restricted access The Temptation of Despair: Tales of the 1940s by Werner Sollors (review)
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Reviewed by
Werner Sollors, The Temptation of Despair: Tales of the 1940s
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), 384 pp.

The underlying story of this beautifully written, heartrending book is the immediate post –World War II experience of the writer, who, as a young German boy, was driven with his family from Silesia to Thuringia. Trekking for five months among tens of thousands of hungry, homeless, desperate people, they found shelter for the nights in barns and refugee camps. During the flight, Sollors’s sister died in a hospital, and his grandmother died falling from a train window. Arriving in Germany, Sollors had confronted a new, strange, and confusing life. These events form the background of a larger story, which details the shocks, traumas, and changes that took place in Germany after World War II. Neither the loss of the past nor the repatriation process of millions of people was easily accomplished. Both were tied to the horrors and now well- known images of concentration camps, skeletons, burned bodies, landscapes of devastation, cities turned to dust, women raped by the occupying Russian army, the homelessness [End Page 341] of most people, and general confusion. Powerfully capturing that destruction, the book also explores the new emotions arising in postwar Germany: shame, rage, despair, and guilt. At the same time, Sollors addresses issues until then unheard of in German society, such as the existence of mixed-race relationships and mixed-race children, a theme that assumed great significance in German movies, plays, novels, and songs of the time (and affected American culture as well). With powerful insight and understanding, Sollors uses newspaper articles, personal and public letters, photographs, poems, songs, pictures, diaries, and reports to discuss the issue of “German culpability” as well as to demonstrate the new approaches, new writing, and new visual images that touched American, Western European, and German audiences, effecting major cultural and aesthetic shifts and transformations.

Zsuzsanna Ozsváth

Zsuzsanna Ozsváth is the Leah and Paul Lewis Chair of Holocaust Studies and professor of literature and the history of ideas at the University of Texas, Dallas. Her books include When the Danube Ran Red and In the Footsteps of Orpheus: The Life and Times of Miklós Radnóti. She has collaborated on two volumes of translations, Foamy Sky: The Major Poems of Miklós Radnóti and Light within the Shade: Eight Hundred Years of Hungarian Poetry.

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