Aug 2016

The Critical Questioning of Autobiographical Writing in Heinz Czechowski’s Die Pole der Erinnerung (The Poles of Remembrance) (2006)

von Gabriele Eckart

“alles Geschriebene ist […] nur eine Annäherung an die Wahrheit und an die Wirklichkeit, so daß auch das Gewesene lediglich mit dem Satz ‘Wie es gewesen sein könnte’ beschrieben werden kann.”
(“everything written down is […] only an approximation to truth and reality; therefore you only can describe past events stating ‘How they could have been.’”) (Czechowski 212)

There has been and still is a flood of autobiographical writing since the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the GDR that reflects on the years leading to these events; see, for instance, Vierzig Jahre (1996) by Günter de Bruyn, Erwachsenenspiele (1997) by Günter Kunert, or Nebbich (2005) by Adolf Endler. While all these authors express some doubts regarding the question of whether their memories show their East German past as it was, one autobiography that questions the veracity of the genre of autobiography itself most radically, claiming that it is nothing but fiction, is Heinz Czechowski’s. This article examines Czechowski’s critical attitude towards his own autobiographical writing.
While the author, born in Dresden in 1935, tells the story of his life in The Poles of Remembrance as he remembers it, including, for instance, his participation in the demonstrations in Leipzig that led to the “samtene[…] Revolution” (“velvet revolution”) in the GDR in 1989, he self-critically reflects on the process of this remembering. This reflection starts with simple statements such as: “Das Erinnern geht eigene Wege, ungelenkt durch das Bewußtsein” (“memory goes its own ways, not directed by consciousness”) (226) and advances to critically analyzing psychological phenomena related to memory as, for instance, that of nostalgia. In regard to it, he states that over the years of childhood and early adolescence there is a veil “der alles in einem milderen Licht erscheinen läßt” (“that has everything appear in milder light”) (211). However, he continues, also later years are prone to such deceptions. Applying his insights on nostalgia to the phenomenon of the so-called “Ostalgie” (nostalgia for the former GDR), the narrator states:

Wenn heute gesagt wird, ‘in der DDR sei ja nicht alles schlecht gewesen’, so ist das nichts als der Ausdruck eines Bewußtseins, dessen Unschärfe der Verdrängung geschuldet ist. Denn auch in der Nazizeit ist durchaus ‘nicht alles schlecht gewesen’. Es gehört zu den bekannten Eigentümlichkeiten der Erinnerung, daß sie das Gewesene nicht nur in jenes mildere Licht taucht, sondern es auch bis zur Erträglichkeit filtert.
(When they say today that ‘not everything was bad in the GDR,’ so it is nothing but an expression of a state of mind that is rooted in the blurring [that occurs in the process] of suppression. In fact, also in the time of the Nazis not everything ‘was bad.’ It is a part of the known characteristics of memory that it not only puts the past in that milder light, but also filters it to a degree we can live with.) (211)

Given such reflections that result in the pessimistic insight that our mental survival depends on such acts of “Verdrängung” (“suppression”) (211), it is surprising that more recent events such as, for instance, conflicts with close friends whom he perceives as having become his enemies after the Fall of the Wall, are narrated with such a fury that even the author’s conflicts with the GDR’s SED-bureaucrats (SED means Socialist Unity Party) whom he had abhorred seem not to have been too bad in comparison. Embittered about changes in the East after German reunification that, according to the author’s point of view, also benefited people who did not deserve it1, Czechowski had moved to West Germany. From there, feeling uprooted and lonesome, he watched skeptically everything that was going on in East Germany, especially the professional success of former party officials in the reunited Germany, until he could not endure it any longer: “Eine heilige Wut ergriff Besitz von mir. Ich beschimpfte, wo ich konnte, die im Osten verbliebenen Freunde. Vor allem die Leipziger Szene war Zielscheibe meiner Verbalattacken” (“A holy fury overpowered me. Wherever I could, I reviled my friends who had remained in the East. Especially the scene in Leipzig became a target of my verbal attacks”) (242). Is the author not aware of the fact that if he had waited a little longer to write his autobiography, the so-called “Schleier,” (211) i.e., veil of memory that puts everything in a milder light after some years passed, would have put these conflicts with old friends also into perspective? However, is there ever a right time to write an autobiography? Are there not always bothersome events that are too fresh to be dealt with even-temperedly? In addition, the author, suffering from heart disease, might have felt that his time was running out. Indeed, he died in 2009, three years after having published this autobiographical text.

