feel elevated by the torture and
humiliation. He comes to yearn for it and to “enjoy” the attention he receives during the
beating “rituals.” Eventually, the punishment is arranged on a weekly basis, every Friday.
He has to venture out to pick and prepare a hazel rod. The beatings often take place in
front of the other children. Afterwards, he has to kiss the rod and the supervisor’s hand.
In Rector’s view, this torture and humiliation initially make the boy feel stronger. Soon,
Martin Rector, “Frühe Absonderung, später Abschied, ” 131.
AB, 97.
Martin Rector, “Frühe Absonderung, später Abschied, ” 132.
the child’s masochism turns into sado-masochism as he begins to fantasize about
torturing his tormentor: “Er stellte sich ihre Schädel vor, wie sie unter ihren
Schuhabsätzen barsten.”275 Rector emphasizes that the fact that this reversal of roles
remains a fantasy is rooted in the explicit sexual component of Goldschmidt’s
masochism. In Rector’s words, this sexual component is “der Kern des Skandalons, das
sich Goldschmidt […] buchstäblich vom Leibe schreibt. Denn immer schließt sich an die
körperliche Selbstauslieferung des Knaben an seine sadistische Peiniger seine sexuelle
Selbstauslieferung an, die Demütigung zugleich steigernd und heimlich versüßend. ”276 In
the context of trauma reenaction, one might add that Goldschmidt’s repeatedly imagined
violence towards others and his sadomasochistic fantasies are also the literary outcome of
his traumatization as a child.
Finally, the child’s survival also “disassociates” him from his family and the
millions of Jews who are killed in concentration camps. His dissociation in the French
children’s home, and later his hiding place on the farms results in his successful escape
from the Nazis. The last two pages of Die Absonderung describe the boy’s escape route
from the children’s home to the first farm and his hiding place in the barn. Surrounded
by cows, he feels “eine noch nie erlebte Geborgenheit.”277 He feels as though he has
dissolved completely. Thus he notes that he has become invisible – in this state, he no
longer has to deal with the fear to be discovered. However, the relief of being safe is
negatively charged and overshadowed by thoughts of his father whom he imagines lost
in foreign forests in snow-covered plains.
Ibid. 133.
AB, 178.
2.3.5 Die Aussetzung: Dissolved Body and Liberation
Goldschmidt’s second German “Erzählung” appeared in 1996 and has to this date (2007)
not yet been translated into French. Die Aussetzung continues to tell the story of the - by
now 16-year-old - protagonist’s exile. Klaus Bonn argues that the protagonist’s state of
isolation is increased even more in this text than in Die Absonderung:
Ausgesetzt vom Kinderheim ins Hinterland der Megève, der deutschen Miliz wegen.
Ausgesetzt vom Bauernhof, der vor den Deuschen als nicht länger gesichert gilt.
Ausgesetzt erneut vom Kinderheim, in das der Jugendliche, hilflos, zurückgekehrt ist, um
schließlich bei einem weiteren Bauern schützende Unterkunft zu erhalten.278
The protagonist must leave the children’s home to escape from the Nazis who have
begun to look for hidden Jews. Prior to his departure, the director has to explain to him
why he has to leave:
Er sei Jude, wurde ihm gesagt, ob er das denn nicht wüßte, und da er aus tiefer
Überzeugung verneinte, dafür schallend geohrfeigt wurde, wieder einmal ein schon so
großer Junge, hatte er laut aufgeheult, vom Selbstmitleid erfüllt und so vehement beteuert,
daß ihm doch Glaube geschenkt wurde. Er hatte in sich hineingehorcht und es hatte ihn
gewundert, so etwas in sich zu haben, vom dem er nichts wußte und nichts fühlte, es war
etwas, was den anderen nicht vorgeworfen wurde, und hatte sofort verstanden, es war das,
was er abend im Bett machte, das war es, das Jude-Sein: Das Schlimme.279
Although the boy’s presentiment of being Jewish and his linking of this shameful
identity to the other shameful secret – masturbation – has been thematized in all previous
texts, Goldschmidt’s last “Erzählung,” Die Aussetzung, depicts his protagonist as –
surprisingly - ignorant of his identity. Again, the boy tries to make sense of his Jewish
identity by linking it with his sexuality and the shameful secret of masturbation of which
he feels ashamed. However, this explanation does not correspond with the reality around
him. Several times, Goldschmidt mentions that the other boys at the home masturbate as
well, and that particularly the older boys take the protagonist to the attic to experiment
Bonn, Zur Topik von Haus, Garten, Wald und Meer - Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt. 13.
Goldschmidt, Die Aussetzung.Erzählung. 13-14. In the following cited as AU and page number.
with him. Consequently, the protagonist’s equation of his Jewishness with his
masturbation habits does not make sense, except in the logic of the traumatized child.
After leaving the children’s home, the boy spends nine months with a farmer’s family
on their remote farm until they ask him to leave because it becomes too dangerous for
them to hide him. Goldschmidt’s protagonist’s walk from the farmer’s house back to the
children’s home spans over 120 pages (almost half of the book). Eva Lezzi notes that this
narrative expansion (“Ausdehnung”) corresponds with the protagonist’s intense fear to be
caught by the Nazis.280 Even more than in Die Absonderung, Goldschmidt focuses on the
effects of exile and hiding and the fear on the child’s body. In this last pseudoautobiographical text, the boy’s body seems at times to dissolve completely. At first, his
fear loosens for the first time; as opposed to the children’s home where his punishments
included standing in the cold and being deprived of food, he is surrounded by warmth and
gets enough to eat: “Allmählich ließ das Anspannen aller Muskeln des Körpers nach. Die
Gipskluft, in der er sonst eingeschlossen war, bröckelte von ihm ab. Es war ihm, als hätte
man ihm sein Korsett aufgeschnürt und er könne nun frei atmen. Hier wußte man nichts
von ihm.”281 On the other hand, he does not trust what he perceives as a momentary state
of safety. Thus, together with his fear, his body dissolves as well. For example, he avoids
to be alone with the farmer’s daughters and stops masturbating: “Er schaute sie kaum an,
damit man ihn später nicht anklagen könne, er habe sich an ihnen vergehen wollen. Die
Töchter des Bauern durften nicht wissen, daß er einen Körper hatte, er durfte auch keinen
haben.”282 He is disgusted when he observes the farmer and catches a glimpse of his
penis: “Und jetzt stand er da vor dem Bauer und ihm dröhnte es im Kopf: er hatte es da
Lezzi, Zerstörte Kindheit, 286. My translation.
AU 24.
AU 23 and 41.
hängen. [...E]r versuchte sich die Ohren zuzustopfen, um nichts von der Nacktheit der
Erwachsenen zu hören.”283 Although, the boy tries not to think about anything sexual, he
frequently finds himself in sexually charged situations. For example, he observes the
insemination of a cow. More than any other narrative, Die Aussetzung mentions (dying)
animals: “eine kalbend kranke Kuh, eine tollwütige Katze, der der Kopf abgehackt wird,
ein zu schlachtendes Schwein, auch ein die Kuh bespringender Bulle, das erigierte
Fortpflanzungsorgan eines Pferdes.”284 The protagonist seems to identify with these
animals. Like theirs, his is a threatened, maddening and controlled existence. Like an
animal, he feels “ausgesetzt.” The identification with animals becomes particulary
apparent later in the text. While imagining where he would hide, the protagonist notes:
“Im Kriechen kannte er sich aus, das Tierhafte hatte er sich schon angelernt und jedes
noch so kleine Versteck in Gedanken schon erprobt.”285
His fear of being caught by German soldiers who are looking for hidden Jews returns
when the farmer asks him to leave. Whereas he felt as though he did no longer have a
body, he becomes aware of it again while walking back to the children’s home – the only
place he has to return. At the same time, his memories of the abuse he suffered there
reemerges. The boy differentiates between different kinds of fear. There is the “kleine
Angst vor dem Linealknien, den Ohrfeigen oder den eiskalten Duschen und besonders
vor den scharfen Rutenzüchtigungen.” He also remembers the shame imposed on him by
the director of the home, who frequently threatened him: “Eigentlich sollte ich mich nicht
um Sie kümmern, Sie sind doch ein kleiner Deutscher und die Deutschen halten
Ibid. 54-55.
Ibid. 167.
Frankreich besetzt.”286 Since then, the protagonist realizes, “hatte er mit sich selber Angst
gespielt, das machte ihn wieder interessant.”287 The physical abuse had become a
“Zeichen des Bleibendürfens, solange man ihn strafte, behielt man ihn.”288 Thus, the boy
engages in what Lenore Terr has called “posttraumatic play,” a major sign of childhood
traumatization. On the other hand, there is “[d]ie andere Angst [...] vor dem
Abgeholtwerden: [...] sie lag im ganzen Körper, engte ihn ein: Dunkles, Niedriges würde
ihn erdrücken, von innen fraß sie ihm den Leib auf.”289 On the way back to the home, he
suddenly feels a new fear: “Es stach eine neue Angst in ihn hinein: vielleicht würde man
ihn gar nicht wieder annehmen und er würde keine Unterkunft finden.”290 His fear is
justified - the director considers it too dangerous to hide to keep him in the home and
sends him to another farmhouse. The protagonist has to walk through the village where
he encounters and passes four Nazi soldiers. When he finally arrives at the farmhouse,
once again, his fear diminishes. When he learns that the war is about to end, the fear of
being discovered is replaced by a hesitant “zukünftige Freude.” On the final walk back to
the children’s home, he hears church bells. Thus, Die Aussetzung ends most positively of
all pseudo-autobiographical texts:
Es war ein Klang, wie man ihn in Sonntagsgärten hörte, bei dem man sich weite
Horzizonte vorstellte, ein Klang, der den Körper erleichterte und beschwingte, er reichte
von Kirchturm zu Kirchturm, es war, als sei man selber ganz aus diesen Tönen gebildet.
Lange läuteten die Glocken über dem Tal die Befreiung in ganz Savoyen ein.291
Ibid. 94-95.
Ibid. 95. My emphasis.
Ibid. 131.
Ibid. 134-135.
AU, 237-238.
2.3.6 Über die Flüsse : Defictionalization and Judgment of Parents
Über die Flüsse consists of twenty chapters, which tell the author’s life story in
chronological order. The first, rather short, nine chapters deal with Goldschmidt’s
childhood until the departure to Italy. Chapters 10-15 describe the time spent in Italy and
France. The last four chapters chronicle Goldschmidt’s life and career after the war.
German childhood (142 pages), exile (130) and post-war life (90) are given almost equal
In the autobiography, author, narrator and translator are clearly one and the same
person. Whereas Goldschmidt, the author and narrator of the “Erzählungen” had
remained at a distance, he has a much stronger presence in his autobiography.
Goldschmidt’s autobiographical tone is lighter, at times humorous in the depiction of
people and situations. He seems to even surprise himself; for example when he comments
on a particular text passage in a footnote: “Hier wird der Übersetzer bissig, der Autor war
es keineswegs.”292
Consequently, the pseudo-autobiographical “Erzählungen” and the autobiography
thrive for a different kind of authenticity. Whereas the “Erzählungen” were told from a
distant third person perspective, the autobiography is written from the first-person
perspective of the 73-year-old author.293 In addition, Über die Flüsse contains references
to where the author mentioned certain events and circumstances in other texts, and
provides the factual, historical background information that is missing in the
ÜF, 57.
This change in perspective is supported by the photograph on the cover, which shows the elderly author
and the dedication of the book to Goldschmidt’s grandchildren: “Für Thomas, Camille und Maxime dieses
Porträt ihres Großvaters.” Goldschmidt also dedicated Der unterbrochene Wald to Thomas. However, here,
Thomas is not explictly referred to as his grandson. Instead the dedication reads: “Für Thomas, für später,”
and thus points to the future. Like his grandson, the author himself seems, at this point, not ready yet to
confront his life as directly as he will be in the autobiography.
“Erzählungen.” In other words, the autobiography formulates the historical context and
commentary by providing dates as well as names and descriptions of people and places. It
mentions what had previously been left out and brings the repressed to the surface by
naming what had remained unnamed in the preceding pseudo-autobiographical texts.
Throughout Über die Flüsse, Goldschmidt uses formulas such as “Ich erinnere mich
noch sehr gut,” (36) “daran erinnere ich mich noch heute,” (49), “Eine meiner
Kindheitserinnerungen” (50), or “Ich erfinde nichts, meine Erinnerung ist da besonders
deutlich ... ” (196) that are completely absent from the previous texts. Thus, the author
emphasizes that what he writes are his own memories and that the person he writes about
is indeed himself. The autobiographical text “defictionalizes” the protagonist of the
earlier texts by explicitly attributing the childhood to the author Georges-Arthur
Goldschmidt. Defictionalization is also accomplished by the author’s closer look at the
historical and personal circumstances that determined the conditions of his childhood. It
becomes evident in the chapters that deal specifically with Goldschmidt’s upbringing and
his parents that the author must have done a great deal of genealogy research.
In true autobiographical fashion, Über die Flüsse begins with a detailed overview of
the author’s family genealogy. The first chapter, entitled “Die Herkunft” starts with the
description of two portraits, which are displayed in the author’s apartment in Paris where,
as he writes, his wife was born and where he has lived for the past 40 years. The portraits
depict Goldschmidt’s great-great grandparents and are part of the small heritage he
received from the family’s estate. This first paragraph alone seems to reveal more
personal information about the author than all previous texts together. It situates the
author in a place (Paris) and in the present in which he writes and from which he looks
back at his own and his family’s past. At the same time, this personal information also
sheds a different light on the previously published texts. The Victorian/Weimarian
prudery exhibited by his own parents, the life circumstances of the German-Jewish
bourgoisie, the much strived for but ultimately failed integration and assimilation of
German Jews, and finally the status and treatment of children in this family who lived, in
Goldschmidt’s own words, similarly to Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrocks – all these factors
fill the gaps left in the other texts.
In the autobiography, Goldschmidt takes a different approach to judging his family
than in the pseudo-autobiographical texts:
Meine Familie, die sich ihrer Herkunft so schämte, war überangepaßt [...] Die sexuelle
Verdrängung war ganz besonders vehement, da doch alles Sexuelle für das damalige
Bürgertum das Böse an sich war. Das war der Grund, weshalb meine Mutter sich derart
Sorgen darüber machte. Zum Glück wußte sie nichts von den masochistischen
Begleitbildern. Alles war da vorhanden, was aus dieser Familie die idealste Kundschaft für
einen Psychiater gemacht hätte.294
In contrast to the previous texts, which focused on the shame of the child, the
autobiography describes the whole family as being ashamed of their (Jewish) heritage. In
addition, Goldschmidt mentions his parents’, especially his mother’s repressed attitude
towards sexuality, which became a second source of shame for him as a child. Thus,
Goldschmidt evaluates his family in retrospect, and at times takes on the role of a
psychiatrist himself.295 Defictionalization does not only affect the way Goldschmidt
presents himself, but also plays a role in his depiction of his family.
ÜF, 90.
For example, the author remembers that he was unable to eat honey for fifty years. When his wife
convinces him to try it, he is overcome by the memory of his mother who forced him to eat honey when he
was a child. Goldschmidt comments: “Es ist seit diesem Tag, daß ich keinen Honig mehr essen konnte, es
handelt sich bestimmt um eine sogenannte Deckerinnerung, in welcher der Honig nur einen Konflikt mit
meiner Mutter überdeckt und welche sich im Honig kristallisiert.” ÜF, 86-87.
According to John D. Barbour, “one of the most significant ethical dimensions of lifewriting is the writer’s evaluation of his or her parents.”296 Barbour argues that life-writing
is often undertaken based on the author’s “desire to forgive a parent.”297 He rejects that
judgment is the antithesis of forgiveness and suggests instead a relation between
judgment and an “unsentimental conception of forgiveness that does not undercut the
importance of moral judgment.”298 In this context, it is also noteworthy to mention
Christian theologian Marjorie Suchocki’s interpretation of “forgiveness as memory in the
mode of self-transcendance.”299 In Suchocki’s view, this kind of memory, which she calls
“transformative memory” does not entail “forgetting but reckoning fully with the past
while one searches for a new future; transformative memory is that remembrance of the
past as past, opening one to a new present. It can allow the past to be the past, for the
sake of well-being.”300
Goldschmidt’s recollections and depictions of his childhood and his parents in Über
die Flüsse can be interpreted as products of this kind of “transformative memory.” In
addition, and especially when it comes to the judgment of his parents, Marianne Hirsch’s
concept of “postmemory” comes to mind. While “postmemory” generally concerns the
children of Holocaust survivors, it also seems to be relevant to former child exiles or
hidden children, who were separated from their parents and never saw them again.
Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt’s desire to comprehend why he has survived can be related
to what Hirsch has described as the “need not just to feel and to know, but also to re-
John D. Barbour, "Judging and Not Judging Parents," The Ethics of Life-Writing, ed. Paul John Eakin
(Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2004).
Ibid. 94-95.
Ibid. 95.
Marjorie Suchocki, The Fall to Violence (New York: Continuum, 1995). 151, cited in Barbour ,94.
member, to re-build, to re-incarnate, to replace and to repair.”301 The children of parents
who witnessed the Holocaust grow up with their parents’ references and stories of people
who perished and places that no longer exist. These are people and places the children
cannot remember, have never met or seen. Children who were separated from their
parents and were sent into exile on their own, their postmemory and the desire to know
their parents’ world constitute a special case: Like the children of survivors, Goldschmidt
was not exactly there, where the Holocaust happened. However, contrary to the children
of survivors, Goldschmidt was alive during the Holocaust and therefore directly affected
by it. Both groups share a lack of memory of the Holocaust. Like the children of
survivors, Goldschmidt is interested in his parents’ lives and stories and must experience
that direct access to this information is denied to him. Whereas children of survivors
grow up with their parents and witness their inability to speak, Goldschmidt’s parents
cannot speak to him at all because they are no longer alive when he returns from exile.
The time he spent with them in his early childhood, the trauma caused by the separation
from them as a ten-year-old, and their absence from the rest of his life turn out to be what
determines his literary work. This becomes more apparent in the autobiography than in
any of the pseudo-autobiographical texts because nowhere else does Goldschmidt write
so much, and in so much detail about his parents and his relationship with them.
About a third of the autobiography describes Goldschmidt’s early childhood in
Germany until the departure to Italy. Right from the start, the autobiography thematizes
the treatment of children: “Man stellte den Gästen die Kinder vor und schob sie dann der
Kinderfrau zu, um sie möglichst schnell los zu sein. Was dieses “bessere” Milieu
Marianne Hirsch, Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory (Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press, 1997). 243.
auszeichnete, war nämlich das Betragen den Kindern gegenüber, die in weiß gestrichenen
Räumen lebten, die Eltern dagegen in dunkleren.”302 As if to emphasize that this spatial
separation also applied to the personal relationship between children and adults,
Goldschmidt does not continue to describe his own personal relationship with his parents,
but instead dedicates a separate chapter entitled “Die Herkunft” to his parents’ origins.
Goldschmidt portrays his father in much more detail than his mother. Thus, his
father’s background, his career, his political beliefs, and the description of his character
cover three times more chapter space than the description of his mother. Goldschmidt
describes his father as a victim of his time, who despite his intelligence and education,
did not see the impending Nazi threat: “Sogar die Abreise seiner beiden Söhne nach
Italien scheint ihm nicht vollkommen die Augen geöffnet zu haben,303 Goldschmidt
writes laconically. The author also mentions a small book his father published before his
death in 1946. As the pastor in Theresienstadt, he composed 36 pages on the Geschichte
der evangelischen Gemeinde Theresienstadt. Again, Goldschmid critically comments:
Schade ist nur, daß er nicht mit genügend Akribie auf die verbrecherische Absurdidät der
Nürnberger Gesetze zurückgekommen ist, die eine Religion in eine Rasse verwandeln.
Wenn man seine Schrift liest, hat man manchmal den Eindruck, er fühle sich nicht
unbedingt mit den Opfern solidarisch, da er doch ein Deutscher war, wie man es nicht
besser sein konnte.304
While Goldschmidt focuses on his father’s political, professional and private interests
(painting), he does not explicitly discuss the relationship he had with him. The last few
pages of Chapter 2 are dedicated to Goldschmidt’s mother’s background. The portrayal
of his mother lacks the sniding remarks and is marked by a more sympathetic tone. At the
same time, the author has less to say about his mother – she appears altogether more
Ibid. 35.
Ibid. 43.
Ibid. 46.
removed from his memory than his father. Thus, Goldschmidt introduces her as he
remembers her from photographs: “ein verwirrend schönes, großes und schlankes
Mädchen.”305 He portrays his mother as a spoilt daughter of wealthy parents who liked to
dance, play the piano, had a green thumb and was kind to animals. With pride,
Goldschmidt notes that his mother did not care about social differences; instead, she
talked to all people, as long as she found them charming. According to Goldschmidt, his
mother was also a great storyteller. He admires her attention to details with which she
enriched his view of the world. However, Goldschmidt also notes that his mother’s life
was marked by bouts of depression. It becomes obvious that Goldschmidt focuses more
on the effects his mother had on other people, such as her servants, who frequently left
the house, unable to deal with her mood swings and her unclear directions. Hardly
anything is said about the effect she had as a mother on her children. Chapter 3 describes
the place and the house where Goldschmidt’s early childhood took place. This chapter as
well as chapter 4 entitled “Die ersten Jahre,” depict the mother less positively. Here,
Goldschmidt remembers moments in which he seemed to become one with her, followed
by moments in which she pushed him away. Goldschmidt notes that the latter moments
were those in which she could no longer cope with her depression and fatigue. In one
sentence, Goldschmidt summarizes this emotional rollercoaster as he experienced it as a
child: “Zugleich wollte sie mich ganz für sich haben, ich war ihr aber sofort lästig, fühlte
mich schuldig und haßte sie aus Liebe.”306 In retrospect, he perceives the tone and
gestures with which his mother talked to him as dishonest and artificial, as if she had
learned the things she said to him by heart. Goldschmidt writes that he felt cheated:
Ibid. 48.
Ibid. 70.
Was sie machte oder sagte, war eigens für mich einstudiert worden: ohne daß es mir
gelungen wäre, es eigentlich zu formulieren, war es mir, als ob sie das alles meinetwegen
anders machte und sagte als sonst, daß sie sich mir nur vormachte, und ich dabei in einen
Abgrund stürzte, der sich unter mir weiter öffnete.307
Looking back, Goldschmidt connects the feeling of what he considers being
emotionally cheated by his mother to his outbursts of anger for which he felt guilty
because they in turn made his mother sad and tired. At the same time, his own behavior
toward his parents seems artificial as well. On special occasions, like on Christmas Eve,
his first day of school, or his birthday, he feels as though he has to simulate excitement. It
seems that every spontaneous interaction between child and parents is controlled by
artificial codes and expectations.
One such code is the bourgeoisie’s common aversion of sexuality. Chapter 3 specifies
and provides the adult author’s insight of what caused Goldschmidt’s confusion in
regards to his own and his parents’ sexuality. As part of the “pädagogischer
Hygienismus,”308 and following a pedagogic trend, many bourgois parents instructed
their children to stand naked in the garden to become comfortable with being in the nude:
“Das Nacktsein gehörte dazu, es war organisiert, betont, verkündigt [...] Dieser
vollkommen deserotisierte Nacktheitskult war nicht ohne Zusammenhang mit dem, was
in kurzer Zeit Deutschland überschwemmen sollte.”309 Goldschmidt has explained
elsewhere what he is implying here. Thus, he has repeatedly referred to a connection
between sexuality and politics. For example, in the essay Als Freud das Meer sah, he
argued that Holocaust literature has not been able to deal with the taboo concerning the
connection of politics and sexuality.310 The connection between politics and eroticism for
Ibid. 71.
Ibid. 170.
Goldschmidt, Als Freud das Meer sah. Freud und die deutsche Sprache. 14.
Goldschmidt consists in the denied opportunity for sexual self-discovery in German
society which he sees in connection to a lack of “Frechheit, Wachsamkeit and
Opposition.” The text passage above does not only show how this situation impacted
Goldschmidt’s sexual confusion as a child and the devastating consequences this
confusion had on his family and his life as a child in exile; it also contains the author’s
insight that his private tragedy was connected to a larger political context.
Goldschmidt dedicates Chapter 4 - “Meine Mutter und ich” - to his relationship with
his mother. This section demonstrates even more clearly that Goldschmidt’s relationship
with his mother was ambivalent. In her presence, he writes, “war ich wie gelähmt,
idiotisch, blöde, leer. […] Sobald sie mir etwas beibringen wollte, war es aus.”311 Once
more, Goldschmidt remembers his mother’s determination to discover any unusual sexual
activity. He refers to the “Spionierwahn” exhibited by the adults at the time in their
attempt to track down and punish anything that looked like masturbation to them.312 In
the next few chapters (Chapter 7 “Eine schuldhafte Kindheit,” Chapter 8 “Ahnungen”
and Chapter 9 “Abschied mit Aufschub”) Goldschmidt outlines his response to this
secretive and threatening climate at home. He links his reaction as a child to the
deteriorating situation for Jews in Reinbek as well as the increasingly difficult family
situation in his home. Whereas the child’s confusion had found expression in the
unsystematic narrative structure of the pseudo-autobiographical texts, the much more
ÜF, 85-86.
Ibid. 90. Interestingly, Goldschmidt fails to mention or is not aware that the “Spionierwahn” did not
originate in Germany, but in Switzerland where it was supported by French physician, Simon-AugusteAndre-David Tissot (1728-1787) and his influential treatise Onanism: Or a Treatise Upon the Disorders
produced by Masturbation: Or, the Dangerous Effects of Secret and Excessive Venery, published in 1760.
Tissot warned of the danger of sex, especially the dangers of sex undertaken for the purpose of pleasure
rather than reproduction, as a cause of debility and even death.
organized autobiography provides explanations and a commentary for the child’s state of
Throughout his work, Goldschmidt remembers and judges his parents on different
levels. In his pseudo-autobiographical texts, he writes about them as he perceived and
missed them as a child, whereas from his autobiographical viewpoint, he judges them as a
more mature and more forgiving adult. Thus, one can observe what John Barbour calls a
gradual “progress of forgiveness”313 within the author’s oeuvre that ends with the last
chapter of Über die Flüsse, significantly entitled “Erwachsen werden.” It almost seems as
though the autobiography completes the search for forgiveness, as though the author has
mastered the art of remembering “transformatively.” At the end of the autobiography
when past, present and future finally converge, Goldschmidt indulgently states:
Im Herannahen des Alters steht weniger Unerwartetes an den Wegbiegungen [...]. Zugleich
findet wie ein (sic!), Fotografieren statt von dem, was man durch das Zugfenster sieht: da
situiert man zwar nicht mehr die Zukunft hinein, aber wie am ersten Tag empfindet man es
als ein Wunder, am Leben zu sein.314
Having survived is no longer perceived as ridiculous as it had been in previous texts.
Rather, the autobiographer Goldschmidt feels that his survival is a miracle.
The texts written prior to the autobiography appear to have been necessary steps
towards the goal of integrating the childhood trauma into the author’s life narrative.
Goldschmidt’s writing motto “Alles erzählen und doch nichts verraten” changes along
with the author’s gradual progression from the early pseudo-autobiographies to the
autobiography. In Über die Flüsse Goldschmidt not only tells it all, he also seems to
finally be able and willing to give his and his family’s secrets away. Thus, the author
Barbour, "Judging and Not Judging Parents." 95.
ÜF. 303-304.
transcends his childhood trauma in writing, and is one step closer to making peace with
his past, his parents and himself.
Chapter 3: “Komisch, daß wir alle was anderes meinen, wenn wir zu
Hause sagen.”: ‘Vicarious Childhood Trauma’ and the Jewish ‘Family
Romance’ in Stefanie Zweig’s Autobiographical Novels Nirgendwo in
Afrika and Irgendwo in Deutschland
Wir sind nicht wie andere Kinder. Anderen Kindern erzählt man nichts, uns sagen sie alles. Wir
beide haben Eltern bekommen, die ihren Mund nicht halten können.
(Nirgendwo in Afrika, 305.)
Komisch, daß wir alle was anderes meinen, wenn wir zu Hause sagen.
(Irgendwo in Deutschland, 24.)
3.1 Stefanie Zweig’s Vicarious Childhood Trauma
Man hat mir vorher gar nicht gesagt, dass wir fahren [...] Ich war so ein nervöses Kind.
Und da hat man gedacht, es ist für mich besonders angenehm, wenn die Mutter eines Tages
sagt: Heute fahren wir zum Papa nach Afrika. Ich finde das nicht ganz so gut, weil das
dazu geführt hat, dass ich bis heute vor jeder Reise enormes Reisefieber habe und in
Tränen ausbreche, wenn ich einen Koffer packen soll.315
Thus, 72-year-old author Stefanie Zweig remembers her departure from Germany as a
five-year-old child. On June 12 1938, Stefanie Zweig’s mother informs her daughter that
they will leave Germany the same day to join her father, who had previously left
Germany to emigrate to Kenya. Several aspects of Stefanie Zweig’s childhood memory
of her and her mother’s departure to Africa are noteworthy. First, Zweig remembers to
have been a nervous child. What could have contributed to her nervousness? She might
have picked up her parents’ nervous vibes as they found themselves increasingly
threatened by the Nazi measures. Secondly, what becomes apparent in Zweig’s comment
is her subtle, almost hesitant criticism of her mother. She refers to her rather generally as
“die Mutter” and otherwise uses the indirect “man” to describe her mother’s actions.
Cecile Schortmann, "Stefanie Zweig," 25 February 2005.
However, Zweig does not openly criticize how her mother went about to inform her
about the departure; she merely judges it to have been “nicht ganz so gut.”
