Damals, When she moved, she placed herself

Damals, dann und danach by Barbara Honigmann is a novel which explores the narrator’s Jewish identity and perspectives of religion different to what one may have experienced before. To fully answer this question, it must be split up. The question of “German-Jewish identity” must first be analysed in relation to Honigmann and thereafter, the narrator’s positive identity may be explored. In this essay, attention will be brought to the definition of a German-Jewish identity, the positive elements of Honigmann’s faith 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 (Seligmann, 1991).                In Damals, dann und danach, Honigmann presents us with a very complex view of her German-Jewish 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 and that she feels closer to the culture, despite not having lived in Germany for years. Honigmann believes that a writer is the language that he writes in, thus, by her definition, making her German. The literature that shaped and formed Honigmann is German, presenting themselves in the forms of Goethe, Kleist and The Grimm’s Fairytales. She says she knows that many German romantic writers were more or less anti-Semites but that it does not 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.) Honigmann’s living situation is one that could also contribute to her identity. Honigmann lives in Strasbourg, in an area called the “quartier juif” also known as “das zweite Ghetto” (Honigmann, 1999, p. 59.) In every sense of the word, Honigmann lives on the border. She lives on the border of Germany, on the border of the second Ghetto which is on the border of the first Ghetto. Honigmann regularly cycles to the Rhine so that she can look over into Germany. When she moved, she placed herself in a Jewish community. This denotes that Honigmann never really wants to be too far from Germany. It is a country whose culture and language she very much enjoys. She likes living in a Jewish community, but not too near the centre of it. This may be an insight into how Honigmann feels about her identity; she likes aspects of both but does not want too much of either.                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’s 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 that 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).                “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” the reader learns of Honigmann’s group of women who meet to read and analyse the Torah: “Seit über zehn Jahren schon treffen wir uns, meine vier Freundinnen und ich, an einem Abend zu unserem Torakurs.” (Honigmann, 1999, p. 65.) The group is diverse, harbouring a mix of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews from a plethora of countries. This group is an example of women who are in touch with their faith, and who practice it out of want rather than necessity. Another example of this pride in her religion is when Honigmann clearly 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.) This self-explanatory quote again denotes that Honigmann enjoys her faith and does not feel any compulsion toward it. If one wishes to analyse the language of the piece, on page 14, Honigmann writes that, much later in her life, she decided that Judaism should have a place in her life. (Honigmann, 1999, p. 14.) The use of the verb “entschieden” tells the reader all they need to know, in that Honigmann chose to practice her faith and that it was not pushed upon her.                One also sees positive images of Judaism at a much deeper, profound level in this novel. On page 68, Honigmann mentions two very striking details. The first is that she practises her faith in a manner she calls “koscher light” (Honigmann, 1999, p. 68.). If one compares “koscher light” to the product of Coca-Cola light, Honigmann is understood as meaning the “healthier” version of kosher, so to say the same as the original, but no sugar or calories. Remembering that in orthodox Judaism, woman must sit separate to the men and cannot analyse the Torah, “koscher light” can be construed as a 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 approach 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 feel the need to go on a pilgrimage. One may argue that because Honigmann doesn’t take part in Pilgrimages, that she is only a passive consumer of Judaism and that she cannot really be considered Jewish at all. However, one knows that this is not true because of the “Torakenntnis” group. Despite the resistance from orthodox Jews to let woman analyse the Torah, Honigmann continues to read, establishing her as someone who actively partakes in the Jewish faith.                In a similar vein to this point, as Honigmann doesn’t feel the need to visit Auschwitz, there is a break in the normal “Täter und Opfer” relationship that presents itself in many post-1945 novels. On page 13, Honigmann relays the questions she must endure in relation to her Jewish identity: “Was ist eigentlich aus den anderen geworden, … Sind sie tot, leben sie noch, was für ein Leben, wo?” (Honigmann, 1999, p. 13.) Unlike her parents, the generation who witnessed and experienced the Holocaust, Honigmann does not feel compelled to dwell on her ancestry or their history. She also writes that she finds these questions painful, which could be construed as someone is who is emotionally in touch with their faith.  