Documentary Value and Aesthetics in ‘Erinnerungsliteratur’



Twenty-eight years after the end of the Second World War, in 1973, literary use of the German word “Erinnerung” erupted, and now, fourty-four years later, Erinnerung has yet to find its crescendo[1]. During the years 1918 and 1947, marking the end of World War One and Two, Erinnerung peaked in literary mention, and shortly after, in 1932 and 1960, Erinnerung’s usage dipped into troughs lower than ever before. The concurrence of Erinnerungsliteratur with post-War dialogue is clear, but what does this tell us about memory as a discourse? Why has German literature’s attention to memory expanded exponentially with each generation, and when will it flatten? To answer these questions, this paper will turn to author Marianne Hirsch’s conception of “post-memory” to conceptualize the generational trickle-down of memory that inspires Erinnerungsliteratur, while also considering the symbolic and fetishized nexus of traumatic memory’s inscription into German history through Walter Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood around 1900 (1950) and Jennifer Teege’s My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me (2015). I argue that these two works exemplify individual memory’s abstraction of the historical index and post-memory’s plasticization of it[2]. In an “effort to distinguish between the documentary and the aesthetic”[3], I look to chronologic and stylistic variation of these texts, that is, their allusions to time and space, in order to delineate their narrative approaches to memory as separated by generation and fidelity to recollection.

Indexicality of the Documentary

Author G. Thomas Couser writes in Memoir, An Introduction (2012) that “memoir now rivals fiction in popularity and critical esteem and it exceeds it in cultural currency” (3). What does it mean to be in the age of memoir, and what can the difference between Benjamin and Teege’s works tell us about the peaks and troughs of Erinnerungsliteratur? Couser focuses on the form of memoir as inherently less complex than other kinds of life-writing due to the absolute requirement of verisimilitude; he notes that the differences between these can be detected by the use of dialogue and ‘scene’ within the literary fiction, and ‘summary’ within the memoir: “In a scene, we look at events as they unfold, usually verbally, while in a summary we adhere to the retrospective” (70). This distinction in form is important to our textual comparison of Benjamin and Teege because it differentiates their entrances into memory: Benjamin, writing what would be defined by Couser as “life narrative”[4], animates his childhood through aesthetic scenery, while Teege’s memoir defines the past through factual summaries.

Berlin Childhood explores individual nostalgia and its relationship with collective memory through a child’s recollection of a home that Walter Benjamin cannot return to because of his displacement and the city’s destruction during war. My Grandfather functions as an act of reclamation after Teege’s discovery of her Nazi heritage by “put[ting] the pieces into a frame, and they make a clear picture”[5]. Though sharing a similar purpose in creating an identity narrative of their past[6], Benjamin and Teege depart stylistically. Benjamin readily admits that the necessity of retrieving his experiential memory lies outside factuality:

“This has meant that certain biographical features, which stand out more readily in the continuity of experience than in its depths, altogether recede in the present undertaking. And with them go the physiognomies- those of my family and comrades alike.” (37-38)
This is in stark contrast to Teege’s inclusion of family members as the names of chapters! Teege’s matrilineal approach, including biographical information, photos, and recorded conversation with family members and acquaintances, is also factually substantiated by the presence of a secondary author, external to the narrative – Nikola Sellmair. Quoting Ben Yagoda’s Memoir: A History (2009), Couser would agree with Teege’s approach to factual presentation because “narrative demands a degree of specificity that memory cannot supply” (78). It is this difference, between the documentary value of Teege’s work and the aesthetic value of Benjamin’s, that intrigues me: How does the aesthetic contribute to the historical index of Erinnerungsliteratur? Do their differing styles have to do with their generational differences?