Although Zweig is only five years old when she leaves her hometown Leobschütz in
Upper Silesia, and although she is not sent to exile on her own, the sudden departure
obviously left a traumatic mark. Thus, the symptoms she describes prior to any trip
following her emigration to Africa indicate that Zweig suffered from a childhood trauma
which she repeatedly re-experienced as an adult whenever she packed a suitcase to go on
a trip.
I suggest that Zweig has also re-enacted her childhood trauma in her writing. This
chapter traces signs of Stefanie Zweig’s childhood trauma in her two autobiographical
novels Nirgendwo in Afrika (1995) and Irgendwo in Deutschland (1996). While the first
text depicts the family’s exile in Kenia during 1938-1947, the second one describes their
life in Germany from their return in 1947 until the protagonist’s father’s death in 1959. I
examine the author’s choice of narrative in remembering and reinventing her childhood,
her use of language, the depiction of her relationships with her parents, her
Jewish/spiritual identity, and her problematic relationships with others, particularly her
disturbing sexual encounter with an older man, Martin.
As the only one of the three writers discussed in this study, Stefanie Zweig mentions
the word “trauma” directly in her literary texts. However, in both instances, she does not
describe her own traumatic feelings. Instead, she points to the trauma of others – that of
the German refugees in Nairobi (e.g. Nirgendwo in Afrika, 271) and secondly to her
parents’ “Trauma der Verlassenheit” in Afrika. (e.g. Irgendwo in Deutschland, 58).
Consequently, I refer to Zweig’s trauma as “vicarious” as it is characterized by the
protagonist’s secondary traumatization caused by witnessing her parents’ and other
adults’ trauma of persecution and exile. The term “vicarious trauma” refers to “the
emotions and behaviors resulting from the knowledge of the traumatizing events of
others, and the painful and disruptive impact this may have upon the helper.”316 This
definition was originally coined by clinicians and therapists who recognized the need to
shield themselves from the potential harmful side effects of listening to their clients’
painful stories.317
Stefanie Zweig’s vicarious childhood trauma is heightened by a number of conflicting
emotions. It is initially caused by what child traumatologist Kathleen O. Nader has
referred to as “disorganized attachment” of children to their caregivers. On the positive
side, Nader points out that “early ‘disorganized attachments’ may contribute to
intellectual, introspective, artistic, and other advantages,” which might explain Stefanie
Zweig’s ability to turn her childhood story into creative narratives.318 On the negative
side, however, Nader explains that situations that lead to “disorganized attachments”
include “abuse or the parents (sic) own unresolved trauma or loss.”319
Zweig’s autobiographical novels suggest that the author was exposed to both
situations. First, although the description of what exactly happens between her child
protagonist Regina and Martin, a man who had been courting her mother Jettel in
P. Howe, The Peer Support Team. Procedures and References Manual. (Toronto: Children's Aid
Society, 1998).
B.H. Stamm, Varra, E.M., Pearlman, L.A., & Giller, E The Helper’s Power to Heal and To Be Hurt - Or
Helped - By Trying., ed.
(Washington, DC: Register Report: A Publication of the National Register of Health Service Providers in
Psychology., 2002). For an abbreviated version of this report, go to:
Kathleen O. Nader, "Childhood Trauma: The Deeper Wound," The Posttraumatic Self. Restoring
Meaning and Wholeness of Personality, ed. John P. Wilson (New York, London: Routledge, 2006). 129.
Ibid 129.
Germany before the war, is rather vague, Martin’s actions do not seem appropriate and
make the reader wonder whether Regina was infact sexually molested or raped as an
eleven year old girl. I interpret Zweig’s romanticizing the situation – she refers to Martin
as her prince – as a previously traumatized child’s way of dealing with yet another
traumatizing incident. In other words, the fact that Regina considers the encounter with
Martin as romantic indicates that she is apparently not able to deal with being sexually
abused in addition to the other burdening aspects of her young life.
Secondly, Regina grows up with traumatized parents who not only experienced the
Nazi persecution themselves, but who also have to live with the guilt of having left their
parents, siblings, and friends behind. As a consequence, they find it very difficult to adapt
to their new lives in exile. Their daughter, on the other hand, is too young to remember
her early childhood years in Germany. She knows Germany primarily through the
anecdotes her parents tell each other. These stories form a bond between Walter and
Jettel while they turn Regina into an outside within her own family. Regina observes her
parents’ split feelings towards Germany. On the one hand, they miss their home and feel
sentimental about every memory they have of it. On the other hand, they are sad and
bitter whenever they talk about having been forced to leave the “Heimat”. The memories
of a lost home Walter and Jettel share with their daughter create a traumatic attachment
between parents and child, which ultimately causes Regina to have traumatic reactions
herself, to become vulnerable to other traumas and to have difficulties forming
Being unable to partake in her parents’ reminiscing of a lost German “Heimat”,
Regina forms her own bonds with the native Africans on the farm. They not only teach
her the local African dialects but also allow her to partake in their traditions and customs.
Regina comes to conceal her negative feelings towards Germany as well as her positive
feelings towards Africa in order not to hurt her parents’ feelings.
Significantly, “disorganized attachments” have been linked to role inversion of
children with their parents.320 Zweig’s literary alterego Regina is torn between two
images of her parents – she considers them her caregivers, who are responsible for her
and who protect her. At the same time, she perceives them as weak individuals who need
her protection. Regina is shown to feel responsible for her parents’ emotional well-being.
This involves not telling them about her own fears and problems. Moreover, Regina often
seems to deny herself the role of the child and instead takes on the role of the parent. In
both autobiographical novels, the child protagonist Regina’s relationship with her parents
is similar to that of a therapist or marriage counselor and his/her clients. However, unlike
a therapist who might be able to distance him/herself from the client, Regina cannot
distance herself from her parents. She tends to support the weaker parent, and so she
often sides with her father whom she loves deeply and whose sadness in exile worries her
so much that she can neither share her appreciation for Africa nor the anxieties she
experiences at the English boarding school, or the problems she faces after the family
returns to Germany with him.
In summary, Zweig’s childhood trauma seems to consist of what child traumatologist
Lenore Terr defined as Type I and Type II traumatic conditions of childhood trauma.
Initially, her parents’ fearful reactions to the forced emigration to Africa seem to have
impacted the five-year-old child in a negative way. Subsequently, the ongoing stresses in
exile - her parents’ struggles, their mourning, and their marital problems, as well as the
separation from her parents when she leaves the farm to go to boarding school, the
inappropriate sexual advances by her mother’s former gallant and finally the family’s
return to Germany after the war seem to have pushed the child toward the changes
characteristic of the Type II childhood trauma. Thus, both texts reveal that Zweig
experienced and employed denial, repression, and dissociation and felt unremitting guilt
and shame. These signs, symptoms and posttraumatic effects of trauma find expression in
Zweig’s language and her choice of genre: the autobiographical novel.
By means of chapter structure, this study places Zweig’s autobiographical novels
between Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt’s and Lore Segal’s life-writing. As the labeling of
her texts about her childhood most poignantly shows, Zweig’s texts combine
autobiographical and fictional elements. On the one hand, the term “autobiographical”
most clearly reveals that Zweig writes about her own life. The term “novel,” on the other
hand, refers to the fact that Zweig employs writing techniques that belong in the realm of
fiction. Thus, she fictionalizes her life-story by telling it from the third-person perspective
of a child protagonist named Regina Redlich. In addition, there is an omniscient narrator
who comments on the experiences of other characters. This narrator provides insights
into how Regina and her parents Walter and Jettel perceive each other and Africa, as well
as how they are perceived by others.
3.2 Language, Culture and Relationships: Regina’s Search for a Space in the Jewish
“Family Romance”
According to Zweig’s first autobiographical novel, the Redlich family leaves Germany in
1938. They spend the next two years on two farms in Kenya. Here, Regina acquires
Swahili and the local African dialect Jaluo. Fluent in two African dialects, Regina comes
to make sense of the world around her much like the Africans. The more familiar she
becomes with Africa, the language and the culture, the more she distances herself from
her parents, who - each in their own way - remain attached to their German ways. In
other words, the child perceives her parents much like the Africans perceive them. In the
following passage from Nirgendwo in Afrika, one of Walter’s workers reflects on his
master’s stories and on what he has learned from him since he came to the farm:
Immer, wenn der Bwana zu reden anfing, sprach er vom Krieg. Durch diesen Krieg der
mächtigen Mesungu im Land der Toten hatte Kimani mehr vom Leben erfahren als alle
Männer seiner Familie vor ihm. Je mehr er aber vom gefräßigen Feuer lernte, das Leben
schluckte, desto weniger wollten seine Ohren abwarten, bis der Bwana redete. Jedes
Schweigen ließ sich aber so leicht zerschneiden wie frisch erlegte Beute mit einer gut
geschärften Panga.321
Such text passages, which use analogies derived from the African vocabulary and
wisdom, indicate that an African native tries to make sense of Walter’s behavior and
stories. By interpreting Walter’s words and actions based on their own language and life
philosophy, Walter’s workers learn to read and to appreciate their master. To Regina,
whose perception of the world is shaped by the African environment around her, the war
in Germany and Germany itself are as foreign concepts as they are to the African
workers. By changing the perspective in the text from Regina’s to Kimani’s point of view
and by describing Kimani’s perception with African images and symbols, Zweig shows
Nirgendwo in Afrika, 145. My emphasis.
Regina’s familiarity with the African culture – like Kimani, she understands her father
better by applying the knowledge she acquired from the Africans around her.
When Regina is seven, she must separate from her parents to attend an English
boarding school. There, she has to learn and communicate in English, which becomes the
language of her formal education. The English language estranges her from her parents
even more. While Jettel is pregnant with her second child (who dies shortly after its
birth), the school does not allow Regina to visit her mother. Regina’s letters to her mother
bear witness to the fact that she never learned to write in German and that her original
mother tongue has deteriorated considerably: “Du must take care von dir […] that du
nicht grankg wirst. […] Ich will dir besooken, aber ich erlaube es nicht. Wir sind hier
soldiers. [...] Ich freue mir auf das baby.”322
Regina finds it increasingly problematic to communicate with her parents; she no
longer shares her fears and anxieties with them because she does not find the right words.
At the same time, she tries to conceal that when it comes to speaking English, she feels
linguistically superior to Walter, who eventually comes to serve as a soldier in the British
army. Soon Walter and Jettel realize that they no longer share one common mother
tongue with their child. This is especially difficult for Walter, who never stops thinking
about returning to Germany. Only when her brother Max is born, does Regina find a
family member in whom she confides her most secret thoughts and worries. Initially,
Regina speaks Jaluo and Swahili to Max, which infuriates Walter so much that he insists
she speak German to her brother.
After nine years in Kenya, Walter, who has never given up the dream of returning to
his career as a lawyer, decides to move the family back to Germany. Here, 14-year-old
Nirgendwo in Afrika, 70.
Regina has to relearn German in order to be able to finish school and to establish herself
in a foreign but strangely familiar place that she has only imagined based on her parents’
wistful stories. As a 14-year-old adolescent who had only spoken German to her parents
during school holidays, Regina is not only confronted with a language barrier but also has
to deal with the post-war atmosphere and her family’s low financial and social status in a
land that her parents never stopped calling home.
Zweig’s autobiographical novels, which combine memory and fantasy are reminiscent
of Freud’s concept of the “Family Romance.” Freud defined the “Family Romance”
(1909) as follows:
Many childhood narratives and fantasies centre on a belief that the child is really a prince
or princess who is destined to rule, to be beautiful and to possess riches, power and untold
happiness. […] This fantasy has many nuances and variations but the basic scenario is this:
the young child is disappointed that its real parents do not live up to their exalted
expectations of them and their position in life, so they are replaced by a set of imaginary
parents who are wonderful, understanding, powerful and extraordinary beings.323
Amal Treacher notes that according to Freud, “this fantasy underpins much of the way
children imagine their parents, their lives and their real status.”324 Significantly, Zweig’s
life-writing employs a literary alterego named Regina, the Latin name for “queen.” Zweig
never states that Regina imagines herself to be of aristocratic descent; yet, Regina’s ideas
of her parents’ lives in Germany before they emigrated to Africa as well as her wish to
have an English daddy rather than a homesick German Papa exhibit elements of the
“family romance” phenomenon.
The “family romance” is a poignant preservation in fantasy of ideal parents who do not
disappoint or frustrate. […] Splitting the parents into the ideal and the real, preserves their
Sigmund Freud, “Family Romances,” On Sexuality. Pelican Freud Library. Vol. 7. Harmondsworth:
Penguin. Cited in Amal Treacher, "Children: Memories, Fantasies and Narratives: From Dilemma to
Complexity." Memory and Methodology. Ed. Susannah Radstone.Oxford and New York: Berg, 2000. 139.
Ibid. 140.
special position and enables a coming to terms with the reality. Fantasy and memory come
together to create a poignant narrative.325
In Treacher’s view, the “family romance” is “both an internal fantasy and a response
to the external world.”326 In her mind, Regina creates her parents’ past and imagines them
as beautiful and happy people in Germany. This set of parents is contrasted with the
miserable and financially unstable couple whose struggle in exile impacts Regina’s life in
a negative way. Regina is confronted with four different overlapping external worlds.
They consist of her parents’ Jewish German past, the African environment, the English
boarding school, and post-war Germany. Regina finds it difficult to negotiate her space in
these different external worlds. Her parents’ pre-war existence as Jews in Germany is
only revealed to her in stories. These stories determine “the family’s behavior, their
feelings, attitudes and values.”327 They give Regina’s parents the identity of Jewish
German refugees in Africa. Their daughter, who cannot remember Germany, has to
imagine what her parents are talking about. However, as their off-spring, the same
outsider status applies to her as well. Walter and Jettel consider themselves Jewish but do
not seem to observe the Jewish holidays or traditions. Regina herself finds her own
spiritual identity in Africa and prays to the African god Mungo. Regina’s second external
world is Africa. Although she feels comfortable in the African environment, she is aware
that she is different from the African people around her. Thirdly, at the boarding school,
she struggles with her status as a German Jewish refugee. In her efforts to make her
parents proud, Regina invests all her energy into her studies and does not bond with the
other children. Consequently, she becomes an outsider who spends most of the time
Ibid. 144.
John Byng-Hall. Re-writing Family Scripts. New York, Guildford Press: 1995. Cited in Treacher, 147.
reading and making up stories. Finally, back in Germany, she remains an outsider at
school and at home. Overall, Regina’s response to these external worlds is defined by her
need (and ability) to disassociate. She creates her own inner space and comes to rely on
an imaginary fairy with whom she shares her worries and fears.
In [children’s] struggle to accept and gain knowledge of the relationships, the family,
constellation and the particular feelings and fantasies that these evoke, children are
contradictory and partial but they have to, and do, struggle to move to a different place. If
healthy conditions pertain, the individual child can move from being in a quandary,
perplexed and doubtful [space] sic!, to being able to perceive relationships in a more
integrated, intricate and wholesome way.328
For Regina, unhealthy conditions pertain even after the family returns to Germany.
Here, she maintains her outsider status. She does not speak German well enough to
succeed in school. She does not feel Jewish enough to believe in a Jewish god. In
addition, she feels reluctant to fulfill her father’s wish to date older Jewish men. As a
consequence, she is not able to form healthy relationships with men. Instead, she
continues to be trapped in the Jewish “family romance” that has determined the family
dynamics in Africa and which continues to shape Regina’s role in Germany. As a
consequence, she escapes into a world of fantasy, i.e. the world of art, particularly
literature and the theater, which similarly to Africa enable her to disengage from the
reality of her life as a former exiled Jewish individual, who grew up in Africa, received
her education in a British school and now lives in Germany.
Ibid. 146.
3.3 Remembering and Narrating Childhood Trauma in Nirgendwo in Afrika
Zweig’s first autobiographical novel Nirgendwo in Afrika (1995) is dedicated to the
memory of her father. A double-page photograph follows this dedication. It depicts a
group of three white and nine African natives. Only one of the black men is standing in
the front row. The others are posited on a farm vehicle in the background. Whereas the
white men wear rather formal attire, the majority of the black men are dressed in sarongs
wrapped around their hips. The white man on the far left looks strangely displaced in
what appears to be the African wilderness. Stacked in front of the men are several bags of
the crop. A dog sits on one of the bags. The foreground of the photograph displays grass,
which looks rather dry. The background consists of a few bushes and is otherwise
dominated by the sky. Two old-fashioned vehicles frame the group on both sides.
Right from the beginning and even prior to reading the text, this picture (together with
the dedication to an apparently real-life father) establishes a link between the fictional
and the autobiographical components in Stefanie Zweig’s life-writing. The photograph
invites the reader to believe that the author is going to tell a personal story based on her
own childhood experience. In addition, readers might assume that the people shown in
the photograph correspond with the protagonists in Nirgendwo in Afrika. Thus, one of
the white men might be Stefanie Zweig’s father, Walter Redlich. The black man wearing
what appears to be a black gown might be Owuor. As the Redlich’s main worker, he
receives the gown Walter wore as a lawyer in Germany as a gift when the latter realizes
that not he but Owuor is the smart man in Africa. One of the other white men might be
Walter’s friend Süßkind, a fellow German refugee from the neighboring farm, and the
dog, the reader is invited to believe, simply must be Rummler.
Nirgendwo in Afrika tells the story of the Redlichs’, a German family from Upper
Silesia, who emigrate to Kenya in 1938. They must leave the first farm, Rongai, when
Walter Redlich is interned as an enemy alien and consequently loses his job. After his
release, the family is given shelter by a German couple who organize another job for
Walter on an even more remote farm, Ol’ Joro Orok. When Walter joins the British army,
the family settles in Nairobi until the end of the war. The end of the book is marked by
the birth of a son, Max, and the family’s return to Germany.
Zweig’s first autobiographical novel begins with ten letters composed by Walter. It is
not clear whether these are the original letters or whether Zweig rewrote them from
memory (or invented them) for the purpose of her novel. The letters are sent from
Rongai, Kenya between February and July 1938. The addressees are Jettel, her mother
and sister, Walter’s father, and his daughter Regina in Germany, as well as Süßkind, a
fellow German refugee. In his letters to his wife, Walter’s instructs Jettel on how to cope
with the increasing Nazi threat in Germany and what to pack before they leave for Africa.
Walter also tries to prepare her for what will await her upon her arrival: “Ich will dir
keine Angst machen,” he writes, “aber in diesem Land muß man lernen, sich selbst zu
helfen.”329 He continues to explain their new status: [Die] Jüdische Gemeinde […]
kümmert sich um die Refugees (das sind wir) […].”330 This explanation is reminiscent of
historian Leo Spitzer’s observation that Jewish individuals who went into exile during the
1930s did not even have an expression for their status in their native language. They thus
often used the English term “refugee” to refer to themselves. According to Spitzer, “an
awareness of a collective and shared common experience of “refugeehood” (as opposed
Stefanie Zweig, Nirgendwo in Afrika (München: Heyne, 1995). 20.
Ibid. 9.
to a shared sense of persecution) does not seem to have been widely developed among
[Jewish refugees] as yet […].”331 In Spitzer’s view, “what it feels to be a refugee seems to
have emerged and gained definition in relation to two poles: to that of a known Europe –
an origin and homeland, culturally familiar, forcibly abandoned, left behind, seemingly
lost - and to a new land of refuge – alien, unknown, other.”332 This corresponds with
Walter’s torn feelings between his longing for the German “Heimat” and the sense of loss
on the one hand, and the relief to have escaped as well as the excitement about his new
surroundings on the other.
Upon receiving one of Jettel’s letters, Walter also notes a positive side-effect of being
a refugee. He admits that Jettel’s words made him cry: “Das ist das Gute, wenn man ein
Refugee und kein deutscher Mann mehr ist. Man braucht sich seiner Tränen nicht zu
schämen.”333 However, Walter does not perceive this change as solely positive. Many
times throughout the book, Zweig describes her father as a broken man, who feels
ashamed by his weakness, the tears he sheds and his inability to support his family.
Several times in his letters from Kenya to Germany, Walter carefully indicates what
the family’s new social status means. For example, he informs Jettel that she will not
need her new evening gown. Instead, he urges her to buy a refrigerator and shoes for
Regina, large enough so that they will still fit two years later as he doubts that they will
be able to afford new shoes. He repeatedly warns Jettel that they will be very poor:
“Unser Leben nimmt keine Rücksicht mehr darauf, daß du als verwöhnte höhere Tochter
aufgewachsen bist. In der Emigration zählt nicht das, was man war, sondern nur, daß
Leo Spitzer, "The Album and the Crossing," The Familial Gaze, ed. Marianne Hirsch (Hanover:
University Press of New England, 1999). 217.
Ibid. 218.
Nirgendwo in Afrika 18.
Mann und Frau am selben Strang ziehen.”334 However, as Zweig proceeds to telling the
story of her family’s life in Kenya, the reader soon learns that Regina’s parents’
relationship is not strengthened, but rather weakened by the exile experience.
In his letters to his father and sister and Jettel’s family, Walter strikes a sad and
melancholic tone. He expresses sorrow for his relatives who have stayed behind and begs
them to leave Germany in time. Finally, in his only letter to Regina, Walter urges his
daugther to be brave: “Es werden nur Kinder nach Afrika hereingelassen, die keine Angst
vor Hunden haben. Üb also, tapfer zu sein. Mut ist im Leben viel wichtiger als
When she arrives in Kenya, five-year-old Regina Redlich appears to have taken her
father’s wishes to heart. She seems to be a less fearful and happier child than she was in
Germany. For example, her father notes that she has apparently shed her fear of dogs.
This change in personality is motivated by her first encounter with Owuor who lifts her
out of the car and throws her into the air:
Der herrliche Duft, der Owuors Haut entströmte, roch wie Honig, verjagte Angst und ließ
ein kleines Mädchen zu einem großen Menschen werden. Regina machte ihren Mund weit
auf, um den Zauber besser schlucken zu können, der Müdigkeit und Schmerzen aus dem
Körper trieb. Erst spürte sie, wie sie in Owuors Armen stark wurde, und dann merkte sie,
daß ihre Zunge fliegen gelernt hatte.336
Owuor’s presence has an energizing effect on the little German girl. She feels stronger
and less afraid. Regina immediately warms to Owuor who becomes her mentor figure,
teacher and friend. She perceives his voice as loud and good, “ganz anders als die der
weinenden und flüsternden Menschen in der großen grauen Stadt, von der Regina nachts
Ibid. 17.
Ibid. 21.
Ibid. 29.
träumte.”337 As opposed to her parents, Regina learns Swahili and Owuor’s dialect Jaluo
quickly. These African languages allow her to access her new environment and to learn
about its conditions. Regina soon comes to love Africa, and, as opposed to her parents, is
very much aware of this love. While Jettel realizes that she wants to stay in Africa only
when it is time to leave and mostly because she does not want to agree with her husband,
Walter cannot even admit that he misses Africa after he has decided to move the family
back to Germany. In retrospect Zweig reflects:
Sie waren von allem abgeschnitten, sie wussten nicht, wie es weiter geht. Mein Vater hat
nichts verdient außer dem Dach über dem Kopf, und wir konnten das essen, was es auf der
Farm gab. Sie mussten erst die Sprache lernen, Suaheli. Das ist alles für Menschen, die in
Deutschland gelebt und dort gerade ihre ganze Existenz verloren haben, sehr trostlos. Aber
mit fünf Jahren konnte ich das nicht nachempfinden.338
Walter and Jettel are puzzled at and, as it seems, slightly resentful towards their
daugther’s quick acculturation. While Walter envies the determination in Regina’s voice,
which makes himself feel weak and undecisive, Jettel’s reaction is even less positive;
When Regina tells her mother that she has learned Jaluo in order to communicate with
Owuor, Jettel comments disparagingly: “Kinder finden sich schnell ab.”339 In addition,
Regina’s newly found confidence and happiness is constantly overshadowed by her
parents’ marital problems, a result of their African exile:
Weil die Wände im Haus so niedrig waren, daß sie nicht bis zum Dach reichten, hörte sie
jedes Wort, das ihre Eltern im Schlafzimmer sprachen. Auch wenn sie flüsterten, waren die
Laute so deutlich wie die Stimmen vom Tag. In guten Nächten klangen sie schläfrig wie
das Summen von Bienen und Rummlers Schnarchen, wenn er mit nur wenigen
Bewegungen seiner Zunge den Napf geleert hatte. Es gab aber sehr lange und böse Nächte
mit Worten, die beim ersten Heulen der Hyänen aufeinander losgingen, Angst machten und
erst im Schweigen erstickten, wenn die Sonne die Hähne weckte.340
Ibid. 30.
Schortmann, "Stefanie Zweig."
Nirgendwo in Afrika, 35.
Life on the remote farm in Kenya has a devastating effect on Walter and Jettel’s
marriage. Especially in Zweig’s comments and reflections on her parents’ relationship, it
becomes clear that Nirgendwo in Afrika is not only an autobiographical novel about the
author’s African childhood, but also, if not mainly, the story of her parents’ difficult
relationship. Zweig writes that her parents had been fighting since the day they met and
that they had learned to accept these frequent arguments as part of their marriage. While
suffering under the Nazi measurements in Germany, they had learned to rely on each
other and gave each other strength without realizing that as Jews, they had already
become outsiders long before Walter decided that the only way to survive was to leave
the beloved “Heimat.” The lonely and monotonous life on the Kenyan farm gives Walter
and Jettel too much time to reflect on their former lives in Germany. They realize and
feel ashamed that while still in Germany, they had lived the illusion that they still had a
“Heimat” when it had already been becoming clear that Germany no longer wanted them.
For Walter and Jettel, Germany is very much present every day. This fact makes life in
Africa especially difficult. Jettel cannot get used to only seeing the house, the cattle barn
and the African vegetation. She feels as reluctant towards the dry air as the constant rain,
which follows every heat wave. She constantly fears that Regina will get sick or that
Walter might lose his job. When she confronts Walter that she can no longer stand it on
the farm, Walter replies: “Du mußt, Jettel. Wir werden nicht mehr gefragt.”341
Consequently, Jettel wishes to be dead, which enrages Walter even more: “Jettel, sag das
nie wieder,” he shouts at her. “Wir haben die Verpflichtung weiterzumachen.”342
Ibid. 40.
Ibid. 41.
Regina considers Germany a burden and perceives it as a confusing, negatively
charged place. Whenever her parents speak about Germany, they break out in tears, either
because they think of the people they left behind or because they miss the good old times.
Regina feels guilty whenever she feels happy; it appears that she is not entitled to her
own happiness, whenever she sees her parents sad:
Die Traurigkeit kam aber sofort zurück, als Regina an ihre Eltern dachte. Deren Ohren
wußten nichts vom neuen Leben im Tau des Morgens. Von Sohrau sprach der Vater, wenn
er mit Worten schöne Bilder malte, von Breslau die Mutter, wenn ihre Träume auf Safari
gingen. Von Ol’ Joro Orok, das Regina in der Schule “home” und in den Ferien “zu
Hause“ nannte, sahen beide nur die schwarzen Farben der Nacht und nie die Menschen, die
nur beim Lachen ihre Stimme laut werden ließen.343
Regina learns at an early age that her relatives in Germany were deported to Poland
where they were murdered in concentration camps. At the same time, she experiences her
parents’ anger and disappointment whenever she expresses her negative feelings towards
Germany. She does not understand why her father distinguishes between the Nazis whom
he holds responsible for the family’s fate and other, better Germans. “Deutsche darfst du
nicht hassen,” Regina tells her father’s German friend, Oha Hahn,“nur Nazis. Weißt du,
wenn Hitler den Krieg verloren hat, fahren wir alle nach Leobschütz.”344 Regina pretends
to hope that the family will return to Germany because she knows that this would make
her father happy.
When Regina meets Inge, a refugee from Bavaria, who experienced the events of
November 9 in Germany, Regina’s confusion intensifies. Inge tells her about the
destruction and violence that had taken place in Germany during Kristallnacht and shares
her fears and nightmares with Regina. Inge’s father and uncles had been arrested, taken to
Ibid. 135.
Ibid. 143.
concentration camps and upon their return, Inge had not recognized them. Regina’s
puzzlement becomes especially clear in the following dialogue:
“Mein Papa,” sagte Regina, […] “hat keiner gehauen.” “Dann ist er kein Jude.” “Du lügst.”
“Ihr kommt ja gar nicht aus Deutschand.” “Wir kommen,” erklärte Regina, “aus der
Heimat. Aus Leobschütz, Sohrau und Breslau.” “In Deutschland werden alle Juden
verprügelt. Das weiß ich genau. Ich hasse die Deutschen.” “Ich auch,” versprach Regina,
“ich hasse die Deutschen.” 345
This conversation takes place at the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, where the Jewish
women and children are held when the war breaks out. Meanwhile, their husbands and
fathers are kept in camps as enemy aliens. Regina feels responsible for the war and even
thinks she caused it because she had heard the approaching truck, which had taken her
father away with the other German men. At the hotel, Regina observes that the women
only talk about the war. They realize that their relatives in Germany are lost forever.
