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The German Patient

Crisis and Recovery in Postwar Culture

Jennifer M. Kapczynski

Publication Year: 2008

The German Patient takes an original look at fascist constructions of health and illness, arguing that the idea of a healthy "national body"---propagated by the Nazis as justification for the brutal elimination of various unwanted populations---continued to shape post-1945 discussions about the state of national culture. Through an examination of literature, film, and popular media of the era, Jennifer M. Kapczynski demonstrates the ways in which postwar German thinkers inverted the illness metaphor, portraying fascism as a national malady and the nation as a body struggling to recover. Yet, in working to heal the German wounds of war and restore national vigor through the excising of "sick" elements, artists and writers often betrayed a troubling affinity for the very biopolitical rhetoric they were struggling against. Through its exploration of the discourse of collective illness, The German Patient tells a larger story about ideological continuities in pre- and post-1945 German culture. Jennifer M. Kapczynski is Assistant Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Washington University in St. Louis. She is the coeditor of the anthology A New History of German Cinema. Cover art: From The Murderers Are Among Us (1946). Reprinted courtesy of the Deutsche Kinemathek. "A highly evocative work of meticulous scholarship, Kapczynski's deftly argued German Patient advances the current revaluation of Germany's postwar reconstruction in wholly original and even exciting ways: its insights into discussions of collective sickness and health resonate well beyond postwar Germany." ---Jaimey Fischer, University of California, Davis "The German Patient provides an important historical backdrop and a richly specific cultural context for thinking about German guilt and responsibility after Hitler. An eminently readable and engaging text." ---Johannes von Moltke, University of Michigan "This is a polished, eloquently written, and highly informative study speaking to the most pressing debates in contemporary Germany. The German Patient will be essential reading for anyone interested in mass death, genocide, and memory." ---Paul Lerner, University of Southern California

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Social History, Popular Culture, and Pol


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pp. viii-ix

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Introduction: Healing Postwar Germany

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pp. 1-25

He: . . . Think of an illness. A person has had typhoid fever, for eight weeks. He’s survived. Now he is just lying there. The typhoid is gone. But he has neuritis, cold abscesses, he feels sick as a dog. He feels weaker than before. He can’t eat, he can’t sit up, he has bedsores, and he hurts all over. He cries. He’s unrecognizable. But—he no longer...

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Chapter 1. Sick of Guilt

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pp. 26-74

Is the destruction, the bloodshed at an end? Alas, we do not know. But for the moment there is peace. No, it is something else. It is the end of the illness, that inner illness, the end of the unnatural, of that forced way of life, a life that was no longer a life, of the pressure of an inner regime, that mysterious world...

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Chapter 2. Regenerate Art

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pp. 75-117

What a perfidious doctor at the sickbed of the German people! But what did he have in mind for the sick man and his recovery? He had something planned for him, dead or alive. The doctor stands before the court. The sick man, suffering more than ever, will have to think of another cure...

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Chapter 3. One Germany, in Sickness and in Health?

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pp. 118-162

Fascism, of which national socialism is a peculiar variation, is not a specialty of Germany. It is a sickness of the times, which is everywhere at home and from which no country is free...

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Chapter 4. A Failed Cure

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pp. 163-197

Behind the overt history of economic shifts, social exigencies, and political machinations runs a secret history involving the inner dispositions of the German people. The disclosure of these dispositions through the medium of the German screen may help in the understanding of Hitler’s ascent and ascendancy...

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Epilogue: The Patient Lives

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pp. 198-206

In December 1956, the illustrated magazine Deutsche Illustrierte published a photo spread with the rather alarming title “Kranke Männer regieren”—“Sick Men Are Governing.”1 It appeared opposite a report on the planned biopic Der Stern von Afrika (The Star of Africa), a heroic retelling of...


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pp. 207-238

Works Cited

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pp. 239-252


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pp. 253-272

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025275
E-ISBN-10: 0472025279
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472050529
Print-ISBN-10: 0472050524

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 3 line drawings and 5 B&W photographs
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Social History, Popular Culture, and Pol
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OCLC Number: 647889000
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The German Patient

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Germany -- Historiography -- 20th century.
  • Political culture -- Germany -- History -- 20th century.
  • National socialism -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Nationalism -- Germany -- History -- 20th century.
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