On the Awful German Fairy Tale: Breaking Taboos in Representations of Nazi Euthanasia and the Holocaust in Günter Grass's "Die Blechtrommel", Edgar Hilsenrath's "Der Nazi & der Friseur", and Anselm Kiefer's Visual Art

by Peter Arnds
On the Awful German Fairy Tale: Breaking Taboos in Representations of Nazi Euthanasia and the Holocaust in Günter Grass's "Die Blechtrommel", Edgar Hilsenrath's "Der Nazi & der Friseur", and Anselm Kiefer's Visual Art
Peter Arnds
The German Quarterly
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Kansas State University

On the Awful German Fairy Tale: Breaking Taboos in Representations of Nazi Euthanasia and the Holocaust in Giinter Grass's Die Blechtrommel, Edgar Hilsenrath's Der Nazi & der Friseur, and Anselm Kiefer's Visual Art

Among those representations of the Ho- locaust in literature, painting, cartoon, and film that share the characteristic of mixing the sublime with the profane and hence op- posing Theodor Adorno's famous statement that writing a poem after Auschwitz would be barbaric, there is in Germany a group of texts and films in which Nazi atrocities are represented within the context of German mythology and the German fairy-tale tradi- tion. The fictionalization of such a largely unrepresentable historical event as the Ho- locaust and its aftermath is, of course, prob- lematic. If writing a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric, what is writing fairy tales after 1945, particularly fairy tales in the context of the Third Reich and the Holocaust?

In her recent book The Language of Si- lence: West German Literature and the Holo- caust Ernestine Schlant argues that West German literature has largely remained si- lent about the topic of the Holocaust.' The si- lence about the Holocaust that may pervade the works Schlant analyzes is, however, shat- tered in quite a few other works of art in Ger- many, not only in textual representations of Nazi atrocities that make use of the fairy tale, but also in the work of artists and film- makers such as Anselm Kiefer and Hans- Jurgen Syberberg, the twoenfants terribles "of an otherwise reputable culture", as Andreas Huyssen has pointed ouL2 Although Schlant briefly discusses Gunter Grass's Die Blechtrommel, she ignores the fact that a close reading reveals it to be a text in which there is definitely no silence about Nazi atrocities (69-71). Although it is true that the persecution of Jews and their elimina- tion in concentration camps is not a central theme in this novel, it is in its entirety a text about the persecution of another minority group that the Nazis considered artfremd, the physically and mentally handicapped, exemplified by the dwarf Oskar Matzerath.

I want to explore the use of fairy tales in Die Blechtrommel and Edgar Hilsenrath's Der Nazi und der Friseur in the context of the Nazis' ethnic cleansing. Questions this essay attempts to answer are: what makes Hilsenrath's use of fairy-tale material more provocative than Grass's, so that German publishers rejected the manuscript until 1977, six years after its original appearance in the US; and what links Hilsenrath's and Grass's texts to some of the satiric paintings and photographs of Anselm Kiefer? The fairy tale in Germany in the 20thcentury is an ideal genre for showing how history de- termines the uses and abuses of fiction and how then this very fiction can be used in dif- ferent ways to represent history. The tales of the Brothers Grimm had become politicized during the years of the Weimar Republic as progressive writers and conservatives fought over their legacy? For the Nazis the fairy tales became the prime vehicle in supporting

The German Quarter1.v 75.4 (Fall2002) 422

their Aryan policies. As a consequence, the entire field of Volkskunde became ideologi- cally polluted far into postwar Germany. Fol- lowing this abuse of folklore in support of the Nazis' racist and imperialist ideology, in 1945 the Allied Forces briefly banned the publication of the Grimm tales in Germany because they associated the horrors expressed in many a fairy tale with violence in the death camp^.^ Such postwar authors as Arno Schmidt, Gunter Grass, Edgar Hil- senrath, Rolf Hochhuth, most recently Ingo Schramm, and fdmmakers like Alexander Kluge, Volker Schlondorff, and Helma San- ders-Brahms have all re-claimed the Ger- man fairy-tale tradition for their works in or- der to exploit the artistic potential of the con- nection between this genre and the Third Reich. In tales like Hansel und Gretel, Dau- merlings Wanderschaft, Vom Fischer und seiner Fru, and Frau Holle they see ways of speaking the unspeakable. It seems that through two of its attributes, its violence and its unreality, the fairy tale lends itself to a representation of just that-extreme politi- cal violence and the victims' loss of reality. The reaction in Volker Schlondorffs fdm The Ogre of the French protagonist Abel (played by John Malkovich), as he witnesses Goering's eccentric hunting orgies, that it was so unreal he thought he was in some sort of fairy tale holds true especially within the context of the Holocaust. Yet other aspects of the fairy-tale world reoccur in texts and fdms after 1945. What the Nazis eagerly embraced for their nationalist politics-such motifs as the "Faustian" quest of the Germanic fairy- tale hero, the housekeeping skills of such a figure as Frau Holle, and the German fairy- tale forest as a symbol for national identity and unity-becomes a target for artistic re- appropriation that often parodies the Nazis' abuse of the genre.

One phenomenon that becomes appar- ent in many of the postwar texts that employ the fairy tale in connection with the Third Reich is that the genre no longer seems to promise an intact order in which moral val- ues can be re-established. Although the orig-

inal Grimm tales were ideally suited for the conservative Adenauer period, as Jack Zipes argues, a text like Arno Schmidt's Das stei- nerne Herz (1956) clearly deconstmcts the conservative message of the patriarchal, moralistic fairy tale, as I have shown else- where.5 The fairy tale as an intertext in the belles lettres thus undergoes a literary treat- ment similar to that of the Bildungsroman. The 19th century's quest for an organic uni- ty and a metaphysical totality for which the Nazis ideologically exploited both genres, the fairy tale and the Bildungsronzan, is no longer possible after 1945. Whereas in the proletarian fairy tales of the 1920s and the anthologies in the Third Reich, the tales' teleology serves political purposes, in the Federal Republic this dimension of hope dis- appears almost entirely from fairy-tale re- writings in the belles lettres and can only be found in fairy tales for children. In West Ger- many there is little experimentation in fairy tales for children from 1945 to 1968. Due to the anti-authoritarian attitude of the stu- dent generation, after 1968 the fairy tale was no longer considered sacrosanct and it be- came a target for increasing experimenta- tion." for fairy tales within the belles let- tres, there is some early experimentation, for example in Arno Schmidt's Das steinerne Herz or Gunter Grass's Die Blechtronznzel. The main phase of experimentation with re- gard to representations of the Holocaust does not start until the late seventies, i.e., ten years after the increase of experimentation with children's tales. Undoubtedly, this phe- nomenon results from the fact that, with an increasing discourse on the German past, the fairy tale has become a more acceptable vehicle for speaking about the Third Reich and the Holocaust: the later Grass, Edgar Hilsenrath, Rolf Hochhuth, Alexander Klu- ge, and Helma Sanders-Brahms must be mentioned here. A fdm like Benigni's Life is Beazttifil, which not only conjoins the Holo- caust with a fairy-tale imagery but fills the representation of the Holocaust with a great deal of laughter, would have been as shock- ing in the Germany of the late 1960s as was

the provocative Holocaust art of Anselm Kiefer and Edgar Hil~enrath.~

The reception history of some of the provocative works or art by Kiefer as well as the publication his- tory of Hilsenrath's Der Nazi und der Friseur reflect this development. Hilsen- rath's and Kiefer's unrealistic representa- tion of the Holocaust in the context of fairy tale and myth, particularly their use of the macabre, was ill received in Germany unlike, for example, Jurek Becker's Jakob der Lugner (19691, whose conflation of the sublime with laughter was accomplished more subtly. Ironically, in the philo-Semitic climate of the Germany of the 1970s German publishers told the Jew Hilsenrath, who at that time still lived in the US, that they considered his novels Nacht (1964) and Der Nazi und der Friseur unacceptable because of their inher- ent anti-Semitism.8 Similarly, Anselm Kie- fer's paintings and his photographs Occupations (19751, a series of Hitler salutes, were taboo breakers in Germany throughout the 1970s and were interpreted as "the sarcasm of a young artist directing his questions toward a pernicious iconography."g These works consequently experienced a sort of ex- ile existence outside of Germany. While Hil- senrath had not become successful in Ger- many until the 1990s, which experienced a renaissance of Jewish culture, Anselm Kie- fer'sarthad to "migrate" to and through the States before returning to Germany, where it had never been fully recognized until his 1991 exhibition in Berlin. As Andreas Huys- sen points out, "[tlhe timing could hardly have been better: Kiefer comes to Berlin, the political and cultural capital of the new, re- united Germany."lo It is clearly due to the earlier openness of discourse on the Holo- caust in the United States and this country's appropriation of the Holocaust as a cultural icon that the German Holocaust art of the '60s and '70s, with its transgression of the limits of representation, was forced to "emi- grate" to the US. llBefore the 1980s there was no significant discourse on the Holo- caust in Germany. Consequently, when the United States witnessed the awakening of