Although Jettel hated the farm life, she now misses Rongai and does not know whether
she means Germany or Rongai when she says “zu Hause.” Finally, encouraged by
another German woman who reminds the Jewish women that it cannot be too difficult to
prove to the African authorities that the Jews are against Hitler, Jettel takes the initiative
and writes a letter in order to get Walter out of the prisoner’s camp. Here, Zweig adds
some background information on the situation of enemy aliens in Kenya. Since it would
have been inappropriate to imprison the white German refugees (where only Africans are
held), all Jewish men are taken to military camps, where they wear the same uniforms as
the British soldiers. Newspapers ridicule this situation and the fact that the British
government must invest money to take care of Kenya’s enemy aliens. In addition, the
farmers find their farms unattended and miss the inexpensive labor provided by the
Jewish families prior to the quarantine. Walter feels more and more discouraged about his
Ibid. 63.
situation; he fears that the farm’s manager will dismiss him, and soon thereafter learns
that his fears were justified, i.e. that he has lost his job in Rongai. His friend Oha Hahn,
reminds him that he has the obligation to live on:
Es werden so viele von uns sterben, die leben wollen, daß die Geretteten keine andere
Wahl haben als für ihre Kinder weiterzuleben. Davonkommen ist nicht nur Glück, sondern
eine Verpflichtung. Vertrauen ins Leben auch. Reiß dir endlich Deutschland aus dem
Herzen. Dann wirst du wieder leben.346
Hahn and his wife Lilly offer their home “Arkadia” to the Redlich family where they
stay temporarily until Walter finds work as a manager on another farm. During their stay
with the Hahns, Walter and Jettel feel like “verirrte Kinder, die von ihren Rettern mit der
Ermahnung zu Hause abgeliefert werden, nie mehr fortzulaufen.“347 This is in sharp
contrast to the image Zweig paints of Regina: Shortly after the family’s arrival at
Walter’s new job location, the farm Ol’ Joro Orok, Regina spends most of the time sitting
on the roof of her new home: “Dort hatte sie seit der Ankunft in Ol’ Joro Orok so lange
und schweigend gesessen wie in den Tagen, als sie noch ein Kind war, das nichts wußte
[...].”348 Many times throughout Nirgendwo in Afrika, Regina and her parents seem to
reverse the roles of child/ren and parent/s/. Thus, Walter confuses Regina with Jettel
when the latter learns that her mother and sister have died in Poland:
Walter sah, daß Regina lachte, doch gleichzeitig hörte er, daß sie “Mama” schrie, als sei sie
in Todesnot. Zunächst dachte er, die Schlange wäre aufgetaucht, vor der Owuor am
Morgen gewarnt hatte, und er brüllte: “Bleib stehen.” Als die Schreie jedoch lauter wurden
und jeden anderen Laut in der herbeistürzenden Dunkelheit verschluckten, erkannte er, daß
es nicht Regina war, die nach ihrer Mutter rief sondern Jettel.349
Shortly afterwards, Walter sees Regina press her body against Rummler: “Der Hund
leckte ihr Gesicht ab, doch sie blickte zu Boden, kaute an einer Haarsträhne und drückte
Ibid. 70.
Ibid. 77.
Ibid. 80. My emphasis.
Ibid. 113.
sich immer wieder an den massigen Körper des Tieres. Da wußte Walter, daß seine
Tochter weinte. Er würde ihr nicht mehr erklären müssen.” Walter is too preoccupied
with his own and his wife’s misery and their marital problems to be of much comfort to
his daughter. He forbids Jettel to cry and reminds her that she is not only a daughter who
has lost her mother, but also a mother who needs to be there for her own daughter.
During Jettel’s pregnancy, mother and daughter once again seem to switch roles:
Die Briefe an die Tochter fielen Jettel leichter als die an ihren Mann. Es wurde ihr
Bedürfnis, ihren körperlichen Zustand genau zu schildern, und sehr bald empfand sie es als
Befreiung, von ihrer seelischen Not zu schreiben. Wenn sie die Hotelbriefbögen mit ihrer
großen, deutlichen Schrift füllte und sich die Blätter vor ihr stapelten, konnte sie noch
einmal die zufriedene, kleine Jettel aus Breslau sein, die beim geringsten Kummer nur eine
Treppe hochzustürmen brauchte, um bei der Mutter Trost zu finden.350
The baby only lives a few days. After Jettel returns to the farm, Regina is not only
saddened by the loss of her sibling, but also burdened by the thought that it will again be
solely her job “to feed her parents’ hungry hearts with pride.”351
One way to make her parents proud is to succeed as a student at the English boarding
school whose principal and teachers find it difficult to deal with the German refugees:
Die verdammten kleinen Refugees […] lachten kaum, sahen immer älter aus als sie
tatsächlich waren, und hatten für englische Maßstäbe einen geradezu absurden Ehrgeiz.
Kaum beherrschten diese ernsten, unangenehm frühreifen Geschöpfe die Sprache [...]
machten sie sich durch ihre Wißbegier und selbst für engagierte Pädagogen sehr lästiges
Streben zu Außenseitern in einer Gemeinschaft, in der nur sportliche Erfolge zählten.352
Regina’s situation at the school is mostly described from the perspective of the
omniscient narrator who points out how she is perceived by her teachers. The principal
warms to Regina whom he calls “Little Nell” because she reminds him of Charles
Dickens’ character. Like Nell, Regina is an outsider who does not complain about her
lonely existence. The principal provides her with books by Charles Dickens and
Ibid. 126.
Ibid. 135. My translation.
Ibid. 93.
discusses them with her in private meetings. At the school, Regina is reunited with Inge
with whom she shares a deep hatred and fear of the other students. The biggest burden
they share, however, are their parents’ expectations: “Vati sagt, ich darf ihm keine
Schande machen und muß die Beste in der Klasse sein,” erzählte Inge. “Das sagt Papa
auch,” nickte Regina. Ich wünsche mir oft [...] einen Daddy und keinen Papa.”353 Regina
is ashamed of this wish, which she identifies as the wishful thinking of a child: “Ob ihr
Vater wohl ahnte, daß sie sich so lange einen Daddy gewünscht hatte, der wie andere
Väter aussah, Englisch sprach und keine Heimat verloren hatte? Sie schämte sich sehr,
daß sie Kind gewesen war.”354 Repeatedly, Regina is denied and denies herself to be a
child. When it comes to dealing with her parents’ loss, she is expected to and forces
herself to act as though she is an adult.
While Regina wishes that her parents were less German, Walter fears that Regina will
lose her German roots, and especially (what he considers) her native language, German.
At the same time, he feels guilty for depriving her of what she considers home, i.e. the
farm. As a soldier in the British Army in Nairobi, Walter regains some of his old selfconfidence, but whenever he thinks of Regina, he is tormented by the thought to have
failed his daughter. He cannot bear to tell her in person that she will never see the farm
again because he has decided to move the family to Nairobi. Instead, he informs her of
his decision in a letter. Regina responds at once, but does not mention the farm. She
closes the letter with an English quotation by Admiral Nelson: “England expects every
man to do his duty.” 355 This letter confuses Walter who is not sure whether Regina is
making fun of him or whether the cold atmosphere at the boarding school has made it
Ibid. 97.
Ibid. 227.
Ibid. 193.
difficult for her to express her true emotions. The letter also causes Walter to worry that
one day, he will only be able to communicate with his daughter in English: “Wie sollte er
je in einer fremden Sprache seiner Tochter erklären, was geschehen war, um sie alle und
für immer zu Außenseitern zu machen, wie in Englisch von einer Heimat reden, die sein
Herz marterte?”356 Walter does not realize that his daughter’s position within her own
family and her social status as a German-Jewish refugee at school make her feel more
like an outsider than living in Africa, which she considers her home.
Whenever Walter and Jettel receive a letter from Germany or remind each other of
their former lives in Leobschütz, they retreat to a world, in which their daughter does not
belong, i.e. “in der nur Platz für sie beide war.”357 Regina does not want to burden her
parents with her own problems. Therefore she does not tell them about her homesickness,
her status as an outsider and the problems she encounters at the boarding school. Instead,
she finds her own coping mechanisms to deal with the homesickness and the daily
unpleasantries. For this purpose, she invents an imaginary magic fairy, whom she tells
her secret worries. The fairy is ridiculed by her parents whenever they catch Regina talk
to or think of her: “Wem soll ich denn erzählen, was ich gelesen habe […]?,” asks Regina
after she has come to Nairobi. “[…] deiner blöden Fee,” her mother responds
Regina’s second “coping mechanism” develops after she meets Martin, an old friend
of her parents from Germany. Martin had emigrated to South Africa before the war and
had become a soldier in the British army. He surprises Walter and Jettel on the farm one
day and decides to pick up Regina from school. Zweig is rather vague in depicting what
Ibid. 194.
Ibid. 258.
Ibid. 212.
exactly happens between eleven-year old Regina and Martin. Regina is said to fall in love
with Martin whom she describes as her prince and the man she wants to marry. However,
the following text passages convey a less romantic picture. Infact, they suggest that
Martin touched Regina inappropriately. Upon being picked up before the official end of
the school year, Regina feels relieved and happy: “Das Glück der Heimkehr machte ihren
Körper heiß. Sie öffnete die Bluse, um kleine Seufzer freizulassen und freute sich an den
Tönen der Zufriedenheit, die sie so lange entbehrt hatte.”359 From this point onwards, the
encounter between Martin and Regina is solely described from Martin’s point of view:
Die pfeifenden Töne weckten Martin. Er sah Regina zu lange an und merkte die
Beunruhigung zu spät. Eine Weile machte er sich vor, die noch nie so stark erlebte Gewalt
der Einsamkeit [...] würde[...] ihn verwirren, dann begriff er jedoch, daß es die längst
vergessen geglaubten Erinnerungen waren, die ihn bedrängten.”360
Martin’s memories take him back to Germany, where he sees Jettel for the first time:
“Martin wunderte sich ein wenig, daß Jettel nackt war, aber er empfand es als wohltuend,
daß ihre schwarzen Locken einen Reigen tanzten.”361 His memories of his first love
overwhelm him and mislead him to think that Regina is not a child: “Regina sah ihrer
Mutter nicht ähnlich und war längst nicht so schön wie Jettel als junges Mädchen, aber
sie war kein Kind. [...] Jettel hatte ihm einst bewußt gemacht, daß er ein Mann war.
Regina erweckte ihn (sic!) ihm den Wunsch nach Zukunft statt Vergangenheit.”362 Martin
urges Regina not to be sad when she has to leave the farm. When asked why he does not
want her to be sad, he promises Regina that he will come back to her after the war. He
Dann bist du eine Frau. Er beugte sich herunter, zog Regina an den Schultern hoch, und als
er ihre Haut berührte, geriet ihm die Zeit wieder durcheinander. Er kam sich erst jung und
Ibid. 172
Ibid. 173.
unbekümmert vor, dann als er hörte, wie schwer er atmete, alt und töricht. Er holte aus, um
die Wehmut zu zertreten, doch Reginas Stimme kam seiner Beherrschung zuvor. “Was
machst du da?” kicherte sie. “Das kitzelt.”363
When Regina leaves the boarding school to join her parents in Nairobi, she remembers
Martin and adds another detail to her memory: “Zu deutlich erinnerte sich Regina […]
wie sie beide im Jeep zur Farm gefahren waren und kurz vor dem Ziel unter dem Baum
gelegen hatten.”364 Regina’s disturbed attachment to Martin is caused by the incident
under the tree, which bears close resemblance to sexual molestation or rape. Jettel is
aware of her daughter’s secret infatuation with Martin. However, instead of talking to her
openly about it, she expects Regina to forget Martin and the farm quickly. “Ich will die
Farm nicht vergessen,” Regina informs her mother. “Auch nicht deinem geliebten Vater
zuliebe?” Jettel asks sneeringly. “Papa versteht mich. Er will ja sein Deutschland auch
nicht vergessen.”365 Although Walter understands his daughter, he does not spare her the
same pain he suffered upon leaving the place he called home. Step by step, he prepares
his daughter for the family’s return to Germany. Regina’s new life in Nairobi also has an
impact on her spirituality. Walter takes her to the synagogue and explains: “Es geht um
dich […] du sollst wissen, wohin du gehörst. Es ist höchste Zeit.”366 As a consequence,
Regina, who does not dare to ask her father for clarification, stops praying to her own
African god Mungo on Friday evenings and instead half-heartedly honors the Jewish
It seems that every occasion and every event in Regina’s life is marked by Walter and
Jettel’s experience of loss and their feelings of sadness and displacement. Even when
Ibid. 174.
Ibid. 242. My emphasis.
Ibid. 212.
Ibid. 255.
their son Max is born, Walter brings up his failure to protect his own sister (who has died
in a concentration camp) when he tells Regina: “Der weiß genau, was er will. Wenn er
groß ist, wird er gut für dich sorgen. Anders als ich für meine Schwester.”367
Significantly, Regina does not know which language to use when she talks to Max.
Her and her father’s opinion of what constitutes Max’ native tongue obviously differ. “Er
ist noch kein richtiger Refugee und geniert sich nicht, wenn er seine Muttersprache hört,”
encourages Walter his daugther. “’Jambo,’ flüsterte Regina, ‘jambo, bwana kidogo.’ Sie
erschrak, als sie merkte, daß das Glück ihre Wachsamkeit für Worte, die ihren Vater
ängstigten, eingeschläfert hatte.”368 Max comes to replace Regina’s imaginary fairy; she
speaks to him in English and Jaluo and shares her secrets, fears and worries with him.
She tells him that she cries with her mother, who is afraid to go back to Germany, “ins
Land der Mörder.” But she also understands her father for whom not every German is a
murderer. And so she also cries for him. Not only her parents’ constant arguing troubles
Regina, but also the premonition that it will be upon her to make a decision. Regina is
subjected to her father’s apparent helplessness. He urges her to help him and does not
accept her plea: “Ich bin doch noch ein Kind.” “Das bist du nicht, und du weißt es. Mach
wenigstens du’s mir leicht. Ich könnte mir nie verzeihen, wenn ich dich unglücklich
mache.”369 Regina hesitates to tell her father that she has been more unhappy than he
knows, but finally decides to tell him what she has experienced at the boarding school
and now at the school in Nairobi: “In Nakuru war ich nur deutsch und jüdisch, jetzt bin
ich deutsch, jüdisch und ein bloody Refugee. Das ist schlimmer als nur bloody Refugee.
Ibid. 277. My emphasis.
Ibid. 306.
Glaub mir Papa,”370 she explains to Walter who had asked her first whether she had any
idea how the refugee status makes him feel. Still, Walter continues to urge Regina to help
him convince her mother that the return to Germany is the right choice. Regina feels
burdened by the promise she makes to him, i.e. not to be sad when they leave Africa.
This brings back another seemingly painful and violent traumatic memory:
Noch während ihr Vater sprach, schlugen die Erinnerungen so scharf auf Regina ein wie
die geschliffene Axt auf einen kranken Baum. Sie roch den Wald von Ol’ Joro Orok, sah
sich im Gras liegen, spürte das Feuer einer unerwarteten Berührung und danach sofort den
stechenden Schmerz.371
Thus, Walter’s wish that Regina should not be sad brings back the memory of the
promise she gave Martin. The memory returns as a visual and sensual flashback. Regina
sees herself lying in the grass; she smells the trees, she feels Martin’s touch and a
piercing pain. Walter affirms that Regina will forget the farm one day and that she also
has to forget Martin. Once again, Walter thus underestimates and dismisses his
daugther’s feelings and reactions. He minimizes Regina’s emotions towards Africa, the
farm, and Martin.
Stefanie Zweig’s literary alterego Regina Redlich appears to be a traumatized child on
several levels. She experiences her parents’ reactions to war, death and loss and
undergoes personal loss through separation from her parents. Ultimately, she goes
through the same experience as her parents when she loses her African home, country,
language and culture. However, her trauma goes rather unnoticed, i.e. it is not
acknowledged by her parents who are too wrapped up in their own difficult life
circumstances. Another trauma in a series of traumatizing events is Regina’s
victimization through sexual abuse, which she romanticizes and suppresses. As a
Ibid. 307.
Ibid. 308.
traumatized child, Regina early on learns when it is better not to say anything or to
trivialize her own emotions. She senses that her parents are unable to deal with her
feelings. Regina learns to protect her protectors and thus reacts like many traumatized
children. According to child psychologist Elin Hordvik, children who have gone through
a (series of) traumatizing event(s) often think: “I did not want to upset them. It would
only have made things worse.”372
On March 9th, 1947 the Redlich family goes on board the ship “Almanzora,” which
leaves from Mombasa and takes them to England. This departure on a journey that will
ultimately take them to Germany, divides the family once again, as it means different
things to each family member: For Walter, returning to Germany stands most of all for
regaining his self-confidence as an individual, a man and lawyer. Jettel is torn between
excitement and fear. Regina finds comfort in thinking that the family’s return will make
her father happy. After Owuor has left, Regina confides in her father what her African
mentor taught her prior to his departure. “Owuor […] hat gesagt, ich muß dich
beschützen. Du bist ein Kind.” Thus, the ending of Stefanie Zweig’s first
autobiographical novel, once more affirms that due to a trauma-induced role reversal
between parents and child, Zweig’s child protagonist Regina, puts her father’s feelings
first. The consequences and impact of this scenario on Regina’s teenage years and her life
as a grown woman are described in the sequel to Nirgendwo in Afrika, Stefanie Zweig’s
second autobiographical novel, Irgendwo in Deutschland.
Hordvik, "What is psychological trauma? Methods of Treatment." 24.
3.4 Remembering and Narrating Childhood Trauma in Irgendwo in Deutschland
According to Stefanie Zweig’s second autobiographical novel, the Redlichs’ arrive in
Frankfurt on April 15, 1947. Upon leaving the train, fourteen-year old Regina
concentrates on keeping a straight face. She does not want to cry like Jettel. Neither does
she want to aggravate her mother with the “Anflug jenes hoffnungsvollen Lächelns […],
das ihr Vater von ihr erwartete.”373 Again, Regina is torn between pleasing either of her
parents. She suppresses the hunger, thirst and fear that have stiffened her body – a
physical reaction to what she saw after crossing the border to Germany: the aftermath of
war, burnt down and destroyed houses and one-legged men on crutches. She resists the
temptation to do anything that would ease her fear:
Sie rieb ihr Gesicht an der warmen Haut ihres Bruders und widerstand der Versuchung,
ihm jene paar Worte in der Sprache der Jaluo ins Ohr zu flüstern, die ihr Kraft gegeben
hätten, den Kampf gegen die Angst aufzunehmen.374
The only remedy against Regina’s fear is imagining Africa – Owuor, the language, the
landscape - but she does not allow herself to think of it.
Dedicated to her brother Max, the 22 chapters of Zweig’s second autobiographical
novel Irgendwo in Deutschland review the Redlichs’ lives from their return to Germany
in 1947 until Walter’s death in 1959. After their arrival in Frankfurt, Walter is puzzled to
find himself in a similar situation to his arrival in Kenia. Penniless and stranded, he has to
leave his family behind to look for shelter. Paradoxically, the Redlichs’ are not allowed to
stay in a hotel as the Americans consider them Germans. With the help of an American
soldier, the Redlichs’ are finally assigned a room in a German woman’s apartment. Five
days later, Regina notes in her diary: “Nun habe ich endlich jemand zum Reden. In
Irgendwo in Deutschland. 8.
diesem Tagebuch werde ich nämlich nur Englisch schreiben. Da komme ich mir vor wie
zu Hause.”375 Thus, Regina again avoids sharing her reactions and feelings with her
parents. The Jüdische Gemeinde moves the Redlichs’ to another temporary place, i.e. the
former Jewish hospital that serves as a home for seniors. Here, Regina meets Jewish
people who have returned from Auschwitz and Theresienstadt. Upon listening to their
stories, Regina confides in her diary: “Ich weiß gar nicht, wie ein Mensch so etwas
erzählen kann, ohne zu weinen. So viel Trauriges wie in den ersten zehn Tagen in
Frankfurt habe ich mein ganzes Leben noch nicht gehört.”376
Apart from the sad stories told by Jewish survivors, Regina also encounters Germans,
who maintain that they used to have Jewish friends and that they have always been
against Hitler. She admires her mother who publicly speaks her mind when she overhears
a woman complain about the long queue in front of a shop: “Wir müssen uns die Beine in
den Leib stehen, und den Juden werfen sie alles in den Rachen.” In response, Jettel
shouts at her: “Glauben Sie, ich stehe freiwilig neben so einem verdammten Naziweib?
Ich bin jüdisch.”377 Much later, Regina will feel ashamed that she cannot stand up for
another human being. This scene is reminiscent of Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt’s
protagonist’s experience. Like Goldschmidt’s nameless child protagonist, Regina
witnesses the public humiliation of a Jewish man and is appalled at her incapabality to
take action. She is also irritated by the open curiosity and the gaping bystanders, who
open their windows and put pillows on their windowsills to watch the scene. Suddenly
she hears a man shout: “Dich hat man auch vergessen zu vergasen.”378 Regina is revolted
Ibid. 23.
Ibid. 24.
Ibid. 27.
Ibid. 96.
by what she hears, she gags and her hands turn cold: “Ihr war es, als zerreiße sie ein
Schmerz, von dem sie nicht wußte, in welchem Teil ihres bebenden Körpers er begonnen
hatte.”379 She is not only shocked, but also feels guilty because she only stands there,
silent, as if nothing happened. Witnessing the attack of a Jewish man makes her aware of
her lacking self-confidence and dignity. Up to this point, she had blamed her English
education for the lack of moral courage. She is about to call Jettel for help and to hope
that what she witnessed has only been a nightmare, when she sees her father who
threatens the insulter to sue him. Although she is deeply shocked herself, seeing Walter
weakened by the incident reminds Regina of her promise to Owuor, i.e. that she has to
protect her father: “Obwohl ihre Augen noch naß waren, konnte sie schon wieder lächeln
und sich bereit machen, ihrem Vater die Träume, die er nicht verloren geben konnte, zu
erhalten.”380 One of these dreams concerns her personally and will have serious
consequences for her adult life: Regina promises Walter to never marry a non-Jewish
man to spare Walter the fear and sorrow that his daugther might be mistreated and
dishonored. Paradoxically, Walter does not know or ignores that Regina has been
mistreated and dishonored as a child – by his Jewish friend Martin.
A few months later, Regina notes in her diary that she finally shares a secret again
with her father. She surprises him as he sings an African song to Max. When he asks
Regina not to tell her mother about it, Regina feels “wie damals als Kind. Nur damals
wußte ich nicht, daß Liebe auch satt macht.”381 For Regina, feeling like a child means to
be vulnerable, weak and powerless. At the same time, she is empowered by thinking back
Ibid. 99.
Ibid. 28.
to her childhood in Africa. Thinking of Owuor is a source of strength that enables her to
deal with her new life in Germany.
Besides being moved from one temporary place to the next, hunger is another of the
daily hardships the Redlichs’ have to endure. Walter breaks down at work due to
malnutrition and both Jettel and Regina lose a considerable amount of weight. Every day
seems filled with new challenges and surprises. Regina starts school, worried that she
will not be able to read German. She does not understand most of what is being said and
taught, but remarks that she is amused by the students’ and teachers’ poor English, which
she considers worse than that of the German refugees in Africa. At home, Regina finds
herself in a similar situation to what she experienced in Africa. She observes her parents’
difficulties at adapting to what Walter refers to as “his third life.” However, this time,
Regina finds it challenging herself to feel at home. She is confused about the people and
attitudes she encounters. Thus, she does not know how to respond when a Jewish
acquaintance asks her to translate the sentence “Ich hasse die Deutschen” into Suaheli.
Regina admits that she does not know the Suaheli word for hatred. Weakened by hunger,
she becomes sick and, once again, escapes into a fantasy world, in which she finds herself
reunited with Owuor in Africa. However, she soon realizes that she also needs to return
to reality, a life she does not love but feels she must accept because she shares it with her
parents and brother. She is appalled when a befriended doctor suggests to send her to
Switzerland to recover. Regina is afraid to to leave Frankfurt and to exchange the
“Vertrautheit der bekannten Mißlichkeiten” for yet another unfamiliar environment.382
All attempts to convince Walter that she does not want to leave the family fail. In return,
she promises herself not to enjoy herself: “Im Trotz der Trennung war sie entschlossen
Ibid. 65.
gewesen, sich einer Welt zu verweigern, in die sie keinen Einlaß begehrt hatte, weil sie
wußte, daß sie das versprochene Paradies wieder zu einem Kind machen würde, das der
Verlassenheit der Fremde schutzlos ausgeliefert war.”383 In Zurich, Regina stays with the
wealthy Guggenheim family. In the beginning she feels like “a Kikuyu Kind, das zum
erstenmal mit nackten Füßen einen Holzboden betritt und Angst hat, sich zu
verletzen.”384 The wealth and especially the amount and quality of food mesmerize
Regina. She feels guilty because she does not think of her family while indulging in the
luxury offered to her. Regina warms to Bruno Guggenheim who changes her emotional
and intellectual life profoundly by introducing her to the world of art and literature. He
takes her to the theater and discusses his paintings with her. Zweig describes the
friendship between Bruno and Regina as one that only lasted three months. However, it is
said to have changed Regina’s way of feeling and thinking “wie zuvor nur die Ankunft in
Afrika und das furchtbare Sterben der Vergangenheit beim Abschied.”385 She soon
realizes that she finds it difficult to write letters home. In them, she mentions only how
much weight she has gained and does not share how much she appreciates learning about
art. She remembers her father’s disencouraging remark in Africa upon seeing her paint a
picture. “Du kannst doch lesen, warum mußt du malen?,” he had asked her.386 When she
learns about the worth of the paintings at the Guggenheims’ residence, she is afraid to
mention the original Cezannes, Renoirs and Utrillos, knowing that her father would not
take a man seriously who spends so much money on art. Regina, who in Zweig’s words
becomes “theaterbesessen” and “bilderhungrig” in Switzerland, realizes that the art work
Ibid. 67.
Ibid. 70.
Ibid. 75.
Ibid. 77.
that surrounds her will be an alternative remedy besides thinking of Africa, which has
helped her escape the “Welt der Not” in Germany.387 With Bruno Guggenheim, she also
shares how she has been affected as the child of Jewish parents. “Ich bin als Erwachsene
geboren worden,”388 Regina tells him when he comments that growing up in exile and
returning to Germany after the war must have forced her to grow up quickly. Soon, the
reality closes in on Regina. She receives a letter in which her mother begs her to convince
Walter not to give up his job as a judge to become an independent attorney. Back in
Germany, Regina finds herself in her old and familiar position, i.e. the mediator between
her parents. Her encounter with the “Leichtigkeit der Fülle” in Switzerland not only
makes it harder for her to fulfill this role, but also makes her more vulnerable towards her
parents’ marital problems. Finally, Walter’s insistence on his independence prevails and
the family once again adheres to his professional needs and personal dreams. Whereas the
rest of the family thinks more and more of the future, Regina finds herself reflect more
and more on the past and her African childhood. However, she does not want to hurt her
father, and so she accepts the fact that despite their close bond, he does not know
anything about her.
Meanwhile, Walter and Jettel’s attempts at matchmaking infuriate and puzzle Regina
and make her feel insecure. They take Regina to the Jewish nursing home where they
advertize her “wie eine preisgekrönte Kuh.”389 Regina feels offended by Walter’s blunt
remarks: “Da gehen wir hin. Für Regina ist ein Mann aufgetaucht.”390 For the first time,
Regina openly expresses her anger and disappointment. Zweig also reflects on what
Ibid. 78.
Ibid. 79.
Ibid. 101.
makes this situation so impossible: “Wäre ihr ein Leben möglich gewesen wie anderen
Gleichaltrigen, die sich von ihren Eltern ohne Rücksicht auf Familie und Tradition, ohne
Schuldgefühle und mit der heiteren Unbekümmertheit von Optimismus ohne Erfahrung
lösen konnten, hätten sie die Männer, fast alle wesentlich älter als sie, sogar gerührt.”391
On the other hand, Regina also tries to understand that Walter means well. Quite
typically, Zweig switches perspectives here and has Regina interpret her father’s side of
the story:
Sie machte Frieden mit ihm, denn sie begriff, daß er an einer Schuld litt, über die er noch
nicht einmal mit ihr sprach. Er verzieh sich nicht, daß er Regina in ein Land geholt hatte, in
dem es für sie aussichtslos war, einen jüdischen Mann zu finden, ihr aber gleichzeitig das
Versprechen abgenommen hatte, keinen Nichtjuden zu heiraten.392
Regina’s adult relationships with other people, particularly with men, are clearly
affected by what she lived through as a child and adolescent. The exile years in Africa as
well as the return to Germany have created a bond between the family members that
hinder Regina from separating from her parents in order to become an independent
individual. However, not only her family is responsible for this failure. Martin is another
factor that contributes to Regina’s inability to form relationships with other men. Martin
reappears in Irgendwo in Deutschland. After her parents and Max leave for the weekend,
Regina receives a telegram. Upon reading it, Regina seems hyperaroused, which is one of
the key characteristics of post-traumatic stress disorder:
Wie frisch durchspitzte Pfeile durchbohrten die Buchstaben ihre Sinne und verbrannten die
Kehle mit dem beißenden Salz eines Schmerzes, von dem sie vergessen hatte, daß er noch
in ihr war. Die so lange gestorbenen Tage fielen sie an und beutelten sie mit gnadenloser
Gier. [...] “Komme Samstag 18.00 Uhr in Frankfurt an. Martin Barret, lautete das
Ibid. 103.
Ibid. 135.
Martin and Regina’s encounter seem like a sequel to the first. Upon his arrival, Martin
once again confuses Regina with Jettel: “‛Mein Gott, Jettel bist du jung geblieben,’
seufzte Martin und drückte Regina so fest an seinen Körper, daß sie sofort Bescheid
wußte.”394 Regina remembers that Martin had also confused her with her mother when
she was an 11-year-old child. She still thinks of him as the prince who liberated her from
the prison of the boarding school and as the man who had given her the “Magie der
frühen Erkenntnis” under a tree. Once again, Zweig remains rather cryptic here and does
not go into any further detail as to what she means by “Magie der frühen Erkenntnis.”