Indexicality of the Aesthetic

In his book Cultural Memory and Early Civilization: Writing, Remembrance and Political Imagination (2011), author Jan Assmann reminds us that Romans paraded their ancestors by way of portraits and masks, “a conscious reference to the past that overcomes the rupture between life and death” (20), a ritual tradition that reinforced the historical index of cultural memory through object association and bodily experience. Assmann’s consideration of a balance between “repetition” of history, the documentary function of the photo, and “interpretation” of history, the aesthetic of the mask, “are functionally equivalent processes in the production of cultural continuity” (72). As Teege documents history through biography, so must Benjamin through a narrative of aesthetics. By means of material culture, Benjamin approaches Berlin Childhood: “I have made an effort to get hold of the images in which the experience of the big city is precipitated in a child of the middle class… the images of my metropolitan childhood perhaps are capable, at their core, of performing later historical experience.” (38). Benjamin declares his intention to preserve a series of vignettes for future generations; the narrative of the aesthetic provides a conceptual understanding and perceptual encounter, rather than the overt, which acts as a mnemonic device[7].

A prime example of this symbol-creation is the “mimetic exchange”[8] between Benjamin and the butterfly. In this chapter, Benjamin’s butterfly hunt is accompanied by his reflections on the butterfly’s terror – he knows this terror of being hunted because he is a hunted man himself![9] Likewise, he relates to the butterfly (mimetically) through some stanzas that deserve unpacking:

“Between us, now, the old law of the hunt took hold: the more I strove to conform, in all the fibers of my being, to the animal – the more butterfly-like I became in my heart and soul – the more this butterfly itself, in everything it did, took on the color of human volition and in the end, it was as if its capture was the price I had to pay to regain my human existence” (51)


“The Butterfly Hunt” adheres to a mimetic routine of the hunter and the hunted, one that spans Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood and through his death in exile. J. Assmann’s contribution of “mimetic memory” (Cultural Memory, 5-6) surfaces here, allowing Benjamin’s personal and aesthetic contribution enter into the greater cultural memory, the historical index. Assmann says, “Action can never be completely codified. Other areas such as everyday manners, customs, and ethics still depend on mimetic tradition” (6). By shifting the meaning of Benjamin’s butterfly hunt to a greater mimetic tradition of human hunting, Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood enters the historical index of humankind through an abstracted depiction of “the old law of the hunt” (Berlin, 51).


The purpose of aestheticizing the human will to hunt is, for Benjamin, determined by his “inoculation” desire, to infect himself (and the reader) with just enough memory (of the terror of hunting) that he would be free of “homesickness” (nostalgia) for time in the future. As I mentioned before, the desire to write is not entirely different between Teege and Benjamin, but their relationship to time is linear and non-linear respectively. Their level of removal from their origins defines their differing approaches to time, and therefore also speaks to their distinct documentary and aesthetic modes during different periods of Erinnerungsliteratur. This section seeks to underline the importance of generationality and distance, allowing the indexical value of the aesthetic to play a different generational role than the indexical value of the documentary.

Both Teege and Benjamin suffered from depression and, in Benjamin’s case, eventual suicide. Sigmund Freud’s Mourning and Melancholia (1917) investigates the psychological underpinnings of their respective melancholia as a sense of loss, a mourning: “Mourning is regularly the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one, such as one’s country, liberty, an ideal and so on” (243). I suggest that both Benjamin and Teege suffered the melancholic stage of loss for different reasons. Teege underlines Freud’s concept of prolonged object-cathexis creating a forgetting of the loss in the subject, and resulting in an indefinable depression[10]:

“For my whole life I had felt that there was something wrong with me: behind my sadness, my depression. But I could never quite put my finger on what was so fundamentally wrong […] Is the depression that has plagued me for so long connected to my origins?” (My Grandfather, 6-10)


Her secondary author, Sellmair, tells us that depression in adopted children has been dealt with at the scale of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, stating that all children have a right to know their origins (129). By explaining this to the reader, Sellmair takes the trustworthy authorial role, in place of Teege’s authority that the reader is doubting because of her melancholic disturbances. Benjamin’s melancholy isn’t stated as a depression in Berlin Childhood, but manifests later in his life upon suicide. His mourning, on the other hand, is entrapped in the non-linearity and fragmentary nature of Berlin Childhood. Freud says:

“So what is the work that mourning performs? I do not think I am stretching the point is I present it in the following manner: reality testing has revealed that the beloved object no longer exists, and demands that the libido as a whole sever its bonds with that object… Each memory and expectation in which the libido was connected to the object is adjusted and hyperinvested, leading to its detachment from the libido.” (204)