taboo-breaking Holocaust art (e.g., Spiegel- man), in Germany there was still a sort of hidden censorship that produced the lan- guage of silence of which Ernestine Schlant speaks. Although this silence was also bro- ken in the documentary drama of Peter Weiss and Rolf Hochhuth, their plays do not contain Holocaust humor or parody. While their representations remain within the lim- its of realism, German-Jewish authors like George Tabori, Jakov Lind, Soma Morgen- stern, and Edgar Hilsenrath broke the si- lence in their works through humor, parody, and grotesque fantasy. This daculty of find- ing an adequate language forwriting about the Holocaust was a point of discussion be- tween Hilsenrath and Jakov Lind when they lived in Israel. Hilsenrath, who spent the years from 1941 to 1944 in the Ukrainian ghetto of Moghilev-Podolsk, describes this meeting with '30seph Lindberg" in his novelDie Abenteuer des Ruben Jablonski (1997). Lindberg says to him: "Heute musst du rea- listisch schreiben, wenn du ernst genommen werden willst. [...I Ich meinerseits schreibe humoristisch mit einem Zug ins Groteske. [...I Irgendwann wirst du es in dir spuren, dass die Zeit reif ist. Und dann setzt du dich auf deinen Arsch und legst 10s. Alles muss flieljen. Es muss aus dir herausflieljen wie aus einer Quelle."l2 Hilsenrath must have heeded Lind's words because in most of his works he too chooses a grotesque form of representation over a realistic one. In Der Nazi und der Friseur he completely desta- bilizes the sacrosanctity of the fairy tales. They were considered untouchable by the Nazis because of their typically Germanic features but also after the war when they became important for "the healing process necessary for the rebuilding of a humanist culture."13 While one can still see Die Blech- trommel and its fairy-tale subtexts as a con- tribution to this reconstruction of a human- ist culture, Hilsenrath's novel, which is pos- sibly one of the strongest satires of the Grimm folktales, eludes this process. By transmogrifjing Frau Holle into a prosti- tute,Der Nazi und der Friseur becomes a re-

action to the Nazis' perception of Frau Holle as a symbol of fertility from Germanic my- thology and an archetypal figure to be emu- lated by all German women. Furthermore, he places Hansel und Gretel into the context of genocide. Despite all the debunking of fairy tales in Germany after 1968 this sort of transgression of the representational limits was ahead of its time.

Grass uses the fairy-tale tradition in the context of the Holocaust in a much subtler and less cynical way than Hilsenrath. While Hilsenrath's view of the German fairy tale is entirely negative because in Jungian fashion he associates with it the realization of myth during the Third Reich and sees reflected in the fairy tale the spirit ofWotan, Grass's per- ception of the German fairy tale changes from Die Blechtrommel to his later work. It is precisely the concatenation of a historical event of such utter hopelessness as the Holo- caust with the fairy tales, whose predomi- nant message is one of hope, that leads the Nobel Laureate in the course of his ceuvre to an increasing sense of doom. His adaptations of fairy tales reflect his skepticism about the possibility of a German reunification and the idea of historical progress. In Der Butt (19771, his adaptationofthe Grimm tale Vom Fischer und siner Fru, he argues that male rather than female greed led to the catastro- phes of the twentieth century In this novel the Faustian quest of the Nordic man, which the Nazis read into the German folktale, leads toward the Holocaust as a culmination before the decline of humanity In Die Rattin (1986) Grass develops -among many other fairy-tale motifs-a link between Nazi Ger- many and the legend of The Pied Piper of Hameln, with Hitler as the seductive flute player who takes rats (Jews) and children (the Germans) to their doom. In this novel the pessimism is even more pronounced. It harks back to the Nazis' perversion of folk- lore primarily through the motif of the Ger- man fairy-tale forest, a chief emblem for na- tional identity during the Third Reich, which is itself endangered now in light of Ger- many's ecological crisis. In Grass's Rattin, not only are the German forest and German national identity about to vanish, the fairy tales themselves are. The end of the fairy tale announces the end of humankind.

His earlier and no doubt most famous novel, Die Blechtrommel, does not yet con- tain this dark fairy-tale world. On the con- trary, far from his later pessimism and Hilsenrath's cynicism concerning the Ger- man fairy-tale tradition, reviving the Ro- mantic dwarf tale allows Grass to recover a deeply humanitarian aspect of the Romantic Age. In Die Blechtrommel Grass addresses the persecution of the mentally and physi- cally disabled, of schizophrenics, thieves, aimless wanderers, and the so-calledArbeitsscheuen under the Nazis' sterilization laws and euthanasia program. Die Blechtrommel probes the limits of representation by em- ploying elements of folk culturethe fairy tale, a carnival ambience, the archetype of the trickster, and the literary genre of the pi- caresque novel-in order to represent the grim reality of the National Socialist eutha- nasia program as well as the discriminatory practices of a post-fascist West German soci- ety.14 Although the novel conflates the sub- lime (the Holocaust) with the profane (folk humor), in doing so it attempts to revive some of the grotesque forms that the Nazis had tried to eliminate. Die Blechtrommel is an elaborate Tom Thumb tale that directs our attention to the Nazis' misuse of folklore for their racial theories.15 Through his dwarf Oskar Matzerath Grass comments on the Nazis' narrowly defined idea of the Faustian quest pertaining only to the Nordic man of classical beauty, a limitation that nourished their concept of life unworthy of life. In re- claiming the fairy-tale tradition from its ideological abuse during the Third Reich Grass harks back to the liberal tradition of the Romantic period and the Weimar Repub- lic, which expressed solidarity with the phys- ically and racially different Other. Moreover, Die Blechtrommel is a picaresque satire on the Bildungsroman that questions Goethe's concept of Bildung, of man's perfectibility, thus casting doubt on the classical notions of stability, health, and harmony, the Apolline spirit that also informed the racial eugenics of National Socialism. Like the constantly endangered Tom Thumb of the fairy tale, Oskar Matzerath is not only physically chal- lenged, he is also a thief, a trickster, and a seemingly aimless wanderer. These catego- ries make him into the lund of social outsider that the Nazis targeted. Through its revival of different forms of folk culture repressed or manipulated by the Nazis for ideological pur- poses, Die Blechtronzmel is a major contri- bution to German Vergangenheitsbewaltigung.16

It is the story of Oskar Matzerath, who decides to stop growing at age three. He lives in Gdansk during the Nazi years, where he keeps beating on his tin drum and shattering glass with his miraculous voice, all in protest against the adult world. After his mother dies from unhappiness and compulsive fish consumption, Oskar leaves home and joins his friend Bebra, a circus midget, in order to perform before the Nazis at a warfront the- ater in France. He then returns home to his father, whom the Russians kill as they over- run Poland. At his father's funeral Oskar de- cides to grow a few more inches, he develops a hunchback, then temporarily becomes a successful entrepreneur in the early Federal Republic and finally ends up in a madhouse after being charged with murder. The tale of Tom Thumb occupies a central place in this Bildungsrornan parody. Like Wilhelm Mei- ster, who is influenced for the remainder of his life by a puppet play, Oskar's develop- ment is substantially impacted by a theater performance:

Es wurde das Marchen vom Daumeling gegeben, was mich von der ersten Szene an fesselte und verstandlicherweise per- sonlich ansprach. Man machte es ge- schickt, zeigte den Daumeling gar nicht, lieD nur seine Stimme horen und die er- wachsenen Personen hinter dem unsicht- baren aber recht aktiven Titelhelden des Stuckes herspringen. Da saD er dem Pferd im Ohr, da lie13 er sich vom Vater fur schweres Geld an zwei Strolche verkau- fen, da erging er sich auf des einen Strol- ches Hutkrempe, sprach von dort oben herab, kroch spater in ein Mauseloch, dann in ein Schneckenhaus, machte rnit Dieben gemeinsame Sache, geriet ins Heu und rnit dem Heu in den Magen der Kuh. Die Kuh aber wurde geschlachtet, weil sie rnit Daumelings Stimme sprach. Der Ma- gen der Kuh aber wanderte rnit dem ge- fangenen Kerlchen auf den Mist und wur- de von einem Wolf verschluckt. Den Wolf aber lenkte Daumeling rnit klugen Wor- ten in seines Vaters Haus und Vorrats- kammer und schlug dort Larm, als der Wolf zu rauben gerade beginnen wollte. Der SchluD war, wie's im Marchen zu- geht: der Vater erschlug den bosen Wolf, die Mutter offnete rnit einer Schere Leib und Magen des FreDsacks, heraus kam Daumeling, das heifit, man horte ihn nur rufen: "Ach, Vater, ich war in einem Mau- seloch, in einer Kuh Bauch und in eines Wolfes Wanst: nun bleib ich bei Euch." Mich ruhrte dieser SchluD [...], und als ich zu Mama hinaufblinzelte, bemerkte ich, daD sie die Nase hinter dem Taschen- tuch barg, weil sie gleich mir die Hand- lung auf der Biihne zum eigensten Erleb- nis gemacht hatte. Mama lieD sich gerne ruhren, driickte mich wahrend der fol- genden Wochen, vor allen Dingen, solan- ge das Weihnachtsfest dauerte, immer wieder an sich, kiiDte mich und nannte Oskar bald scherzhaft, bald wehmutig: Daumling. Oder: Mein kleiner Daumling. Oder: Mein armer, armer ~iiumlin~.'~