However, from how this chapter proceeds, there is no doubt that something sexual had
happened between her and Martin in Africa and that Regina had repressed the memory of
it: “Der leichte Druck seiner Lippen auf ihrer Haut versengte jeden Zweifel. Regina hatte
nichts von ihrem beunruhigenden Kinderrausch vergessen, obwohl sie ihn schon vor
Jahren sorgsamer begraben hatte als ein erfahrener Hund seinen Knochen.”395 Although
Zweig depicts a considerable part of this encounter between Regina and Martin from
Regina’s point of view, she soon switches to Martin’s perspective: “Er sah einen
mächtigen Baum im dunklen Wald Afrikas und einen hellen Flecken Haut, als Regina
noch nichts von den Fallen wußte, die sie stellte, und ihre Bluse aufgeknöpft hatte.”396
Here, the female child is depicted as using her seductive forces that the grown up man
cannot ignore or resist. Regina invites Martin to spend the night with her, and when she
sees him come out of the bathroom, she turns into the 11-year-old she used to be when
they first met in Africa. Their sexual encounter is not at all tender, but depicts a rather
violent image:
Ibid. 136.
Ibid. 137. My emphasis.
Ibid. 139. My emphasis.
Als sie […] Martins Körper berührte und er ihren, als sie seinen Atem an ihrem Ohr fühlte,
die Hand auf ihrem Mund spürte und den Schrei erstickte, der noch in ihrer Kehle gefangen
war, begriff sie, daß sie sich zu nahe an ein Feuer herangewagt hatte, das weder Mungo
noch die Zeit je würden löschen können.397
Zweig describes Regina as a victim, as somebody who had “offered herself to the
hunter.”398 Martin once again makes Regina promise that she will not be sad after he is
gone. She agrees but only because she does not want to explain her sadness to her father.
Upon their return, Walter greets Martin with a question: “Du hast doch nicht etwa meiner
Tochter was getan?” Thus, Regina remains trapped between the promise she gives Martin
(not to be sad because he will not stay with her) on the one hand, and the one she has
given her father (not to marry a non-Jewish man).
Yet, not only her adult love life, but also her professional development is affected by
the aftermath of her childhood trauma. After graduating from high school, she tries to
explain her lack of excitement for the future and her lethargy as the normal frustration of
somebody who just finished school. According to child psychiatrist and trauma specialist
Lenore Terr, a sense of futurelessness together with a tone of confinement and
hopelessness are major symptoms of childhood trauma. Zweig seems well aware of the
trauma conditions that shape her protagonist’s adult life. Thus, Regina is described as:
zu ungeübt im Selbstbetrug und auch nicht naiv genug, um nicht genau Bescheid zu
wissen. Regina hatte nie die Furcht des Kindes überwunden, das mit einer nicht
wiedergutzumachenden Plötzlichkeit und vernichtenden Heftigkeit aus der Vertrautheit der
eigenen Welt gestoßen worden war, um für immer unter Fremden zu leben.399
Regina does not only feel uncomfortable among her German schoolmates and
teachers. She also does not feel as though she belongs to the Jewish people – the men her
parents want her to consider for marriage, the strangers they defend when they witness
Ibid. 147.
Ibid. 177-178.
anti-semitic attacks, or her father’s clients, i.e. Jews who lost their belongings before and
during the war and whom Walter assists to receive restitution. Two incidences change
Regina in this respect. During her interview for a job as a journalist, the interviewer
provocatively asks her what she would do if he did not hire her. Would she think that he
rejected her “aus rassischen Gründen”? For the first time in her life, Regina feels strong
enough to stand up for herself. “Wenn Sie so denken, [...] dann hat es keinen Zweck, daß
Sie weiter mit mir reden. Zu Hause nennen wir so was Sippenhaft.”400 Regina’s use of the
term means that she identifies herself as a Jew. “Sippenhaft(ung)” refers to the
punishment or imprisonment of a person based on the fact that s/he is related to
somebody. During National Socialism, this kind of accountability was used as a means of
terrorism against political enemies and their families. It is rather significant that in
defending herself, Regina uses this term and thereby emphasizes her family’s role in her
life. The second incident that changes Regina’s sense of belonging has to do with one of
her father’s clients, i.e. Anne Frank’s father Otto. Unable to get away from an
appointment, Walter asks Regina to meet and have dinner with Frank. In the course of
their conversation, Regina realizes that she looks like Anne. She apologizes to Otto
Frank, who reassures her that he wants to imagine what Anne would have looked like if
she had been allowed to survive. “Für mich bleibt Anne ewig Kind.Wir hatten keine Zeit
mehr zum Abschiednehmen, da entgleiten Gesichter.”401 This conversation helps Regina
realize that, although her life has been difficult, at least she had always been allowed to
say good bye: “Regina dachte an die Abschiede, die hinter ihr lagen, doch dieses eine
Mal waren die Krallen der Trauer gestutzt zur Sanftheit des dankbaren Staunens, und sie
Ibid. 184.
Ibid. 202.
begriff, welche Gnade ihr widerfahren war. Ihr war bei jedem Abschied der lange Blick
gewährt worden.”402 Zweig seems to forget here that Regina had not always allowed such
a long gaze. For example, in Africa, Walter informs Regina that she will never see the
farm again.
Zweig revises Regina’s thought when it comes to the longest farewell of all, i.e.
witnessing Walter’s deteriorating health and his death on January 11, 1959. Zweig refers
to this day as “ein Zerstörer des Lebens.”403 At the funeral, Regina realizes that she did
not have time to say the most crucial words to her father:
Sie war nicht mehr zu dem entscheidenden Wort gekommen, nicht mehr dazu, den Kopf
noch einmal zu wenden. Ihr war es, als in Ol’ Joro Orok, da sie ahnungslos, ohne
Abschied, ohnen einen Blick auf Haus, Wald und Feld, auf Menschen und Tiere die Farm
verlassen hatte und nie wieder zurückgekehrt war. Sie hatte auch dieses Mal keinen
Abschied nehmen dürfen.404
The decisive exchange of words would have been father and daughter’s mutual
addressing each other as “Bwana” and “Memsahib.” Regina senses that with her father’s
passing, the African songs they sang together as well as the games they played with each
other’s memories, in other words, the magic is gone.
Stefanie Zweig’s life-writing recaptures the magic she shared with her father. Her
novels bring the world she shared with her family back to life and retains it not only for
her brother, to whom she has dedicated her second autobiographical novel, but also for
herself and her readers. At the same time, Zweig’s life-writing can be interpreted as the
author’s attempt to make better sense of her role within her family and the family
dynamics during the exile years in Africa and in Germany after the war.
Ibid. 323.
Ibid. 326.
The titles of Zweig’s autobiographical novels Nirgendwo in Afrika and Irgendwo in
Deutschland refer to the spaces the author has defined for herself as “home.” “Komisch,
dass wir alle was anderes meinen, wenn wir zu Hause sagen,” Regina comments on the
fact that each family member has a different place in mind when they refer to their
“Heimat.” As a child who has not only witnessed her parents’ trauma of displacement as
well as the trauma of returning Holocaust survivors, but who has also been displaced
herself and traumatized in a number of ways, Zweig’s own perception of “Heimat” is no
longer a physical place. In approaching her life-story in writing, she combines her (partly
traumatic) memory of her childhood with the fantasy that enabled her to cope with her
trauma. Likewise, her idea of “Heimat” is informed by her biography as well as her
imagination. It is nowhere in Africa and somewhere in Germany:
Ich bin sehr vorsichtig mit dem Wort Heimat. Und wenn ich gefragt werde: wo ist Ihre
Heimat, gucke ich immer ein bisschen vage. Ich kann nicht sagen, ob Deutschland meine
Heimat ist. Was ich sagen kann ist, dass ich in den besten Momenten Frankfurt als meine
Heimatstadt empfinde. Also ich hänge sehr an Frankfurt.405
However, as the interviewer adds, Zweig’s longing for Africa repeatedly motivates her to
write: “Es vergeht kein Tag, an dem sie nicht an ihre Kindheit in Afrika denkt.”406
Schortmann, "Stefanie Zweig."
Chapter 4: “Turning Childhood Disasters into Adventures”: Lore
Segal’s Novel Other People’s Houses
At the house, after school, I had begun to write my autobiography, to let the English know, as I
had promised my father, what had happened to us under Hitler. But when I came to write it down,
I felt a certain flatness. The events needed to be picked up, deepened, darkened.
(Other People's Houses. A Novel. Fortieth Anniversary Edition ed. New York; London:
The New Press, 2004. 62.)
I have known the state of grace in which everything I thought and heard and saw and read and
remembered dovetailed into a novel.
(Lore Segal, “Author’s Note.” Shakespeare’s Kitchen. New York and London: The New Press,
2007, xi.)
4.1 Lore Segal’s Childhood Traumas
There were efforts to rescue Jews during the Holocaust, which affected only children.
One such event was the organized emigration of 10,000 Jewish children from Austria,
Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia to England. These former child refugees, who
came to England from December 1938 until the outbreak of the war by means of what
became later known as the Kindertransport, still refer to themselves as “Kinder” today.
Lore Segal left Vienna on a Kindertransport train as a ten-year-old child. Segal’s
protagonist Lore in Segal’s novel Other People’s Houses is taken by surprise when she
learns about her departure:
In the streetcar going home, my father held my hand. He said, “So you will be going to
England.” I said, “All by myself?” and I remember clearly the sensation, as if my insides
had been suddenly scooped away. At the same time I felt that this “going to England” had
a brave sound. “Not all by yourself!” my father said. “There will be six hundred other
children.” “When am I going?” I asked. “Thursday,” said my father. “The day after
tomorrow.” Then I felt the icy chill just below my chest where my insides had been.407
A mixture of feelings characterizes Lore’s reaction: She feels confused and angry
upon hearing her parents’ plans for the day after her departure. Segal writes: “Already
Other People's Houses. A Novel. Fortieth Anniversary Edition ed. New York; London: The New Press,
2004. 76. In the following cited as OPH followed by page number.
they were getting on very well without me and I was angry.”408 The prospect of leaving
without her parents comes to her as a shock, which is reflected in her body’s reaction.
From the time she learns that she will leave Vienna without her parents throughout the
years in exile, Lore often feels sick to her stomach. In addition to anger, she also exhibits
a traumatized child’s feelings of guilt, shame, and fear. At first, she feels excited at the
prospect of traveling with six hundred other children. However, this excitement is
immediately overshadowed by guilt when she sees the long queue of people at the
embassy who might not get out of Austria in time. Later on, she feels guilty when she
does not think of her parents or whenever she laughs or has fun: “I felt my face smiling
and laughter coming from my own throat, and was horrified because I knew that the sin
of my gaiety would be visited on my parents in the very disaster that I should have been
this instant praying away.”409 Once in England, these guilty feelings prevent her from
“enjoying” the entertainment arranged for the refugee children at her temporary home,
Dovercourt Camp. Instead, Lore feels compelled to write letters to refugee committees to
get sponsors and visas for her family:
I tried to frighten myself into activity by imagining that the Nazis had come to the flat to
arrest my father, but I didn’t believe it. I tried to imagine my father and mother put into
carts, but found I did not really care. Alarmed, I tried imagining my mother taken away and
dead. I imagined myself dead and buried in the ground, but still I couldn’t care about it.410
The responsibility of rescuing her parents burdens the ten-year-old child and causes
her to have nightmares as well as panic attacks during the day. The grown ups around her
do not seem to be especially understanding or caring towards her. Thus, when the
“Knackwurst”, which Lore’s mother had bought for her (risking to be caught by the
Ibid. 29.
Ibid. 41.
Ibid. 42.
Nazis after the curfew) and which had started to rot in Lore’s bag because she had not
wanted to throw it away, is finally discovered and Lore is forced to throw it away, she
“roars with grief.”411 The English ladies at the scene do not empathize with the upset
child. They obviously do not understand her pain and urge her to calm down: “‘Come on,
now. Are you all right?’ They both looked upset and frightened. ‘Will you be all right?’
they asked.”412 Lore is expected to “get over it” - the most common approach to the grief
in war-traumatized children at the time.
The foster atmosphere Lore encounters throughout her time in other people’s houses is
generally more positive than the one Goldschmidt’s protagonist experiences at the French
children’s home. Unlike Goldschmidt, Segal was apparently neither physically abused
nor starved. However, similarly to Stefanie Zweig’s experiences in the English boarding
school in Africa, Lore’s life in Great Britain had an effect on her identity, her perception
of the future, and the way she related to other people. Most of all, as will be shown
further below, living with other people estranged her from her own parents and made it
difficult for her to form romantic relationships with men.
The foster family environment was by no means loving or comforting enough to not
have damaged Lore’s young psyche. “My childhood had not prepared me to expect harm
from grownups,” Segal notes upon remembering her first week with her first foster
family, the Levine’s in Liverpool.413 As a child, Lore grows up thinking that she is a
likeable child. Yet, the Levine’s are not so easily impressed. Lore is shocked when she
realizes that “everybody did not love me […] that there were people who did not think of
In her review of Other People’s Houses, which reappeared in shortened form in the foreword to the most
recent edition of Other People’s Houses, Cynthia Ozick has beautifully interpreted the “Knackwurst” and
Lore’s handling of it as a parable on Jewish life in exile.
OPH, 47.
Ibid. 49.
me as perfectly good and charming.”414 Mrs. Levine complains to a friend that all her
little refugee does is sit around all day, “moping.” She does not sympathize with Lore
who is often overcome by homesickness. She does not understand that it takes an effort
not to cry all the time. Not surprisingly, Lore does not easily warm to Mrs. Levine either.
Although she feels sad that she does not like it when Mrs. Levine holds her in her arms,
Lore’s nervousness and insecurity around her foster mother increases more and more.
Segal writes: “I went on loving Mrs. Levine when she wasn’t looking.”415
As psychoanalyst Ute Benz notes, young children go through periods when they
experience strong conflicts with themselves and other family members. Benz points out
that during certain times children experience strong and ambivalent feelings of hate and
love and often suffer “greatly from unconscious feelings of guilt due to repressed
aggression.”416 Accordingly, they develop a defense mechanism to these feelings: “They
feel personally responsible for misfortunes befalling their persons of reference.”417 Benz
If children demand attention following separations - even if this is not manifested
immediately but only later, through problems in adaptation or in schoolwork, this should
not be viewed merely as an expression of childish inability or anger. More often this
behavior is a form of unconscious self-punishment, an attempt to atone for supposed guilt
through personal failure: "I cannot, I am incapable, I must suffer for this, I should be
Lore does not get sufficient attention upon her arrival in England. First, although she
tries hard to make a good impression, she fails to attract the attention of the journalists
and photographers who are there to report the sad story of the child refugees. During the
first weeks in England, she and hundreds of other children stay at Dovercourt Camp.
Ibid. 70.
Ibid. 75.
Benz, "Traumatization through Separation: Loss of Family and Home as Childhood Catastrophes." 87.
When she is finally “picked” by Mrs. Levine to come and live with her family, Lore is
disappointed. As Beate Neumeier observes, Lore had expected “very special, very
beautiful people” as a fairy-tale ending to her rescue story. Instead, her foster-mother
appears to her “old,” “ugly,” “frightening,” and “fat.”419 Neither the Levine’s nor the
other foster families are intellectually informed or emotionally equipped to grasp Lore’s
trauma, its symptoms and consequences. Instead, they are portrayed as lacking
compassion and sympathy for the child who consequently learns to suppress her feelings
and begins to disassociate from her environment:
I wanted to cry. I cradled my head in my hands and planted my elbows on my knees and let
homesickness overcome me as one might draw up a blanket to cover one’s head. I never
knew when the maid left the room or how the day passed. Once, I came to as if with the
wearing off of a drug that left me sober and sorrowless in a strange room.420
If Lore’s sadness is too obvious, Mrs. Levine is disappointed and urges her to put on a
happy face. If she feels only remotely happy, this happiness is followed by a general
numbness and strong guilt:
I’m not ‘moping,’” I said. The truth was that I never exactly understood the word
‘moping.’ After the first days, I had lost my capacity to cry whenever I felt like it, and now
I didn’t even feel like it any more. Often when I giggled with Annie in the kitchen, I would
stop in horror, knowing I must be heartless: I had been enjoying myself; it was hours since
I had even remembered my parents.”421
While concentrating on controlling her emotions, Lore loses control over her body.
She frequently wets herself and often vomits.422 Together with two other refugee girls
(Helene and later on, Renate), Lore develops a game that bears similarity to what Lenore
Terr has described as posttraumatic play. Thus, Lore introduces a game in the course of
Beate Neumeier, "Kindertransport. Memory, Identity and the British-Jewish Diaspora," Diaspora and
Multiculturalism. Common Traditions and New Developments., ed. Monika Fludernik, vol. 66 (New York:
Rodopi, 2003). 101.
OPH, 53.
OPH, 66.
On Lore’s psychosomatic symptoms of exile, see also Marianne Kröger, “Ankunft in fremden Welten –
Spuren des Kindheitsexils in autobiographischer und fiktiver Litertatur bei Lore Segal,” In Als Kind
verfolgt. Anne Frank und die anderen. Ed. Inge Hans-Schaberg (Berlin: Weidler, 2004), 185.
which the girls have to guess how long it will take to get another letter from home, and
later on how long it will take until they see their parents again. This apparently playful
activity turns grim when Helene learns that her parents have been deported. “I am not
playing anymore,”423 she informs Lore, who keeps “curiously looking at Helene who was
an orphan.”424 Lore goes on imagining that her own parents are dead but all she sees is a
strange vision:
[…] whenever I tried thinking about my father I would see him spread-eagled high above
the ground comically wiggling his arms and legs, trying to get down from the thing like a
telegraph pole on which he was trussed up. I wondered if that might mean that he was dead
and tried to imagine him climbing down but could not crystallize this idea in my mind’s
eye and so I removed it from him and focused it on my mother, but whoops, there she
went, too, right up on the pole, and I knew that she could not come down until I had
removed my thought from her. For the rest of the week I was continually at work to stop
myself from thinking of my parents so that they could keep their feet on the earth.425
After witnessing that the fear of losing one’s parents was in fact quite realistic, Lore
goes on to suppress the thought altogether. The guilt of not thinking about her parents
combined with the suppression of her anxiety leaves her numb and seemingly depressed.
When her parents finally arrive on her birthday, Lore is mostly relieved. Due to her
trauma, she cannot react as is expected from her. Again, her emotional response,
especially the apparent lack of excitement accompanying it, disappoint her host mother:
“Well!” said Mrs. Levine. ‘So! Aren’t you excited, you funny child?’ ‘Yes, I am. I’m
excited,’ I said, but I was busy noticing the way my chest was emptying, me head clearing,
and my shoulders being freed of some huge weight that must, since I now felt it being
rolled away, have been there all this time without my knowing it. Just as when the passing
of nausea or the unknotting of a cramp leave the body with a new awareness of itself, I
stood sensuously at ease, breathing in and out.426
OPH, 61.
Ibid. 71.
Ibid. 72.
Ibid. 73.
Lore feels obligated to please her foster mother and so she jumps up and down to
pretend excitement, “though what I wanted most was to be still, to taste the intense
sweetness of my relief.”427
Although Igo’s and Franzi’s emigration to England saved their lives and put an end to
Lore’s fear of losing her parents to Hitler, the trauma of separation continues. Upon their
arrival in England, Lore is reunited with her parents for only a few days. Their social
status does not allow Lore to live with them. Instead, she stays separated from her parents
during most of her exile in England. Their life as a family of three had thus ended in
Austria when the Nazis had taken their apartment and forced them to live with Lore’s
maternal grandparents. The war and its effects on her family life cause Lore to prepare
herself for more bad things to happen. She thus exhibits a repeatedly traumatized child’s
lack of trust in the future: “I kept myself in a state of alarm. I kept expecting calamities as
if this would prevent them from happening. I remembered during the school day […] I
invented awful things that might be happening to my father, precisely where, and in every
circumstantial detail.”428
4.2 “Almost an English Girl”: The Effects of Childhood Trauma on Lore’s Social
and Spiritual Identity and her Relationships with Others
As a child in exile, Lore is torn between her Austrian origins and her efforts to adapt to
the English culture on several levels. The struggle to become more English while
retaining her Austrian heritage impacts her outlook on life, her quest for social and
religious identity as well as her relationships with her parents and her foster families.
Like every child, she wants to belong and to fit in. Yet, at the same time, her frequent
Ibid. 135.
change of residence also make it necessary to repeatedly disengage herself from people,
values, traditions and beliefs. On the other hand, staying with other people makes Lore
aware of who she wants to be and how she wants to behave. While she is frowned upon
and treated like the child from an inferior class by the wealthy Levine’s, she herself feels
as though she deserves something better than what the working class families have to
offer and thrive for. As a consequence, in response to her and her parents’ unstable
existence among strangers, Lore gradually develops a strong sense of self as well as an
acute awareness of social (in)justice and moral goodness.
Similarly to Stefanie Zweig’s life-writing, Other People’s Houses is as much Lore’s
story as it is the story of her parents’ struggle in exile. The novel reiterates stories Lore’s
mother told her and the letters she sent from her first working place in the south of
England. Her parents’ social descent has a more negative effect on her father than her
mother. Due to his clumsiness and his poor health, Lore’s father’s career as a butler lasts
for only three days. Franzi, on the other hand, adapts to her new status rather well. She
“makes herself known”429 to the other woman in the house (her employer) by “small acts
of resistance,” such as using the best china for her own coffee or not wearing the apron
and cap when she serves at the table. As a consequence, while her husband seems to lose
his self-esteem, Franzi is able to retain hers, for which she receives the admiration of her
While visiting with her parents in the South of England, Lore receives a letter, which
informs her that the Levine’s do not want her to come back. Consequently she is sent to
live with the Hooper’s, a Christian working class family. Chapter 5 entitled “Mellbridge:
Ibid. 83.
Segal dedicated Other People’s Houses to her mother Franzi.
Albert” continues to tell Lore’s story in exile with a focus on the development of her
awareness of English class differences. This becomes especially apparent in Lore’s
conviction that she belongs in the prestigious private school for which she wins a
scholarship. She is surprised to learn that her friend Gwenda, the Hooper’s youngest
daughter, would rather go to the county school, although she too wins a scholarship to
attend the private school. Like Stefanie Zweig’s protagonist Regina, Lore does not
mention to her parents that she is not happy at the new school: “‘I’ve got plenty of
friends,’ I said, for I could not bear my mother to know that I was the kind of person who
didn’t have.”431 Similarly to Regina, Lore does not want to burden her parents with her
own sorrows.
Apart from the outbreak of the war, this chapter describes Lore’s fear of and
fascination with Albert, an orphaned boy who also lives with the Hooper’s and whose
room she occupies. She is afraid of him and shocked at his violence as well as at the
frankness with which he touches the Hooper’s oldest daughter’s breasts. When Albert
accidentally hits Mrs. Hooper with a tennis racket, Lore goes after him and, in an outburst
of rage, accuses him:
‘You’re just like the Germans,’ I yelled with my head hot and pounding and my heart
bursting in pure relief: ‘You are a Nazi!,’ I screamed, not because of what Albert had done
to Mrs. Hooper, but because he had kept me in the subjection of fear all these months.432
Afterwards, Lore feels “less aware” of Albert. But soon thereafter, the Hooper’s
inform her that she can no longer stay with them. It does not take Lore, who by now is an
experienced refugee and child in exile, very long to find a new home. All by herself, she
meets with the committee lady who finds another working family. When Lore says
Ibid. 108.
Ibid. 110.
goodbye to Albert, their “hands met briefly, but our eyes slid away, for he and I shared,
like an obscenity between us, the knowledge that we had hated one another.”433
Lore moves in with the Grimsley, a dysfunctional family including “a simple smiling”
eight-year-old, a seven-year old mentally disabled boy, and an angry five-year-old who
keeps setting fire to the plastic curtains in the bathroom. Lore ends up giving the
overwhelmed Mrs. Grimsley advice on how to raise her children. “I said it was the bad
habits they picked up in the streets. In Vienna, I said, I had never been allowed to play
with the street children.”434
While living with different foster families, Lore develops a split conscience: on the
one hand, she knows she should be thankful to these people for taking her in. Her mother
Franzi often reminds her to write thank you notes to all of them: “The necessity of those
letters, I remember, hung like a small but constant shadow over my adolescence.”435 On
the other hand, Lore feels superior to them and is plagued by a sense of not belonging in
their midst. This conflict, together with the ongoing harassment at school, and her worries
about her parents trouble Lore to the point at which she apparently ponders committing
I knelt on the settee in front of the window with my forehead against the glass, feeling my
marbles around inside their bag, watching the children. I remember thinking, If I let go my
hands on the windowsill, my head will go through the glass and I let go my hands and
heard the crash and felt the outside breeze about my head, and saw the windowpane like a
collar around my neck, and howled. Mr. and Mrs. Grimsley came running and in the street
the children collected to watch Mr. Grimsley carefully break off the jagged glass pointing
at my throat and draw me, unhurt, back inside. I said, ‘You see, my hands slipped on the
windowsill. I was leaning like this, you see, when I slipped,’ and it seemed even to me that
that was the only way it could have happened.436
Ibid. 116.
Ibid. 112.
Ibid. 152.
Soon after this incident, the Grimsley’s move and Lore goes to stay with Mr.
Grimsley’s elderly parents who also provide shelter for a “Cockney” evacuee called
Tony. Lore catches Tony steal from the Grimsley’s and tries to educate him on how to be
a good child refugee (like herself). Thus, Tony, the evacuee, Helene and Albert, the
orphans and later on Herta Hirschfeld (see below) serve as negative role models to whom
Lore compares herself and from whose experiences she learns to differentiate between
good and bad behavior. Lore engages in a sort of self-education as for once, her parents
are no longer present to raise her; in addition, they do not appear to be trustworthy
sources of wisdom when it comes to living in England.
When the war bombings intensify and Igo is interned together with “all male aliens of
hostile origin,”437 Franzi decides to move Lore and herself further inland to Allchester.
This is how Lore finally comes to stay with her fifth and last foster family, Mrs. Dillon
and her sister Miss Douglas. The two are not impressed with Lore’s Kentish workingclass accent and thrive to turn her into one of them, i.e. a proper Christian English lady.
Lore feels mostly at ease with the sisters but refuses to become a snob like them. She
often agrees with and speaks up for Milly, the maid: “I usually knew the kitchen to be in
the right, but it was the drawing room that attracted me.”438 While eavesdropping behind
the door, a habit she develops during the years in different foster homes and for which
she feels guilty as well, Lore overhears one sister criticize the other for scolding Lore:
“That’s never to make a Christian out of her.”439 Lore reports to feel “a sudden furious
loyalty to myself. No one was going to make anything out of me.”440 As Alan Berger
Ibid. 113.
Ibid. 153.
Ibid. 147.
Ibid. 154.
notes, this reaction seems to conform to historian Michael M. Meyer’s definition of
“‘Trotzjudentum’: Jewishness out of spite; a refusal to disappear, not for any positive
reason, but, nowadays, so as not to give Hitler a ‘posthumous victory.”441
The conditions of exile take Lore’s spirituality to the test. Growing up in Vienna, she
had been an assimilated Austrian, Jewish “mainly on the high holidays.” She had learned
about the Christian population of Austria from her grandmother’s stories, in which the
Christians always spoke with a peasant accent. Lore grows up thinking that Christians are
“comical people.”442 Upon leaving Austria, her mother tells her that she has to find out
what she wants to believe on her own. At Dovercourt Camp, Lore is picked by the
Orthodox Levines to come and stay with them. Not knowing what “orthodox” means,
Lore shocks the family with her ignorance of the Jewish traditions. However, Lore is
eager to please and soon becomes “a purist”:
Mrs. Levine had to make me do up my shoes when I came down with the laces dangling,
not having wanted to mar the Lords’ Shaboos with the work of my hands; I would not
accept her offer of ice cream one second before the six hours after lunch when, the law
said, milk might mix innocently with the meat in my stomach.443
During her stays with the Hooper’s and the Grimsley’s, Lore is too occupied with the
question of social class to worry about her spirituality. In her last foster home, these two
aspects, which endow her identity, merge and become equally important. Thus, Lore
observes the ladies’ charity work, which they perform as a Christian duty. At the same
time, this charity work is subject to the sisters’ rather snobbish idea of class. At
Christmas, Lore accompanies Miss Douglas to visit the poor:
If they were gentle folk, … [W]e sat with them and had tea. Miss Douglas would make
conversation with sign language into their hands and tell them about me, and I would go
Michael A. Meyer cited in Alan L Berger, "Jewish Identity and Jewish Destiny. The Holocaust in
Refugee Writing: Lore Segal and Karen Gershon," Studies in American Jewish Literature 2.1 (1992).87.
Ibid. 149.
Ibid. 150.
and stand near them and shake hands. If they were poor people, Miss Douglas stayed in the
car and I went and rang the doorbell and left a parcel of food.444
Irritated by her role as the delivery person to the poor, Lore makes her increasing
indignation at the Christmas charity known: “I was a socialist again for almost a
week.”445 Miss Douglas’ response to Lore’s socialist opinions at once exposes her as a
That’s the way things are arranged, [Miss Douglas] said. If everyone were well off, what
would become of charity? I said, if everybody were well off, then everybody would be
equal. And nobody would have to eat in the kitchen. Miss Douglas said that would never
do. Everything would be turned topsy-turvy. The way things are arranged, she said, the
lower classes wait on me, or if I am giving a charity party for my poor deaf-and-dumb
children I am happy to wait on them, and their mothers, too, but it would never do to sit
down together.446
Lore is not satisfied with “the way things are arranged” according to her foster
mothers. As a consequence, she refuses to adhere to the sisters’ Christian spirituality. At
the same time Lore is not entirely convinced of Judaism either. Together with another
Jewish girl, Herta Hirschfeld, she takes religious instruction from a rabbi who fails to
ease Lore’s confusion concerning her religious faith. Subsequently, a visit to the
synagogue turns out to be a disappointing experience:
I wanted to pray but the place was too noisy. The chanting men didn’t even keep together.
