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“Wohin schwankt ihr noch eh' der atem schwand?”: Untersuchungen zur deutschsprachigen Lyrik aus Theresienstadt (1941–1945)

Sandra Alfers, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In a series of writings in the 1950s and 1960s, Theodor W. Adorno shaped German debates about art's role in coming to terms with genocide. Questioning the capacity of traditional aesthetic forms to convey such horror and, even more, the morality of using the Holocaust as artistic content he specifically directed his critique towards lyric poetry, famously stating that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” The reactions to Adorno's statement and its later modifications have ranged from sharp criticism to agreement with his central premises that the rupture in the continuum of German history must not be forgotten, and that the limits of traditional aesthetic evaluation do not extend to that kind of suffering. One category of lyric poetry, however, has only rarely been evoked in discussions of the problem raised by Adorno—that produced by the victims themselves while the events of the Holocaust unfolded. German literary and cultural critics have for the most part neglected poetry written in the camps. Lacking an appropriate interpretive framework, they have often viewed these texts as aesthetically “inferior” and deemed them to be inadmissible representations of the Holocaust. This dissertation hopes to correct the narrowly-defined aesthetic valuations currently in place and proposes instead to study camp poetry as valuable repositories of memory. It introduces German poetry from the Theresienstadt concentration camp, places the texts within their specific environment and historic context, and introduces a critical framework for their analysis. In this way, the dissertation does not only examine the role of poetry in the construction and perpetuation of historical memory, but it investigates as well the mechanisms by which texts are canonized and forgotten.

Subject Area

German literature|Modern history|European history|Holocaust Studies|History

Recommended Citation

Alfers, Sandra, "“Wohin schwankt ihr noch eh' der atem schwand?”: Untersuchungen zur deutschsprachigen Lyrik aus Theresienstadt (1941–1945)" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3096261.