This novel is densely intertextual not only with two different versions of the Grimms' Tom Thumb folktale, Daunzesdick and Daumerlings Wanderschaft ,but also with other fairy tales about dwarfs, first and foremost Wilhelm Hauffs Der kleine Mrcch and Zwerg Nase.18 Grass regener- ated, as it were, what the Nazis had per- ceived as degenerate, the grotesque body and the grotesque Romantic fairy tale.lg A close reading of the novel reveals that Grass adopts astructure shared by at least these four dwarf tales: ( 1) the reduction of the dwarf to his grotesque body, (2)the mockery and public display of the dwarf, (3) the public's understanding of the dwarfs size as a reflection of mental inade- quacy, (4) the dwarfs desire to hide from harassment and persecution, (5)his col- laboration with criminals as a form of self- protection, (6) the questionability of his parents' love, and (7) his wandering in search of happiness. The tales thus become aims at alleviating the suffering of the indi- vidual, "racial eugenics was to develop and improve the human race and, in light of this seemingly noble aim, the individual and his suffering became insignificant. [...I People who were no longer useful to the state were perceived as "monsters" in contrast to "true human beings" CYahill307). They were de-

a vehicle for historical representati~n.~~ scribed as geistig Tote, "alien growth[s] in

Like Tom Thumb, Oskar is in constant danger because of his size. Like Tom Thumb therefore, Oskar repeatedly has to hide in places that symbolize the protectiveness of the mother's womb. He hides under his grandmother's skirts, inside a rostrum dur- ing a Nazi party gathering, in war bunkers, closets, etc. He joins a band of criminals, the "Stauberbande" and the Nazis themselves, in order not to be crushed by them. Although he is the size of a thumb, Tom Thumb's jour- ney reflects his pursuit of happiness. Grass elaborates on this concept and contextuali- zes it with the historical background of eu- thanasia. The external arresting of Oskar's growth stands in direct contrast to his inner life. The association of arrested intellectual growth with arrested physical growth be- comes a critical comment on the condemna- tion of the disabled by the Nazis as dead souls and therefore "life unworthy of living." Oskar's rich inner life exposes the enormity of Nazi crimes against the mentally and physically handicapped, who were sent into the gas chambers after "a perfunctory medi- cal test."21 What have been literary topoi for centuries-society's contempt for the dwarf, the view that his physical shortcomings sig- nal mental inadequacy, his uselessness for society other than for the purpose of dis- play-are paradigms we can observe not only in the above-mentioned dwarf fairy tales but also in such novels as Piir Lagerqvist's Dvargen (1944) and Ursula Hegi's Stones from the River (1994). These literary topoi became gruesome realities under Nazi euthanasia. Leni Yahil points out that "Ster- behilfe became Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens and the extension of such life was de- noted unsozial" (307). While euthanasia

human society, and of a lower level than ani- mals" CYahill307). It is only a short step from this concept to the denial of the right to exist. According to these theories it was suggested by Professor Ernst Bergmann as early as 1933 "that a worldwide campaign should be launched against the retarded, habitual criminals, and all degenerates. He recom- mended 'quietly throwing away onto the garbage heap a million of the human refuse in the large cities"' CYahil308). Yahil goes on to describe the implementation of the eutha- nasia program in Nazi Germany, She ex- plains how the Sonderbehandlung, i.e., the gassing and subsequent cremation, of unde- sirable Ballastaistenzen originated as the central operation of the euthanasia program in 1940 before it was used in concentration camps. After public protest against these practices, the Nazis halted the euthanasia operation and the gassing installations were officially closed down. In practice, however, the operation continued in the form of the so-called wild euthanasia, that is, killing in special, locked-up institutions in which vic- tims were put to death individually by injec- tion, sleeping pills, or starvation. The starva- tion method was particularly popular in the case of mentally defective and physically dis- abled children-the number of such victims is estimated at twenty thousand. Persuasion and deception were practiced particularly in the case of child victims: parents were in- formed that the child had been transferred to a special institution for special treatment CYahil309), from which they never returned. Rather than employing a 'language of si- lence' in Die Blechtrommel, Grass explicitly addresses these concepts of (a) Sonder- behandlung, (b) Ballastexistenz, (c) the per-

ception of the handicapped as monsters at a lower level than animals, (d) their perception as mentally dead, and (el their consequent institutionalization. Oskar's friend, the dwarf Bebra, refers to the concept of Sonderbehandlung when he says:

"Unsereins darf nie zu den Zuschauern gehoren. Unsereins mu13 auf die Buhne, in die Arena. Unsereins mulj vorspielen und die Handlung bestimmen, sonst wird unsereins von denen da behandelt [my italics]. Und jene spielen uns allzu gerne ubel mit!" Mir fast ins Ohr kriechend, flusterte er und machte uralte Augen: "Sie kommen! Sie werden die Festplatze besetzen! Sie werden Fackelzuge veran- stalten! Sie werden Tribunen bauen, Tri- bunen bevolkern und von Tribunen he- runter unseren Untergang predigen. Ge- ben Sie acht, junger Freund, was sich auf den Tribunen ereignen wird! Versuchen Sie, immer auf der Tribune zu sitzen und niemals vor der Tribune zu stehen. [...1 Kleine Leute wie wir finden selbst auf uberfulltesten Tribunen noch ein Platz- chen. Und wenn nicht auf der Tribune, dann unter der Tribune, aber niemals vor der Tribune." (92f)

The difference between Bebra and Oskar is that in order to survive, the circus dwarf will, as he says, sit on the rostrum, i.e., side with the Nazis for self-protection, whereas Oskar initially puts up some resistence to the Nazis by sitting insidethe rostrum. We may all remember the famous carnival- esque scene in which Oskar drums apart a party gathering from within the band- stand. Sitting inside this rostrum like Jo- nah in the whale corresponds to the inte- rior spaces in the Tom Thumb tale, the cow's and the wolfs belly, from which Tom Thumb liberates himself through his own activity. Although he initially practises po- litical resistance, Oskar later joins Bebra in performing before the Nazis at the warfront in France. Oskar would lose his life if it were not for his "usefulness" to the Nazis as an entertainer at the front. As long as he entertains the Nazis he can escape from being classified asBallastexistenz. He survives thanks to his voice, the miracle weapon that enables him to scream glass to pieces. By shattering glass he also becomes an accomplice to the Nazis in the sense that this activity is associated with the Reichskristallnacht. This com- plicity with the Nazis once again recalls Tom Thumb, who for self-protection also joins a gang of thieves.