They bobbed and bowed like so many rocking chairs going at different speeds. I was glad
Miss Douglas wasn’t there to see how Jews carried on in church as if it were in their own
Although Lore’s quest for religious identity proves to be difficult, it is not fatal, as in
her friend Herta’s case. Miserable in exile and torn between her Jewish origins and the
English Christian environment, Herta cannot bear it any longer and takes her own life.
Ibid. 165.
Ibid. 158.
Herta is not only a significant figure when it comes to Lore’s quest for spiritual
identity. Before her death, Herta also makes Lore aware of something the latter would
rather not deal with. When Miss Douglas and Mrs. Dillon buy a house for the German
and Austrian refugees in town, Herta asks Lore whether she will move in with her
parents. “I had been worrying about this myself, but I said, ‘Of course not. You see, my
father is not well. And my mother goes to work. Besides, they only have one room.’”448
What Lore does not tell Herta is that her visits with her parents “were not a success”:
I was not happy in their company. I came to Clinton Lodge like a native returning home
after a lifelong absence. My German was uncomfortable in my mouth. The manners I had
learned from my parents no longer felt adequate or proper. These people seemed to me
underbred. They laughed too loud. They moved restlessly around the house.449
During one of these visits, Lore overhears her mother’s friend Mrs. Katz comment on
her behavior toward her parents: “ Poor Franzi. That child is getting as chilly as the rest
of the English.”450 This hurts Lore’s feelings profoundly but while returning to Mrs.
Dillon’s and Miss Douglas’ house which is located up the hill from where her parents
live, she experiences a “perceptible change”:
I came, walking more slowly through the side gate, stepped quietly into the back hall, my
jaw reset to speak English, my facial muscles to smile, my bones realigned at the waist, the
seat of politeness, and opened the door into the drawing room.451
There, Lore receives the acknowledgement she craves for but which, at the same time,
makes her aware of how estranged she feels from her parents: “Mrs Dillon beamed at me
out of her sweet blue eyes. ‘How nicely she carries round the tea,’ she said [...] ‘Doesn’t
she? Almost like an English girl.’”452 Lore’s life in exile is thus defined by a sense of
Ibid. 161.
Ibid. 162.
Ibid. 163.
confusion and of not belonging. Lore is unsure of her religious affiliation, her social
status as well as her personal relationships with her foster families and her own parents.
Whereas Lore shares a special bond with her mother Franzi, her relationship with her
father is described as problematic from the start. “It was Paul, not my father, who had
been the man in my life,”453 Segal writes right at the beginning of Other People’s Houses.
It is her uncle Paul who encourages her to dance, paint and draw and who invents her
favorite stories. In contrast, Lore does not appreciate her father’s stories: “The trouble
with my father’s stories was that they were all one interminable Kipling story about the
fight that Rikki-tikki-tavi, the mongoose had with a snake.”454 Lore also resents her father
for making her mother unhappy at times. For once, Igo always argues with Lore’s
grandmother. “The other way my father had of making my mother unhappy was by
getting ill, which he always did when I least expected it and always, it seemed to me,
when there was some excitement my mother and I had planned […].”455 Igo continues to
complicate Lore’s life in exile. Although it is he who insists on Lore’s departure and thus
ultimately saves everyone’s life, once in England, he is not able to adjust and appears as a
broken man. Lore feels ashamed of Igo’s inability to make a fresh start, to communicate
in English and to carry out the work assigned to him. She resents him for letting Franzi
do all the work. At the same time, she feels guilty for her lack of compassion. As Igo’s
health deteriorates, Lore distances herself from him. The weaker he gets, the angrier she
reacts towards him. At his bed in the hospital, she feels “nothing but excruciating
boredom.”456 Lore discourages her father from leaving the hospital because she does not
Ibid. 6.
Ibid. 12.
Ibid. 10.
Ibid. 125.
want him to burden her mother. When he does get out, she detests the way he argues with
the other refugees at the house. Their difficult relationship culminates when Lore pushes
her father to the ground:
In the mirror I saw him coming up close behind me. Would you like to have my crocodile
belt for your own? Mind! I said, stepping away from the mirror as if to get a better
distance, but it was really to force him back away, and though I knew that his feet were not
quick enough to realign themselves, his failing to move infuriated me so that I turned and
put a hand against his chest and pushed him. Astonished, I saw the astonisment on his face
as he felt himself keeling over. Falling, it seemed to me, with infinite slowness, he struck
the foot of the bed with his shoulder and slid amost gently to the floor.
Neither Lore nor her father tell Franzi what really happened. After her father suffers
several strokes, Lore imagines him dead. She is horrified “because I might have no tears
for him and the emptiness of my unnatural heart would be exposed to my mother and
proved to myself.”457 Igo finally dies when Lore is 15 years old. Chapter six ends with
Segal’s comment on telling her mother the truth about physically attacking her father.
Other People’s Houses thus adopts a confessional tone. Igo’s death and Lore’s confession
to her mother mark the end of Lore’childhood and adolescence in Other People’s Houses.
The rest of the book deals with her struggles as an adult, the college years in London, the
family’s reunion in the Dominican Republic, and ends with Lore’s new start in New York
On an excursion to Oxford, Lore falls in love with the place, which seems to be
everything she is not: “at ease with itself, at one with its own past – upper class,
English.”458 She is accepted to Oxford as a student, but cannot afford to wait for another
year. Consequently, Lore and Franzi move to London. Here, Lore attends an all-woman
college, which is part of the University of London, while Franzi finds a job as a
Ibid. 140.
Ibid. 167.
housekeeper for an old, ill German professor. This chapter, entitled “London: Frocks,
Books, and No Men,” describes Lore’s state of mind during these three years in London
as “near euphoria, alternating with a painful sort of of desperation because I had no one
with whom to be in love, and over all there hung a cloud of guilt because of the studying
I was not doing.”459 In (post)traumatic terminology, Lore’s emotional and intellectual
state of mind can be linked to the common symptom of hyperarousal, as well as the
commonly observed failure to concentrate. In addition, trauma survivors often report
problems in forming love relationships. Thus, the effects of her childhood trauma linger
and continue throughout Lore’s adulthood in London, as well as her exile years in the
Dominican Republic. There, Lore is reunited with the rest of her family whom she has
not seen since she left Austria as a ten-year-old. Upon her arrival, she feels sick and
realizes that she does not like this new country. She begins to “wilt” as she never
“acquires any regular duties” and has difficulties getting attached to the place and its
Lore’s grandmother’s American quota comes through first in 1949. Lore and her
mother join her and Paul in New York in 1951. Upon arriving in New York as a 23-yearold, Segal remembers some people asking her what [she] most felt [herself] to be Austrian, English or American, and [her] answer: “I feel like an Austrian Jew who was
educated in England and lives in America.”461 As a consequence of her scattered life,
Lore tells her friend Carter Bayoux (who will reappear in Segal’s novel Her First
American) that she and her family “don’t celebrate any more. No Christmas because
we’re Jewish, and no Jewish holidays because we were assimilated Austrians, and no
Ibid. 170.
Ibid. 253.
Austrian holidays because we got thrown out for being Jewish, and we haven’t acquired
the American holidays yet.”462
Thus, Other People’s Houses ends on a melancholic and rather pessimistic note.
Although Lore notes that she has finally found a stable home in the United States - “the
war is still cold, and overseas; no one of my people, this moment, is ill; every hour day
there are hours when I can write, and have our friends”463 - the traumatic tone of
futurelessness that characterizes the novel as a whole also pervades it through the end.
4.3 Where Autobiography Stops and Fiction Begins: Remembering and Narrating
Childhood Trauma in Other People’s Houses
Since 1988, when a large reunion in London marked the fiftieth anniversary of the
Kindertransport, there has been a surge in publications on the topic. Apart from
documentary films, two theater plays, poetry as well as fiction have been produced.464 In
addition, an increasing number of “Kinder” themselves have come forward with their
life-stories. According to the most recent bibliography published by the Kindertransport
Association465, 29 autobiographies have been written to this date (2007).466 As Andrea
Ibid. 303.
Ibid. 311-312.
Kindertransport is the name of a play by Diane Samuels, which examines the later life of a
Kindertransport child. It was first performed by the Soho Theatre Company at the Cockpit Theatre in
London on April 13, 1993. More recently, My Heart in a Suitcase based on Anne L. Fox’ book and adapted
by Greg Gunning was produced by Arts Power in Montlair, NJ; Poets who have depicted their
“Kindertransport” experience are Karen Gershon (Selected Poems, 1966), Norbert Hirschhorn (A Cracked
River, 1999) and Lotte Kramer (Phantom Lane, 2000); Fictional accounts of the “Kindertransport” include
Anita Brookner’s The Latecomers (1989) and Making Things Better (2003); Anita Desai’s Baumgartner’s
Bombay (1998); Jane Gardam’s Flight of the Maidens (2001); Gwen Edelman’s War Story (2001); Sara
Paretsky’s Total Recall (2001); Caryl Phillip’s The Nature of Blood (1997) and W.G. Sebald’s novel
Austerlitz (2001). Most recently the Kindertransport also featured in Eva Menasse’s novel Vienna (2005)
and in Katharina Geiser’s Vorübergehend Wien (2006).
According to its website, the Kindertransport Association (KTA) is a
not-for-profit organization of child Holocaust survivors who were sent, without their parents, out of
Austria, Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia to Great Britain. KTA has a membership of about 700
former “Kinder” (including some second generation) out of an estimated 2,000 who emigrated to the USA
Hammel points out, the beginning of most of these autobiographical texts is
chronologically structured. The narratives start with the family background of the birth
parents, reaching back to the time before they were born. Most of the texts describe life
briefly before and after the start of Nazi persecution and the children’s parents’ decision
to send them on a Kindertransport.467 According to Hammel, “Kindertransport
autobiographies are shaped by fragmented development and unstable identities and the
tensions between birth families and foster families and between Continental Europe and
Great Britain.”468
Following the first Kindertransport reunion, reunion organizer and “Kind” Bertha
Leverthon together with Shmuel Lowensohn edited a compilation of individual stories,
which in turn encouraged others to write their memoirs and autobiographies.469 Another
collection of authentic Kindertransport experiences was published as early as 1966.
Karen Gershon’s “choral narration”470 We Came as Children told the story of the
Kindertransport from the point of view of those who were ready to speak about their
experiences at the time. Gershon’s book did by no means trigger the same effect as the
Leverthon/Lowensohn project. The general lack of response to Gershon’s remarkable
from Britain after the war. The KTA was founded in 1990, one year after its “parent’ organization”, the
British Reunion of Kindertransport (RoK), now represented by the AJR (Association of Jewish Refugees) KTA publishes a quarterly journal, Kinderlink and also raises
funds to help children in danger and need.
For literature on autobiographical writing by Kindertransport refugees, see Andrea Hammel’s extensive
work; e.g. Andrea Hammel, "Identitätssuche im Text. Autobiographisches Schreiben von ehemaligen
Kindertransportteilnehmern," Als Kind verfolgt. Anne Frank und die anderen, ed. Inge Hansen-Schaberg
(Berlin: Weidler, 2004). 167-177; Andrea Hammel, "Representations of Family in Autobiographical Texts
of Child Refugees " Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 23.1 (2004). 121-132; Andrea
Hammel, "Between Adult Narrator and Narrated Child: Autobiographical Writing by Former Members of
the Kindertransport.," Children of the Holocaust, ed. Andrea Reiter (London, Portland, OR: Vallentine
Mitchell, 2006). 62-73.
Hammel, "Representations of Family in Autobiographical Texts of Child Refugees ". 130.
Bertha Leverton and Shmuel Lowensohn, I Came Alone: The Stories of the Kindertransports (Sussex,
England: Book Guild, 1990).
Vice, Children Writing the Holocaust. 29.
effort to collect testimonies at the time elucidates that neither Great Britain nor the rest of
the world, nor the “Kinder” themselves were ready (or able) to grasp the larger context of
and the effects of the Kindertransport on their lives.471
Lore Segal’s Other People’s Houses is perhaps the earliest literary depiction of a
“Kind’s” Kindertransport experience is. In it, Segal tells the story of the Groszmann’s, a
Viennese Jewish family and their fate in exile. Segal’s childhood has clearly impacted her
work as a writer and translator. She is especially interested in portraying the fears
children face during childhood, and how these fears later on shape them as adults.
According to Lore Segal, “children have their own tricks for handling fear: My grandson
has tigers on his mind, so he turns into a tiger. I turned my own childhood disasters into
adventures.”472 In other words, Segal became a writer to face and write about her own
fears. These childhood disasters and adventures form the plot of Other People’s Houses, a
piece of life-writing that originally started as the author’s diary, which she composed in
German as a refugee child in England. As an adult writer, Segal transformed her
autobiography into the story of her childhood. For her novel Other People’s Houses, she
reinvented her childhood memories in English, the language of her exile.
Karen Gershon is best known for her poetry. Her fictional work as well as her autobiography Das
Unterkind: Eine Autobiographie (1992) are based on her experiences as a child in exile and have to this day
not received sufficient scholarly attention. Similarly to Goldschmidt’s, Zweig’s and Segal’s work,
survivor’s guilt, exile, and yearning for a lost home are recurrent themes in Gershon’s work. Like
Goldschmidt, Gershon is particularly interested in the link between sexuality and Jewish identity. Thus, she
translated German Jewish social philosopher Ludwig Marcuse’s treatise Obszön: Geschichte einer
Entrüstung (1962), which traces the associations between anti-Semitism and censorship. Significantly,
Gershon also briefly mentions in her autobiography that masturbation became a coping mechanism for her
upon learning that she had to separate from her parents. To my knowledge, this is the only other author
(apart from Goldschmidt) who thematizes her sexuality in such a way.
Lore Segal, “Baby Terrors.”
The first eight chapters (Part 1) of Other People’s Houses were originally printed in
segments in The New Yorker between March 1961 and July 1962. This first part was also
published separately in Britain in 1974, as a children’s book. In 1964, the second part
appeared, again at first in The New Yorker. All twelve chapters together were published
as an autobiographical novel that same year. In 2000, Other People’s Houses was finally
translated and published in Austria, under the title Wo andere Leute wohnen. Defined as
a memoir, semi-autobiographical novel or autobiography in earlier reviews and articles,
the label “a novel” was added to the 2004 fortieth anniversary edition.473
A note preceding all editions not only connects Segal’s second novel Her First
American with her first by mentioning the main character, an African American named
Carter Bayoux. It also points to Segal’s approach to writing her childhood story. Thus,
the note reads: “The ‘Carter Bayoux’ of my book once told me a story out of his
childhood. When he had finished, I said, ‘I knew just where your autobiography stopped
and fiction began.’ He said, ‘Then you knew more than I.”474 As a writing motto, which
precedes the main text on a separate page, this note points to the interplay of
autobiographical and fictional elements in remembering and narrating one’s childhood
experiences. The motto not only suggests that Carter Bayoux exists in real life, but also
indicates that Segal wants her readers to watch out for where her autobiography stops and
the fiction of Other People’s Houses begins.
As the only text discussed in this study, Other People’s Houses is a novel told from
the first person perspective of a female narrator called Lore, i.e. a narrator/protagonist
Accordingly, Picus published Wo andere Leute wohnen (The German translation of Other People’s
Houses) as “Roman.”
Carter Bayoux reappears in Segal’s third novel Her First American as one of the main characters. He is
an educated African American with a severe drinking problem, who introduces the Austrian Jewish
immigrant Ilka Weissnix into the American way of life and falls in love with her.
who shares the same name with the author. As a consequence, the reader is encouraged to
perceive the book as Segal’s authentic childhood story. At the same time, the label
“novel” redirects the reader and commands a fictional reading mode. Like GeorgesArthur Goldschmidt’s pseudo-autobiographical texts and Stefanie Zweig’s
autobiographical novels, Other People’s Houses blurs the borders between autobiography
and fiction.
For Segal, autobiography stops and fiction begins in naming the “other people” in her
novel Other People’s Houses. Whereas the members of her immediate family are referred
to by their real-life names - uncle Paul, Franzi, and Igo - the English families’ real life
names were apparently altered.475 An autobiographical mode is encouraged by the
chronological temporal order of events, which Segal chooses for her life story. As
opposed to the other authors presented in this study, who told the story of their childhood
and adolescence in several texts, Other People’s Houses is the only piece of life-writing,
which begins with the author/narrator/protagonist Lore’s childhood and ends with the
chapter New York: My own house, which describes Lore’s present living situation as a
married woman in America. Unlike Goldschmidt, Segal hardly shifts back and forth
between different times in her life.
Other People’s Houses also features narrative elements that suggest a fictional
reading. For example, there is much more direct speech in Other People’s Houses than in
any of the texts by Goldschmidt or Zweig. Furthermore, in the chapter, which deals with
From Segal’s essays we learn that Ruth Cohn corresponds with Sarah Levine, the oldest daughter of
Lore’s first host family in Other People’s Houses. Similarly, the Willoughby’s in Illford (Lore’s parents’
first employers), Albert, the Hooper’s and the Grimsley’s in Mellbridge, Miss Douglas and Mrs. Dillon in
Allchester seem to be fictitious names. Segal might have changed their names in order to respect their
anonymity. However, together with reviewer Carolyn Kizer, one not only “wonders if any of the English
families so deftly anatomized in Other People’s Houses ever read the book and felt any pangs other than
the nip of the serpent’s tooth. One [also] meanly hopes so.” Cited in Carolyn Kizer, "The education of Ilka
Weissnix," The New York Times May 19 1985.
the family’s exile in the Dominican Republic, the story is mostly told from Paul’s
perspective. This interplay of fictional and autobiographical elements corresponds with
Segal’s image of herself as a writer. She considers herself as the “protagonist in the
autobiographical action,”476 which she chooses to convey as a novelist.
Throughout her work, Segal reflects on the process of becoming a writer. As a tenyear-old refugee, Segal’s initial writing purpose was to keep the promise she had given
her father to expose Adolf Hitler for what he had done to her, her family and the Austrian
Jews. In the essay “The Bough Breaks,” Segal remembers the beginning of her career as
a writer:
I bought one of those old schoolbooks with purple covers and a white label with a red
border in which English schoolchildren do their homework, and I filled it from front to
back with my Hitler stories. It was my first experience of the writer’s chronic grief that
what was getting down on paper was not right, was not at all that what was to say. … And
so I added several sunsets. Ruth got someone to translate it into English. I observed with
interest that it made Mrs. Cohen cry.477
According to Segal, the concept “writer” dawned on her while composing these
Hitler stories and observing her audience’s reactions: “I knew that that’s what I was
going to be. Come to think of it, I had been writing since I was ten.”478 As
Marianne Kröger points out, Other People’s Houses contains critical reflections on
these early writing efforts:
[Der Roman] bezieht sich rückblickend in kritischer Selbstreflexion auf die damaligen
Texte der Neunjährigen, die so literarisch wie möglich klingen sollten, tatsächlich aber im
dilettantischen Pathos einer Heranwachsenden, die sich als angehende Schrifstellerin
imginiert, gehalten waren und in denen sich doch nur ein Klischee an das andere reihte.479
Lore Segal, "The Bough Breaks," Testimony: Contemporary Writers make the Holocaust Personal, ed.
David Rosenberg (New York: Times Books, 1989). 245.
Segal, "The Bough Breaks." 242.
Segal, "The Bough Breaks." 243.
Kröger, “Ankunft in fremden Welten – Spuren des Kindheitsexils in autobiographischer und fiktiver
Literatur bei Lore Segal.” 181.
The fact that Segal insisted on labeling her work as a “novel” is, in Kröger’s view,
“der Anerkennung der Tatsache geschuldet, daß sie bei ihrem zeitlichen Rückblick weder
den kindlichen Aufzeichungen noch ihren eigenen Erinnerungen recht trauen kann.”480
However, while it is true that Segal is generally highly critical of her work, it is doubtful
that the labeling “novel” came about as a result of her lack of trust in her own memory.
On the contrary, Segal generally seems to be rather confident in her ability to remember
the events of her childhood. This becomes particularly clear when she reproduces
episodes of Other People’s Houses in interviews, particularly those conducted for the
documentary films, in which she renders them as the testimony of an authentic witness.
As will be shown in chapter 5, all films portray Segal as the “Kind” with the most reliable
memory of the Kindertransport. Rather than confirming the author’s insecurity when it
comes to writing about her childhood in exile, one might argue that the label “novel” was
chosen to emphasize Segal’s role as a writer and to point to the narrative means by which
she conveys the story of her life. Thus, while the initial motivations to write were rooted
in her authentic experience as a persecuted Jewish child, the literal re-creation of her life
is owed to her creative talent as a writer.
Apart from exposing Hitler’s deeds, Segal’s early writing efforts were also prompted
by the real-life promise to save her parents’ lives. Shortly after her arrival at Dovercourt
Camp in England, where all children who had come on the Kindertransport were
temporarily kept until prospective host families chose them, Lore is inspired by nature in
the camp’s garden:
I saw where, in the middle of a semi-circle of snow that must in summer have been a
flowerbed in a grassplot behind the cottage, there grew a tall, meager rosebush with a
single bright-red rosebud wearing a clump of freshly fallen snow, like a cap askew. This
Ibid. 182.
struck me profoundly. I was a symbolist in those days, and roses and the like were just my
speed. It excited me. I would write it in a letter to Onkel Hans and Tante Trude in London,
saying that the Jews in Austria were like roses left over in the winter of the Nazi
Occupation. […] I would write that they were dying of the cold. I was going to say, “If
good people like you don’t pluck the roses quickly, the Nazis will come and cut them
In Other People’s Houses as well as in other texts, Segal has referred to this letter as
“propaganda” and writes that as an adolescent, she was “embarrassed” by the fact that her
aunt and uncle “had apparently been taken by it.”482 In Segal’s own words, “it was a tearjerking letter full of sunsets. I sent it to the addresses of a refugee committee that my
father had given me, and my letter moved them to procure the job, the sponsor, and the
visa that brought my parents to England, proving that bad literature makes things
happen.”483 The following self-critical remark made by the adult author echoes the
insecurity of the child concerning her writing: “What I write will not be suspenseful. I
shy away from the strong event that leads to strong events, guaranteeing my readers an
absence of plot and myself that I will not be a good read.”484
Critics have claimed that Segal began working on Other People’s Houses twenty years
after the Kindertransport.485 However, Segal’s writing efforts were not only motivated by
her experiences in exile as a child, but she also began writing Other People’s Houses
while she was living in these houses. At first, writing became a little girl’s way of
witnessing to what had happened to her. At the same time, it allowed her to stay in touch
with her family in Austria. Writing thus functioned as a way of dealing with the loss and
anguish she was experiencing: the separation from her family and living in strange
Ibid. 40.
Ibid. 72.
Segal, "The Bough Breaks." 241. My emphasis.
Philip G. Cavanaugh, "The Present is a Foreign Country: Lore Segal's Fiction," Contemporary Literature
34. Special Issue: Contemporary American Jewish Literature (1993). 477.
environments. Finally, her letter writing took on live saving proportions. Thus, one of
Segal’s letters enabled her parents to get out of Austria and to join her in England. Only
as an adult, Segal realized that her childhood story was publishable material:
When I came to New York in 1951, I went to the New School and took a class of “creative
writing.” I could not think of what to write about. My Holocaust experience, it seemed,
was already public knowledge. I read it in papers, and saw it on the news in the movies. It
was at a party that somebody asked me a question to which the answer was an account of
the children’s transport that had brought me to England. It was my first experience of the
peculiar silence of a room full of people listening to what you are telling them. And so I
understood that I had a story to tell.486
What had started as Segal’s autobiography “to let the English know […] what had
happened to [her and her family] under Hitler”487 turned into an artistic product, in which
the “events [had been] picked up, deepened, darkened.”488 While her foster mother’s tears
had motivated ten-year-old Lore to write her autobiographical Hitler stories, it was a
similar reaction from an audience at a party that prompted the adult writer to produce a
more fictional account of her childhood story.
Segal’s multi-layered approach to writing corresponds with her view of memory.
According to Lore Segal, “recollection is a double experience; like a double exposure, the
time frame in which we remember superimposes itself on the remembered time and the
two images fail to match perfectly at any point.” 489 In her essay “The Bough Breaks,”
Segal writes:
When I read or remember a date between 1939 and 1945 […] there superimposes itself on
the recollection of the event an attempt to imagine some particular anguish, some terror,
some death that might, at the same moment, have been suffered, by my Onkel Max, on
whose lap I used to sit, or his wife, fat, beautiful Tante Frieda.490
“The Bough Breaks.” 45.
OPH. 62.
Segal, “The Bough Breaks.” 238.
This kind of recollection also “happens” to Segal’s protagonist Lore in Other People’s
Houses. Lore’s memory starts in the fall of 1937. Her 10th birthday is overshadowed by
two negative events: “On the eighth of the following March, I had my tenth birthday. On
the twelfth, Hitler took Austria and my mother called Tante Trude a cow.”491 A happy
occasion - her 10th birthday - is thus linked to the war, which will affect her family in a
most negative way. In addition, her memory also contains the marks left by the
threatening Nazi measures on the relationships between the adults around her, who are
nervous and insult one other.
Several times in Other People’s Houses Segal comments on the act as well as the
difficulties of remembering traumatic events. After the family has been forced to give up
their apartment in Vienna, Lore, her mother and father move in with Lore’s maternal
grandparents in Fischamend. Here, Lore witnesses the Nazis’ violence at first hand. They
enter the house and take everything portable away. Then her father, uncle and grandfather
are taken to the police station. Upon recalling her father’s return from the police where he
had been beaten, Segal notes: “I have a vivid and quite false memory of this brutality, as
if I had been a witness.” Most likely, her family avoided talking to her about this incident
and so she imagined the violent scene. Lore’s memory of the incident is a product of her
(vivid) imagination, based on a story of the event told by her mother or another close
Throughout Other People’s Houses, Segal uses formulas such as “I remember feeling,
This is me going to England,”492 or “I thought, This is me, awake, watching the children
OPH. 4.
Ibid. 29.
sleeping.”493 These formulas connect the adult author to her childhood memories. It
seems as though Segal thus tries to access her childhood by putting herself back into the
position of the child refugee she used to be. About her time in Dovercourt Camp, where
she stays shortly after arriving in England, she writes:
There seems to be only a certain amount of room in my memory. I cannot keep the
subsequent days separate in my mind or remember how many there were. There were
English lessons. I remember a drawing competition that I either won or thought I ought to
have won – I don’t recall which.494
With so many new and stressful experiences in Lore’s life, it became impossible to
store them all. An important change takes place when her parents join her in Liverpool:
“It seems to me that after my parents came to England life at the Levines’ was less
emotionally strenuous.” Segal adds: “ I remember less about it.”495 Lore is relieved to
know that her parents have been saved from the Nazi threat. The text mirrors the fact that
her memory of her own life in England after her parents’ arrival is less important to her.
Accordingly, after two chapters, which deal with her upbringing and the loss of her home
in Vienna as well as her journey on the Kindertransport, Segal switches her focus from
her own exile experience to that of her parents’. She relies on stories her mother told and
letters she wrote her from her working place. On the suppression of certain painful
memories, Segal notes: “My mother tells me a story that I seem to have chosen to forget,
for I want nothing to spoil my infatuation with that formal, gentle town.”496 The incident
Lore does not want to remember refers to the lady of the house who, one day, requests
that Lore’s father should give the donkey a break and pull the cart filled with manure
himself. Lore must have felt humiliated by her father’s humiliation. However, as has been
Ibid. 31.
Ibid. 45.
Ibid. 74.
Ibid. 120. The town is Allchester where her parents work as cook and gardener for a wealthy English
family. My emphasis.
shown above, she seems to have directed her anger about the humiliating treatment of her
father toward him instead of his English employers who would have deserved it.
Similarly to the ways she uses her memory, Segal also applies language as a multifaceted tool. In “Memory: The Problems of Imagining the Past,” Segal points out that
“childhood reminiscences require a miscomprehension or two.”497 Segal successfully
renders these miscomprehensions in the scenes that depict Lore’s struggles with
language. These scenes add to the credibility of the child protagonist’s character, which
thus comes to life in the reader’s mind.498 Lore’s sensitivity towards language starts very
early, at her grandparents’ house in Fischamend. In her grandparents’ backyard, which is
also requisitioned by the Nazis, Lore ignores her parents’ urging to come inside. She
apparently is not entirely aware of the dangerous situation. Thus, she wants to be seen by
the German soldiers and attracts their attention by torturing her cat, which is seated on
her lap. The German soldier approaches and urges Lore to stop skipping the rope around
the “poor pussy’s” neck:
“Pardon?” I said politely. Though I had heard very well what he said, I wanted to hear him
say “Kätzchen” again - the unfamiliar harsh-sounding diminutive of “cat,” so different
from the tenderly comic sound of the Austrian “Katzerl.” The animal meanwhile was
choking. The paymaster rose and came over, saying, “Armes kleines Kätzchen” (“Poor
little kitten”), and untied it.499
Lore’s curiosity about the changes in her life endangers but also helps her deal with
the anxiety caused by the Nazi threat. At the same time, this particular scene conveys
Segal’s linguistic heritage and her talent as a writer to demonstrate it: Segal’s child
Lore Segal, "Memory: The Problems of Imagining the Past," Writing and the Holocaust, ed. Berel Lang
(New York; London: Holmes and Meyer, 1988). 61.
