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«A. Dirk Moses Whoever thou art... by ceasing to take part... in the public worship of God, as it now is (with the claim that it is the ...»

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Ingrid Karsunke and Karl Markus Michel, 2 vols. (Berlin: Rotbuch, 1985), 1:13–22. For commentary see Michael Töteberg, “Walsers Stücke im Kontext der Zeit,” Text und Kritik, nos. 41–42 (2000): 91–109.

111. Walser, “Unser Auschwitz,” 18. Two recent books on the trial follow Walser on this point:

Rebecca Wittmann, Beyond Justice: The Auschwitz Trial (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 246; Devin O. Pendas, The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial, 1963–1965: Genocide, History, and the Limits of the Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 245, 294–99.

A. Dirk Moses 73 media’s sensationalist reporting of the guards’ crimes. What bothered him most was the individualistic, indeed anarchic, consciousness of bourgeois Germans that permitted a distancing from the Holocaust. The media’s singular focus on the gory details of the camp guards’ specific crimes aided this exculpation.112 By distancing themselves from the guards with whose spectacular crimes they had nothing in common, and by claiming lack of direct involvement, the average German could disavow any relationship of significance to Auschwitz, or indeed to Nazi Germany. Reported as a gross mass murder committed by sociopaths, Auschwitz would recede into oblivion like other crimes, an event of no particular consequence for the country.

What is more, Walser thought he detected cheap emotional identification with the victims as the means by which Germans avoided affective ties with the perpetrators. Yet all that separated contemporary Germans from them, he said, were contingent life narratives. Were we not all potential camp guards?

At the very least, all Germans had enabled the persecution of Jews in the 1930s as passive bystanders.113 One could avoid these connections only by emotionally and imaginatively standing with the victims, whose experiences were actually incomprehensible to everyone but themselves. “Only through the hapless attempt to place ourselves on the side of the victim as much as possible, at least to imagine how terribly they suffered, only with this participation does the perpetrator become so contemptible [verabscheuungswürdig] and brutal, as we need him for our reality-distant but momentarily intense feeling.”114 To tie Germans to Auschwitz—to make it “Our Auschwitz”—Walser argued that the individualistic imagination of the bourgeois German needed to be replaced by a social one of the humanist. In a move that would become more important in future decades, he linked Germans in collective political guilt to the Holocaust through national membership. If the problem was that Germans had lost any residual “national solidarity with the perpetrators,” then it was important to force Germans to associate themselves with the crime by highlighting their national connection. Although he disclaimed feelings of guilt or shame, he saw himself “implicated in the great German crime.”115 The distinction between

112. Walser, “Unser Auschwitz,” 17.

113. Ibid., 19. Here his argument is close to that of Daniel J. Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (New York: Knopf, 1996). I analyze his methodology in “Structure and Agency in the Holocaust: Daniel J. Goldhagen and His Critics,” History and Theory 37 (1998): 194–219.

114. Walser, “Unser Auschwitz,” 17.

115. Ibid., 19.

74 Dilemmas of Identity after the Holocaust implication and guilt was how Walser was able to reconcile his nationalism and imperative to feel connected to the Holocaust. And this distinction was how he came to different conclusions from Habermas, with whose premise about prepolitical connections between Germans across the generations he agreed. Another key difference with Habermas was that Walser suspected the media’s representation of the crime. His argument was communitarian;

the collective preceded and enabled the individual, almost like God, as I show below.

But if the Volk and state still retain meaning for a polity, that is, for a collective that appears in history, in whose name justice can be spoken or broken, then all that occurs is determined [bedingt] by this collective, then the reasons for everything are to be sought in this collective. Then no act is just subjective. Auschwitz is then a pan-German issue. Then everyone belongs to some part of the causes of Auschwitz. Then it would be a task for everyone to find his or her part. One need not have been in the SS.116 Two years earlier he had reflected more specifically on the dilemmas of German identity after Auschwitz in terms redolent of socialist humanism and national self-determination of the Schumacherian type. His generation was the first raised as emphatically national, he observed, not mediated by regional bonds that characterized the world of his grandfather. But because of what Germans did to “finally become conscious of our individual nature [Eigenart],” he continued, “one prefers forever not to be German.”117 In fact, he lamented, “today Germany no longer exists,” referring to the country’s division and to the ostracization of those, like him, who advocated reunification in freedom and peace. Directing his hostility toward Konrad Adenauer, he excoriated the bourgeoisie’s political immaturity in succumbing to the fantasy of inner enemies, the French and socialists before World War I, then the Jews, and now the communists.118 In this way Walser narrated himself as a leftist patriot into a story of bourgeois-elite oppression of the little people in which the fate of the Jews was included.