Benjamin’s method of writing is wholly hyperinvested in the object of Berlin, and his perception of the objects of his childhood are adjusted as well. While Teege seeks to overcome her melancholia by redeeming her “missing object” of origination, Benjamin relies on “physiognomies” to corroborate the continuous influence of Berlin as homesickness; Benjamin can never be “free and uninhibited” (Mourning, 205). His acknowledgement of his mind’s fragmented entombment between past and present is also related to origin, as he reflects on his mother’s family narrative in “The Fever”: “Pain was a dike that only finally withstood the narration but that later, as the narration gained strength, was undermined and swept into the sea of oblivion… thanks to my origins” (74). Peter Szondi’s introduction to Berlin Childhood corroborates my placement of origin within Benjamin’s focus on time: “Benjamin’s new conception of history is rooted in the dialectic of future and past, of messianic expectation and remembrance. “The origin is the goal”,” (28). By compiling moving portraits of his childhood through past-present relationships, “palimpsest” in nature[11], Benjamin’s dialectical relationship with his origin narrative structures his relationship with time. Benjamin’s “precipitates” of experience are aesthetics that define his childhood in Berlin without linearity or biological value, unlike Teege’s which hold exclusively biological value and linearity due to her adoption (and therefore experiential distance from her origins) and linear narrative of discovering her family history.

Marianne Hirsch’s account of ‘postmemory’ conceptualizes Teege’s relationship with memory as the “generation after”, the generation which bears tertiary witness to “the traumatic fragments of events that defy narrative reconstruction and exceed comprehension”[12]. Though Hirsch does not explicitly say so, the second generation becomes the space of history-making. Hirsch states that first there is an event, and finally there is memory. Postmemory allows for the indexicality to break down – first there is a memory, like Benjamin’s childhood, then there is a physical manifestation of the memory as an event (a retelling, like Berlin Childhood) and then there is a space for the myopia – this space is the indexical break. Putting Hirsch into conversation with J. Assmann becomes necessary here, as we trace memory as a cultural construct, always flowing through different mimetic rituals like retelling or tradition into a space for collection that is available to extended generations for treatment and analysis (like My Grandfather). Postmemory becomes the affect of transmitted, indexical memory. The second generation does not have an associated experienced event to feel for, therefore, they must create one for themselves – a recreation of the index, filling the myopia.

There could be a danger here, as Svetlana Boym argues in her book The Future of Nostalgia (2001): “The nostalgic desires to obliterate history and turn it into private or collective mythology, to revisit time like space, refusing to surrender to the irreversibility of time that plagues the human condition.” (22) Intrinsic to nostalgia is a sentimentality that Teege explores but is not subsumed under, thanks to her second narrator’s story. Without him, her memoir may receive an accusation from Couser as “at best glorified gossip, at worst naked narcissism,” (Memoir, 47).  According to J. Assmann, doesn’t cultural memory become myth anyway, so how does this “obliterate history”? According to Boym, the mythic arrives from retrospective nostalgia, which takes on a “utopian dimension” and, “unlike melancholia, which confines itself to planes of individual consciousness, nostalgia is about the relationship between the individual biography and the biography of groups or nations” (23). J. Assmann would agree with Boym that the mythic inhabits cultural groups instead of individuals, but would protest that “Through memory, history becomes myth. This does not make it unreal – on the contrary, this is what makes it real, in the sense that it becomes a lasting, normative and formative power.” (Cultural Memory, 38) Boym’s conception of nostalgia cedes to the formative power of historical myth, but proposes that “It is up to us to take responsibility of our nostalgia and not let others “prefabricate” it for us. The prepackaged “usable past” may be of no use to us if we want to cocreate our future.” (45)

Teege’s work is an example of the “usable past” inasmuch as Benjamin’s is a “creation of the future”. Teege’s reliance on documentary sources and adherence to the Holocaust narrative of her origin could be perceived as her addition to the “prefabricated” index of Erinnergunsliteratur. Benjamin, on the other hand, does not have a canon of Holocaust Erinnerungsliteratur to work with, so he looks to the aesthetic recollections of his personal past as a testament for the creation of the historical index. His nostalgia doesn’t mythicize the past because it isn’t dependent on a pre-existing canon.