In this context, secondary literature on Segal’s work and Segal herself cite Lore’s misinterpretation in
regards to the name of her grandparents’ hometown, Fischamend. According to Segal, as a child she
believed the town had been named after the fish placed on the end of the tower.
protagonist Lore is an Austrian child who is fascinated by the differences between
Austrian and German German. As a writer, Segal provides an example for this
fascination and explains the subtle linguistic difference between the two varieties of the
German word for “young cat” to her English-speaking readership. She is able to do so
because, after being forced to leave Austria as a child, she lived in an English-speaking
environment. Secondly, what the paragraph reveals is Segal’s ironic tone and her
tendency to encourage the reader to read between the lines. Thus, the child protagonist
Lore almost strangles the cat to get attention from a Nazi soldier who himself would most
likely not shy away from strangling a Jewish child. In other words, the Nazi is portrayed
as a man who shows compassion for an animal and saves its life from the hands of a
Jewish child whom he might have murdered, had she not managed to escape the
Holocaust. Segal dissolves the paradox of the seemingly brutal Jewish child and the
animal-loving Nazi soldier by means of language: The soldier’s language is described as
“harsh” whereas the child speaks the “tenderly comic-sounding” Austrian variety of the
same language.
Another threatening situation is Lore’s linguistic preparation for her British exile.
Thus, she takes English lessons from a young English woman whose boyfriend wears the
SS uniform and sits in the waiting room adjacent to that in which Lore learns the
Although Segal has mastered the English language and composes her work in it, her
Austrian origins shine through the dialogues between the German-speaking characters in
her books. While Segal does not comment much on Lore’s language acquisition once she
is in England, she describes in detail her parents’ struggles with the English language in
chapter 4 of Other People’s Houses, “Illford: The Married Couple.” Language thus
becomes one of the barriers between Lore and her parents. Whereas the child refugee
succeeds in communicating fairly quickly, she observes that particularly her father has
difficulty and ultimately fails at learning to speak English. Igo does not speak at all or is
portrayed as stubbornly insisting on speaking German. His silence turns him into an
outsider in both the culture of his exile as well as in his own family. As a consequence, he
loses Lore’s respect and his authority as an adult and father.
Memory and language are two important aspects of Lore Segal’s work with which she
transcends the trauma of her childhood into literature. Other People’s Houses is based on
the author’s childhood memories but they have been translated into a language other than
the one the author was originally born to speak.
To sum up, Segal remembers and simultanously reinvents her Austrian childhood and
her life in Great Britain, the Dominican Republic and the United States in English, the
language of her exile. During this process, her autobiography stops and the fiction of
Other People’s Houses begins. Thus, Segal recreates herself as the child protagonist in
the autobiographical action and thereby turns her childhood disasters into a literary
Chapter 5: The “Traumatization” of Documentary Filmmaking
A historical documentary, regardless of the media it uses – archival footage, dramatic
reconstruction or animation – succeeds when it takes you to the heart of a historical moment and
has a clear vision of what it is trying to say.
(Orly Yadin, “But is it Documentary?” Holocaust and the Moving Image. Representations of
Film and Television Since 1933, 172.)
5.1 Documentary Films as Creative Treatments of Holocaust Actuality
In her overview of Hollywood cinema’s treatment of the Holocaust, Trudy Gold notes
that “any attempt to recreate reality in fiction raises the question of why fictionalise an
event rather than present the work as a documentary.”500 Similarly, Lawrence Baron
argues that traditionally “Holocaust scholars have insisted that the memory of the
Holocaust should be presented only with the utmost realism and reverence.”501
Subsequently, Baron questions that the Holocaust should be represented in this limited
way and suggests to be more openminded when it comes to judging Holocaust films:
Different directors dealing with various topics naturally use diverse modes of represention
and degrees of verisimilitude to render their films visually effective, emotionally moving,
or thought provoking. Their movies should not be judged by whether they are historically,
politically, or theoretically “correct” but whether they figuratively or literally evoke a sense
of the collective and individual choices and historical circumstances that enabled Hitler to
persecute or liquidate milions of civilians […] . 502
Baron’s suggestion refers to feature films, but it can also be applied to documentary
films, which traditionally have been expected - even more than feature films - to provide
a realistic portrayal of the Holocaust.
Trudy Gold, "An Overview of Hollywood Cinema's Treatment " Holocaust and the Moving Image.
Representations in Film and Television since 1933, ed. Toby Haggith and Joanna Newman (London and
New York: Wallflower Press, 2005). 196.
Lawrence Baron, Projecting the Holocaust into the Present (Lanham, Boulder, New York et. al.:
Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005). Viii.
Ibid. viii-ix.
Documentary films have traditionally been considered to depict authentic facts about
the “real world.” However, since the 1990s, there has been a decreasing tendency in
linking documentary films with actuality. Accordingly, documentary film makers have
begun to use filmic strategies that have traditionally been assigned to feature films. This
approach to documentary film making is characterized by an emphasis of any film’s role
as an interpretation of the world, a shift from objectivity to subjectivity, and by film
scholars’ turn to the concept of trauma. Accordingly, critics and film makers have
emphasized that Holocaust documentary films should also be viewed and judged as
interpretations of reality. In focusing on Holocaust documentary films, recent film theory,
influenced by a turn to trauma theory, reverses Trudy Gold’s comment by raising the
question of how fictional means of film making can help to recreate the reality of the
Holocaust. In other words, critics who employ this theory ask: Why not fictionalize the
Holocaust if the “reality” of the Holocaust as depicted in films is always recreated and
subject to interpretation in the first place?503
Theoretical works on the origins and development of documentary film generally
identify John Grierson as the father of the genre. In response to his friend Robert
Flaherty’s film “Moana” (1922) on life in Samoa, Grierson is said to have coined the
notion of documentary film as we understand it today: “Not to tell a story with actors but
In this context, animation filmmaker Orly Yadin’s comments on the making of her film Silence (1998)
are insightful. Orly Yadin, "But it is documentary?," Holocaust and the Moving Image. Representations in
Film and Television Since 1933, ed. Toby Haggith & Joanna Newman (London and New York: Wallflower
Press, 2005). 168-172. Yadin argues that animation can be the most honest form of documentary
filmmaking because the animation filmmaker is “completely upfront about his or her intervention with the
subject and if we believe the film to be true it is because we believe the intention was true.” Yadin also
points out that in contrast, “ in historical documentaries, where frequently there is no suitable footage to be
found of a specific event or a specific person, filmmakers choose to re-enact, to film modern-day locations,
to use graphics. They might even resort to using the ‘wrong’ footage!” Yadin concludes that “a
documentary animation film claims from the start: what you are seeing is not a photographic record but it is
nonetheless a true re-representation of a reality.” (169)
to deal with aspects of the real world that had some drama and perhaps importance – that
we might do something about a particular situation or at least should be aware of it.”504
Grierson defined this kind of film as “the creative treatment of actuality.”505 Over time,
Grierson’s original idea of documentary film’s purpose – particularly the aspect of
creativity - seems to have become overlooked. Thus, scholarly books on the subject
generally stress documentary films’ focus on facts and the representation of the “real”
world and discuss the differences between documentary and fictional films. Feature films
are considered non-realistic, and ultimately more creative than documentary films. For
example, in A New History of Documentary Film Jack C. Ellis and Betsy A. McLane
outline five characteristics by which documentary films have traditionally been
differentiated from feature films: (1) subjects: documentary films focus on something
other than the general human condition such as individual human feelings, relationships
and actions; (2) purpose: viewpoints, or approaches: documentary film makers try to say
something about social and cultural phenomena to inform their audiences about people,
events, institutions, problems. The goal is to attract attention, to increase understanding,
and perhaps also sympathy for the subjects. (3) forms: documentaries are derived from
and limited to actuality. Documentary film makers do not create out of imagination and
they do not employ plot or character development. (4) production methods and
techniques: Typically, documentaries make use of nonactors (“real people” who play
“themselves”) and are shot on location. No sets are constructed. Lighting is usually what
exists at the location. (5) the sorts of experiences they offer audiences: The audience
Jack C. Ellis and Betsy A. McLane, A New History of Documentary Film (New York and London: The
Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, 2005). ix.
responds not so much to the artist (who keeps undercover) as to the subject matter of the
film and its statements. 506
More recently, however, film scholars have noted that the differences between
documentary and fictional films are not always so clear-cut. Thus, in the chapter on
documentary in the 1990s and beyond, Ellis and McLane observe an increasing difficulty
to separate documentary from fictional films, or as they put it: “the real from the
fictional.”507 Similarly, Carl Rollyson has pointed to the misconception of documentary
film as the medium that transmits facts of the “real world”:
Documentary film is a form of reporting about the world. […] Whether we watch a
documentary about a war or a biography of a famous figure, we presume that we are
absorbing a presentation of fact. Of course, documentaries are no such thing: to assemble a
film – or a newspaper for that matter – is an act of interpretation. Like newspapers, films
are edited. […] Is such a film dishonest? No, because documentaries are inevitably
Rollyson articulates an important aspect in the context of this study. As in the literary
realm, where readers expect the autobiographer to deliver an authentic/true version of his
life, viewers of documentary films have traditionally presumed that what the film maker
presents are facts taken from “reality.” By questioning that documentary films are
representations of reality and by indicating that such films, like their fictional
counterparts, interpret actuality, Rollyson contributes to the current discussion of the
commonalities between fictional and documentary films.
In addition, film scholar Michael Renov has noted a “turn to the subject” in
documentary production in the 1990s.509 As the title of his book The Subject of
Documentary suggests, Renov particularly questions the “concern for objectivity” in the
Ibid. 1-3.
Ibid. 294.
Carl Rollyson, Documentary Film. A Primer (Lincoln, NE: iUniverse
Michael Renov, The Subject of Documentary (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004). xi.
domain of documentary film. In his view, objectivity has become “an empty shell” due to
“the erosion of journalistic standards of objective reportage, the emergence of the digital,
and the pervasiveness of irony as our master sensibility.”510 From this, Renov concludes
that subjectivity has reappeared in strengthened form in documentary films about subjects
who explore “a seeing, feeling, and even healing self.”511
A third view on the changing perception and interpretation of documentary films
seems noteworthy. In her book Projecting History, German film scholar Nora Alter writes
that documentary films owe their increased popularity among scholarly and non-scholarly
audiences to “the decrease in this genre’s indexical link to actuality.”512 Hence Alter
claims that viewers can take in documentaries the same way they do fully fictional
I would agree that this is the case with many recent documentaries and that viewers of
documentaries are now more aware than ever of the fictional elements in documentary
films. However, similarly to the perception of literature, it seems that if a film thematizes
the Holocaust, audiences’ readiness to expect the fictional in a product labeled
“documentary” decreases substantially. As in the case of a literary text, questions about
subjectivity versus objectivity, about the merging of fact and fiction, as well as about the
intention, perception and success of documentary Holocaust films gain a different
momentum. Similarly to a fictional text on the Holocaust, a Holocaust film that contains
fictional elements risks attacks on its credibility. By combining alternative with
traditional strategies, a documentary film - similarly to a piece of life-writing - that offers
Ibid. xvii.
Ibid. xxiv.
Nora M. Alter, Projecting History. German Nonfiction Cinema 1967-2000 (Michigan: The University of
Michigan Press, 2002). 4.
a (if only partly) non-realist view of the events of the Holocaust challenges the
conventions that have established it as a nonfiction mode.
As in the case of Jewish life-writing, one of the most popular current approaches to
interpreting Holocaust documentary films is informed by ideas of the mental processes of
traumatic memory. Thus, as in the previous chapters on Jewish life-writing, this chapter
gives a brief overview of how trauma theory has affected film studies in general and film
scholars’ interpretation of Holocaust documentary films in particular. In applying theory
to practice, film scholars such as Susannah Radstone, Thomas Elsaesser, Maureen Turim,
Joshua Hirsch and Janet Walker show how documentary films depict traumatic memories
of the Holocaust.
Since the end of World War II, the events of the Holocaust have been portrayed in
countless films in a variety of genres. According to film scholar Joshua Hirsch, there
have been “compilation documentaries, cinéma vérite exposés, docudramas, melodramas,
biographies, autobiographies, experimental films, Academy Award winners, slapstick
comedies, horror films, and pornography.”514 In contrast, there is hardly any filmic
evidence of what happened during the Holocaust. Thus, Hirsch’s starting point in his
study of Holocaust documentary film is Heinrich Himmler’s ban on filming anything
pertaining to the “Final Solution.” In Hirsch’s view, the ban’s strategic function was to
deceive the Jews, to avoid resistance, and to render any witnessing to the mass killings
impossible. Secondly, he attributes the ban to Himmler’s conviction that the plan to
extinguish the Jews was “so unthinkable that even in a future victorious Germany, it
Joshua Hirsch, After image. Film, Trauma, and the Holocaust (Philadelphia: Temple University Press,
2004). 3.
could never be assimilated into any conceivable public historical narrative.” For
Himmler, the “‘Final Solution’ lay outside the historical purview of cinema.”515
As a consequence of Himmler’s filming ban, there is only a single two-minute film
sequence that documents the “Final Solution.” Filmed in 1941 by German soldier
Reinhard Wiener, it shows Jewish people running into a pit and then being shot by a
firing sqad.516 For Hirsch, the “traumatic potential” of Wiener’s two-minute-sequence is
“attributable to its giving a view of something deemed so transgressive that it was to
disappear from history.”517 Subsequently, Hirsch uses Wiener’s story and film to develop
a theory of cinema as a transmitter of trauma and a form of posttraumatic historical
memory.518 Hirsch’s application of trauma theory as well as his conclusions on how
trauma is represented in what he terms “posttraumatic” films are almost exclusively
drawn from poststructuralist Cathy Caruth’s and psychoanalysts Dori Laub and Shoshana
Felman’s trauma theory. As in the field of literary studies, this approach has also come to
inform many film scholars’ view of trauma and how it can be applied to film analysis.
In her contribution to the 2001 issue of the scholarly film magazine Screen, Susannah
Radstone expresses concern about “the silencing of debate that work on trauma appears
to produce” and points out “the possibility that trauma may have become a ‘popular
cultural script’ in need of contextualization […].”519 Her critique refers to scholars’ “rush
to trauma” and their unquestioned adoption and adaptation of a rather generalized view of
trauma theory. Radstone and others show convincingly that trauma theory has been
For a more detailed description, see Hirsch, After Image 1.
Ibid. 12.
He traces the development of Holocaust documentary film from Wiener’s raw footage film to Alain
Resnais’s Night and Fog (1955) and Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985), which Hirsch defines as
“posttraumatic” films due to their break with documentary realism and their relationship to postwar
Susannah Radstone, "Trauma and Screen Studies: Opening the Debate," Screen 42.2 (2001). 189.
academics’ response to a number of unresolved problems in film studies. For example,
Thomas Elsaesser argues that “the concept of trauma both redefines and challenges the
use of psychoanalysis as a hermeneutic tool for the interpretation of films.”520 Elsaesser
Trauma theorists want to stress memory and history. They want to articulate a theory of the
subject not around desire and its constitutive lack (the Freud-Lacanian route), but around
memory and its – politically enforced, partriachally inflicted - gaps, absences and traces.521
Radstone herself points to “cinepsychoanalysis’” difficult relationship to memory due
to its persistence on the opposition between memory and fantasy:
Whether fantasy is deployed in analyses that stress ideological complicity or dissent, the
organising opposition that implicitly underpins all such approaches is that between
memory and fantasy, and it is the cinema’s relation to the ‘imaginary’ which has remained
dominant in film analysis.522
Trauma theory, in Radstone’s view, “appears to offer to disciplines operating a
memory/history opposition, a conceptual model of the relation between the inner world
of memory and the external world of historical events.”523 Similarly, Thomas Elsaesser
concludes that (more academically respectable) trauma theorists try to “redefine
important theoretical and political ground about the status of fantasy and the crisis of
referentiality.” 524 This use of trauma theory can be illustrated by the example of film
scholar Janet Walker. In her examination of the relationships between trauma, memory
and past events in documentaries about sexual abuse and the Holocaust, she asks: “If
some parts of a film on a historical subject are confabulated, how can we accept the
veracity of other parts or of the whole?”525 In another article “The Traumatic Paradox:
Elsaesser, "Postmodernism as Mourning Work." 194.
Ibid. 83.
Ibid. 89.
Thomas Elsaesser, “Postmodernism as Mourning Work,” 194.
Janet Walker, “The Vicissitudes of Traumatic Memory and the Postmodern History Film."141.
Documentary Films, Historical Fictions and Cataclysmic Past Events,” Walker responds
to her own question. Thus, she argues that “fantasy and truth may, and do go hand in
hand.”526 Walker focuses on traumatic memory’s blurring of categories such as “true”
and “false,” “fantasy” and “memory,” “documentary” and “fiction.” She introduces the
concept of the “traumatic paradox,” which she defines as “the defiant fact that external
trauma itself can produce the very modifications in remembered detail that cultural
conventions invalidate in determinations of truth.”527 Based on this concept of the
“traumatic paradox,” Walker argues:
The films […] most effective politically to redress real abuses of the past are not
necessarily those that represent realistic character stories in fictional or nonfictional form
but, rather, are those that figure the traumatic past as meaningful yet as fragmentary,
virtually unspeakable, and striated with fantasy constructions.528
While traditional films aim at representing the past with facts to fill the void, Walker
argues that an increasing number of documentary films about traumatic past events “push
the bounds of representing actuality beyond realist representations.”529 They achieve this
representation by using a number of structural elements – e.g. the use of different
footage, optical and digital film techniques, combined black and white archival footage
and color shots, titles as commentary, stylized reenactment, voice-over narration, oblique
angles, and recurring images. The abundance or lack of these structural elements is then
considered to determine whether (or to which extent) documentary films employ the
traditional realist mode, or whether they exemplify the “recent transformation in the
Janet Walker, "The Traumatic Paradox: Documentary Films, Historical Fictions, and Cataclysmic Past
Events," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 22.4 (1997). 805.
Ibid. 806.
Ibid. 809.
Ibid. 812.
documentary representation of history – a transformation that has been variously
identified as postmodern, reflexive, or posttraumatic.”530
Whereas this discussion of filmic strategies is insightful and convincing, what appears
to be expandable about Walker’s and other film scholars’ approach to trauma theory and
its application to film is the limited theoretical framework that informs their work. In
addition, the qualitative statement they make about the films they analyze seems to be too
slanted towards their approach. Thus “posttraumatic films,” i.e. those using the filmic
strategies described above, are generally judged more positively than “traditional”
documentary films.
This chapter sheds light on the link between trauma theory and documentary film by
examining this medium’s representations of the Holocaust.I examine to which extent
filmmakers Melissa Hacker, Käthe Kratz, and the film/producer team Mark Anthony
Harris/Deborah Oppenheimer have integrated the “posttraumatic” filmic strategies
mentioned above. However, I do not intend to judge their films on the basis of their (lack
of) use of those elements. Instead, my own analysis uses a different interpretative method
based on cognitive psychologists’ and traumatologists’ insights into the phenomena of
(childhood) trauma and on their view of how traumatic memory is incorporated into the
narrative of oral testimony.
In their “rush to trauma theory,” film scholars have neglected the role of oral
testimonies in Holocaust documentaries. Further attention should be paid to the quality of
these testimonies, i.e. the way traumatic memories are remembered and narrated in front
of the camera, as well as how they are subsequently edited, interpreted and presented to
Hirsch, After Image 63, cited in Janet Walker, Trauma Cinema. Documenting Incest and the Holocaust
(Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2005). 133. Also see the corresponding
footnote 37, 218.
the viewer. I argue that the way oral testimonies by Holocaust survivors are used by
documentary filmmakers affects the position of the viewer of such a film. In this context
E. Ann Kaplan and Ban Wang differentiate between four main positions for viewers of
trauma films, which result from the use of differing cinematic strategies:
First, the position of being introduced to trauma through a film’s themes and techniques,
but where the film ends with a comforting “cure.” […] Second, the position of being
vicariously traumatized. […] The effect may be negative if the impact is so great that the
viewer turns away, runs from the images, instead of learning through them. […] Third, the
position of being a voyeur, which is dangerous because it exploits the victims and secretly
offers a sort of subversive pleasure in horror. […] Finally, the position of being a witness,
which may open up a space for transformation of the viewer through emphatic
identification which allows the spectator to enter the victim’s experience through a work’s
In containing both the fictionality and authenticity, as well as the subjective and
objective aspects of traumatic memory, oral testimonies by child survivors – as crucial
elements of documentary films - play an important role in determining the position of the
viewer, and, in Orly Yadin’s words, show “whether a film successfully takes the viewer
to the heart of the Holocaust experience and whether it has a clear vision of what it is
trying to say.”532
In my own film analyses, I include recent findings by cognitive psychologist Robert
N. Kraft on archival memory in oral testimony and combine these insights with
psychologist/ anthropologist Gadi BenEzer’s catalogue of trauma signals, which were
established as a result of his interviews with Ethopian Jewish trauma survivors.
Subsequently, I pay special attention to Lore Segal’s (and other “Kinder’s”) oral
testimonies as elements of documentary films that seek to convey the trauma of the
E. Ann Kaplan and Ban Wang, eds., Trauma and Cinema. Cross Cultural Explorations (Hong Kong:
Hong Kong University Press, 2003).10.
Yadin, "But it is documentary?." 172.
In contrast to her novel Other People’s Houses, which foregrounds Segal’s role as a
writer and in which the author’s childhood memories appear as fiction, the three
documentary films present Segal as a survivor of the Holocaust, who gives a number of
oral testimonies of her childhood in exile. In other words, the same memories, which
were presented as fiction in the novel, are now authenticated by the author as her own, as
she appears as one of many interviewees in front of the camera. Thus, Segal’s childhood
memories, which she had originally written down as a child (in the form of an
autobiographical diary) and which had reappeared in fictionalized form in the novel by
the adult writer, are now presented as the autobiographical memories of the aging
Holocaust survivor.
This change in memory representation illustrates the process traumatic memory
undergoes when being transformed into a narrative. While the previous chapters have
focused on the transformation of traumatic childhood memory into literature, this last
chapter will examine how the memories of child survivors are told in oral narratives,
which are then edited to become important elements of documentary films on the
5.2 Trauma Signals in Oral Testimonies: Giving Meaning to the Act of
In his study of testimonies in the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies,
cognitive psychologist Robert N. Kraft examines the impact of “memory of atrocity” on
survivors and how this memory is communicated to others. These oral testimonies of the
Holocaust replace “the static image of the single document - and its vivid deceptions with the unscripted stories of many ordinary human beings who suffered through the
industrial cruelty of the Third Reich.”533 Central to Kraft’s theory is the idea that
Holocaust testimonies reveal two levels of representation: “core memory” and “narrative
memory”: “Core memory consists of representations of the original phenomenal
experience: vivid perceptual images, deeply felt emotions, bodily sensations, which are
then integrated into episodic narratives, creating memory’s second level.”534 This second
level, which Kraft refers to as “narrative memory,” draws from the “core memory.”
“Narrative memory” relies on narrative conventions, and is conveyed primarily in
language. As Kraft explains, “the term ‘narrative’ characterizes how people structure
episodes in personal memory for the purpose of thinking about oneself in silent
remembering and communicating with others to tell the events of the past.”535
Consequently, in telling their stories, survivors tend to rely on established narratives and
sometimes compare themselves to other well-known victims of the Holocaust, such as
“the living Anne Frank.”
According to cognitive psychology, memory is always dual, i.e. the present self is
aware of the past self and its perception of the world. However, as Kraft points out, this
duality does not always apply to the memory of survivors of atrocity. Thus, while
narrating a scene, survivors “may be drawn into core memory, losing contact with the
narrative memory and becoming immersed in visualizing the events of the past. The past
self becomes the present self.”536 While people who have not experienced trauma must
search for long term memory in order to communicate it, traumatized individuals’s long
Ibid. 325.
Kraft, "Archival Memory: Representations of the Holocaust in Oral Testimony." 311.
Ibid. 316.
Ibid. 317. Here, Kraft also refers to Lawrence Langer’s insight that when survivors draw on narrative
memory, their testimony is structured and coherent. When they draw directly from core memory, the
descriptions are unstructured, and testimony can seem disjointed.
term memory is “always there or easily aroused.”537 As a consequence, survivors of
atrocity “separate the cognitive and the emotional, aware of the power of emotional
memory and also aware of the efforts to suppress. They clearly distinguish between the
cognitive strategies for managing emotional pain and the experience of emotion.”
Kraft notes that trauma often leads to a split self-concept. As a consequence, the
survivor feels as though he or she consists of two (or more) separate selves. Each of these
selves remembers the past differently. When an event in the present reminds the survivor
of the past, these different sets of memories merge, which may trigger a strong emotional
response.538 These different sets of selves and memories correspond with a discrepancy
between the faces and appearances of survivors. Kraft explains that “the observer must
realize that survivors tell two distinctly different sets of stories.” This seems particularly
noteworthy in the case of former child survivors who, in talking about their experiences,
have to access memories reaching back half a century or more. As a consequence, it
might be even more difficult for the observer to recognize or imagine the interviewee in
the story he or she tells.
Another important aspect of traumatic memory Kraft mentions is uncertainty,
which “sustains traumatic memory by encouraging imagination and extrapolation.”539
Uncertain of the fate of their relatives as well as of how their own lives would have
turned out if the war had not interrupted it, survivors’ beliefs about self-worth,
invulnerability and justice as well as their view of the future are violated.540
Ibid. 318.
Ibid. 321.
Ibid. 323.
Finally, Kraft notes that “with public disclosure there is no catharsis.” In his view,
rather than providing meaning to the past, narrating traumatic events leads to a change in
interpreting the function of memory. Encouraged by an audience who wants to listen, to
see - and considering the Jewish life-writing of previous chapters, one might add, to read
- memory is no longer meant to be hidden but to be narrated. In Kraft’s words,
“translating memories of atrocity into understandable narratives gives meaning to the act
of recalling an act that formerly provided only torment.”541
How are traumatic experiences narrated in oral testimonies? Psychologist and
anthropologist Gadi BenEzer suggests that “when an interviewee is recounting a
traumatic experience – even if it is an experience with which he/she has come to terms –
it will still produce particular forms of expression within the narrative.”542 Like Kraft,
BenEzer argues that trauma is not only remembered but also told differently from the rest
of the story. Following his experiences with Ethopian Jews and their journey to exile, he
lists thirteen signals of trauma as a way of detecting traumatic experiences within
narratives. These signals are summarized in shortened form as follows and will be
discussed in the context of the oral testimonies featured in the films on the
Kindertransport below:543
1) Self-report: the individual reports that a certain event was traumatic.
2) A “hidden” event: an event which was not narrated in the main story comes up during
the probing phase, accompanied by distressing emotions such as mourning, grief, shame
or guilt which were not previously expressed during the telling of the story.
3) Long silence: before or after narration of a certain event, which seems to have a
particularly painful or tormenting quality for the individual.
Ibid. 328.
Gadi BenEzer, “Trauma Signals in Life Stories.” Trauma and Life Stories. International Perspectives.
Eds. Kim Lacy Rogers, Selma Leydesdorff and Graham Dawson. London, New York: Routledge, 1999, 35.
For a more detailed description and discussion in the context of BenEzer’s research, Ibid. 35-37.
4) Loss of emotional control: sobbing, rage, or other responses which are
uncharacteristic of this person’s recounting.
5) Emotional detachment or numbness: the interviewee shows no emotions during the
narration. As if there is a forced detachment due to the event’s traumatic quality, isolating
it from the emotional life of the individual. Frozen facial expression and body gestures.
Not engaging his or her feelings at all as if suffering from what has been described as
psychic numbing.
6) Repetitive reporting: a distressing experience is retold in its entirety or with an
extraordinary reiteration of its minute details, time and time again, as if the narrator is
unable to move on.
7) Losing oneself in the traumatic event: interviewees disappear from the reality of the
interview while narrating a traumatic event. They sink into themselves, submerged and
overwhelmed by the event in the middle of recounting it. Period of silence, unending,
clear signs that the person is not there, is not experiencing the current situation.
8) Intrusive images: scenes or images of a traumatic event come up involuntarily
throughout the narration as quick flashes. They interrupt the intended flow of narrative.
The person sometimes apologizes, or verbally expresses uneasiness, while admitting the
recurrence of an image.
9) Forceful argumentation of conduct within an event: Interviewees stress the reasons
for their behavior within a situation instead of relating the facts, as if the traumatic quality
of the event is connected to their conduct in that situation which they feel they should
justify. The argumentation seems to reflect the wish to prevent an independent conclusion
by the interviewer about what happened.
10) Cognitive-emotional disorientation: disappearance of boundaries between the event
which is being recounted and the situation of the interview. Relating to the interviewer as
a figure within the story. Shout at the interviewer, lose sense of exactly where they are
within the story as well as in reality, yet continue to recount the event or utter
unintelligible words in trying to express themselves until they break down in tears or
come back to themselves or until they are comforted and relaxed by the interviewer.
11) Inability to tell a story at all: getting stuck at the starting point of the narration.
When a trauma remains alive, active, not processed, people will have difficulty in
connecting it to their life stories. The trauma will still be too emotionally (psychically)
charged to construct a story and will interfere with any recounting of the event to others.
12) Change in voice: the narration of trauma is often accompanied by changes in voice.
Its pitch or coloring will change while narrating a traumatic event, it may turn quiet or
hoarse, or the opposite of these.