That Oskar is persecuted is easy to miss in the novel. After his return from France Oskar is in danger of being taken to an insti- tution, and not simply because the question of who Oskar's father is remains unresolved in his life. Oskar would not be taken to an or- phanage, although Matzerath's dubious fa- therhood is used by the authorities as a rea- son for Oskar's planned institutionalization:

Ein Mann vom Gesundheitsministerium kam, sprach vertraulich mit Matzerath, aber Matzerath schrie laut, dass man es horen konnte: "Das kommt gar nicht in Frage, das habe ich meiner Frau am To- tenbett versprechen mussen, ich bin der Vater und nicht die Gesundheitspolizei." Ich kam also nicht in die Anstalt. Aber von jenem Tage an traf alle zwei Wochen ein amtliches Briefchen ein, das den Mat- zerath zu einer kleinen Unterschrift auf- forderte; doch Matzerath wollte nicht un- terschreiben, legte aber sein Gesicht in Sorgenfalten. (286

Oskar has become a public health issue. In the chapter entitled "Die Stauber" this letter is mentioned a second time:

Es hatte mich also alle Welt verlassen, und nur der Schatten meiner armen Mama, der dem Matzerath lahmend auf die Finger fiel, wenn er ein vom Reichsge- sundheitsministerium verfa13tes Schrei- ben unterzeichnen wollte, verhinderte mehrmals, dalj ich, der Verlassene. diese Welt verlielj. (299)

Although Matzerath's position as father is a weak one, his reaction to the letter is healthy:

Das geht doch nich. Man kann doch den eigenen Sohn nich. Selbst wenn er zehn- ma1 und alle ~rzte dasselbe sagen. Die schreiben das einfach so hin. Die haben wohl keine Kinder. (298)

It is Maria, Oskar's first love and later stepmother, who is not as sure about keep- ing Oskar at home as is Matzerath. She would not mind seeing him disappear in an institution. Her vacillation already be- comes evident upon Oskar's return from France. Her reception of him is far less emotional and is accompanied by the com- ment that he has given them plenty of trouble (286). Although she claims to hope that they will not put him in an institution, she adds: "Vadient hastes ja. Laifst davon und sagst nischt!" (286) She shows the same kind of ambiguity at the second men- tion of the letter. In response to Matze- rath's healthy reaction that he can't send his own son away she says:

Nu beruhje dir doch, Alfred. Du tust grad so, als wurd mir das nuscht ausmachen. Aber wenn se sagen, das macht man heut so, denn weilj ich nich, was nu richtig is.


The "modern way to do" this, is, of course, to kill the likes of Oskar. Despite the appar- ent ambivalence of Maria's reaction, she tries to exert some pressure on Alfred and push him into signing the letter, quite pos- sibly not so much to get rid of Oskar as to get rid of the trouble he causes them. Matzerath seems almost shocked at her willingness to get rid of Oskar and he bursts out: "Agnes [Oskar's real mother] hatte das nie gemacht oder erlaubt!" (298). Maria's reaction to this is quite in- teresting because it expresses an idea with which we are familiar from the fairy-tale world: "Na is verstandlich, weil se de Mut- ter war und immer jehofft hat, dasses bes- ser mecht werden mit ihm. Aber siehst ja: is nich jeworden, wird uberall nur rum- jestofien und weifi nich zu leben und weia nich zu sterben!" (298). This is undoubt- edly the 'evil' fairy-tale stepmother want- ing to do away with the real mother's child[ren]. But in this very comment the fairy-tale world also collides with the his- torical reality of euthanasia. Apart from the fact that she is wrong because Oskar knows very well how to live, she adopts the Nazi party's own reasoning that because there is no visible physical growth, a crip- ple like Oskar has no life inside and should therefore be put out of his misery. This is the very idea implied by the euthanasia program, under which the disabled were considered geistig tot. Ernst Klee has col- lected a large amount of historical docu- ments that reflect such attitudes. He quotes, for example, from Karl Binding's and Alfred Hoche's book Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens. Ihr Map und ihre Form (1920):

Sie haben weder den Willen zu leben, noch zu sterben. So gibt es ihrerseits keine be- achtliche Einwilligung in die Totung, an- dererseits stofit diese auf keinen Lebens- willen, der gebrochen werden miil3te. Ihr Leben ist absolut zwecklos, aber sie emp- finden es nicht als unertraglich. Fur ihre Angehorigen wie fur die Gesellschaft bil- den sie eine furchtbar schwere Belastung. Ihr Tod reiljt nicht die geringste Lucke aul3er vielleicht im Gefuhl der Mutter. [...I Wieder finde ich weder vom rechtli- chen, noch vom sozialen, noch vom sittli- chen, noch vom religiosen Standpunkt keinen Grund, die Totung dieser Men- schen, die das furchtbare Gegenbild ech- ter Menschen bilden und fast in jedem Entsetzen erwecken, der ihnen begegnet, freizugeben.22

Euthanatos, the beautiful death, was in store for those who were considered mar- ginal existences between life and death, neither quite alive because they were con- sidered geistig totnor quite dead because physically they were still alive. Oskar as- serts his existence in opposition to Maria's words by taking refuge in his two gifts, the drum and his voice, "mir jedoch war Os- kars Stimme uber der Trommel ein ewig frischer Beweis meiner Existenz; denn so- lange ich Glas zersang, existierte ich, so- lange mein gezielter Atem dem Glas den Atem nahm, war in mir noch Leben" (299). These words are, of course, also a refer- ence to his earlier 'usefulness' to the Nazis at the warfront, because Oskar has sur- vived this long solely because of his strange gift of shattering glass with his voice. Maria's disparaging words have a strong impact on Oskar. In a way they dis- illusion him about her and his love for her as becomes clear from his vision of the clinic, which evokes the Nazi euthanasia institutions:

Ler] sieht sogar heute noch, sobald ihm Maria unter die Augen kommt, eine wun- derschone, in bester Gebirgsluft liegende Klinik, in dieser Klinik einen lichten, mo- dern freundlichen Operationssaal, sieht wie vor dessen gepolsterter Tur die schuchterne, doch vertrauensvoll lachelnde Maria mich erstklassigen kzten ubergibt, die gleichfalls und Vertrauen er- weckend lacheln, wahrend sie hinter ih- ren weiljen, keimfreien Schurzen erst- klassige, Vertrauen erweckende, sofort wirkende Spritzen halten. (299)

The Nazis' euthanasia methods of camou- flaging their activities as well as using in- jections are both addressed in this pas- sage. The neglect that Oskar experiences from his stepmother Maria nearly causes his death, were it not for the good angel of his mother and Matzerath's persistent re- luctance to sign. Finally, however, Matze- rath gives in when, after Oskar's trial for his and the 'Stauberbande's' desecration of the Church of the Sacred Heart, an offi- cial in civilian clothes approaches him,

ubergab dem ein Schreiben und sagte: Sie sollten sich das wirklich noch einmal iiberlegen, Herr Matzerath. Das Kind mu13 von der StraBe fort. Sie sehen ja, von welchen Elementen solch ein hilfloses Ge- schopf miljbraucht wird. (319)

The official's comment is again a reference to Oskar's mental deadness and echoes Maria's earlier words that he's always be- ing pushed around by others, i.e., that he has no will of his own. Both are wrong since we know that Oskar is the gang leader, the brain behind all of its activities. Yet the authorities now have two reasons to institutionalize Oskar and dispose of him. Not only is he considered a public health threat because of his physical im- perfection, now he also falls under the cat- egory of criminal, another type of Untermensch that the Nazis were eager to eliminate. This time Matzerath ponders for ten days as to whether or not he should sign the letter before he finally gives in. Yet luckily for Oskar

lag die Stadt schon unter Artilleriebe- schu13, und es war fraglich, ob die Post noch Gelegenheit fande, den Brief weiter- zusenden. (319)

The end of the war saves his life.

It is little surprise that Maria, who almost causes Oskar's premature death, becomes the chief representative of the postwar mu- ent bourgeoisie which contrasts sharply with the institutionalized Oskar. Although Oskar proposes to her, their marriage seems out of the question. In a moment of rage she had once reduced him to the kind of monster mentioned earlier. Bindingund Hoche called people like Oskar "Menschen, die das furcht- bare Gegenbild echter Menschen bilden und fast in jedem Entsetzen erwecken, der ihnen begegnet" (Klee22).Maria calls him

eine verfluchte Drecksau, einen Gift- zwerg, einen ubergeschnappten Gnom, den man in die Klappsmuhle stecken musse. Dann packte sie mich, klatschte meinen Hinterkopf, beschimpfte meine arme Mama, die einen Balg wie mich in die Welt gesetzt habe und stopfte mir, als ich schreien wollte, es auf alles Glas im Wohnzimmer und in der ganzen Welt ab- gesehen hatte, den Mund mit jenem Frot- tierhandtuch, das, wenn man hineinbifi, zaher als Rindfleisch war. (238)

Although she failed to see him institution- alized during the Third Reich, she wit- nesses how this is finally accomplished in the Federal Republic. Thus in the end she finds her theory confirmed that he is an "ubergeschnappter Gnom, den man in die Klappsmuhle stecken musse." By calling him a gnome she reduces him to a fairy- tale creature, an otherwordly being, strip- ping him of his humanity, in the same way the Nazis placed the disabled and the Jews at a level lower than animals. Art Spie- gelman's caption to his Maus series may also come to mind in this context, Hitler's words "The Jews are undoubtedly a race but they are not human." This view ap- plied to both the Jews and the disabled, who were primarily considered a health hazard and fell victims to the politics of ra- cial hygiene. Like Tom Thumb, chased by his Master's wife with a rag, Maria threat- ens to gag Oskar with a towel. The rag in the fairy tale and the perception of the physically handicapped as monstrous are also linked to Oskar's famous comment on Goethe:

der Goethe hatte [...I in dir [Oskar] nur

Unnatur erkannt, dich als die leibhaftige

Unnatur verurteilt und seine Natur [...I

hatte er mit ubersufiem Konfekt gefuttert

und dich armen Tropf wenn nicht mit

dem F~~~~dann mit einem dicken ~~~d

seiner Farbenlehre erschlagen. (72)

