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The Reader Bernhard Schlink. Bernhard Schlink, 1944- 017p_Bernhard_Schlink_Fondation_Maeght_Saint-Paul.jpg.

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Presentation on theme: "The Reader Bernhard Schlink. Bernhard Schlink, 1944- 017p_Bernhard_Schlink_Fondation_Maeght_Saint-Paul.jpg."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Reader Bernhard Schlink

2 Bernhard Schlink, 1944- 017p_Bernhard_Schlink_Fondation_Maeght_Saint-Paul.jpg

3 Q&A with Bernhard Schlink, Oprah Winfrey Show, 2009 ‘The guilt that Michael Berg feels is the guilt of keeping the secrets of those who committed the crimes of the Holocaust. Certainly he loves Hanna and feels some solidarity toward her, and he never fully stops loving her, though later he reduces communication drastically. But she still plays a role in his life, and he wants her to play a role. The feeling of guilt is from Michael knowing someone who committed crimes like that. That is still with Michael.’ Berhard Schlink

4 ‘The memory that illuminates and fixes my first meetings with Hanna makes a single blur of the weeks between our first conversation and the end of the academic year. One reason for that is we saw each other so regularly and our meetings always followed the same course. Another is that my days had never been so full and my life had never been so swift and so dense. When I think about the work I did in those weeks, it’s as if I had sat down at my desk and stayed there until I had caught up with everything I’d missed during the hepatitis, learned all the vocabulary, read all the texts, worked through all the theorems and linked all the chemical formulas. I had already done the reading about the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich while I was in my sickbed. And I remember our meetings in those last weeks as one single long meeting’ p 39

5 ‘I asked her about her life, and it was as if she rummaged around in a dusty chest to get me the answers. She had grown up in a German community in Rumania, then came to Berlin at the age of sixteen, taken a job at the Siemens factory, and ended up in the army at twenty one. Since the end of the war she had done all manner of jobs to get by... She had no family. She was thirty-six. She told me all this as if it were not her life but somebody else’s, someone she didn’t know well and who wasn’t important to her. Things I wanted to know more about had vanished completely from her mind, and she didn’t understand why I was interested in what had happened to her parents, whether she had had brothers and sisters, how she had lived in Berlin, and what she’d done in the army. “The things you ask, kid!” p37

6 ‘When I saw Hanna again it was in a courtroom. It wasn’t the first trial dealing with the camps, nor was it one of the major ones. Our professor, one of the few at that time who were working on the Nazi past and the related trials, made it the subject of a seminar, in the hope of being able to follow the entire trial with the help of his students, and evaluate it. I can no longer remember what it was he wanted to examine, confirm or disprove... What is law? Is it what is on the books, or what is actually enacted an obeyed in a society? Or is law what must be enacted and obeyed, whether or not it is on the books, if things are to go right? The professor, an old gentleman who had returned from exile but remained an outsider among German legal scholars, participated in these debates with all the force of his scholarship, and yet at the same time with a detachment that no longer relied on pure scholarship to provide the solution to a problem’ pp 88-89

7 ‘Exploration! Exploring the past! We students in the camps seminar considered ourselves radical explorers. We tore open the windows and let in the air, the wind that finally whirled away the dust that society had permitted to settle over the horrors of the past. We made sure people could breathe and see. And we placed no reliance on legal scholarship. It was evident to us that there had to be convictions. It was just as evident that conviction of this or that camp guard was only the prelude. The generation that had been served by the guards and enforcers, or had done nothing to stop them, or had not banished them from its midst as it could have done after 1945, was in the dock, and we explored it, subjected it to trial by daylight, and condemned it to shame’. pp 89-90

8 ‘Our parents had played a variety of roles in the Third Reich. Several among our fathers had been in the war, two or three of them as officers of the Wehrmacht and as an officer in the Waffen SS. Some of them had held positions in the judiciary or local government… I am sure that to the extent that we asked and to the extent that they answered us, they had very different stories to tell. My father did not want to talk about himself, but I knew that he had lost his job as a university lecturer in philosophy for scheduling a lecture on Spinoza, and had got himself and us through the war as a n editor for a house that published hiking maps and books. How did I decide that he too was under sentence of shame? But I did. We all condemned our parents to shame, even if the only charge we could bring was that after 1945 they had tolerated the perpetrators in their midst.’ p90

9 ‘It was like being a prisoner on death row who survives month after month and becomes accustomed to the life... All survivor literature talks about this numbness, in which life’s functions are reduced to a minimum, behaviour becomes completely selfish and indifferent to others and gassing and burning are everyday occurrences. In the rare accounts by perpetrators too the gas chambers and ovens become ordinary scenery, the perpetrators reduced to their few functions and exhibiting a mental paralysis and indifference, a dullness that makes them seem drugged or drunk. The defendants seemed to me to be trapped still, and forever, in this drugged state, in a sense petrified it... it had taken hold not only of the perpetrators and victims, but of all of us, judges and lay members of the court, prosecutors and recorders... p 101.