Another example is on page 15, where she writes: “und außerdem habe ich den Konflikt zwischen den Deutschen und den Juden immer als zu stark und eigentlich als unerträglich empfunden.” (Honigmann, 1999, p. 15.) From this quote, attention is brought to the fact that Honigmann doesn’t concern herself with the typical “Täter und Opfer” relationship, that it is not something that applies to her. A clear and final example of this idea comes about on page 23. Honigmann explains that she wasn’t told much about her Jewish identity, only that: “Wir »die Juden« und die anderen »die Deutschen« waren” (Honigmann, 1999, p. 23.) This quote is referencing her parent’s ideas about the German-Jewish relationship and that they believed there was a true dichotomy between the two. Honigmann doesn’t believe this, signalling a new era of German-Jewish identity, and a positive one at that. Honigmann can be seen as the “changing point” in her family. As her parent’s become less involved with their faith, Honigmann changes that. However, we can see that this is not just a “one-off”. After the birth of her son, she writes that she hoped that he would not just be his “jüdischer Herkunft” (Honigmann, 1999, p. 15.) but rather that he is free to practise his faith, just as she has done. From this, one can see that the “Täter und Opfer” vein in the family, is truly severed.                In the chapter “Von meinem Urgrossvater, meinem 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. Honigmann describes her father’s relationship towards religion in saying: “Er hatte es vielleicht schon fast « vergessen », und tatsächlich geglaubt, daß Deutschland seine Heimat und er selbst ein Deutscher sei.” (Honigmann, 1999, p. 43.) This quote may be interpreted as internalised Jewish self-hatred on the part of the father. She is firstly breaking the line by being a woman. We have unfortunately come to expect that it is only men who can follow in each other’s footsteps, so for Honigmann to write “von mir” is positive. Secondly, to progress from her father’s unacceptance of his religion to actively practising her religion in a healthy manner, signals the possibility of establishing a positive German-Jewish identity post-1945. (Honigmann, 1999, pp. 39-55.)                In order to contextualise Damals, dann und danach, it may be useful to compare it to Rubinsteins Versteigerung by Rafael Seligmann, as both books were written after 1945 yet display completely different views of German-Jewish identity. In Rubinsteins Versteigerung, the portrayal of a German-Jewish identity is far from positive. Jewish self-hatred is a term used to describe a Jewish person who retains anti-Semitic views, first popularised by Sander Gilman. (Gilman, 1986). German-Jewish negativity and Jewish self-hatred present themselves in every corner of the novel. It presents itself in Rubinstein’s anti-Semitic classmates but also in his philo-Semitic teacher. The reader is also privy to aspects of Jewish self-hatred when Rubinstein has a fight with his father: “Die meisten Jidn machen hier wenigstens ordentlich Geld.” (Seligmann, 1991, p. 13.) The use of the pejorative word ‘Jidn’ and the Jewish ‘money grabbing’ stereotype denotes Jewish self-hatred. Similarly, to Honigmann’s novel, a negative view of Jewishness is present, coming from the father in the novel. From the analysis of the chapter “Von meinem Urgrossvater, meinem Grossvater, meinem Vater und von mir”, we understand that Honigmann is the break in a degenerating cycle of German-Jewish identity, with her father being the least proud of his identity. In Rubinsteins Versteigerung a similar story emerges when Seligmann writes that the only reason his father attended the synagogue was not for the religion but rather to meet clients and to help his own business. Seligmann writes that Rubinstein was left on his own to run about for hours while his father talked. Both of these examples purport different outcomes of living with a father who doesn’t practise his faith. Honigmann goes on to have a healthy relationship with her faith. Rubinstein’s Versteigerung ends with a distraught Rubinstein barricading himself in his room, all aflutter with the fact that: “Ich bin ein deutscher Jude!” (Seligmann, 1991, p. 189.) The emotion behind this statement shows that Rubinstein has not established a positive German-Jewish identity for himself post-1945, whereas Honigmann has.                There are many aspects which influence the viewpoint: “Barbara Honigmann’s text Damals, dann und danach shows that it is possible to establish a positive sense of German-Jewish identity after 1945”. The first is whether one can consider Honigmann as a German-Jewish author. Going by a base level definition, Honigmann may qualify; she is Jewish, she writes about things pertaining to the Jewish faith, she writes in German, she enjoys German writers and German culture, and she and her ancestors all have ties to Germany and to being Jewish. According to Pól O’Dochartaigh, it is impossible to define a German-Jewish identity. If this is the case, and Honigmann herself does not define herself as German-Jewish, then there may be a fault with defining her as such and grouping her with other German-Jewish authors.               On the basis that she is a German-Jewish author, then one can assuredly say that it is possible to establish a positive sense of German-Jewish identity after 1945. Honigmann openly practises her faith with a diverse group of women and has chosen to do so, rather than being forced to do so. Honigmann does not feel any compulsion to go on pilgrimages or visit Auschwitz, denoting a healthy relationship with her faith.  She has no fear or qualms regarding breaking the degradation of the Jewish faith within her own family. She has moved on from the old generation’s sentiments of “Täter und Opfer” and does not intend to burden her son with it. There is no mention of anything pertaining to Jewish self-hatred in this novel, something which is abundant in Seligmann’s post-1945 novel Rubinsteins Versteigerung. To conclude, the answer to this question is dependent on whether Honigmann describes herself as a German-Jewish author. With that being said, comparing this novel with other post-1945 novels, Honigmann successfully shows it is completely possible to establish a positive German-Jewish identity after 1945.