Goethe's vision of the "klassisch Gesun- de" as a seedbed for the racial eugenics of the Nazis is undoubtedly a provocative thought. Yet in postwar German culture Grass's novel is not alone in its recourse to the picaresque and its parody of German high culture and the Enlightenment concept of Bildung. In this regard, Die Blechtrommel can also be compared with such works as Thomas Mann's Felix Krull, Arno Schmidt's Dm steinerne Herz, Edgar Hilsenrath's Der Nazi und der Friseur, and some ofAnselm Kiefer's provoc- ative visual art. In their return to the world of fairy tales and myth for the representation of the Holocaust and post-Holocaust Ger- man society these artists were allsupporters of Richard Alewyn's warning to all Germans in 1949that Buchenwald lies "zwischen uns und Weimd2 Much has been written on Grass's use of the picaresque and his parody of Goethean Bildung, yet these categories have not been discussed in the context of the Nazis' oppression of the grotesque and of low culture.24 By recovering what was consid- ered an inferior genre throughout the19* century (except in the Romantic Age), name- ly the picaresque tradition, i.e., by salvaging the degenerate and grotesque not only in the human body (Oskar) but also in the literary form, Grass's Die Blechtrommel becomes one of the great humanitarian novels of our time. I would argue, however, that Grass's use of the fairy-tale tradition in the context of Nazi euthanasia and criticism of German Bildung is, on the whole, subtler and less cynicalthan that of his contemporary Edgar Hilsenrath. Although Die Blechtrommel has received very controversial reactions, the au- thor's cautious and non-provocative treat- ment of the theme of euthanasia in the con- text of folk culture did not overtly break any taboos.25

This does not hold true for Hilsenrath and Kiefer. Jennifer Taylor has correctly gued that while Elie Wiesel "writes to strug- gle with his madness Edgar Hilsenrath writes to assert his claim to his own German cultural past, as well as to redefine his post- war identity as a Jew. Writing is for him an


act of assertion or even of revenge which al- lows him to reclaim some of the German cul- tural inheritance taken from all German Jews by the Nazis."26 She is referring to the German high culture that Hilsenrath's use of the grotesque transforms into a sort of Unterkultul: He does so by displacing the Brothers Grimm with his own fairy-tale ver- sions and by parodying the Goethean Bil- dungsroman. Hilsenrath's principle tech- nique is one of inversion. As he inverts high culture into low culture, he inverts the posi- tions of aermensch and Untermensch. Max Schulz, a non-Jew who looks like a Jew, is one of these lowly creatures. Allegedly raped by his stepfather when he is seven weeks old, he becomes a mass murderer in a concentration camp. After the war he recreates himself as

his former Jewish neighbor and Holocaust victim Itzig Finkelstein, goes to Tel Aviv, and becomes a well-respected barber. The two main fairy tales that intertextually pervade the structure of the first half of this novel are Frau Holle and Hansel und Gretel. Though the reluctance on the part of German pub- lishers to publish the book in the early 1970s was attributed to its alleged anti-Semitism , Hilsenrath's provocative reappropriation of German culture may have something to do with their refusal to accept the novel. As I pointed out, the fairy-tale tradition was at best considered beneficial for the process of healing the great German wound. Through his use of the fairy tale, Hilsenrath reopens thls wound and throws salt into it. Hilsen- rath's Frau Holle has little in common with the benevolent woman of the original tale, who was considered a role model for all women in the Third Reich. With the figure of Frau Holle we transcend the boundaries of folklore and enter the realm of Germanic mythology. As an archetypal figure of Ger- manic mythology that has survived in the folktale she was of particular interest to the Nazis." No doubt Hilsenrath's Frau Holle is inspired by the Nazis' obsession with her ori- gin in Norse mythology and her function as a model for the good mother and Hausfrau. The Norse goddess He1 was a figure associ- ated with death and rebirth, which we see re- flected in the fairy tale's image of the well through which the two daughters enter Frau Holle's underworld and exit from it. Cater- ing to Nazi ideology, Maria Fuhrer says of the Norse goddess that she "nahm zwar de Ver- storbenen in Empfang und hielt sie streng gefangen und verhullt in den Tiefen ihres unterirdischen Reiches; sie barg aber auch die Lebenskeime in ihrem mutterlich n&- renden Schol3" (82). In his parody of Frau Holle Hilsenrath works with these two hnc- tions, that of guardian of the dead and the ar- chetype of the life-giving mother. Her "mut- terlich nahrender Schol3" is perverted into that of a prostitute. That she has only one real leg makes her the object of sexual desire for an American major, who is incapable of

making love to two-legged women and ends up making love to her wooden, non-Aryan leg. After he dies from too much sex with the wooden leg, Frau Holle guards his dead body in her "underworld," her bombed-out base- ment apartment. Particularly through the revisionist tendencies of his Frau Holle, Hilsenrath alludes to the Nazis' ideological abuse of this tale and their appropriation of what for them was a typically Germanic myth:

"Ich kenne keine Juden," sagte Frau Hol-

le. Frau Holle wollte weitergehen, aber

der Junge sagte dann noch: "Die kommen

doch jetzt aus den Lagern zuriick!" "Du

meinst -die -die noch da sind?" sagte

Frau Holle. "Ja, "sagte der Junge, "-ha

ben Sie die Zeitung gelesen?" "Ich lese

keine Zeitungen," sagte Frau Holle. "1st

sowieso alles Schwindel." "6 Millionen er-

morderter Juden," sagte der Junge. "Al

les Schwindel, Willi," sagte Frau ~olle.~'

This was possibly a key passage contribut- ing to the publishers' rejection of the book.

Yet even more iconoclastic in the eyes of the German publishers may have been the associative proximity of the text's Hansel und Gretel version to the concentration camps. WhenMax Schulz returns from the war he tells the Triimmerfrau Frau Holle a Hansel-and-Gretel story that happened to him deep in the Polish forest. Like Gunter Grass's fairy-tale forest inDie Rattin, Hilsenrath's forest is far from being the emblem of national unity that the Nazis saw in the German forest." Hilsenrath's fairy-tale for- est transcends the original danger of the Grimm Brothers' forest by referring to the horrors Germany committed in Eastern Eu- ropean forests during WW 11. As Schulz is fleeing the Russians he manages to hide dur- ing the winter in the hut of an ancient Polish woman, Veronja, who in return for giving him shelter and food expects sexual service from him seven times a night. As he chances upon her cabin he describes it in ominous terms that conjure up the crematoria:

Ich sah zuerst nur ein Dach [.. . j ein schie-

fes Strohdach mit einem kurzen Schorns- tein aus gepreBtem Lehm. Schwarzer Rauch stieg aus dem Schornstein, krau- selte iiber dem Strohdach, verfing sich in den Baumwipfeln in der Nahe des Daches, loste sich bei neuen WindstoBen und stieB himmelwarts. Ich folgte den Rauch- schwaden mit meinen Blicken, guckte in den Himmel, ohne zu wollen, und er- schrak. Denn der Himmel iiber dem Strohdach sah wie Eis aus. Blaues Eis mit einer eingefrorenen Sonne [...I Plotzlich ging eines der Fenster auf. Ich sah ein Ge- sicht. Das Gesicht eines Hutzelweibes. Ein uraltes Gesicht. [...I [Dlann ging die Tiir auf. Ganz langsam ging die auf. Und knarrte. Ganz komisch knarrte die Tiir. "So wie bei Hansel und Gretel," sagte Frau Holle. "Mich gruselt's richtig. "Mich hat's auch gegruselt," sagte Max Schulz. "Da stand sie plotzlich auf der Tiirschwel- le. Eine uralte Frau. Eine, die ganz ko- misch grinste. So ein Grinsen hatte ich vorher noch nie gesehen [...I. Die grinste wie ein Menschenfresser" (100-01).