Because Benjamin’s piece is both nostalgic and encounters the first stage of melancholia, mourning, we must critically analyze the way his photographic seeing into the “then and there”[13] of childhood by using the “here and now” of adult perception actually leaves a myopia. Keeping in mind his mimesis with the butterfly, perhaps Benjamin is using his aesthetic juxtapositions of time to prescribe a break in the mimetic cycle, particularly in this case of human hunting. Benjamin’s response resists appropriative empathy for the mimetic tradition and preserves a boundary, however tenuous, between the future and the past, the individual memory of Berlin and the collective, and, at the same time is open to perceiving divergent connections through his use of childlike curiosity.


Both Teege and Benjamin visit spaces of their origin story, using the images, both documentary or allegorical, to reconstruct and present their origin-loss. These spaces are engaging on the level of being shown and being already known; who hasn’t gone for walks in Berlin’s Tierpark or Munich’s Schwabing? Berlin Childhood aestheticizes the cityscapes individual from each other and My Grandfather defines them in relation to each other, but both texts imbue spaces with the historical index of their origin stories and document them through pictures. In this section, I want to analyze why Benjamin didn’t abstract his spaces and how Teege’s geography “cocreates” a historical index of past and present.

By capturing the way in which a child perceives the image-world, whether that means hearing the wrong things – a “Näh-Frau” (Needlework woman) instead of “Gnädige Frau” (Madame) – or remembering the smell of the loggias of his birthplace, and the childlike gaze upon the cityscapes he inhabits, Berlin Childhood “memorializes a world that was about to disappear, not without marking its complicity with the unending brutality of the “victor”,”[14] writes translator Howard Eiland. Elaborating on this point, Eiland describes that Benjamin’s thought desired to reveal that seemingly obvious things, such as the Gnädige Frau and the logicality of the cityscape, are concealed from us as children but told to us as we become educated by society. Using “a cunning dissociation of consciousness from identity”[15] Benjamin is trying to describe an interiority and singularity of these spaces in Berlin, 1900, from which he, as an adult, and the 20th century seems to be drawing away from. Unlike his mimetic disclosures about humankind, Benjamin’s specific spatiality provides the aesthetic conditions from which the child “falls” into adulthood.

One of Berlin Childhood’s closest disclosures of this antecedent reality, Benjamin describes the Narnia of rolled-up socks within the wardrobe:

“Nothing surpassed the pleasure of thrusting my hand as deeply as possible into its interior… When I had closed my fist around it and, so far as I was able, made certain that I possessed the stretchable woolen mass, there began the second phase of the game… For now I proceeded to tease it out of its woolen pocket. I drew it ever nearer to me, until something rather disconcerting would happen… It taught me that form and content, veil and what is veiled, are the same.” (The Sock, 96)


As Benjamin would pull the sock’s interior, the sock would spring to recognizable form – a game that Benjamin attributes to his earliest awareness of enigma. This pattern of conversion narrative, the then-I versus the now-I[16], is already imbued in Benjamin’s perspective of a loss of childhood understanding, “the fall from grace”[17]. Benjamin’s childhood home is full of enigmatic objects, “an arsenal of masks” (16), on which he focuses and idealizes in favor of the “uncanny” (unheimlich) spaces that adults inhabit (17). Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida (1980) positions Benjamin’s enigmatic image-space as a space of fantasmatic desire, that is, between documentary and dream-space (Camera, 16). This correlates with Benjamin’s nostalgic response to memory, his childhood aesthetic, for which he “allows the detail to arise from its own accord into affective consciousness” (55), and from which there is what Barthes would call a “blind field”, in which something beyond his view is occurring – the unheimlich. For both Barthes and Benjamin, that “blind field” has a “Victorian Nature” (Camera, 57), a “societal” and matured character that is inaccessible to a child.

