Call for Paper Abstracts for a Session at the 34th Annual German Studies Association Conference to be held in Oakland, California from October 7-10, 2010
According to the most recent estimates of the chronicler, Heinz Schön, the sinking of the German cruise liner turned naval barracks, M/S Wilhelm Gustloff, on January 30, 1945 was the deadliest maritime disaster in recorded history, claiming the lives of over 9,000 mostly women and children refugees fleeing the Soviet advance in the final months of the second World War. While this figure dwarfs the death toll of more famous shipwrecks in Western civilization, such as the Titanic and the Lusitania, the Gustloff had received relatively little attention both within and outside of Germany until recently and remains a side note in the official history of World War II. The seemingly lack of public and scholarly interest until the publication of Günter Grass’s novella “Im Krebsgang” (2002), led many survivors and prominent figures in German society alike to claim that the “Gustloff-Katastrophe” was taboo, with Grass, of course, noting in the aforementioned text that the taboo was due to the ship’s obvious entanglement in the specter of National Socialism and the necessary emphasis on German perpetration in public discourse since the 1960s. However, with the re-emergence of German victim narratives the ship has found a prominent place in the mainstream memory culture of the Berlin Republic. The Gustloff has received much attention over the last decade in the form of novels, biographies, documentaries, a feature film and media coverage. Yet the sinking has still not been treated in-depth by a professional German historian and most published and filmed accounts stem from or at least rely upon the expertise of eyewitnesses and survivors.
The session will place less emphasis on the history of the Gustloff and its sinking, in order to focus on the manner in which it has been (or not been) remembered in Germany (and internationally) since the sinking. The central questions will include:
Was the Gustloff ever a taboo topic in the BRD (or the DDR)? Was the lack of interest a matter of production or reception?
What media and representational devices have been employed in the factual and fictional accounts of the “Gustloff-Katastrophe” that do exist, and what ideological and generational perspectives do those representations explicitly and implicitly advocate?
Finally, what does the sudden interest in the topic and recent trends in its representation reveal about the process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung and the historical consciousness of Germans since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the turn of the millennium?
Please submit proposals of no more than 250 words to Mike Ennis (firstname.lastname@example.org) by February 11, 2010.
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