That Veronja first appears to him as a can- nibal is not only a reference to the voracity of the Grimm witch and the devouring mother archetype but can, in the context of Schulz's sexual slavery, also be read as a Freudian reference to the finger episode in the Grimm original. On the seventh night of doing seven 'numbers' with Veronja, "sieben Nummern schieben" as he calls it, Schulz has his second heart attack. He had his first one while shooting Jews at the edge ofthe mass grave. Instead offinding a treasure in the witch's hut, as do Hansel and Gretel, Schulz already arrives with one, a box full of gold teeth he has managed to swipe from Laubwalde, the concentra- tion camp from which he had escaped be- fore his encounter with Veronja. The Han- sel-and-Gretel tale is thus thematically linked to the Holocaust in a number of ways, via: (a) the black smoke from the hut,30 (b) the box of gold teeth, (c) the in- version of the status of Max Schulz: from oppressor to oppressed, from perpetrator to victim: the witch makes him the kind of "Untermensch" (103) that he is used to seeing in others, and, most centrally, (d) the oven motif. Schulz has to clean Veron- ja's oven (110) and when it comes to the showdown in which, in order to save his gold teeth, he has to kill her, the oven again looms large:

Ich [...I zertriimmerte den Schadel der Hexe mit drei Schlagen [...I Veronjas Ge- sicht [...] rutschte zum Kiichenherd, rutschte unter die Beine der Ziege Katju- scha, die entsetzt gegen das Ofenloch sprang. Kalte Asche fie1 auf Veronjas Ge- sicht. Ich holte die Kohlenschaufel, kehr- te Gesicht und Asche zusammen, warf es ins Ofenloch, machte ein lustiges Feuer.


The German war crimes, primarily the Holocaust, cannot be disentangled from this fairy tale version. For a moment, Veronja as a representative for all Poles who became victims of the Nazis, can enjoy her position as oppressor and take sweet re~en~e.31

Yet it is above all such props as the black smoke, the icy atmosphere, the ashes, the coal shovel, and the oven that are stable reminders of the Holocaust in the midst of this carnivalesque encounter. That Schulz momentarily becomes a vic- tim gives him the idea central to the struc- ture of the novel of recreating himself as a Jewish victim after the war. Through the death of the witch, he experiences like Hansel and Gretel a sort of rebirth: "Ich ging dem Friihling entgegen" (118). The theme of rebirth is shared by the Grimm tale, Hilsenrath's novel, Grass's Die Blech- trommel, and some of Kiefer's work.32 Oskar, for example, repeatedly voices his eagerness to return to the mother's womb. In connection with the oven as a symbol of the motherly womb (as discussed also by Jung), Andrey Toporkov has pointed out that the Russian version of Hansel and Gretel, the Baba-Yaga tale, is related to an Eastern European rebirth ritual, in which a sick baby is placed on a shovel and shoved into a hot oven with the intention of re-

baking it, i.e., to placing it back into the womb so that it can be reborn as a healthy baby (nepene~a~kie This

[~erepekan~el).~~ ritual evokes not only the Hansel-and- Gretel tale but also the story of Max and Moritz, who are baked into bread in the baker's oven. Their rebirth does not func- tion, however, because they re-emerge as ill-behaved as they were before, which is why they are ultimately killed: so that the village community can be reborn. The Na- zis also thought in terms of rebirth. By get- ting rid of what was considered harmful, parasitic, diseased, and ultimately evil, they thought that Germany could be re- born, literally like Phoenix from the ashes. In the context of the Holocaust as well as against the background of the beginning of the Federal Republic as Stunde Null, the idea of rebirth becomes thematic in Der Nazi und der Friseur andDie Blechtrommel. Max Schulz's rebirth as Itzig Finkelstein can partly be seen as a sort of Holocaust de- nial and the repression of his own guilt. Oskar Matzerath's rebirth ironically oc- curs in the chapter in which after the war he travels west on the freight train where he metamorphizes from a mere child that had refused to grow into an ugly dwarf with a hump. His ugly hump denotes the ugliness with which German society emer- ges from the war years, the burden of its guilt which Oskar takes upon himself. That Hilsenrath's perpetrator recreates himself as a victim can even be understood as a comment on Germany's postwar philo-Semitism. Ironically, it is this very philo-Semitism, denounced by Hilsenrath, that prevents the novel from being pub- li~hed.~~

The fact that the Hansel-and- Gretel oven is a symbol of rebirth simulta- neously pointing to the destruction in the camps moves this text onto taboo ground. The oven that destroys human life be- comes the perpetrator's site for his recre- ation as victim. If in this context the pro- tagonist Max Schulz has been understood to represent German society at large, it be- comes possible to fathom why this book


has been unsuccessful in Germany.

Like Grass, Hilsenrath parodies the Goe- thean Bildungsroman and its successors in the lgth century. Particularly the beginning of Der Nazi und der Friseur, which juxtapo- ses the upbringing of the non-Jewish and the Jewish boy, their friendship as opposed to the prejudices of their parents, is intertextual with such novels as Wilhelm Raabe's Der Hungerpastorand Gustav Freytag's Sol1 und Haben. The aermensch Goethe is asso- ciated with the Jews, who live in the Goe- thestral3e ("die meisten Juden [wohntenl in der Goethe- und Schillerstral3e" [201) and are civilized people as opposed to the non- Jews like the butcher, who"wollte unbedingt auf der Goethestrasse bleiben, ich nehme an, wegen des 'Erlkiinigs,' obwohl ich nicht sicher bin, ob er Goethes Gedicht kannte" (141, and like Slavitzki who rapes his step- son.

What are the points of intersection be- tween the visual art of Anselm Kiefer and the literary works of Grass and Hilsenrath? Like Hilsenrath, Kiefer broke taboos in rep- resenting the darkest chapter of German history. Like Hilsenrath's novels Nacht and Der Nazi und der Friseur, Kiefer's work was received triumphantly in the US while it triggered shock reactions at home. He em- ploys some ofthe same themes as Hilsenrath and Grass: the world of Germanic mythol- ogy, the German forest, the contrast between German high culture and the darkness of militarism and genocide. Like Grass and Hilsenrath he contrasts the classical Aryan body with the Jewish body, and in doing so, like Hilsenrath he alludes to Paul Celan'sTodesbge:"dein goldenes Haar Margarete, dein aschenes Haar Sulamit." This line from Celan's poem is echoed visually in Kiefer's paintings Margarete ( 19811, in Dein golde- nes Haal; Margarete ( 19811, in Sulamith (1983), and in two books made of soldered lead and strands of women's hair (Sulamith 1990). As L6pez-Pedraza argues, "in Ger- many before Hitler, the Jewish Diaspora was driven by an unreflective love for the Ger- man culture, leading to the illusion of being

assimilated. But now we have to recognize that it was the fantasy of assimilation to a shadow-culture with Wotanic roots (Upez- Pedraza 69)" It is this Jewish love for the German culture that Hilsenrath ironizes in his parody of Bildung and the German fairy tale. It is the rift between these two cultures that appears to us from the abysses of Ce- lan's poem and on the burnt East Prussian landscape of Kiefer's paintings. Yet while his Holocaust paintings may command one to si- lence, Kiefer's Occupations (1975) caused a major uproar among Germans. This is a set photographs and paintings in which making the Sieg Heil salute the artist "occu- pies" various symbolic locations in Europe, all territories held by the Nazis duringWW 11.According to Peter Winter "West German art critics tend to assume that Anselm Kiefer is a nationalist painter [...I. Short ofbanning him, the domestic critics would like at least to tell Kiefer what he ought to ~aint,"~5

and Wolf Schon asked in the Rheinischer Merkur (6 June 1980), shortly after the 1980 Bien- nale in Venice: "Is this neo-Nazi Blood-and- Soil art, a relapse into the glorious past?" (cited in Winter 66). Kiefer, however, de- fended himself against accusations that his art was neo-fascist by saying: "I identlfy my- self neither with Nero nor with Hitler. How- ever, I must sympathize with them just a lit- tle bit so as to understand their madness" (cited in Winter 70). Kiefer's way of acting out and working through the fascist past rather than partaking of the collective amne- sia of the parent generation, is not altogether different from Hilsenrath's sarcasm, which became a means of working through his own traumatic experiences. In an interview Kie- fer once said, "you cannot show things as they are; you have to ironize them or they are not supportable. The only way to sustain life is to laugh about it."36 This stance and the re- sponses to their work-Hilsenrath was ac- cused of anti-Semitism, Kiefer of being a Neo-Nazi-show how similar this work is.

Like Grass, who returns to the Parsifal myth in Die Blechtrommel, and Hilsenrath, who plays with the figure of Frau Holle, Kie- fer returns to many of the Germanic myths that had been ideologically perverted by the Nazis. In his enormous painting Parsifal II (1973), for example, he does what Grass did with his "Waldoper Zoppot, wo unter freiem Nachthimmel Sommer f~ Sommer Wag- nermusik der Natur anvertraut wurde" (87): he points to Wagner as a political fore- runner of the Nazis. Both Grass and Kiefer focus on the blood in the Parsifal myth. They refer to the myth in connection with the question of guilt:

Nichts ist vorbei, alles kommt wieder, Schuld, Suhne, abermals Schuld. [...I Kennen den Parzival? Auch ich kenne ihn ,icht besonders gut. ~ idie G~-~
~ i ~ schichte mit den drei Blutstro~fen im 
Schnee ist mir geblieben. Diese Geschich- 
te stimmt, weil sie zu mir passt. Wahr- 
scheinlich passt sie zu jedem, der eine 
Idee hat [.... [Alber der Schnee war schon 
gefallen, der jene drei Blutstropfen auf- 
nahm, die mir den Blick gleich dem Nar- 
ren Parzival festnagelten, von dem der 
Narr Oskar so wenig weil3, daJ3 er sich 
zwanglos mit ihm identisch fuhlen kann. 


