The War in the Empty Air: Victims, Perpetrators, and Postwar Germans

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Indiana University Press, Oct 11, 2005 - History - 320 pages
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"This book will provoke intellectually, ideologically, and emotionally loaded responses in the U.S., Germany, and Israel. Barnouw's critique of the 'enduringly narrow post-Holocaust perspective on German guilt and the ensuing fixation on German remorse' questions taboos that the political and cultural elites in those three countries would rather leave alone.... [Barnouw] makes us understand why the maintenance of a privileged memory of the Nazi period and World War II may not survive much longer." -- Manfred Henningsen, University of Hawai'i

In Germany, the reemergence of memories of wartime suffering is being met with intense public debate. In the United States, the recent translation and publication of Crabwalk by GÃ1⁄4nter Grass and The Natural History of Destruction by W. G. Sebald offer evidence that these submerged memories are surfacing.

Taking account of these developments, Barnouw examines this debate about the validity and importance of German memories of war and the events that have occasioned it. Steering her path between the notions of "victim" and "perpetrator," Barnouw seeks a place where acknowledgment of both the horror of Auschwitz and the suffering of the non-Jewish Germans can, together, create a more complete historical remembrance for postwar generations.


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1 Historical Memory and the Uses of Remorse
German Wartime Fictions
Are the Germans Victims or Perpetrators?
A Moral History of Destruction
Historical or Redemptive Memory
A German Story

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Page ix - In the clean war, the war in the air. Seldom the ghosts came back bearing their tales Of hitting the earth, the incompressible sea, But stayed up there in the relative wind, Shades fading in the mind, Who had no graves but only epitaphs Where never so many spoke for never so few: Perardua, said the partisans of Mars, Per aspera, to the stars. That was the good war, the war we won As if there were no death, for goodness' sake, With the help of the losers we left out there In the air, in the empty...

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About the author (2005)

Dagmar Barnouw was Professor of German and Comparative Literature, University of Southern California, until her sudden death in May 2008. Her books include Weimar Intellectuals and the Threat of Modernity (IUP, 1988) and Naipaul's Strangers (IUP, 2003), among other books of cultural criticism.

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