116. Ibid., 21.

117. Walser was not alone in making such observations. Thus Golo Mann wrote in 1968 that in Germany “history no longer forms the public conscience.... The past has ceased to determine the identity of democratic society” (The History of Germany since 1789, trans. M. Jackson [New York: Praeger, 1968], 528). Cf. Hans Magnus Enzensberg, “Bin ich ein Deutscher,” Die Zeit, June 12, 1964.

118. Martin Walser, “Ein deutsches Mosaik” (1963), in Werke, vol. 11 (Frankfurt am Main:

Suhrkamp, 1997), 51–52, 71.

A. Dirk Moses 75 Feeling increasingly alienated from the Federal Republican consensus that accepted the country’s division, he announced in 1977 that we should “defend ourselves” (uns wehren) against the seemingly immutable outcome of the history of World War II. His declarations were existential rather than discursive; they stated his political emotions with disarming honesty: “I find it unbearable that German history—as bad as it ultimately unfolded—has to end as a product of catastrophe [Katastrophenprodukt]”; “Germany cannot be removed from my consciousness”; “We have to keep the wound called Germany open.” He mourned for the German nation and imagined it in terms of the leftist nationalism of the 1950s. “I refuse to participate in the liquidation of history. In me, Germany still has another chance. One, namely, whose socialism is not imposed by the victorious powers but is allowed to develop on its own; and one whose development toward democracy does not just exclusively stumble along the capitalist crisis rhythms. This other Germany, I believe, could be useful today. The world would not need to shy back any longer from such a Germany.”119 As in the 1960s, he coded National Socialism as a German form of fascism that represented a degenerate potential in all capitalist societies. To overcome the past entailed not chipping away at national traditions but raising awareness that, in the terms of Adorno and Brecht, “we still live under the conditions that can produce fascism,” namely, the hyperegoism of liberal capitalism.120 Where did Auschwitz and the Jews fit in here? Already in 1979 Walser explained his position in terms no different from those he expressed nearly twenty years later in his Paulskirche speech. As he did in 1998, he noted the temptation to avert his gaze from images of Auschwitz: “One can’t live with such pictures.” And he admitted that “we are all tempted to defend ourselves against Auschwitz [uns gegen Auschwitz zu wehren].” The Holocaust seemed incompatible with German national subjectivity. So how were Germans to comport themselves in this historical trauma? With humility, he effectively argued. Such was its excess that no one could gain a firm epistemological foothold from which to pronounce confidently about its meaning. There was no mastering of Auschwitz, and so no one should try.

The real problem was, as he argued in “Our Auschwitz,” that Germans as individuals could not bear the guilt of the Holocaust and therefore dissociated themselves from it and the nation in whose name it was perpetrated.

119. Martin Walser, “Über den Leser—soviel man in einem Festzelt darüber sagen soll” (1977), in Werke, 11:569–71.

120. Martin Walser, “Unsere historische Schuldigkeit” (1978), in Werke, 11:608–10.

76 Dilemmas of Identity after the Holocaust The modern bourgeois, the relaxed and “critical” (non-German) German whom Walser lampooned, was possible only by renouncing the collective that had committed the crime. “Today’s individual has emancipated itself from the nation.” Confronting the past was delegated to others, to officialdom.121 Walser’s suspicion of official ritualization of the Holocaust in public life grew with this hostility to what he saw as the moralization of the Nazi past aimed against the German national ideal in the 1980s: that West Germany was still suspected by some to contain a fascist potential, even that “Germans are all Nazis.” Such rhetoric evidently triggered intense anxieties in him. Throughout history, he complained, Germany, which once had been little more than a plethora of small states, had been subject to persecution that questioned its survival, as in the Treaty of Versailles.122 That German division was punishment for its sins, he understood. “But surely not for ever. Punishment serves not contrition, but surely resocialization. Don’t we feel resocialized?” he asked.