The central terms in this passage are guilt and its return, the blood, the snow that catches the blood, the idea, and the fool. Oskar the drummer is, of course, an am- bivalent figure. He is the victim ofpersecu- tion, yet in order to escape this victimiza- tion he sides with the Nazis. This makes him a guilty "Mitlaufer." The blood is that of the victims of the Nazi crimes. The snow, he says, "das ist die Berufskleidung einer Krankenschwester" (394), i.e., the blood spilled on the white clothes of the nurse could once again be read as an allu- sion to the perversion of medicine under the Nazis. The idea is that of the Thousand Year Reich and the salvation of the Ger- man Volk by way of cleansing it from its blood pollutants. The fools are those who tried this.

Kiefer reduces the Parsifal myth to a bowl of blood in the center of an ominous, claustrophobic room with two monstrous constructions of wooden beams that resem- ble a pair of gallows. As in some of his other paintings, Nothung (19731, Deutschlands Geistige Helden (1973), and his famous Ho- locaust painting Sulamith (1983), the design of these cavernous halls is "derived from the 'volkisch' Fascist architecture [...I and also bears connotations of the heroic past of Ger- manic legend [...I reminiscent of Valhalla."37 Over the bucket of blood one reads the in- scription: "Hochsten Heiles Wunder! Erlo- sung dem Erloser!" These words contain a good deal of irony when taken out of the Christian context and applied to the Nazi past. This must be done in Kiefer's case, es- pecially because the "Heil" and its idea of sal- vation turn up in another of his paintings that mentions German cultural figures by indirectly referring to them as forerunners of Third Reich ideology: Deutsche Heilslinie (1975). Like many others this painting is based on Kiefer's vision of the Norwegian landscape, an area that was dear to German nationalists from Kaiser Wilhelm to Hitler. "Using inscriptions of their names, [Kiefer] has separated several great modern Ger- man-language thinkers into two lineages" (Rosenthal56). Though Rosenthal mentions such social theorists as Hegel, Feuerbach, and Marx he also inscribes "future oriented philosophers who believed that a kind of sal- vation would come about through either the emergence of an extraordinary leader re- sponsive to history or through historical forces beyond the control of any individual": Schopenhauer, Wagner, Nietzsche, Jung, and Heidegger (56). The ideaofthe "Heil," of salvation becomes very amiguous in connec- tion with Wagner, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, evoking the notion of "Sieg Heil" or "Heil Hitler" in the spectator.

The approximation of German high cul- ture, its literary and philosophical figures, with WW I1 and the Holocaust shared by Grass, Hilsenrath, and Kiefer is possibly best exemplified in Kiefer's series of paintings entitled Wege der Weltweisheit (1976-77) and Wege der Weltweisheit: die Hermanns- schlacht (1978). One of Kiefer's favorite themes was the German forest, the Teuto- burger Wald, much abused by the Nazis as a national emblem. Nationalists after the Brothers Grimm, like the reactionary mod- ernist Werner Sombart, had already pre- pared the ground for the Nazi obsession with the forest by distinguishing the "desert- roaming rationalist Jews" from the "sensu- ous, rooted, and forest-dwelling Germans."38 Hilsenrath turns the Nazi obsession with the forest into a grim fairy tale forest and the "Wald der 6 Millionen" which haunts Max Schulz for the rest of his life, and Kiefer com- bines the image of the forest with Germanic history, especially the "Schlacht im Teuto- burger Wald" between Varus and Hermann the German. To the Nazis, the defeat of the Romans was a symbol of German supremacy and the purity of German blood. What is in- teresting is that, like Grass and Hilsenrath, who satirize German Bildung and the Bildungsroman by returning to the picaresque tradition, Kiefer in his two paintings "de- picts the unreality and inflation embedded in the German tradition of knowledge. It was a knowledge that pretended to be well out of the forest and a contributor to universal en- lightenment, but Kiefer places all those rep- resentative heads" back in the forest (L6pez-Pedraza 47).Matthew Rampley argues convincingly that the Hermannsschlacht, which "was taken up early as a symbol of German identity in the growth of a sense of nationhood in the nineteenth century, [...I became an icon of Wilhelrnine nationalist ideology" (Rampley 84) and that Wege der Weltweisheit, in which Kiefer places the heads of prominent German thinkers round a group of gaunt trees and the words "Die Hermann-Schlacht," "presents the ideology of Arminius and mainstream German intel- lectual life as inextricably linked. Indeed, Kiefer seems to imply that the world-wisdom of the Germans, through the motif of the [tree] roots, lies at the origin of the political violence and its justification symbolized in the event of the battle of the Teutoburger Wald" (Rampley 86). This thought goes be- yond Adorno and Horkheimer's idea of a dia-

lectic of the enlightenment and suggests that German romanticism too is responsible for the political violence of the Nazis. Kiefer's second painting in particular seems to sup- port this idea, because in Wege der Weltweis- heit: die Hermannsschlacht he places figures representative of Germany's entire cultural heritage next to the two Nazi propaganda heroes Schlageter and Horst Wessel. In this sweeping defamation of German culture-of enlightenment, classicism, and romanticism -Kiefer resembles Hilsenrath more than Grass. While Hilsenrath's view of the Ger- man romantic heritage is deeply cynical in DerNazi &der Friseur, Grass's treatment of this period is more subtle. Despite the tex- tual proximity of the Wagner opera and the Daumling-performance in the chapter "Die Tribiine," Die Blechtrommel reflects the deeper humanity of German romanticism, which did not reject the grotesque as Goethe did when he said "das Romantische ist krank."Grass's novel seems consciously to revive the grotesque after the Nazis had sup- pressed it as degenerate and persecuted it inall of its forms, both in the human body and in the arts. Yet there is no denying that intrying to articulate some of the most horrible Nazi crimes in their aeuvre, all three artists participate in what has been termed Vergangenheitsbewtiltigung. They attempt to work through Germany's past by harking back to an ideologically polluted cultural baggage: the fairy tale, Germanic mythology, the En- lightenment concept ofBildung,and the fig- ure of Goethe.


'Ernestine Schlant, The Language of Si- lence: West German Literature and the Holo- caust (New York: Routledge, 1999).

2Andreas Huyssen, "Kiefer in Berlin," Octo- ber 62 (1992): 85. 3For information on the fairy tale of the Wei- mar Republic see Jack Zipes (ed. and trans.),

Fairy Tales and Fables from Weimar Days

(Hanover: UP of New England, 1989) 3-28. 4Cf. Zipes, Weimar Days 25, and Ulrike Bas- tian, Die "Kinder- und Hausmarchen" der Bruder Grimm in der literaturpadagogischen Diskussion des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts (Frankfurt a.M.: Haag& Herchen, 1981) 186.

5Jack Zipes, "The Struggle for the Grimms' Throne: The Legacy of the Grimms' Tales in the FRG and GDR since 1945," Reception of Grimms' Fairy Tales: Responses, Reactions, Reuisions, ed. Donald Haase (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1993) 169; Peter Arnds, "Arno Schmidts Das steinerne Herz und Wilhelm HauffsDas kalte Herz, oder: wie ein biedermei- erliches Marchen gegen den Strich gekammt wird," Bargfelder Bote. Materialien tum Werk Arno Schmidts (Miinchen: edition text + kritik, 2000): 3-17.

GZipes, "Grimms' Tales in the FRG and GDR," 173ff.

71t still does now to many critics. Cf. eg. Rich- ard Schickel, "Fascist Fable," Time (Nov. 9, 1998): 116-17: "[Tlurning even a small corner of this century's central horror into feel-good popular entertainment is abhorrent. Senti- mentality is a kind of fascism too, robbingus of judgment and moral acuity, and it needs to be resisted. 'Life is Beautiful' is a good place to start."

8Cf. Fritz Rumler, "Max &Itzig, "Edgar Hil- senrath: Das Unerzahlbare erzahlen, ed. Tho- mas Kraft (Munchen: Piper, 1996) 70.

