“Barbara Honigmann’s text Damals, dann und danach shows that it is possible to establish a positive sense of German-Jewish identity after 1945. Discuss this point of view and give reasons, with reference to the text, for why you agree / disagree with this perspective.”


Damals, dann und danach by Barbara Honigmann is a novel which explores the narrator’s Jewish identity and different perspectives of religion to what we may have experienced before. To fully answer this question, it must be split up. We must first analyse the question of “German-Jewish identity” in relation to Honigmann and thereafter, we can explore its positive elements. In this essay, attention will be brought to the definition of a German-Jewish identity, the positive elements of this text at both face level and on a deeper level, and finally, to situate the text, it will be compared to Rubinsteins Versteigerung by Rafael Seligmann.

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“Damals, dann und danach” by Barbara Honigmann is rife with positive images and examples of German Jewish identity, both at face value and on a deeper level. For example, in the chapter “Meine Sefardischen Freundinnen” we become privy to a group of women who meet to read and analyse the Torah: “Seit uber zehn Jahren schon treffen wirs uns, meine vier Freundinnen und ich, an einem Abend zu unserem Torakurs.” (Honigmann, 1999, p. 65.) This is a self-explanatory example of positive Jewish imagery. Similarly, one can interpret the geographical and religious diversity as another positive image; these women do no segregate and divide within their own community between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jew. Another very striking example of this pride in her religion is when Honigmann writes: “Als wir diesen Satz gelesen und ubersetzt hatten, waren wir wieder einmal froh, Juden zu sein und eine Religion zu haben.” (Honigmann, 1999, p. 67.)


We also see positive images of Judaism at a much deeper, profound level in this novel.  In the chapter “Von meinem Urgrossvater, neimen Grossvater, meinem Vater und von mir”, we see positive female imagery in relation to her religion. Despite that fact that with each familial generation, the men become less proud of their religion, Honigmann signals a break. She is firstly breaking the lne by being a woman. We have come to expect that it is only men who can follow in each other’s footsteps for for Honigmann to write “von mir” is positive. Similarly, as she is a different gender, this suggests a change in behaviour towards religion. From the previous paragraph, we are certain that she is proud of her religion and enjoys practising it, unlike her father. (Honigmann, 1999, pp. 39-55.) On page 68, Honigmann mentions two very striking details. The first is that she practises her faith in a manner she calls “koscher light”. Comparing “koscher light” and something like Cola light, Honigmann is understood as meaning the “healthier” version of kosher i.e with all the taste but no sugar or calories. Remembering that in orthodox Judaism, woman must sit separate to the men and cannot analyse the Torah, “koscher light” is a very positive aspect of Honigmann’s faith. Similarly, in the next sentence, Honigmann writes: “und wir genzen uns deutlich von denen ab, die eine Pilgefahrt nach Jersusalem oder nach Auschwitz unternehmen müssen, um sich als Juden fühlen zu können.” (Honigmann, 1999, p.68.) This appraoch to being jewish falls right into line with the idea of “koscher light”. It tells the reader that Honigmann is secure enough in her identity that she does not need to go on a pilgramage to reaffirm her identity. As Honigmann doesn’t feel the need to visit Auschwitz, there is a break is the normal “tater and opfer” identities that many German Jews feel they need to take up in order to be considered as Jewish.

If one is struggling to understand Honigmann’s work as a psotive work after 1945, when compared with Rafael Seligmann’s Rubinsteins Versteigerung, it becomes all the more apparent. __________________________________________________________________

In Damals, dann und danach Honigmann presents us with a very complex view of her German identity. From pages 17-18, she writes that she is indeed a writer, and she is Jewish. However, she then argues that, despite these two traits, she is not a Jewish writer. She utters a paradox in saying that, she feels as if she is a German writer, despite not having lived in Germany for years, she feels closer to the culture of Germany. Honigmann believed that a writer is the language he writes in, thus, by her definition, making her German. The literature that shaped and formed Honigmann is German, presenting themselves in the form of Goethe, Kleist and The Grimm’s Fairy tales. She says she knows that many German romantic writers were more or less anti-Semites but that it doesn’t matter to her. To summarise, she says that as a Jew, she has left Germany, but her work has a strong commitment to Germany and it returns over and over again.  (Honigmann, 1999, pp. 17-18.)

Pól O’Dochartaigh argues that even though the definition of “German” has changed over centuries and that the definition of “Jewish” can be based on things such as religion, race and ancestry, “it is virtually impossible to find an agreed definition of the concept ‘German-Jewish'” and that there are many variables that may throw a definition into doubt. In Pól O’Dochartaigh’s Jews in German Literature since 1945: German-Jewish Literature?, he quotes Dieter Lamping argument that, in terms of German-Jewish literature, a common language (German) is irrelevant. As Honigmann defines herself as German because it is the language she writes in, her definition is put into question. O’Dochartaigh argues that if we only define something as German-Jewish based on its context, then Harlan’s Jüd Suß can be considered as a contribution to German-Jewish culture, despite that fact that it is a ranting, anti-Semitic piece of work. Hans Schütz describes German-Jewish literature as being over after the Holocaust. O’Dochartaigh refutes this by saying that the majority of Jews murdered in the Holocaust were not German Jews. (O’Dochartaigh, 2000) O’Dochartaigh says there is a thriving German-Jewish writing community, just 11 years after Horch says that it is dead and that Golden era of German-Jewish symbiosis is over. (Horch, 1989).


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