Undoing the Myth of Childhood Innocence in Gisela Elsner's Fliegeralarm

in German Politics and Society
Susanne Baackmann German Studies, University of New Mexico, USA

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This article examines Gisela Elsner's 1989 novel Fliegeralarm in light of Helmut Kohl's politics of “normalization” and the Kriegskinder victimology that has recently gained traction. Fliegeralarm presents children as Hitler's willing executioners and categorically refutes the notion of “liberation” (from fascism) as justification for normalizing German national identity. The text questions the entire edifice upon which West and now united Germany's official memory culture is built. I argue that Elsner not only contests the concept of “historical innocence” but fundamentally refutes the possibility of an innocent historical subject position. Fliegeralarm provocatively casts remembering and childhood innocence as calculated performances that mirror the generational complicity of those born into a legacy of perpetration. It offers a prescient intervention in post-Wende discourses and rethinks childhood innocence along the lines of historical implication, that is, in dialectical tension with knowledge and denial, marked by the traffic between knowing and not knowing.

Contributor Notes

Susanne Baackmann is an Associate Professor of German Studies at the University of New Mexico. Her research is concerned with questions of memory, gender, and the aesthetic staging of the child in memories of fiction. She has published widely on women, love, and war, as well as on contemporary authors, filmmakers, and artists. She is the co-editor of “The Future of the Past,” a special issue of Transit: A Journal of Travel, Migration, and Multiculturalism, and has just finished a manuscript titled Writing the Child: Fictions of Memory in German Postwar Literature, which will appear in the “Cultural Memories” series published by Peter Lang.

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