13) Changes in body language: facial expressions and body gesture; people may retreat
into themselves by adopting a foetal posture, signifying pain. Cover trembling lips with
hands, trying to control emotional expression but then giving way to crying. Clutch their
legs strongly together, or wrap one around the other, during the whole time that they are
recounting the trauma, and then release them again. Particular gesticulations with hands
appear during narration and end when the narration is completed.
5.3 Melissa Hacker My Knees Were Jumping: Remembering the Kindertransports
According to Melissa Hacker, My Knees Were Jumping: Remembering the
Kindertransports was supposed to be a small piece about her mother Ruth Morley. It
initially started as a class project, but eventually turned into a seven-year film project.
After accompanying her mother to the first Kindertransport reunion in 1990, Hacker
realized “that it was this huge movement and that it was a much larger story.”544 As a
consequence, her project became a 77-minutes-long documentary film, which was
accepted by Docurama, a film production company whose slogan “Everything Else is
Fiction” seems to convey Hacker’s attempt to show how the fictionality of her mother’s
and her own memories merged with the reality of their lives.545
“In the nine months leading up to World War II, nearly 10.000 children from Nazi
Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland were sent to safety to England. My
mother was one of these children,” Melissa Hacker’s voice introduces the viewer to her
film’s general topic, the Kindertransport, and her personal project, i.e. her mother’s story.
Even before the film title appears on the screen, Hacker thus establishes a linkage
between the historical and the personal dimensions of her film: to make the story of the
Kindertransport known and to document her mother’s personal Kindertransport
For more information on Docurama, see the website
Melissa Hacker has worked as an editor for National Geographic Television and the PBS/BBC American
Cinema series. She is a graduate of New York University Film School and teaches there. My Knees Were
Jumping is her first film. It is also the first feature-length documentary on the “Kindertransport” and was
enthusiastically received at the Sundance Film Festival in 1995.
Train sounds accompany the opening credits of the film from the off; visually,
Hacker’s voice is coupled with black and white film footage, showing laughing children
and worried-looking parents waving good-bye, a close up of a petrified-looking mother
(which reappears three times throughout the film as a leitmotif547) and a childhood
photograph of Melissa Hacker’s mother, costume designer Ruth Morley.
Segments containing historical facts and personal memories about the
Kindertransport structure the remainder of the film in chronological order – The Nazi’s
rise to power in Austria, leaving on the Kindertransport, arrival in England, staying at
Dovercourt Camp, life in England, emigration to the USA - and are accompanied by the
voice of Joanne Woodward. After the initial scene, Melissa Hacker’s voice is reserved for
more personal information about herself and her relationship with her mother.
The film combines black and white archival documentary footage as well as color
film, shot by Hacker, excerpts from British newsreel films, interviews, speeches,
photographs, letters and official documents. It includes oral testimonies recorded at the
first Kindertransport reunion, which show Ruth Morley’s and Lore Segal’s speeches, but
also present other “Kinder” and their memories, as well as their reactions to the reunion.
The reunion was a learning experience for the “Kinder” – some of them report
that they had never before talked about their war time childhood – but it seems to have
been an eye-opening experience for Melissa Hacker as well. “My mother was invited to
speak,” Hacker interjects, “and I was there to listen. I hoped she would open up.” While
filming at the reunion, Hacker rarely asks questions or comments on what the “Kinder”
say, but instead captures their reactions and lets them speak to each other or into the
camera. Later on in the film, Hacker becomes more actively involved in the interview
This footage was later on also used by Harris/Oppenheimer in Into the Arms of Strangers.
process by asking for clarification or encouraging her mother (and other “Kinder”) to add
more details.
The film’s major theme is the filmmaker’s search for knowledge about her
mother’s childhood, her exile in Britain and the impact her long silence about her
childhood had on her daughter(s). Throughout the film, Hacker reveals personal
information about her mother’s childhood, Ruth’s relationship with her parents, but also
about growing up as Ruth’s daughter. Thus, it seems that the film also enabled Hacker
herself to open up about growing up as the child of a child survivor. Born in America in
1961, she notes that as a child, she felt haunted by events she had not experienced. For
example, she often imagined that her parents would send her away or that she would be
deported. Strangely enough, Hacker’s earliest childhood memories take place in Austria
during the Nazi years: “Somehow,” she comments, “my own childhood memories
became those of my mother’s.” To elucidate this point, Hacker includes footage of
herself, her sister and other children of Kindertransport refugees, filmed at meetings in
New York City during which they talk about their childhood memories, their nightmares
and coping strategies. Similar to their parents, who are able to make sense of their
emotions once they share them with other “Kinder” (at the reunion), their children find
that they have much in common. The majority of this second generation reports that they
always felt different from other children. They sensed that their parents had gone through
difficult times. They adopted their parents’ fears. Most of them grew up knowing only
bits and pieces of their parents’ childhood. These fragments made them wonder and
imagine stories, and they also caused them to have nightmares. Lore Segal’s daughter
Beatrice reports that for years, Hitler was her personal bogeyman, whom she imagined
climbing up the stairs to the house to come and get her.548 Similarly, Hacker’s sister
Emily shares that she was plagued by dreams about the Gestapo that left her paralyzed
with fear, unable to seek her mother’s help. In general, this second generation appears to
have felt very protective of their parents whom they perceived as fragile and delicate. At
the same time, they admired them for their bravery and strength, for having moved on
with their lives despite their losses. The parents, on the other hand, explain that they
chose not to share anything (or only bits and pieces of their stories) because they were
relieved to finally lead “normal” lives. They also did not want to burden their own
children with the sadness they had experienced themselves.
Hacker’s film shows how fiction and reality are combined in the different
generations’ efforts to suppress and simultaneously imagine the entire story, which is
based on fragmentary memories passed on from one generation to the next. It becomes
clear that both parents and children intended to protect each other by not talking about
their fears and nightmares.
Lore Segal first appears as one of the reunion speakers. Standing at the lectern,
Segal reads excerpts from Other People’s Houses. The memories of her experience as a
“Kind” on the Kindertransport are thus shown as solely relying on her novel Other
People’s Houses. When she reaches the scene that depicts the tag every child had to wear
for identification purposes, she holds up her own tag and addresses the audience:
“Remember? I would put it on, but my head does not fit through.” Black and white
archival film footage of children wearing tags immediately follows Segal’s showing of
the tag. Later on, Segal is shown speaking at the lectern, without reading from her notes.
According to a wedding announcement in the New York Times, Beatrice Segal works as a child and
family therapist in New York City.
Again, she tells an episode (going to the train station on a street car) exactly how she
described it in her novel.
At the reunion, Other People’s Houses thus fulfills an autobiographical rather than
a fictional function. Accordingly, Lore Segal appears more as a witness than a writer. The
function of the text, as well as the memory revealed by it, change when delivered as oral
testimony and according to the context in which it is used. For Segal, her audience is her
peer group – other adults who came to England on the Kindertransport – and her story
confirms her own position within it. Segal thus uses her narrative to connect to others
who have lived through similar experiences.
Segal is also filmed in what appears to be her home in New York City. Joined by
her children Beatrice and Jacob and her mother, Franzi Groszmann, she reflects on the
Kindertransport’s influence on her life. Jacob asks her whether she was ever angry about
what was happening in Austria. Segal responds that “anger is a talent” that she never
developed. However, a few scenes later, she tells her children about overhearing her
parents making plans for the day after her departure – another episode she described in
Other People’s Houses, and says: “I felt very angry.” This contradiction not only mirrors
Segal’s conflicting emotions, it also reveals that one’s parents’ revelations about their
childhood memories can be confusing; in addition, this exchange between Segal and her
children also suggests that emotions can be passed on to the next generation.
Significantly, Beatrice Segal mentions feeling angry during her visit in Vienna. She
reports that upon seeing elderly women, she had wondered whether they were those who
had refused to shop in her grandparents’ store. Thus, Segal’s claim that she has no talent
for anger, which contradicts her subsequent memory of being angry at her parents, serves
as an example of how a parent’s intention to protect her children from her negative
memories and emotions, may create the opposite effect, i.e. confusion and the adoption of
the similar negative memory/emotion by the child.
To speak in cognitive psychologist’s Robert N. Kraft’s words, in all the oral
testimonies Segal provides throughout the film, she rarely seems to draw on her “core
memory.” Her testimony seems well-organized, which corresponds with her emotional
appearance: She never loses control over her emotions. Segal thus clearly draws on
memory’s second level, i.e. “narrative memory” – on those episodes she created many
years earlier, in an established narrative form, i.e. her novel Other People’s Houses.
Segal’s well composed oral testimony is contrasted by the testimonies provided by Ruth
Morley, and even more so by Erika Estis. Ruth Morley generally appears to feel rather
comfortable and composed in front of the camera. However, at times, her voice and body
language change (trauma signals 12 & 13) when she seems to be drawn into the “core
memory” of her traumatic childhood. She “self-reports” (trauma signal 1) a “horrible
memory”, which has stayed with her “all these years”, i.e. her governess not telling her
what she had seen in her tarot cards. Afterwards, Ruth says, she had always imagined that
her governess had not wanted to tell her that they would never see each other again,
which was what had actually happened. In addition, her voice turns quiet when she
reveals that her parents decided to send her away after she had fainted while overhearing
that her father might be arrested again.
Trauma signals are even more obvious in Erika Estis’ oral testimony. Erika came
to England at the age of 15. She talks about the problems of being an older child and
therefore not as attractive to English foster parents as the younger children. This
obviously had an effect on Erika’s self-worth as she comments: “I would not have wanted
me either.” Finally, she was taken in by an older couple. Hacker encourages Erika to
reveal more about her experience with her foster parents. Consequently, Erika looks
down, reveals that she was molested by her foster father; here, her voice breaks off. She
reports to have fallen ill, and that her plea not to be sent back there had been met with
anger on the side of the placement agency. After the war, Erika found that both her
parents had died in concentration camps. One of the film’s most emotionally charged
scenes shows Erika read one of her father’s letters. She begins reading it in German,
which is then overlapped by Erika’s voice reading the same letter in English translation.
At some point, the camera moves away from Erika and captures the fall landscape
outside, as though to grant her some privacy. Erika stops reading, retreats, her body
language and voice change when she says: “Oh god, it is hard to read.” (A combination
of trauma signals 3, 5, 8, 10, 12, 13) She clearly loses herself in the traumatic event of her
parents’ tragic deaths.
Erika Estis’ children’s attitude and tone toward her is clearly shaped by their
mother’s tragedy of losing her parents. Both her son and daughters describe her as a
fragile person whom they wanted to protect from harm. Erika seems puzzled at that – she
comments: “I just wanted to be like everybody else. I guess I did not do such a good job
then.” It seems that the only person who approaches her comfortably is her 15-year-old
granddaughter, who tells Erika she admires her. Erika laughs and the rest of the family
seems relieved and joins in the laughter.
In many ways My Knees Were Jumping is a traditional documentary film. It
informs audiences about the Kindertransport and clearly intends to increase
understanding and empathy for the “Kinder” and their families. However, Hacker’s film
deviates from the traditional form in its emphasis on people and their relationships.
Hacker’s film is the most personal of all three documentaries discussed in this chapter. It
depicts the Kindertransport as a tragedy of generational loss and thus provides a
convincing filmic depiction of the trauma transmitted to the children of traumatized
parents. What Joshua Hirsch’s has written about another film, is also true for My Knees
Are Jumping: It “bridges the intergenerational gap of silence through a creative act
My Knees Were Jumping mostly remains realistic in its depiction of time and
space. The film contains images of the past (black and white footage of Vienna during the
war), which are combined with present-day film material shot during Hacker’s visit of
Vienna with her mother. Postcard-like images of Vienna underline Beatrice Segal’s
description of her angry feelings towards elderly Viennese women who might have
avoided to shop in her grandparents’ store.
Joanne Westwood’s and Melissa Hacker’s voice-overs assist the viewer to
differentiate between past and present as well. The viewer is thus given a certain mastery
of time, as past and present are clearly marked and do not collapse.
The film’s story is clearly structured around the autobiographical position of the
film’s subjects - the children and their parents - who have been personally affected by the
historical event of the Kindertransport. However, Hacker also offers other perspectives.
Thus, black and white archival footage of America’s refusal to accept Jewish refugees, of
the Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech to the British nation, as well as newsreel material
exposing the media’s rather insensitive portrayal of the Kindertransport, which is used to
Hirsch, After Image. 161.
evaluate the British response to the young refugees. Austria is represented by an elderly
woman who helped organize the Kindertransport in Vienna. Although she appears as one
of the few rescuers, her testimony, which is rendered in a monotonous voice and frozen
facial expression, adds a rather chilling effect to the film.
My Knees Were Jumping starts as a self-consciously narrated film, which reflects
the confusion and misunderstanding between members of the first and second generation.
As Hacker’s knowledge and understanding of her mother’s childhood increase, the film
strikes a more and more confident tone. This development reaches a climax in the final
scenes, which show Melissa Hacker awaiting her mother who arrives on a train. What
might have turned into a rather typical Hollywood happy ending - mother and daughter,
peacefully wandering along a beach - is overshadowed by Hacker’s revelation that during
the making of My Knees Were Jumping, her mother lost her life to breast cancer.
My Knees Were Jumping is dedicated to Ruth Morley’s memory, which makes
this documentary a very personal approach to the Kindertransport. However, it also
successfully connects Ruth’s and Melissa’s relationship to those of others whose lives
were affected by the Kindertransport as well. The film’s greatest achievement is its
successful portrayal of relationships between Holocaust suvivors and their off-spring.
Thus, trauma is depicted as a phenomenon that can afflict and affect families for
generations. Finally, Hacker invites the viewer to become a witness to her own as well as
her subjects’ lives. Whereas her film depicts her own “vicarious traumatization” by her
mother’s childhood trauma, the viewer, while being “powerfully moved” by what he or
she witnesses, is able “to keep at a cognitive distance and awareness.”550 Hacker
successfully transforms the trauma of living through, living with and passing on
Kaplan and Wang, eds., Trauma and Cinema. Cross Cultural Explorations. 10.
childhood trauma to subsequent generations by merging individual stories (in the form of
oral testimonies) with the historical moment of the Kindertransport.
5.6 Mark Anthony Harris/Deborah Oppenheimer Into the Arms of Strangers.
Stories of the Kindertransport (2000)
In the director/producer commentary of Into the Arms of Strangers,551 a documentary
supported by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, producer Deborah
Oppenheimer and director Mark Anthony Harris reveal their personal connections with
their project.552 As a child, Oppenheimer had approached her mother with questions in
regards to her German childhood and her escape to England on the Kindertransport.
Those questions made her mother cry, which in turn, upset Deborah so much that she
stopped asking questions. Sylva Sabine Avramovici Oppenheimer died in 1993 without
ever telling her family the details of her childhood. For Oppenheimer, producing the film
after her mother’s death was a way of dealing with her own grief. In addition, her quest
for answers no longer meant that she would hurt her mother. Likewise, Mark Anthony
Harris shares that his grandfather came to the USA as a thirteen-year-old Hungarian
refugee and that this part of the family story had never been talked about. However,
This commentary (together with a second one featuring editor Kate Amend and those responsible for
music (Lee Holdridge) photography (Don Lenzer), and sound (Gary Rydstrom) etc. is one of the special
features on the DVD.
According to his online biography ( ), Harris is currently a
professor at the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television. Into the Arms of Strangers:
Stories of the Kindertransport, is considered the third part of his "Jewish trilogy. Harris’ film The Long
Way Home deals with the experience of Jewish refugees after World War II. Spike Lee condemned the
second half of the film as propaganda for the state of Israel; nonetheless the film won the 1997 Oscar for
documentary. The second part of the trilogy- a film less complimentary towards the state, had been
commissioned specifically for the 50th anniversary of Israel. Harris intended the film, A Dream No More,
to reflect Israel, “warts and all”; he spent 15 months and nearly $1.5 million U.S. making the film, which
went over deadline as he tried to determine the final structure for the film. He turned in a final print and had
the film flagged the next day; it was never shown. Deborah Oppenheimer is the president of Mohawk
Productions, a production company at Warner Bros. She is the executive producer of television programs,
such as “The Drew Carey Show” and “Norm.”
Harris had always wondered how his grandfather had felt as a child refugee. Thus, as in
Melissa Hacker’s case, Into the Arms of Strangers started as a project based on the
curiosity of a younger generation about the difficult past of their elders. However, in
contrast to My Knees Were Jumping, the filmmakers’ personal connections are by no
means central to the film. Although Into the Arms of Strangers is dedicated to
Oppenheimer’s mother and despite the film’s use of Oppenheimer’s family photos, as in
conventional documentary film, the personal connections between the filmmakers and the
film’s story are not explicitly acknowledged anywhere else in the film. Rather, they are
replaced by a much more general depiction of the Kindertransport and the attempt to
place it into a broader context of the Holocaust.
Into the Arms of Strangers’ purpose is to inform the audience about a less wellknown aspect of the Holocaust. It does this from the point of view of the “Kinder,” which
is contrasted and complemented by other individuals who were touched by the event,
such as parents, foster parents, and rescuers.
According to Mark Anthony Harris, a documentary filmmaker’s job is to prompt
the audience to look at “this part of history” - World War II and the Holocaust differently. Thus, the film uses never-before-seen archival footage that chronicles the
invasion of Nazi politics and the increasingly threatened world of (Jewish) childhood.
Into the Arms of Strangers is extraordinarily well-researched by professional
historians who were able to find unusual material, such as shots of Swastika balloons and
of children riding a caroussel featuring horses and wagons but, foreshadowing the war,
also military tanks. All in all, the film’s aim to tell the whole story, a much bigger budget,
and the focus on the children’s perspective undoubtedly contributed to the success of Into
the Arms of Strangers, the 2000 Academy Award winner as Best Documentary Feature.
Viewed by 800 million people in over 100 countries, Into the Arms of Strangers
had by far the most international impact of all three documentaries.553 Besides these
international audiences, Into the Arms of Strangers is also the only film about the
Kindertransport discussed here that has attracted scholarly attention. As Beate Neumaier
points out, the film’s critical reception was divided: “It has been described as “incredibly
moving” and as commercial and superficial.”554 According to Neumaier, “the reliance on
conventional cinematic pattern […] seem[s] to facilitate audience empathy and
identification.”555 I would argue that all three films on the Kindertransport – whether
commercially successful or not – are particularly moving. In the following critique of
Into the Arms of Strangers, I refrain from criticizing the film in terms of its commercial
success. Rather, I will focus on the film’s transmittance of trauma by means of filmic
strategies as well as its use of oral testimonies.
At 117 minutes, Into the Arms of Strangers is longer than Hacker’s (77 minutes)
and Kratz’ (92 minutes) films.556 It includes the testimonies of eleven “Kinder,” including
Lore Segal’s. Right from the opening credits, these oral testimonies are given high
importance in conveying the childhood trauma of loss, displacement and separation.
Thus, “Kind” Lorraine Allard’s voice is heard from the off while the camera slowly
As Oppenheimer proudly points out, former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder introduced the film at its
premiere screening in Germany. Oppenheimer describes his speech as historical and especially moving.
Later on, she also notes that audiences responded differently to the comic relief in the film, used to give
viewers a chance to absorb the emotions of particularly difficult scenes. According to Oppenheimer, the
American audience laughed more than the British one, whereas German audiences hardly laughed at all.
Neumeier, "Kindertransport. Memory, Identity and the British-Jewish Diaspora." 96.
Ibid. 97.
In fact, Harris and Oppenheimer also published a book (of the same title) to include material they had
had to cut from the film.
captures antique toys and German children’s books: “I still have dreams and certain
things come back. I am not sure about my age, life is normal … and this is when I wake
up. And as old as I am, I am still sobbing.” Significantly, this “self report” of a traumatic
event is not shown to the viewer directly but delivered indirectly without showing
Lorraine’s face. Whereas testimonies in My Knees are Jumping and Vielleicht habe ich
Glück gehabt are filmed in different locations and under different circumstances,
testimonies in Into the Arms of Strangers closely resemble each other and are highly
stylized. Filmed against a blue background, the camera provides close-ups of the
subjects’ impeccably styled faces, which appear as though “illuminated by a heavenly
light.”557 These close-ups invite the viewer to focus on the subjects’ raw emotions as they
recall the circumstances and conditions of their Kindertransport experience. In their
testimonies in front of the camera, all subjects talk without being interrupted, as though
talking about their childhood comes rather easily to them. These “direct-address”
monologues are in sharp contrast to the other two films’ handling of testimonial speech,
which is much more “reflexive” and “interactive.”558 All interviewees seem to rely on
established stories based on their “narrative memory”; while some seem more affected by
their memories than others, none of them apparently loses the thread of narration or his or
her composure.
The editorial structure of Into the Arms of Strangers is similar to that of James
Moll’s The Last Days: Each story is broken up and linked with others. What Janet
Walker notes in her critique of The Last Days, is also true of Into the Arms of Strangers:
“This technique could have been used to raise discrepancies between and among
I owe this observation to my husband Ron Baker, a photographer.
Bill Nichols, Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary. (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1991). 44-48.
purported facts.” However, in both films this technique is used instead to “emphasize
historiographic consistency.”559 In other words, the oral evidence provided by people
who were children at the time, is interpreted as factual historical information. Similarly to
Moll’s film, Into the Arms of Strangers hardly considers “the frailty of memory” nor “the
mediated nature of historiographic forms, including film.”560
Like the other two films, Into the Arms of Strangers makes use of archival
footage, including rare original color footage of damaged Jewish stores in Vienna, old
home movies, propaganda films, British newsreel footage, newspapers, personal
documents and photographs. Yet, similarly to the oral testimonies, this footage is solely
used in an illustrative manner, as though it confirms what the interviewees remember
about their childhood. In addition, childhood photographs of the interviewees are
continuously blended in during their testimonies, thus inviting the spectator to recognize
the child in the elderly persons’ facial features. Family pictures are used to tell the story
of a happy pre-war childhood. Passport photos depicting terrified looking children mark
the end of this childhood and the beginning of the children’s journey to Britain.
Nevertheless, there are a few scenes in Into the Arms of Strangers that transcend
this realist mode. Thus, by slowing down or fast cutting original home movies and
archival footage and by halting or leaving the filmic action incomplete, a surreal, offbalance atmosphere is created. “I had a strange dream,” begins a sequence about the
events of November 9th, which combines Ursula Rosenfeld’s words from the off with the
digitally created black and white image of a spiral staircase. As Beate Neumaier notes,
these spiral staircase shots “evoke emotions of fear and anxiety, of growing dizziness, of
Janet Walker Trauma Cinema. 138.
Ibid. 142.
disequilibrium, of falling into an abyss. The blurred vision of these images emphasizes
the terror and panic of moments too painful to remember.”561 Hedy Epstein’s recollection
of the same night is enacted by a hand-held camera action, which hastily captures a clock
and a wardrobe. According to Hedy Epstein, she and her mother hid in a large wardrobe.
These scenes suggest the filmmaker’s awareness of the vagueness of memory and that he
was trying to find a creative way to depict the trauma of persecution. The spiral case not
only stands for the Nazis that came up the stairs to take the children’s fathers with them,
it also symbolizes a world spiraling out of control. Another scene shows a child’s hands
packing a suitcase. As if removed from reality, the camera seems to float. In addition, a
flash of sounds accompanies the camera action.
In the remainder of the film, black and white digital material is used in a more
traditional way. It mostly indicates the portrayal of past events. However, black and white
is also used in reenactments of events for which no footage exists. Due to a shortage of
material about the Channel crossing, the film crew recreated the children’s ferry journey
from Holland to England. A black and white shot from the ferry through a porthole
evokes the children’s perspective of the trip. Similarly, due to a lack of footage, the story
of Alexander Gordon’s trip on the prisoner ship HMT Dunera relies on created sound
effects and existing archival footage of the torpedo attack by a German submarine. In
addition, oil paintings (provided by Hans Jackson, another prisoner on the ship) replace
the non-existent footage that would have otherwise documented the story. It is obvious
that, for the most part, these non-realist means of storytelling either replace footage that
was not available and/or support the film’s general aim to leave no part of the story
untold. Overall, the special effects, including sound effects like that of breaking glass (to
Neumeier, "Kindertransport. Memory, Identity and the British-Jewish Diaspora." 93.
depict the November 9th pogrom) are tied neatly into the film and do not disrupt but
rather enhance the film’s chronological storyline.
The film’s five parts tell the story of (1) a more or less happy childhood, (2) Hitler’s
rise to power, (3) the conditions and circumstances of the rescue operation known as the
Kindertransport, (4) life in England, and (5) the end of the war.562 The transitions
between the five parts are signaled by abrupt cuts and change of music. As Neumaier
notes, Judy Dench’s voiceover gains prominence in the third part of the film, which is
dedicated to the Kindertransport itself.563 According to Deborah Oppenheimer, Judy
Dench was chosen “as the voice of Britain.” Her soft-spoken voice and “maternal
accent,” along with many children songs that accompany the train sequence depicting the
children’s journey from Europe to Great Britain emphasize, once more, the film’s overall
theme, i.e. the story of the Kindertransport as an aspect of the Holocaust that concerned
Jewish children.
In its attempt to provide the whole story, the film juxtaposes many different memories
and experiences. Thus, it includes testimonies of people who were either very young or
already more mature at the time of their departure. Kurt Fuchel’s (he also appears in
Melissa Hacker’s film) memories of his early childhood in Vienna are more positive than
those of Robert Zucker, who was older at the time and who perceived the loss of place
and home as more dramatic. Fuchel’s more positive attitude is also reminiscent of
psychologist Hans Keilson’s theory of sequential traumatization. Thus, Fuchel’s pre-war
childhood memories are more positive than that of the other “Kinder.” He found a
permanent home in England and was reunited with his parents after the war. Thus, while
For a more detailed summary, see Beate Neumaier’s article “Kindertransport. Memory, Identity and the
British-Jewish Diaspora.” Especially 90-97.
he is visibly marked by the childhood trauma caused by the separation from his parents at
age 7, he considers himself more fortunate than others.
In an effort to compare and contrast the Kindertransport to other Holocaust events,
the film also includes Lory Chan’s story. Incapable to see his “Puppele” depart on the
Kindertransport without him, Lory’s father pulled her out of the Kindertransport train.
Consequently, Lory was deported together with her family and survived eight different
concentration camps. In their commentary, the filmmaker and producer note that Lory did
not even mention her Kindertransport experience while recording her testimony for the
Shoah Foundation. At the time, it seemed like a minor detail of her Holocaust
Apart from the “Kinder’s” testimonies, the film – again in its strive to provide the
entire picture - also gives voice to 91-year-old Kindertransport organizer Nicholas
Winton and his German counterpart Norbert Wollheim (who died five weeks after his
oral testimony had been recorded), Segal’s mother Franzi Groszmann and Kurt Fuchel’s
British foster mother Mariam Cohen. These testimonies correspond with those of the
“Kinder” in style and content. They are filmed against the same blue background and
used to affirm historical facts and to reveal emotional truths.
Sequences of Lore Segal’s testimony appear thirteen times throughout the film.
Significantly, she is the only interviewee whose professional identity is revealed. Thus
she is introduced as the writer of Other People’s Houses. She talks about the annexation
of Austria, the difficulties to organize one’s emigration, her father’s announcement of her
departure date, the burden of having to save her family from the Nazis as a ten-year-old,
the farewell on the train station, being on the train, her Dovercourt Camp experience, not
knowing what “orthodox” means, the moving letter she wrote to a British committee that
saved her parents, and about living with five different foster families. Again, as in
Hacker’s My Knees were Jumping, Segal shows her tag. In his commentary, director
Harris notes that Lore Segal had the most precise recollections of all subjects, which in
his view “reflects the fact that she is a writer.” Indeed, Lore Segal’s recollections of her
Kindertransport experience in Into the Arms of Strangers are (again) oral versions drawn
from the “narrative memory” of her life-writing in Other People’s Houses or other
publications. In her last contribution, which is visually accompanied by a sequence of
photographs showing Segal as the little girl, the teenager, the middle-aged writer and the
elderly woman she is today, she states the positive outcome of her exile experience, i.e.
her identity as a fiction writer and the wealth of material her exile experience provided
her with:
I am dazzled from the point of view of the writer. Who else has the unbelievable good
fortune to live with the Jewish manufacturer, the English working class union rail road
stoker, the milkman, the Anglo-Indian Victorian ladies – who ever has the sheer advantage
of not studying this from the outside, but being a helpless member from the inside of these
families? It seems to me like a gift – it did not seem to be so at the time.
Similarly to The Last Days (and Schindler’s List), Into the Arms of Strangers ends
with “a celebration of the interviewees’ lives and offspring,” as “interviewees and
viewers alike are empowered by the presence of children to revel in survivorship.”564 The
film’s aim at closure or “cure”565 is achieved in the last scenes, which show Alexander
Gordon and his granddaughter study an English monument dedicated to the children of
the Kindertransport. As the boy who had been orphaned before the war, whose exile
experience was extremely painful, and who was later on shipped to Australia as an enemy
Ibid. 144.
Kaplan and Wang, 9.
alien, Alexander Gordon is portrayed as the least fortunate “Kind” of all. However, even
he is able to recognize something positive about his situation: choking with tears, he
manages to say:
I have come to one conclusion. In 1938, I escaped the deportation to Poland; I came to
England on the Kindertransport; I survived the trip to Australia even when the ship was
torpedoed; back in England, after I had joined the army, I did not die either. Why all these
coincidences? I was meant to survive and to have children, and to bring up another
generation of Jews. That’s the purpose of my life.