Author Dora Osbourne makes an important contribution to the study of Benjamin’s spatiality in her book, Traces of Trauma (2013), by suggesting that Benjamin’s hunchback figure is an “embodiment of ruptured history and distorted memory” (41). His ‘embodiment’ is a space itself, but he also exists among documentary-value spaces like the Brauhausberg and Benjamin’s cellar, not only distracting him but making him clumsy (Berlin, 122). Osbourne says: “The hunchback is an embodiment of a failed genealogy which serves to remind us of the rupture in any notion of historical continuity” (42). Thus, the hunchback inhabits the space of Benjamin’s “belated memory”[18], like the next generation’s experience of the Holocaust, explained by Osbourne using Freud’s theory of Nachträglichkeit. Freudian Nachträglichkeit violates the empirical principles of linear space and time (much like Berlin Childhood) assumed under the positivist notion of causality.

Barthes would call this quality of the unknown the “erotic” which leads to aesthetic abandonment that cannot universalize itself except through particularity of documentation (59). Though Benjamin relies on specific, documented spaces when reflecting on his childhood, he is trapped in the paradox of being specific of place but not of linear time; as a child, Benjamin is not yet involved in “positive formulas” of time, but sees “the shoreline of adult life” (Berlin Childhood, 68) when he is encountered by objects that show duration, like adults:

“A paradox: the same century invented History and Photography. But History is a memory fabricated according to positive formulas, a pure intellectual discourse which abolishes mythic Time; and the Photograph is a certain but fugitive testimony; so that everything, today, prepares our race for this impotence: to be no longer able to conceive duration affectively or symbolically.” (Camera, 93)


Benjamin’s use of photography and specific places ushers in an intractable reality that is otherwise questionable through his aesthetic recollections. Berlin Childhood’s documentary value exists only in its necessary relationship to the aesthetic; by recognizing that some image-spaces are enigmatic and others unheimlich, Benjamin substantiates his critique of the “The Society”, the maturation and adulthood, into which the child “falls” by way of being unable to see the enigmatic truths of spaces that gives one their origin (for Barthes, the “genius”, 77) and sees only the documentary truth of what-has-been.

In Teege’s story, there is no “fall from grace”. Her story’s focus is not on the discovery of her matured nature’s origin, or of society’s, but rather on the discovery of her origin myth – is she hunting the hunchback? Teege’s story is already cast, a pre-figured inheritance that she is uncovering, rather than the childhood “becoming” or societal “developing”[19] in Benjamin’s Berlin. Teege questions, “On the matter of blood: What did I inherit from him? Does his violent temper manifest itself in me and my children?… I no longer trust myself: Am I going mad, too? Am I already mad? At night I am plagued by terrible nightmares.” (15) Teege’s body is a physical space inasmuch as the city of Munich, or the camps in Poland. The way she expresses the past living within her own physicality is where she bridges the gap between documentary value and abstraction; she attempts to recover this gap and document her “madness” through visitations to the psychologist. Like the second author, the psychologist’s role in telling Teege about her condition (in relation to case studies about others) maintains the documentary possibility of Teege’s body as a space. In Teege’s memoire, the historical index of those who “died from their fathers” (My Grandfather, 140), as if genetics were an affliction, is cast within the postmemory of the Holocaust specifically.

Teege’s body-space is inhabited by two cultural memories: the Holocaust, and her “skinny legs and long black hair” (14). She inherited her black skin from her father, but “Where was he now?” (184) The space she gives to her father’s biography and her Nigerian heritage are limited; she mentions him on only five pages throughout the memoire, never including his name, and only sacrificing half a paragraph to his religious temperament (“the chi” of the Igbo people, 185) that may or may not inhabit her body, too. Teege doesn’t discuss much about the Nigerian half of her genetic inheritance, but situates her blackness using space:

“In Germany, black people are a minority. When we run into each other on the street, we nod and say “hello” even if we don’t know one another. Our skin color creates an affinity.
In the African quarter of Paris, the color of my skin was nothing out of the ordinary. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was among my own kind.” (185)


By documenting her change of feelings with a change of space, Teege reminds us that Germany, the nation with borders and its own historical index, is her point of reference. This is important for Teege’s contribution to Erinnerungsliteratur, because she adds to a specific canon of Holocaust memory studies. Though her placement in the canon is indeed fragmented by her blackness in a then-predominantly white Germany, the melancholic focus of the documentation attends to postmemory of the Holocaust without deviation.