10 ‘At the same time I ask myself, as I had already begun to ask myself back then: What should our second generation have done, what should it do with the knowledge of the horrors of the extermination of the Jews? We should not believe we can comprehend the incomprehensible, we may not compare the incomparable, we may not inquire because to inquire is to make the horrors an object of discussion, even if the horrors themselves are not questioned, instead of accepting them as something in the face of which we can only fall silent in revulsion, shame and guilt. Should we only fall silent in revulsion, shame and guilt? To what purpose? It was not that I had lost my eagerness to explore and cast light on things which had filled the seminar, once the trial got under way. But that some few would be convicted and punished while we of the second generation were silenced by revulsion, shame, and guilt – was that all there was to it now?’ p102

11 ‘TRIAL JUDGE [TJ] "None of you held back, you all acted together?” Hanna [H] “Yes”. TJ “Did you not know that you were sending the prisoners to their death?” H “Yes, but the new ones came, and the old ones had to make room for the new ones.” TJ “So, because you wanted to make room, you said you and you and you have to be sent back to be killed?” Hanna didn’t understand what the presiding judge was getting at. H “I... I mean... so what would you have done?” →→→

12 Hanna meant it as a serious question. She did not know what she should or could have done differently, and therefore wanted to hear from the judge, who seemed to know everything, what he would have done. Everything was quiet for the moment. It is not the custom at German trials for defendants to question the judges. But now the question had been asked, and everyone was waiting for the judge’s answer... TJ “There are matters one simply cannot get drawn into, that one must distance oneself from, if the price is not life and limb.”’ pp110-111

13 ‘”Ah, you want to understand why people can do such terrible things”. He sounded as if he was being a little ironic, but maybe it was just the tone of his voice and the choice of words. Before I could reply he went on: “What is it you want to understand? That people murder out of passion or love or hate or for honour or revenge, that you understand?” I nodded. “You also understand that people murder for money or power? That people murder in wars and revolutions?” I nodded again... ”But the people who were murdered in the camps hadn’t done anything to the individuals who murdered them? Is that what you want to say? Do you mean that there was no reason for hatred and no war?” I didn’t want to nod again. What he said was true, but not the way he said it.’ pp149-150

14 ‘“You’re right there was no war, and no reason for hatred. But executioners don’t hate the people they execute and they execute them all the same. Because they’re ordered to? You think they do it because they’re ordered to? And you think that I’m talking about orders and obedience, that the guards in the camps were under orders and had to obey? He laughed sarcastically. “No, I’m not talking about orders and obedience. An executioner is not under orders. He's doing his work, he doesn't hate the people he executes, he's not taking revenge on them, he's not killing them because they're in his way or threatening or attacking them. They're a matter of such indifference to him that he can kill them as easily as not.”’ p150

15 ‘I remembered my vain attempts, back then, to imagine in concrete detail a camp filled with prisoners and guards and suffering. I really tried; I looked at a barracks, closed my eyes, and imagined row upon row of barracks. I measured a barracks, calculated its occupants from the information booklet, and imagined how crowded it had been. I found out that the steps between the barracks had also been used for roll call, and as I looked from the bottom of the camp up towards the top, I filled them with rows of backs. But it was all in vain, and I had a feeling of the most dreadful, shameful failure.’ p153

16 ‘I wanted simultaneously to understand Hanna’s crime and to condemn it. But it was too terrible for that. When I tried to understand it, I had the feeling I was failing to condemn it as it must be condemned. When I condemned it as it must be condemned, there was no room for understanding.’ p 156

17 ‘Whatever validity the concept of collective guilt may or may not have, morally and legally – for my generation of students it was a lived reality. It did not just apply to what had happened in the Third Reich. The fact that Jewish gravestones were being defaced with swastikas, that so many old Nazis had made careers in the courts, the administration, and the universities, that the Federal Republic had not recognized the State of Israel, that emigration and resistance were handed down as traditions less often than a life of conformity – all of this filled us with shame, even when we could point at the guilty parties. →→→

18 Pointing at the guilty parties did not free us from shame, but at least it overcame the suffering we went through on account of it. It converted the passive suffering of shame into energy, activity, aggression. And coming to grips with our parents’ guilt took a great deal of energy’ p 168

19 ‘I always had the feeling that no one understood me anyway, that no one knew who I was and what made me do this or that. And you know, when no one understands you, no one can call you to account. Not even the court could call me to account. But the dead can. They understand. They don't even have to have been there, but if they do, they understand even better. Here in prison they were with me a lot. They came every night, whether I wanted them to or not. Before the trial I could still chase them away when they wanted to come.’ pp 196-197

20 ‘The geological layers of our lives rest so tightly one on top of the other that we always come up against earlier events in later ones, not as matter that has been fully formed and pushed aside, but absolutely present and alive. I understand this. Nevertheless, I sometimes find it hard to bear. Maybe I did write our story to be free of it, even if I never can be.’ p 216

21 On the Moral High Ground, Interview with Bernhard Schlink, ‘The Reader has become required student reading in Germany. Schlink's first impulse is to attribute the book's appeal to its length. 'It's short,' he laughs. 'But then there's suspense, love, a courtroom drama.' But it also appeals because it addresses a central German theme of the 20th century, 'that people who do monstrous things are not simply monsters', and its agonising converse, the realisation that 'the one whom I loved has a very dark side.’ →→→

22 Later in the day, walking through Daniel Libeskind's stunning aluminium-clad Jewish Museum, I ponder this, and its corollary, complicity. As reporter Meyer Levin, who witnessed the liberation of the camps, puts it: 'This then was the reason for the fear and guilt of all the survivors. It was people who made all this possible.'’ The Observer, 2008

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