The end of the film thus indicates that time has moved on. In summing up their
commentary, both Oppenheimer and Harris propose that what people might take away
from this film is that everybody lives through difficult times but that people can
overcome even the worst obstacles. In their efforts to produce a positive message,
Oppenheimer and Harris point out their attempts to “relieve the audience” after
particularly moving sequences, such as the farewell scenes at the train stations. Shots of
trains traveling through beautiful landscapes accompanied by nostalgic children’s songs
(e.g. “Wenn ich ein Vöglein wär”) are supposed to have an uplifting effect on the viewer.
As a consequence, the effects of childhood trauma on the survivors are not as apparent
as in the other films. Sequences, in which the “Kinder” might have exhibited signs of
trauma in their testimonies might have been eliminated during the editing process in
order to enable the film’s positive ending, which emphasizes the “Kinder’s” successful
transcending of their childhood tragedies.
To sum up, Into the Arms of Strangers. Stories of the Kindertransport fulfills its aim to
inform the world about the historical moment of the Kindertransport. It combines many
episodes to provide the entire story, which is based on the “narrative memory” of those
who remember. The viewer is introduced to the trauma caused by the Kindertransport,
but the trauma itself seems to have been edited out of the film in favor of reaching the
comforting conclusion that any trauma can be overcome.
5.7 Käthe Kratz Vielleicht habe ich Glück gehabt (2003)
In 1998, Austrian filmmaker Käthe Kratz566 co-organized a project to remind the people
of Vienna of the destroyed synagogue in Neudeggergasse and its Jewish congregation in
the eigth district. The description on the website dedicated to this remarkable project
reads: “Wir wollen diesen einst mächtigen Bau mit seinen beiden 38m hohen Türmen
wieder erstehen lassen. Nicht auf Dauer, nicht dreidimensional, sondern [...] für sechs
Wochen, als Bild auf einer Folie, zweigeteilt, den Riss in der Geschichte
symbolisierend.“567 For a short time, from October 1st until November 9th, the
installation of the synagogue turned into what it had been before November 9th, 1938:
“ein Zentrum der Liturgie, der Besinnung, der Begegnung.”568 The organizers invited
Jewish people who had been forced to leave Vienna to speak about their experiences.
Lore Segal, Lucie Benedikt and Anne Kelemen were among those who followed the
invitation. The three women met again to participate in Käthe Kratz’ 2003 documentary
film Vielleicht habe ich Glück gehabt. (English title: Maybe I was lucky).569
According to the online encyclopedia aeiou, Käthe Kratz was born in Salzburg, Jan. 24, 1947. After
studying in the USA, she attended the Vienna Film Academy from 1967-1971. She began her career as
director and screenplay writer in 1971. She has received numerous international awards (e.g. Tele
Confronts 1984) for her television series Lebenslinien (1983-1988). Other works include Wo sein Wäsche,
1974; Die Menschen vom Siebenerhaus, 1977; Gekaufte Bräute, 1991; Das zehnte Jahr, 1995; Drei mit
Herz, 1999 (television series). For more information see;internal&action=_setlanguage.action?LANGUAGE=en
Kelemen also took part in Käthe Kratz’ film Abschied ein Leben lang, in which she returns to the places
of her Viennese childhood. This film was made in the context of the synagogue project.
Of all three Kindertransport documentaries, Vielleicht habe ich Glück gehabt is the
least publicized one.570 Needless to say, as an Austrian film production, it did not receive
the international attention it deserves. Although the viewer learns that all protagonists
either left or came to Vienna as child exiles, neither Austria nor Austrians feature
prominently in the film. In fact the only Austrian voices to be heard are those of the
filmmaker (asking her subjects questions) and a registrar.
Asked whether she intentionally avoided numbers and facts in her film, Kratz
Zahlen und Daten kann man ja nachlesen, dafür brauch ich keinen Film. Ich denke, was ein
Film an zusätzlichen Informationen bieten kann, ist genau dieser direkte emotionale,
persönliche Bezug zu den Menschen, die diesen Film tragen. Die Wahrnehmung über
spezielle Personen und über die damit verbundenen Emotionen halte ich für sehr wichtig
und immer wieder für ein bißchen vernachlässigt. Ich denke, das ist eine Information, die
letztendlich viel haltbarer ist und tiefer geht.571
The only factual information provided at the end of the film, informs the viewer that
only 1% of all children who arrive in Austria unaccompanied today eventually gain the
legal right to stay.
By focusing on relationships, people and emotions Kratz “violates” the first in
Ellis/McLane’s list of documentary film characteristics (according to which
documentaries deal with something other than the human condition). However, Kratz’
film also incorporates traditional documentary film features. Thus, she adheres to what
Ellis/McLane present as the traditional idea of purpose: The film makes viewers aware of
The Austrian ORF produced a six-minute report on it, Käthe Kratz was interviewed by a representative
of the “EVS-Freiwillige im Gedenkdienstbüro” in Vienna, the website which promotes the film mentions
eight “Pressestimmen.”
Juliane Urban, "„Sie hat nie aufgehört nach ihren Eltern zu suchen“. Ein Interview mit Filmemacherin
Zivilersatzdienst - Holocaust Education - Europäischer Freiwilligendienst 2003.
and informs them about the problems encountered by child refugees in the past and
present. Kratz comments on the intended effect of her film:
Wenn es gelingt Menschen durch dieses Thema zu berühren und ein Bewußtsein zu
schaffen, dass es so etwas wie Heimatlosigkeit gibt, dass Menschen in diesem jungen Alter
in die Flucht geschlagen werden, dass man vielleicht eine Ahnung davon bekommt wie
sich das anfühlt, dann ist das schon mehr als ich mir wünschen kann.572
For two years, Kratz and her film team accompanied Lore Segal, Lucie Benedikt and
Anne Kelemen who had left Vienna as children on the Kindertransport, and four
adolescent refugees who had fled their countries of origin as children to come to Vienna.
Like the children on the Kindertransport had left Vienna without their parents, Elfinesh,
Moussa, Ikram and Roman came to Vienna unaccompanied by adults.
The film team reenacted Lore Segal’s, Lucie Benedikt’s and Anne Kelemen’s escape
nearly sixty years after they had left Vienna. The women were filmed on a ferry that took
them to the English harbor from where they once again boarded a double decker bus to
take them to Hartwich. There they wandered the grounds of what had been Dovercourt
Camp, where they had found temporary shelter. The film crew also traveled to Moldawia,
Ethiopia and Marocco to document Roman’s Elfineh’s, Ikram’s and Moussa’s lives prior
to their escape. They talked to their friends and family, took photos and film material
back toVienna and, by showing the children the material, re-established connections that
had been disrupted by their (in most cases rather sudden) departure.
The film begins on the ferry that takes Segal, Benedikt and Kemelen back to the
harbor where they had arrived as children. It proceeds to introduce the six protagonists.
This is done by means of rapid cuts showing the elderly ladies on the ferry and each of
the young refugees. For example, Roman is filmed in a telephone booth and looking at
family photos. A screen shot informs the viewer that Roman came from Moldawia to
Vienna as a 15 year old. The next scene shows Segal, Benedikt and Kelemen in front of a
TV screen in an arrival room at the harbor. The viewer sees the women watch the stories
of the young refugees. Thus, the spectator also becomes a witness to the women’s
reactions to the young refugees’ stories. One by one, a stand still shot and writing on the
screen introduces the old and young refugees to each other and to the viewer: Anne
Kemelen left Vienna for England in 1939 to join her sister who had found work as a maid
in England. Moussa left Casablanca at 13 after his parents had disappeared. Lore Segal
escaped from Vienna in 1938 and came to England unaccompanied by her parents.
Efinesti fled from Ethiopia aged 14 after being raped by Eritrean soldiers. Lucie came to
England on the Kindertransport together with her brother and was separated from him
after their arrival in England in 1938. Ikram left Ethiopia after her mother had died and
her politically active father had left his children, exposing Ikram to threats from his
Together with Segal, Benedikt and Kemelen, the viewer reads the message of the film
on the screen: “Kein Mensch verläßt leichtfertig seine Heimat, nicht die KindertransportKinder, die 1938/39 vor der Nazi-Regierung nach England kommen konnten und auch
nicht die Jugendlichen, die heute aus verschiedenen Ländern nach Österreich fliehen.”
The film thus reminds the old refugees of their own childhood story, but they are also
confronted with the fact that what happened to them during World War II is still
happening to other children today.
Unlike the “Kinder,” the young refugees left their home countries for different
reasons. Yet, all of them share similar experiences once they arrive in their exile
destination: They feel abandoned, confused, and lonely, dependent on the help of
In fifteen chapters, each introduced by a title taken from an utterance by one of the
protagonists, the film tells the stories of all six child exiles. Interrupted by a rather
traditional use of archival black and white footage, which documents the Kindertransport
and underlines the old refugee’s memories, the film uses other media as well. For
example, all but two exiles are shown taking photos themselves with an instant camera.
Whereas Segal, Benedikt and Kemelen are filmed capturing the changes that have taken
place since they saw England as children, the adolescents take pictures of what has
become their new homes. While Efineshi captures her impressions of Traiskirchen, an
Austrian shelter for people who seek political asylum, Moussa photographs the train
station. He does not have a permanent home as he is continously being sent back and
forth between Austria, Germany and Italy. “Krisenzentrum” and “Asylantenheim” are
two words all of the young exiles have learned to pronounce clearly, even Moussa, whose
English-German gibberish would otherwise be hard to understand without the provided
subtitles. Segal, Benedikt and Kemele speak German with each other and to the camera.
Their German is rather fluent, but occasionally they pause and have to think of a word or
use the English word instead.
Fotos and videos function as means of documentation that re-establish family
connections. Thus, the title of chapter 1 “Sie sind so groß geworden” refers to Ikram’s
reaction upon seeing her younger brothers in Ethiopia on tape. The brothers comment on
how beautiful their sister has become in pictures shown to them by the film crew. They
want to create good memories for Ikram and urge the film director to show them happily
playing a game they used to play with their sister. Ikram’s face is shown in a close-up.
She is crying while watching her brothers talk about her and look at photos of her.
As in many traditional documentary films, the protagonists are interviewed in their
homes, but are also shown on other locations: on an underground train in Vienna, at a
party, on a soccer field, on a train, on an English beach and in an English garden, and at a
registry office (where Ikram is getting married to an Austrian citizen). Roman is
repeatedly filmed while calling his family in Moldawia from a telephone booth.
Likewise, his family is shown while they are on the phone with Roman, reminding him to
respect the Austrian people and to be a good boy. These reminders are reminiscent of
those issued by the parents of the “Kinder.” Childhood photos of Roman accompany his
grandmother’s memories of raising him. Orphaned as a little boy, Roman had been
adopted by his grandmother. While he is visibly moved by watching his family and
friends talk about him and his departure, he himself renders the account of his flight
rather emotionlessly, in English: “I witnessed a crime. That is the only reason why I left
home.” (trauma signal 5; emotional detachment or numbness)
Vielleicht habe ich Glück gehabt is also a film on the elusiveness of childhood
memory. This is illustrated by Lore Segal’s and Lucie Benedikt’s differing recollections
of the same events. They both left Vienna on the same train and came to England on the
same ferry. Yet, they disagree on almost every detail of their journey:
Lucie B.: Ich weiß nur, dass fast alle seekrank waren.
Lore S.: Ich hab geschlafen.
Lucie B.: Es war saukalt.
Lore S.: Wann?
Lucie B.: Am 12. Dezember.
Lore S.: Meine Erinnerung ist, dass es erst später kalt geworden ist.
Lucie B.: Es war furchtbar kalt auf der Überfahrt.
Lore S.: Aber erst später.
Lucie B.: Das kann schon sein.
Lore S. (amused): Ich möcht’ etwas finden, wo wir dieselbe experience gehabt haben ...
(looking at the harbor): Aber so blau war’s nicht.
Lucie B.: Doch, absolutely.
Lucie does not remember the double decker bus that fetched the children from the
harbor. Lore, on the other hand, recalls boarding the double-decker bus and sitting on top,
in the first row, was the biggest triumph of the trip. In the film, Segal is shown sitting on
the bus exactly where she sat as a child. The otherwise empty bus takes her to Dovercourt
Camp, which no longer exists. The small houses have been replaced by typical English
bathing huts. Segal muses: “Es ist interessant wie man sich zurückwünscht an die Orte
der Kindheit. Was uns da wohl anzieht? Wenn man dort ist, ist nichts mehr so wie es war.
Ja, das Meer ist noch da.”
As in the previous films, Segal’s memories are largely based on her novel Other
People’s Houses. Her verbal reiterations of the “Knackwurst-episode,” of the crying girl
in the streetcar, the farewell from her parents, of her father’s weakness after her
departure, of her life-saving letter to her aunt and uncle (here the film re-enacts a snowcovered rose bud) closely resemble the literary version of her childhood story as
described in her novel. All in all, Segal is shown as having a much clearer and also more
verifiable memory of what was happening to the children on the Kindertransport than
Lucie Benedikt. She appears as the “memory authority,” the one who is amused at
Lucie’s “wrong,” less reliable recollections. The film also supports Lore’s memory by
using black and white footage that prove Lucie wrong and Lore right.
Interestingly, Lore Segal’s relationship with her parents does not feature prominently
in the film. Of all six protagonists, she talks least about the effect emigration had on her
family life. This is remarkable as in Other People´s Houses, Lore’s crumbling family life
had been given much more prominence. However, two remarks Segal makes in the
family context in Vielleicht habe ich Glück gehabt seem noteworthy. The first is in
reference to her daughter. Segal describes how when her daughter had reached the same
age as herself when she left for England, she often found herself thinking of how her
mother must have felt when she sent her little girl away. The second remark concerns her
father’s urging to write letters to get the family out of Austria: “Stellen Sie sich vor …
ich muss es mir ja jetzt selbst vorstellen … man gibt einem Kind so eine Verantwortung
für die Eltern, den Onkel Paul, die Tante Milla und die Zwillinge.” Whereas Segal’s
comparison of her feelings to that of her mother’s show the author’s understanding and
compassion, her rather negative feelings towards her father seem intensified. While the
texts that make mention of Lore’s success at saving her parents’ lives divert the lifesaving aspect in favor of the larky undertone with which Segal typically undermines her
rather heroic childhood actions, the film shows Segal – for the first time - openly
consternated and slightly reproachful towards her father.
Fathers generally do not come off unscathed in Vielleicht habe ich Glück gehabt. All
other protagonists have more or less negative things to say about their fathers. Thus,
Ikram sadly declares: “Ich hasse meinen Vater.” Moussa mutters: “Vater nicht gut.” Both
Roman’s and Elfineh’s fathers died before they knew them. Lucie Benedikt’s reunion
with her parents in the United States after the end of the war is overshadowed by giving
up her English life, which she had become accustomed to. She meets her brother in
London: “Wir gaben unsere Gasmasken ab und bekamen Dokumente.” Lucie remembers
thinking that she was amazed at her parents’ readiness to expose their children to yet
another dangerous trip. Upon approaching New York, the ship is threatened by enemy
submarines. On the other hand, Lucie also remembers eating fresh eggs and bananas for
the first time after the war. Honoring their Jewish upbringing, she recalls preventing her
brother from stuffing himself with ham, protecting him from the, as Lucie ironically
refers to it, “Schinkengefahr.” Once in New York, she finds her parents changed. Both
seem smaller and more fragile than she had remembered them and her mother’s hair has
turned white. “Das war irgendwie traurig,” the title of Chapter 14 in the film anticipates
Lucie’s realization that her parents seemed to need her more than she needed them after
the family’s reunion. Lucie sounds rather bitter when she recalls that her father held her
responsible for her brother’s lack of knowledge of the Jewish faith and Jewish traditions.
Yet, over the course of her life, she also seems to have forgiven him: “Er war zu streng
mit uns, seh ich jetzt. Nur lernen, nur Schule, nur Pflichten, nix Lustiges. Dann hat sich
mein Vater an uns gewöhnt. Er hat nur Gutes gewollt. Seine Ideen über seine Kinder
waren anders als die Wirklichkeit.”
Anne Kelemen whose parents died in Auschwitz, is the only protagonist who shares a
fond memory of her father. Anne learns about her parents’ Holocaust experience during
the war while helping children - former inmates in concentration camps – after they
arrive in England. She recalls leading them to the bathroom and telling them where they
would find “die Brause.” Anne reports that she was taken aback and angry when the
children pushed her into the bathroom and locked the door behind her. Eventually, she
learns from them how they and other Jewish people had been treated in the concentration
camps. Anne’s guilt feelings, which must be seen in connection to her trauma of being
separated from her parents and of not having shared their fate (death), come to the surface
when she addresses the camera: “Im Gegensatz zu anderen wusste ich, wo meine Eltern
waren. Vielleicht hätte ich ihnen helfen können.” Later on, she corrects herself while
remembering the farewell scene at the train station: “Als wir am … Bahnhof … ich hätte
fast Friedhof gesagt, sagte mein Vater, du hast meinen Segen wenn du eines Tages einen
Nicht-Juden heiratest.” 573 Kelemen adds that she only realized the day before the filming
of the scene that this might have been his way to indicate that they would never see each
other again. However, Kelemen’s realization does not feature in the film itself. She is
shown as having incorporated her realization into her narrative, which, as in the case of
the other “Kinder” clearly draws from their established “narrative memory.” In contrast,
the young refugees for whom the exile experience is still fresh and more or less
unprocessed, frequently draw from their “core memory.” Consequently, there are many
silences, tears, and in some cases, they are unable to put their trauma into words at all.
All protagonists in Vielleicht habe ich Glück gehabt have been exposed to situations
that seem to have traumatized them in more or less severe ways. All of them were
separated from their families and were exposed to humiliating circumstances once they
arrived in their respective exiles. Only Lore Segal and Lucie Benedikt were eventually
reunited with their families. Some of them were physically harmed; all of them appear
spiritually damaged by the events that marked their childhood.
Joshua Hirsch’s notion of trauma as “a kind of failure to speak,” and Gadi BenEzer’s
trauma symptoms become noticeable in the film in the scenes marked by the
protagonists’ need to pause, to recompose themselves before they express with words
what happened to them. This can be observed in several instances throughout the film.
For example, when Roman recalls that the Mafia shot at him in the aftermath of the crime
he had witnessed to prevent him from testifying, he instinctively touches his neck. When
Moussa remembers that his mother had disappeared and he was unable to contact her, he
My emphasis.
is first lost for words but, after a few moments, utters that he did not know what to do.
When Ikram reaches the point of her story when she was simply dropped by the people
who had accompanied her, left in a country she had never heard of, in the middle of
winter, wearing only a T-shirt, she shakes her head and whispers: “I don’t want to
remember this.” She pauses and after composing herself, goes on to talk about what
happened next. Trauma is not always marked by an absence of speech. Traumatized
people are able to express what hurt them deeply, but talking about it, as becomes clear
by watching this film, is difficult and painful.
Not only the viewer of the film but also the protagonists themselves are affected by
what they see. Segal, Kemelen and Benedikt view the children’s stories in absolute
silence. Only Kemelen is visibly moved and wipes away her tears. Segal and Benedikt,
on the other hand, remain motionless in front of the TV. According to Käthe Kratz, what
they saw moved the women profoundly: “Es ist ihnen sehr, sehr nahe gegangen. Da ist
sehr viel von ihrer eigenen Geschichte wieder zum Vorschein gekommen. Da ist eben die
Parallelität, da treffen sich die Geschichten.”574
The film re-enacts trauma and connects traumatized people with each other and their
stories. At times, one gets the sense that Segal, Benedikt and Anne are curious and
excited in tracing their emigration together. They recall that as children they had
anticipated the journey to England as an adventure. This had made the separation from
their parents manageable. There is a noticeable break in their mood and the mood of the
film when they find themselves confronted with the young refugees’ stories. While the
“Kinder” have learned to cope with their past, the young refugees are still in the middle
of living through similar difficult times.
While watching Vielleicht habe ich Glück gehabt, the viewer is not given mastery
over time. Instead, the film makes use of disorienting time shifts. In rapid cuts, these
shifts mix multiple present and past tense registers. Thus the Kindertransportees’ past is
depicted in black and white photos and archival footage whereas the young refugees’ past
is marked by color photographs and video sequences, which show their past, lost lives.
Their current situations are presented to the old refugees who watch their lives in yet
another present tense register, which takes place after the filming of the young refugees’
stories has been completed. Finally, the viewer watches the women’s viewing of the
young child exiles on yet another present tense level.
Vielleicht habe ich Glück gehabt clearly centers around the subjects’ stories and their
journeys. While Kratz makes use of black and white archival footage to show the old
refugees’ trip to England on the Kindertransport, she also recreates the young people’s
journeys after they had already been completed by the refugees themselves. In addition,
the old refugees are filmed on their own re-enacted journey of their childhood.
Vielleicht habe ich Glück gehabt is thoroughly self-conscious of its own narration.
Due to the absence of voice-over, it is left to the viewer to piece together the different
stories and to create his/her own voiceover in his/her mind. At times, the viewer is on the
verge of taking on the position of a voyeur, especially in those scenes, which show the
“Kinder” view the stories of the young refugees.
Finally, what makes Kratz’ film a particularly successful documentary about
childhood trauma is the global message it conveys. The film links the past and the
present and connects one generation with another by showing what it feels like to live
with similar traumatic memories.
Summary and Conclusion
In this study, I have examined life-writing in which individuals, who were Jewish
children in exile during the Second World War, remembered and reinvented their
childhood. Secondly, I discussed the portrayal of childhood trauma in documentary films
and the use of oral testimonies by survivors of childhood trauma.
At the beginning of the study, I suggested that texts as well as (documentary) films
that depict the events of the Holocaust by using creative or fictional strategies have
traditionally been perceived as less adequate than those that offer a “realistic” or
“authentic” portrayal. I noted that this perception has - rather recently – undergone a
considerable change, and that the concept of trauma had impacted this development most
Subsequently, I criticized academia’s rather limited approach and use of
“contemporary trauma theory.” Binjamin Wilkomirski’s memoir Fragments, which had
been praised by many as a paradigmatic trauma narrative before it was found out to be
“non-fiction fiction,” served to illustrate this point. However, Fragments also functioned
as a point of departure to introduce and discuss critics’ more (or less) productive
responses and analyses of the “Wilkomirski case,” which led to one critic’s insightful
conclusion that there really are no textual criteria that determine whether or not a
particular Holocaust text (and its author) are authentic.
I suggested that the author of Fragments had been a traumatized child himself and that
he had come to identify with the trauma Jewish children had suffered during the
Holocaust. In tracing the author’s search for knowledge that ultimately led to this
identification, I provided an overview of Jewish children’s fate during World War II, and
the research conducted by psychiatrists and psychologists in the field of childhood
Following Cathy Caruth’s notion that there is more than one way to interpret trauma in
literary texts, I applied an alternative approach to childhood trauma and located signs of
trauma in the pseudo-autobiographical, autobiographical and fictional life-writing by
former Jewish child exiles Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt, Stefanie Zweig and Lore Segal.
I found that all three authors had repeatedly written about the separation from their
parents, their displacement, their struggle with language and their childhood memory, as
well as their problematic relationships with others, and the sense of futurelessness they
had experienced as children, and later on as adults.
Like Wilkomirski, Goldschmidt’s, Zweig’s and Segal’s texts display the fragmentary
nature of traumatic memory. Their writing appears to be motivated by the attempt to
integrate their childhood memories into their life-story. In contrast to Wilkomirski,
Goldschmidt’s, Zweig’s and Segal’s goal is not to emphasize their roles as survivors or
eye-witnesses or to ask for the reader’s pity or understanding. They use fictional narrative
strategies – such as nameless or fictional protagonists, third-person narratives or different
narrative perspectives – to “return from their exile” and to reenact their childhood. As
opposed to Wilkomirski, whose writing had been motivated by the hope for recovery and
healing, Goldschmidt, Zweig and Segal appear first and foremost as individuals who
attempt to integrate their traumatic memory and combine it with their imagination as
writers, to transform the disasters of their childhood into creative pieces of literature.
One of the main conclusions to be drawn from this study is that there is not one
particular genre or text that will tell the story of a traumatized Holocaust childhood more
convincingly or more authentically than another. Goldschmidt, Zweig and Segal employ
different genres – pseudo-autobiography, autobiography, autobiographical novels and
novels that blur the boundaries between autobiography and fiction.
In Goldschmidt’s case, I concluded that the author had progressed from a fictional to
a pseudo-autobiographical to an autobiographical mode. After approaching his childhood
step-by-step in his fictional and pseudo-autobiographical texts, he had finally composed a
conventional autobiography, in which he provided a chronological overview of his life
and his family’s story. In his autobiography, Goldschmidt’s roles as protagonist, narrator
and translator merged as he revealed the commentary and background information that
had been missing from his earlier texts. Lore Segal’s approach of her childhood story
seems reversed; what had started as the autobiography of a child, turned into a novel
composed by the adult author. In her oral testimonies, however, Segal presented the same
childhood memories as the recollections of a survivor, and as a way to connect with other
child refugees. Finally, Stefanie Zweig’s approach to life-writing is at once the most
autobiographical and the most fictional. In her autobiographical novels, Zweig invents a
literary alter-ego, Regina Redlich, and tells her own life-story through Regina’s and other
characters’ eyes. I defined Zweig’s particular childhood trauma as “vicarious,” as she was
initially traumatized by witnessing her parents’ trauma of displacement. Accordingly, it
seems only logical that the author would invent another character whose trauma she
witnesses “vicariously” in the act of writing.
Goldschmidt, Zweig and Segal explore their childhood by looking back at it as adults.
Although all three authors succeed at transforming their ordeals into something creative –
Lore Segal particularly refers to her childhood experiences as a gift that provided her
with her writing material - one senses while reading their texts that due to their childhood
trauma, they sometimes are still in the same place, bearing the same pressures, and facing
the social and emotional challenges they faced as children. Although they seem to have
successfully integrated the “core memories” of their childhood trauma into their
“narrative memory” by producing remarkable pieces of life-writing, the tone of trauma
pervades their work. Nobody has captured this state better than child traumatologist
Lenore Terr:
If one could live a thousand years, one might completely work through a childhood trauma
by playing out the terrifying scenario until it no longer terrified. The life time allotted to
the ordinary person, however, does not appear to be enough.575
Finally, Amal Treacher has noted three particular dynamics that have to be borne in
mind when researching children and childhood:
First, we have all been children and have experienced childhood with its particular joys,
difficulties and challenges. We approach the research through having been there, and one’s
own experiences, needs, memories and personal and social narratives intervene in a loaded
and evocative manner. Second, as an adult thinking about childrens’ experiences one can
be involved in searching for one’s own lost childhood. The research can become a
nostalgic search for that which is lost and gone, or indeed, that which may not have been
there at all. […] Third, adults are researching children from a different vantage point – that
of adulthood. Adults are in a different place, bearing different pressures, and facing social
and emotional challenges.576
I researched these written and oral narratives of childhood trauma as a non-Jewish
adult who was not traumatized as a child. I was and remain very touched by the stories I
read and the oral testimonies I saw. Yet, since I was dealing with Jewish individuals’
childhood experiences, I was consciously avoiding to become sentimental of my own
childhood. This cautious approach was particularly enhanced by learning about Binjamin
"Childhood Traumas. An Outline and Overview." Psychotraumatology. Key Papers and Core Concepts
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Press, 1995. 306.
Treacher, 135-136.
Wilkomirski, who had gone on “a nostalgic search for that […] which may not have been
there at all.”
One of the aspects of my research that impressed me most was how much space all
authors dedicated to the exploration of the worlds of their parents, the family dynamics,
and the spaces they had inhabited within their families as children. I was particularly
fascinated to see how the trauma of former child exiles had apparently affected the next
generation. How this younger generation had wanted to protect their parents, whom they
had come to consider as both, fragile and strong at the same time; how they had never
dared to ask for details and how they had made up these details to piece together and to
make sense of their parents’ childhood stories; how they had developed similar fears, and
experienced the same nightmares as their parents; and why they had been afraid to share
these fears and nightmares with their parents. At times I felt like a detective who was
piecing together the life-stories of my authors and their children. Rather late in my
investigation, I found that Lore Segal’s daughter Beatrix had become a child and family
therapist in New York. The trauma her mother had experienced as a child had obviously
inspired her daughter to help other children and their families deal with similar
difficulties she and her mother had experienced.
Two weeks before submitting this study to my dissertation committee, my sister, a
psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, called to tell me that she had found out that my
paternal grandmother had been Jewish. While it has become quite fashionable among
third-generation non-Jewish Austrians to invent or speculate about the existence of a
Jewish grandmother,577 it had never occurred to me to imagine one for myself.
This is a major theme in Eva Menasse’s novel Vienna.
My grandmother died in May 1944, three months after giving birth to my father.
He never found out much about her or what exactly had led to her death. It seemed that
she had vanished from the family history; there was a portrait of her as a young woman in
our living room, but there were not any stories about her, and there was no grave. After
her death, my father had been sent from one relative to another, and had finally found
temporary shelter with a farmer and his family who had taken care of him until he had
reached school-age.
My father never talked much about his childhood. Growing up, even as an adult I never asked. I sensed that he must have been through difficult times, and so we avoided
the topic altogether. Nevertheless, I picked up bits and pieces of his life as a child and
adolescent, and always considered it a rather sad adventure. I remember feeling sorry for
him for having lost his mother, for having been what I considered abandoned, and for
having been left in the care of strangers.
It would have never occurred to me that my father’s childhood, which is to a
certain extent similar to the childhood of the authors examined in this study, and the air
of secrecy, which surrounded my grandmother, as well as the circumstances of her death,
would one day lead me to research Jewish children’s lives, their traumas, and the reenactments of their childhood stories in literature and film. It shows that our parents’ and
grandparents’ lives, the stories about them we hear, and those we imagine are always
with us, even while embarking on the academic challenge of writing a dissertation.
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