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Susanne Luhmann, 'Representing Familial Legacies of Nazi Perpetration: Postmemory and/or a ‘Move to Innocence’?'

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In this paper, I focus I on a series of texts, by and about the descendants of Amon Goeth, the notoriously brutal commander of the concentration camp Platzow. Goeth’s crimes initially became known to a wide audience through British actor Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of him in the 1993 the Holocaust blockbuster Schindler’s List. In the quarter century since Spielberg’s movie hit the big screen, Goeth’s daughter and granddaughter each have become the focus of much press, including two popular books and one film, each of which chronicles from a different perspective the difficult emotional inheritance that knowing about one’s Holocaust perpetrator ancestor represents.[1]

I discuss these texts in terms of what Marianne Hirsch famously has described as “postmemory.” I describe the postmemory work that descendants of Nazi perpetrators engage in as they seek to make public and work through silenced familial legacies of perpetration. However, in so doing I also question the limits of the concept of postmemory for studying the inheritances of those who descend from the perpetrators. On the one hand, the three texts offer ample and potent examples of the unconscious inheritance that this difficult family legacy entails. Each text digs deep into showing the unsettlement that comes with uncovering one’s family history and learning about one’s personal and familial connection to profound histories of violence. However, working with what Eve Tuck and Wayne Yang in a different context have called “moves to innocence” I want to dig deeper into how the unsettling knowledge of one’s ancestor’s violence gets settled again through a series of different rhetorical moves, without really having to account for or to give up the benefits, power, or privilege derived from this history.

[1] Matthias Kessler (2002), Ich muss doch meinen Vater lieben, oder? Die Lebensgeschichte der Monika Göth, der Tochter des KZ-Kommandanten aus 'Schindlers Liste'; Inheritance (2006 dir. James Moll); Monika Teege (2015) My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family's Nazi Past (coauthored with Nikola Seellamair, the book was published first in German in 2014 as Amon: Mein Großvater hätte mich erschossen and subsequently translated into English by Carolin Sommer.)



Tags: Seminar Feminist

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