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The War in the Empty Air

Victims, Perpetrators, and Postwar Germans

Dagmar Barnouw

Publication Year: 2005

"This book will provoke intellectually, ideologically, and emotionally loaded responses in the U.S., Germany, and Israel. Barnouw's critique of the 'enduringly narrow post-Holocaust perspective on German guilt and the ensuing fixation on German remorse' questions taboos that the political and cultural elites in those three countries would rather leave alone.... [Barnouw] makes us understand why the maintenance of a privileged memory of the Nazi period and World War II may not survive much longer." -- Manfred Henningsen, University of Hawai'i

In Germany, the reemergence of memories of wartime suffering is being met with intense public debate. In the United States, the recent translation and publication of Crabwalk by Günter Grass and The Natural History of Destruction by W. G. Sebald offer evidence that these submerged memories are surfacing.

Taking account of these developments, Barnouw examines this debate about the validity and importance of German memories of war and the events that have occasioned it. Steering her path between the notions of "victim" and "perpetrator," Barnouw seeks a place where acknowledgment of both the horror of Auschwitz and the suffering of the non-Jewish Germans can, together, create a more complete historical remembrance for postwar generations.

Published by: Indiana University Press

The War in the Empty Air: Victims, Perpetrators, and Postwar Germans

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pp. vii

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Preface: The Loss of History in Postwar German Memory

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pp. ix-xvi

Since the end of the Second World War, the politics of German memory has been fraught with fears of being misunderstood—fears that have grown and intensified over the last decades and have themselves become a part of German postwar history. They are familiar fears, and when asked about them ordinary Germans ...

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1. Historical Memory and the Uses of Remorse

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pp. 1-29

The single most exploitable political commodity in the postwar era has been Nazi Evil. At the end of what was arguably the most destructive war in Western historical memory, Germans were confronted with the inescapable enormity of material and moral devastation and the expectation that they accept it as their ...

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2 “Their Monstrous Past”: German Wartime Fictions

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pp. 30-51

In 1945, when Germans were confronted with the now visible material and moral devastation left behind by the violence of war and Nazi persecutions, the immediate past seemed monstrous, and trying to accept responsibility for it a near impossible task. The German Question, how a civilized people could have ...

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3. Censored Memories: “Are the Germans Victims or Perpetrators?”

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pp. 52-101

The Manichean divide of German postwar memory has drawn a sharp line between memories of guilt that were to become the public memory discourses of WWII and memories of painful losses that were to be excluded not only from public remembrance but also from historical memory. For a brief time, ...

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4. The War in the Empty Air: A Moral History of Destruction

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pp. 102-164

The publication in the New Yorker of W. G. Sebald’s “A Natural History of Destruction” in November 2002 provoked several letters to the editor declaring as immoral any sympathy for German wartime experiences.1 One reader was “shocked and offended” by the text “with its implicit suggestion that the Allied ...

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5. No End to “Auschwitz”: Historical or Redemptive Memory

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pp. 165-207

When the news went around the (Western) world that California high-school students had laughed during a showing of Schindler’s List, the recorded reaction was awe and outrage. At the school’s graduation-cum-repentance exercises, the super cool mega-star director Spielberg joked with the adoring students, ...

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6. This Side of Good and Evil: A German Story

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pp. 208-260

The SS officer Hans Ernst Schneider changed his name to Hans Schwerte in May 1945, that chaotic month when the past seemed to be as unimaginable as the future, and everything seemed possible and impossible. He was thirty-five years old, and as far as we can know, he would never turn back. As he said half ...


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pp. 261-296


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pp. 297-303

E-ISBN-13: 9780253111821
E-ISBN-10: 025311182X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253346513

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2005