An elucidating cultural study explores the ways artists forged a sense of redemption—both personal and societal—from the devastation of post–World War II Germany.
European and American writers, journalists, filmmakers, and painters were drawn to postwar Germany to witness the horrendous carnage as well as the Allied attempts at rehabilitation. In her rigorously researched study, a natural extension of her previous look at the Blitz through the eyes of selected London authors, The Love-charm of Bombs (2013), British scholar and journalist Feigel (English/King’s Coll. London) picks through the rubble of Germany through the points of view of a variety of writers. These include Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Martha Gellhorn, and two of the children of Thomas Mann, Erika and Klaus, returned from exile. Should the Germans be excoriated and forced to confess their guilt—as the Allied Occupation established in the “JCS 1067” document that formed the official postwar policy in Germany and which the Manns insisted upon—or should the suffering of the people be addressed through humanitarian efforts, as proposed by British author Stephen Spender and others who hoped to enlist German culture in the country’s resurrection? Were the British, Americans, Russians, and French who divvied up Berlin to be considered liberators or enemy occupiers? Moreover, along with the divergent opinions on how to deal with the defeated Germans, there was the personal anguish experienced by correspondents like Gellhorn, who plumbed her grief over visiting Dachau in her war novel Point of No Return (1948). Feigel looks at the incredible speed with which the Berlin theater regained its footing and examines the rise of what would become known as Trümmerliteratur (“rubble literature”), as writers scrambled to find what Peter de Mendelssohn called “a vocabulary with which to describe bombed cities.” Exiled German speakers—e.g., Hollywood director Billy Wilder and actress Marlene Dietrich and Thomas Mann—were most relentless in their damnation of the Germans.
A deep, significant exploration of artistic atonement in postwar Germany.