Unlike Benjamin, Teege’s special references don’t draw attention to the development within one specific place, but stretch the narrative of Holocaust memory across borders. She maps Amon Goeth’s, her grandmother’s and her mother’s lives from Poland, within Munich and to Israel, while also providing her travelogue between Germany, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. By tracing the footsteps of her heritage, she “cocreates” history by filling the myopic gap with what inhabits those spaces now: “Without the informational displays, one would never guess at the atrocities that were committed here all those years ago.” (56) Spaces also provide the impetus for her photographic inclusion, without the stigmatic value or ambivalence of Benjamin’s “Victory Column” or “Typical Middle-Class German Home” photos. Teege’s photos document her personal visitation of the spaces, and gives a face to the names of Amon and Irene Goeth; “it compels me to believe its referent existed.”[20]

Space encounters a documentary value for both Teege and Benjamin, but diverges at the site of meaning. Teege’s spaces bring the past forward, allowing the reader to gain a deeper geographical understanding of her own bodily inheritance, and the memorial inheritance of spaces outside her body. Benjamin’s spaces reflect not on physicalities of memory, but the development of memory. His documentation of spaces serves as a ground for his abstraction of their meaning; Berlin Childhood focuses on the change in meaning and what is lost in “the fall”, or, the forgetting.

The Holocaust as Creation Myth of Erinnerungsliteratur





Assigning human experience the task of making peace with death, the authors of The Worm at the Core reflect on literal and symbolic immortality as a process of “biosocial transcendence, derived from the literal and symbolic connection to future generations” (The Worm, 221). This division between literal and symbolic inheritance embraces postmemory through its embeddedness in culture, the genetic expression of DNA, the repisodic nature of memories, and the transience of trauma. The latter is what gives Erinnerungsliteratur its postmemory character, but is also what limits its interpretation. Given that humans are mobile in a world that is “all too often unpredictable, tragic and grotesque,”[21] post-traumatic consciousness transcends national and linguistic borders. Would it therefore be reductionist to consider Erinnerungsliteratur, a language-based category, from only the standpoint of the Holocaust as we have done thus far?

Let us consider Teege’s power narrative, which focuses seamlessly on the Holocaust despite her Nigerian roots, as a starting point for this discussion of mobility of   Erinnerungsliteratur. In Unclaimed Experience, Cathy Caruth famously asks, “What does it mean for history to be a history of trauma?” (185) and goes on to explain that history arises where understanding may not. In the case of Erinnerungsliteratur, German history is at stake, with a Svetlana Boymian “prefabricated” myth about what-has-been. Though the relationship between peaks and troughs of ‘Erinnerung’ in German literature correspond with the Holocaust, the upward trend in ‘Erinnerung’ continues even after the second-generation of postmemory begins to age and die. One could argue that the myopic latency of Holocaust history continually inspires writers, or, one could look to Michael Rothberg’s description of memory as “multidirectional”[22]. Unlike the right-wing intellectual position in the Historikerstreit of the 1980s, Rothberg demonstrates that the Holocaust has “enabled the articulation of other histories of victimization”[23]. Rothberg’s emphasis is that Erinnerungsliteratur can be connected to the Holocaust, whether historically, politically or structurally, but in the neo-liberal politics of the twenty-first century, the legacies of violence perpetrated on diverse populations have occurred alongside and in connection with each other. The resonances and entanglements between them, much like the fragmentary nature of Benjamin’s childhood memories, create a broader narrative than can be addressed by looking at Erinnerungsliteratur through only the frame of the Holocaust.