9Cf. Rafael L6pez-Pedraza, Anselm Kiefer: After the Catastrophe (London: Thames & Hudson, 1996) 16.

lOHuyssen, "Kiefer in Berlin" 87.

llPeter Novick has recently pointed out that the "Holocaust, as virtually the only common denominator of American Jewish identity in the late twentieth century, has filled a need for a consensual symbol." See Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life (Boston: Hought- on Mifflin, 1999) 7.

12Edgar Hilsenrath, Die Abenteuer des Ruben Jablonski (Miinchen: Piper, 1999) 214-16. 13Zipes, "Grimms' Tales in the FRG and GDR" 170.

14Cf. Saul Friedlander, Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the "Final Solu- tion" (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1992).

l5This dimension of the Nazis' cultural poli- tics has to an extent been analyzed by Christa Kamenetsky in Children's Literature in Hit- ler's Germany: The Cultural Policy of National Socialism (Athens: Ohio UP, 1984), and in "Folklore as a Political Tool in Nazi Germany," Journal of American Folklore 85 (1972): 221- 35, and "Folktale and Ideology in the Third Reich," Journal of American Folklore 90 (1977): 168-78.

16Cf. Berthold Hamelmann, Helau und Heil Hitler: Alltagsgeschichte der Fasnacht 1919- 1939 am Beispiel der Stadt Freiburg (Eggingen: Edition Isele, 1989) 317. Hamelmann demonstrates that the carnival was instrumen- tal to the Nazis in their foreign politics. They saw in carnival a possibility to present National Socialism as a humane (menschenfreundliches) system to an international audience, thus camouflaging their nefarious activities at home. The carnival and the dwarf fairy tales that were not entirely suitable for the educa- tion of the young were often omitted from an- thologies.

17Gunter Grass, Die Blechtrommel (Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1986) 87; further refer- ences cited parenthetically.

l8The fairy-tale subtexts of the novel have been analyzed in two articles, Janice Mouton's "Gnomes, Fairy-Tale Heroes, and Oskar Mat- zerath," Germanic Review 56.1 (1981): 28-33, and David Roberts, "Tom Thumb and the Imi- tation of Christ: Towards a Psych-Mythologi- cal Interpretation of the 'Hero' Oskar and his Symbolic Function," Proceedings and Papers of the Congress of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association (Canberra, 1972) 160-74.

IgReinhold Franke analyzes the figure of the "Daumling," in "Das Marchen vom Daumling in deutscher und franzosischer Sprache," Jugendschriftenwarte 43.11 (1938): 21-25. Com- paring Perrault's version of the tale with the German version, he concludes that one can rec- ognize "im deutschen Marchen den nordisch bestimmten, im franzosischen den westischen Rassetyp" (25). But dwarfs or dwarf-like fig- ures were not particularly popular among Nazi ideologues, who considered them unheroic and "artfremd." Seen in this light, Franke's analy- sis seems contrived, especially when compared with an interpretation of the tale "Das tapfere Schneiderlein." As early as 1924, Georg Schott interpreted the little tailor, who brags about his achievement of having killed seven flies, as a truculent Jew, who tricks the 'Germanic' gi- ant. Schott sees in this pattern the reflection of a historical truth. Cf. Peter Aley,Jugendliteratur im Dritten Reich: Dokumente und Kom- mentare (Hamburg: Verlag fur Buchmarktfor- schung, 1967) 103-05: "Es ware einfach er- gotzlich, zum laut Auflachen, wenn es nicht so todtraurig ware. Denn es ist abermals unsere, der Deutschen Geschichte. Die deutschen Rie- sen: Prachtkerle, mit ihren unheimlichen Kraften. Die Welt konnten sie aus den Angeln heben, wenn sie zusammenstunden. Aber alles ist umsonst; ein elender Wicht, der seinen Schabernack mit ihnen treibt, wird ihrer Herr" (104).

20The Tom Thumb tale is also a subtext in Volker Schlondorffs movie The Ogre. Abel (John Malkovich), who steals young boys from his parents to recruit them for an elitist Nazi School in an Eastern European forest, corre- sponds to the ogre of Charles Perrault's Le Pe- tit Poucet, who eats little children that get lost in the forest. Since Abel is a French prisoner of war, the French fairy tale here literally merges with the German fairy-tale world.

21 LeniYahil, The Holocaust: The FateofEuro- pean Jewry (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990) 309.

22Ernst Klee, ed., 'Euthanasie' im NS-Staat: Die 'Vernichtung unwerten Lebens' (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, 1989) 22.

23Georg Bollenbeck, "German 'Kultur,' the 'Bildungsbiirgertum,' and its Susceptibility to National Socialism," German Quarterly 73.1 (2000): 67-83.

24See, for example, Rainer Diederichs, Strukturen des Schelmischen im modernen deut- schen Roman: Eine Untersuchung an den Ro- manen von Thomas Mann 'Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull' und Gunter Grass 'Die Blechtrommel' (Eugen Diederichs Verlag, 1971); Volker Neuhaus, Gunter Grass (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1992); Volker Neuhaus, Gunter Grass: Die Blechtrommel (Miinchen: Olden- bourg Verlag, 1982).

25Cf. especially the following reviews: Otto von Loewenstein, "Der Blechtrommler in der Kasestadt: Wie ein Vollstreckungsrichter die Bekanntschaft von Oskar Matzerath machte,"DieZeit 7 June 1963, shows that in the Allgau a judge considered the novel a menace to youth; Hubert Becher, "Die Blechtrommel und ihre Kritiker," Echo der Zeit 13 March 1960, calls it a barbaric book; Marcel Reich-Ranicki, "Auf gut Gluck getrommelt: Spielereien und Schaumschlagereien verderben die Zeitkritik des Gunter Grass," DieZeitl January 1960: 1.

26 Jennifer Taylor, "Writing as Revenge: Read- ing Edgar Hilsenrath's Der Nazi und der Fri- seur as a Shoah Survivor's Fantasy," History of European Ideas 20.1-3 (1995): 439.

27Maria Fuhrer tried to show the connection between German folktales and the Germanic myths behind them in Nordgermanische Got- teriiberlieferung und deutsches Volksmarchen: 80Marchen der Briider Grimm uom Mythus her beleuchtet (Munchen: Neuer Filser-Verlag, 1938). While she identifies Frau Holle as typi- cally Germanic because of the Norse myths be- hind this tale (BOff, 91f.), she has almost noth- ingto say about the Tom Thumb figure (cf. page 71). In reading this work it becomes obvious that their connection with Germanic myths made some tales more useful to the education of the German youth than others.

Edgar Hilsenrath, Der Nazi und der Friseur (Miinchen: Piper, 1990) 64; further references cited parenthetically.

29 The Nazis' view of the German forest to an extent harks back to Grimms's nationalistic perception of it. Cf. Jack Zipes, "The En- chanted Forest of the Brothers Grimm: New Modes of Approaching the Grimms' Fairy Tales," Germanic Review 62.2 (1987): 67: "The Volk, the people, bound by a common language but disunited, needed to enter old German for- ests, so the Grimms thought, to gain a sense of their heritage and to strengthen the ties among themselves."

30 Cf. Jennifer Taylor 442. She makes a connec- tion between "Dach" and Dachau and refers to the intertextuality between the above passage and Paul Celan's "Todesfuge." Similarly, An- selm Kiefer appropriates Celan's poem for some of his most deeply moving Holocaust rep- resentations.

31 Cf. Peter Novick 217: "Aloysius Mazewski, the president of the Polish-American Con- gress, insisted that it was Poles [. . .] who de- served second place to Jews: his total of ten mil- lion Holocaust victims was made up of six mil- lion Jews, three million Catholic Poles, and one million 'other nationalities."'

32The painting "Resurrexit" (1973), for exam- ple.

33Andrey Toporkov, "'Rebaking' of Children in Eastern Slavic Rituals and Fairy-tales," The Petersburg Journal of Cultural Studies 1.3 (1993): 15-21.

34Cf. Fritz Rumler in Thomas Kraft's Edgar Hilsenrath, 70: '"ijberempfindlichkeit der Verleger fur judische Themen' und der 'ge- fahrliche Philosemitismus, der hier so ubereifriggepflegt wird,' vermutet Nazi-Autor Hilsenrath, habe die Buchmacher zijgern lassen."

35Peter Winter, 'Whipping Boy with Clipped Wings,' (66-70), "Evaluating Anselm Kiefer," Art International 2 (1988): 66.

36Nan Rosenthal, Anselm Kiefer: Works on Paper in the Metropolitan Museum ofArt (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998) 10.

37Matthew Rampley, "In Search of Cultural History: Anselm Kiefer and the Ambivalence of Modernism," Oxford Art Journal 23.1 (2000): 83.

38Cf. Jeffrey Herf, Reactionar?, Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984) 140.

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