Here were the first signs of concern about the stigmatization of Germany, a mark that led, he thought, to the feeling of one author that East Germany was as foreign to him as Mongolia.123 That an innocent (unblamiertes) Germany still existed—a Germany in which basic trust could be placed—he set out to show, was evident in an East German poet in touch with primal German traditions untainted by subsequent international literary trends about politics or morality. Such poetry’s virtue lay in its isolation from what he called the “conscience industry” (Gesinnungsindustrie) that purveyed antinational ideas against the people’s instincts. The binary relationship between innocent Volk and corrupt elites was thereby mapped onto literary production.124 As might be expected, no one was happier than Walser when the Wall came down in late 1989. The people had spoken against the elites on both sides of the border who had accepted the nation’s division. It was time for West Germans to show solidarity with East Germans and rejoice. “Now is the time to be happy, and to delight in the fact that history will work out once for the Germans, too.”125 But his emotions were mixed, for the reunification was accompanied by vocal opposition from non-German Germans who expressed disdain about the desire of East Germans to join West Germans in one country. “Whoever says Volk instead of society may, no, must, be howled

121. Martin Walser, “Auschwitz und kein Ende” (1979), in Werke, 11:632–35.

122. Martin Walser, “Über Deutschland reden” (1988), in Werke, 11:899–900.

123. Ibid., 11:901–5.

124. Ibid., 11:913–15. For commentary see Stephen Brockmann, Literature and German Reunification (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

125. Martin Walser, “November 1989,” in Werke, 11:927.

A. Dirk Moses 77 down [niedergeschimpft],” he complained. The end of German division did not mean the end of his critique of cultural elites hostile to national rhetoric.

On the contrary, it increased it.126 Walser’s imperative now was to rescue the nation from its criminalization by intellectual elites. And the problem was the media and leftist intellectuals. His identification with the nation intensied as his impatience with intellectuals grew; after the collapse of socialism, only the nation remained as the ideal of collective life. The stigma against it had to be removed. One way was to imagine historical continuities whose teleology was not genocide.

One cannot study this all-inclusive historical narrative [about the military assassination attempt on Hitler] without again and again developing the hope that this time Hitler would not escape, that the war would stop before it could manifest its worst consequences. In order not to suffocate in hopelessness [Ausweglosigkeit] and fatalism, one probably needs a factual narrative that permits us to think constantly that the outcome might have been different. I am embittered by little so constantly than every assertion that Hitler and thereby Auschwitz were unavoidable, that German history runs into nothing but Hitler and Auschwitz.127 This aim collided with the alarm about German nationality that emerged in the wake of arson and other attacks on foreigners living in Solingen, Mölln, and Rostock between 1991 and 1993. Trying to disarm the antinational implications of these attacks, Walser argued that the radical Right was less a product of an overreaching German nationalism than the pitiful result of social anomie. In fact, the recourse of disaffected youth to national rhetoric was possible only because it has been neglected by “the opinion makers, the politicians, the intellectuals.” They were to blame for the right-wing radicalism by not making Germans feel at home in Germany.128 He continued his attack in a 1994 speech, “On Free and Unfree Speech,” in which he complained that public speech codes inhibited his free expression of conscience. The public moralization about the two German dictatorships was particularly dangerous. “There is at the moment a terror of virtue of

126. Martin Walser, “Deutsche Sorgen I” (1989), in Werke, 11:928.

127. Martin Walser, “Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geist des Gehorsams” (1996), in Werke, 11:1081. Close to Walser in this regard is Konrad Löw, “Das Volk ist ein Trost”: Deutsche und Juden, 1933–1945, im Urteil der jüdischen Zeitzeugen (Munich: Olzog, 2006).

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