My grandfather was an Auschwitz survivor; therefore, I have always been interested in the study of the Holocaust and European Jewish life. I originally planned on doing a project that directly dealt with the Holocaust, but changed my mind after taking a course during my semester abroad in Berlin, titled “German Jewish Contemporary Literature.” The course raised several questions that caught my imagination and interest immediately. Namely, what effect does the Holocaust continue to play in contemporary German and German Jewish life?
This question has become much more relevant and complex in the last fifteen years. The place and image of Jews in German society has changed dramatically due to several significant social events: the gradual loss of the first generation of Holocaust survivors, the growth of the Jewish population due to the influx of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, and the reunification of East and West Germany.
My approach was to examine German Jewish self-representation as an indicator of how Jews perceive themselves as being closely scrutinized by the German majority, and what their suggestions were in order to improve German-Jewish relations. In order to accomplish this, I chose to look at the controversial and popular German-language works by author Rafael Seligmann and filmmaker Dani Levy. While not always well received by German or Jewish audiences, Seligmann and Levy’s works provide provocative portraits of what Jewish life in German is today and what it should be. I then chose to analyze how their works manifest post-Holocaust identity through re-workings of three traditional Jewish themes: humor, sexuality, and morality.
Working on this project was without a doubt the highlight of my Bowdoin academic experience. It was thrilling to deal with such a cutting-edge subject and Professor Smith taught me a great deal about artistic analysis and its relationship to greater cultural meaning. I could not have been more thrilled with the process or the outcome of the project as a whole.