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The Shock of Arrival: Poetry from the Nazi Concentration Camps at the End of the Century
Abstract

This article considers the history of publication in Germany of poems from the National Socialist concentration camps. It also traces an international shift in attitude toward these poems, from neglect or suppression in the decades after World War II to a heightened interest and the issuance of numerous anthologies in the 1990s. It then endeavors to provide psychoanalytically informed readings of a number of these poems to illustrate the range of issues raised by individual works. The form of the poems seems to function as the basis for an articulation of the poets’ traumatic experience, allowing the authors to create in or through the poem a “resonating other,” or an interlocutor who plays an essential role in the mechanisms that safeguard psychic identity and health. In terms of aesthetic ideology, these poems show that poetry was not only possible in the camps but also perhaps “useful” to some inmates. They demonstrate the enduring power of old forms in critical situations and suggest that classical meter, conventional rhythm, and rhyme provided a needed sense of order and stability. Such uses of conventional poetic forms and traditional versification present a sharp contrast to the experimentation, ellipsis, and fragmentary style critics have called for as the logical consequence of the Shoah conceived as the breakdown of civilization.



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