To this end, I take issue with Aleida Assmann’s approach in On the (In)Compatibility of Guilt and Suffering in German Memory (2006). According to A. Assmann, the “various levels of heterogeneous memory can exist side by side if they are contained within a normative frame of generally accepted validity” (2). A. Assmann’s goal is to compile generational memory into a German frame in order to overcome the cognitive dissonance between narratives of the past. Her attention to Väterliteratur and Familienliteratur proves a reductionist gap, a blind spot, of multicultural history in Germany[24]. She chooses to normalize interpretation of memory under the validity of Germany’s historical narrative, effectively affirming a creation myth of the Holocaust from which future analysis of Erinnerungsliteratur must escape. In my opinion, her analysis of postmemory would have been made stronger if she addressed the argument in Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, that if we forget about the past, the second generation will atone for the guilt of the father by imposing the laws of the father, perpetuating a cycle that could have ended with a stronger historical index.

By eliciting elements of time and space under aesthetic and documentary values within Berlin Childhood and My Grandfather, I have attempted to subvert the understanding of Erinnerungsliteratur from the orientation of exclusively the Holocaust to broader categories of literary theory, psychoanalysis, aesthetic theory and memory theory. It is my conclusion that the aesthetic scenery of Berlin Childhood beckons for the myopic space to be filled with indexical information, while the documentary summarization of My Grandfather reaffirms a German cultural memory. I hope my reader has gained a broader understanding of memory’s character and generationality within these two texts and begins to ask themselves about German Erinnnerungsliteratur in a Germany with open borders. Would we suffer  “forgetting” the Holocaust, or would it remain as a piece of the historical index among others? By corroborating literary technique and theory, the aesthetic and documentary natures of Erinnnerungsliteratur come to light as both the opening and distilling of Germany’s historical index.

[1] “Google Ngram Viewer.” Google Books. “Erinnerung” Web. Mar. 2017.

[2] I am referring here to the ‘plasticization of the historical index’ as presented in Jan Assman’s Cultural Memory and Early Civilization Writing, Remembrance, and Political Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.
[3]Hirsch, Marianne. “The Generation of Postmemory: After Auschwitz.” Columbia University Press. Pg. 23
[4] I am referring here to the ‘life narrative’ in Couser’s Memoir: An Introduction. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. Print

[5] Teege, Jennifer, Nikola Sellmair, and Carolin Sommer. Interviews. My Grandfather Would

Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi past. New York: Experiment,

  1. Print.


[6] Benjamin famously notes that he intends to “inoculate” himself against the homesickness of

exile. Berlin Childhood around 1900. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2006. Print.


[7] Goebel, Rolf J., and Gerhard Richter. “Benjamin’s “Ghosts”: Interventions in Contemporary Literary and Cultural Theory.” The German Quarterly 76.3 (2003)


[8] Jennings, Michael W. “The Mausoleum of Youth: Between Experience and Nihilism in Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood 1.” Paragraph 32.3 (2009): 313-30.
[9] Benjamin wrote this book while he was in exile. Berlin Childhood around 1900. Pg. vii.

[10] Drawing from “Mourning and Melancholia” Freud, Sigmund, and Peter Gay. The Freud Reader. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989. Print. Pg. 256.

[11] Eil Berlin Childhood around 1900. Pg. xii
[12] Biography: “Marianne Hirsch”. Web:

[13] Jennings, Michael W. “The Mausoleum of Youth: Between Experience and Nihilism in Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood”. 2009. Pg. 315.

[14] Berlin Childhood around 1900. Pg. xiii.
[15] Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Noonday, 1988.

Print. Pg. 12.
[16] Couser, G. Thomas. Memoir: An Introduction. Pg. 38.

[17] Rugg, Linda Haverty. “Picturing Ourselves.” (1997) Web. Pg. 146.


[18] Osborne, Dora. “Traces of Trauma in W. G. Sebald and Christoph Ransmayr.” Alibris. (2013)

[19] Here I’m alluding to the French etymology of développer, the “unfolding” of centralized cities and expansion of state power.

[20] Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Pg. 77.

[21] Solomon, Sheldon, Jeff Greenberg, and Thomas A. Pyszczynski. The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life., 2015. Print. Pg. 225.

[22] Rothberg, Michael. Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2009. Print.

[23] MR Book cover

[24] This gap was the inspiration for my project.