Theses Doctoral

Childhood Bonds--Günter Grass, Martin Walser and Christa Wolf as Writers of the Hitler Youth Generation in Post-1945 and Post-1989 Germany

Nordmann, Julia

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, public discourse in German society has been repeatedly riven by debates prompted by three leading figures of the literary scene: Günter Grass, Martin Walser, and Christa Wolf. The tremendously emotional controversies regarding Wolf's purported cowardice as a GDR-writer, Walser's alleged anti-Semitism, and Grass's membership in the Waffen-SS served to confirm the significance of these writers, which, I argue, stems not only from their literary merits, but also from their status as former members of the Hitler Youth. Building upon Sigrid Weigel's claim that generations in post-war Germany act as symbols of the country's relationship to the Nazi past, my dissertation elucidates the process by which Grass, Walser, and Wolf were adopted--and adopted themselves--as proxies for a "better Germany." The biographies of these three writers, I argue, came to represent the overarching political goal of both post-war German states: the successful transition from an intimate association with the Nazi regime - in the authors' case, their associations with the Hitler Youth - to a full embrace of democratic values. The conflation of the writers' biographies with national identity explains their authority and popularity in both German societies. It also explains why the process of detachment from these writers as political figures began after 1990 as national identity changed after reunification.

With the waning of the Hitler Youth generation's dominance in the public sphere, a re-evaluation of the writers' political and literary work, set against the backdrop of their generational identity, is long overdue. In four chapters, this dissertation examines key moments in the careers of Grass, Walser, and Wolf. I emphasize the striking similarities between the generational discourse of the two West-German writers and the East-German writer, while pointing out where their shared generational background led to distinct political agendas. I show that the literary output, self-understanding, and public reception of arguably the three most significant writers in the post-war Germanies cannot be understood without a consideration of this mutual historical-biographical legacy. My dissertation thus rewrites an important part of post-1945 and post-1989 cultural history.


More About This Work

Academic Units
Germanic Languages
Thesis Advisors
Huyssen, Andreas A.
Anderson, Mark
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 3, 2014