One example of a furious attack against a close former friend, perhaps his closest, is that against the poet Wulf Kisten. The narrator complains that when he visited Wulf Kirsten in Weimar some years after German reunification to bring him a very special present – a first printing called Unstrutwärts (Towards the River Unstrut) – as a late birthday gift, he merely was offered a cup of coffee. The narrator goes on to complain that Kirsten did not seem to remember their long friendship:

Erst als er mich hinausgeleitet hatte, raffte er sich am Auto zu der Frage auf, wie es mir in Limburg [Czechowskis neuer Wohnort] denn so gehe. Ich antwortete, wahrheitsgemäß: schlecht. Sein lapidarer Kommentar lautete: na, da siehste mal, wie es einem DDR-Schriftsteller geht. Ich stellte die Gegenfrage, ob er nie ein DDR-Schriftsteller gewesen sei und bekam zur Antwort: Ich? Nie, ich war schon immer ein deutscher Dichter!
(Only, when he brought me to the car he asked how I was doing in Limburg [Czechowski’s new hometown]. I told him truthfully: bad. His lapidary comment was, there you see how a GDR writer is doing. I asked him in return, if he never has been a GDR writer and received the answer: Me? Never. I always was a German poet!) (243)

Angrily, Czechowski rushed home and wrote a poem called “Lautlos” (“Soundless”) about Kirsten in which he insinuates sarcastically that the poet whom he calls “Kamerad Ängstlich” (“Comrade Afraid”) was a fearful opportunist in the GDR. His poetic work he characterizes as “Ein paar Harmlosigkeiten / Aufs Niveau / Der Sklavensprache gebracht” (“Some harmless things / brought down to the level / of slave language” (243). The third stanza reads:

Dort zu Besuch gewesen: eine
Flasche Rotwein für
Vier Personen, Freunde,
Die Bettzeit naht, löscht
Jetzt das Licht, den Finger
Gelegt vor den Mund, daß
Den Nachbar nichts störe,
Halb elf, da man um sieben
Aufstehen muß.
I visited him: one
Bottle of red wine for
Four people, friends,
Then, time to go to bed. Switch
Off the light, the finger
on the lips, don’t disturb the neighbor
It’s half past ten, at seven
You have to get up (244).

The last stanza is addressed to the former Saxon countess and patron of the arts Anna Amalia (1739-1807), pitying her for the gutlessness of her “Kinder” (“children”) (244). Czechowski published this poem in his volume Wüste Mark Kolmen (1997); Kirsten was deeply hurt.

As a matter of fact, before the Fall of the Wall, the common enemy – the East German State with its “Widersinnigkeit einer verordneten Utopie” (“absurdity of a decreed utopia”) (Strebel 1) – had kept together the friends, Czechowski and Kirsten, to a degree that such differences as how much wine to offer to a friend or at what time to go to bed were irrelevant. Even the more important question of whether you considered yourself to be a GDR-poet or a German poet would not have ended this friendship. Now, after the Fall of the Wall, this common enemy had disappeared; feelings of frustration and aggression needed a new target. The main cause of frustration in Czechowski’s and many other GDR poets’ case was probably the disappearing interest in reading poetry on the part of the East German audience in the stressful climate after German reunification. There was not much interest in poets’ new works. As Volker Strebel points out, in the GDR Czechowski’s texts were considered a “Geheimtipp” (“insider tip”) – reading them closely, you could trace “die feinen kulturpolitischen Schwankungen über das, was im Augenblick veröffentlicht werden durfte” (“the fine fluctuations in cultural politics in matters of what could be published at the moment and what not”). With the end of censorship after the Fall of the Wall, such issues were of no interest anymore for readers. Not only poets, but also successful GDR novelists lost their publishing houses and had to survive on welfare. In an essay, Czechowski stated in 1998: “In einer Zeit, wo das Geld als einziger Überlebenswert die Existenz beherrscht, ist die Poesie als gesellschaftlicher Wert a priori zum Scheitern verurteilt” (“In a time when money rules your existence as the only value necessary to survive, poetry is condemned to fall through”) (Gödden 125). Indirectly, there is praise for the GDR hidden in this statement (money was not so important in that country). Nevertheless, since Czechoswki had bitter emotions towards the state of the GDR for its lack of freedom and was relieved when it collapsed, he could not direct his aggression against the so-called West German “colonizers” that introduced the terror of thinking in terms of money in a Daniela-Dahn-way2. In fact, as we remember, he had even moved to the West to be closer to West Germans. So it happened to Czechowski and others that they chose former friends as their target – not because they had turned out having been informers of the Stasi (the East German state police), but for petty personal reasons as, for instance, to have been “mit einer Tasse Kaffee […] abgefertigt” (“given short shrift with a cup of coffee”) (243) when they came for a visit bringing a late birthday gift. After the poem’s publication, Kirsten took vengeance by having Czechowski lose his prestigious Swiss publisher. The author states: “Einige Zeit später setzte Wulf Kirsten während einer Tagung des Ammann Verlages Egon Ammann die Pistole auf die Brust und sagte: Entweder Czechowski oder ich! Worauf sich Ammann für Kirsten entschied…” (“Some time later, during a meeting of the Ammann Verlag, Wulf Kirsten held a pistol on Egon Ammann’s head and said: Either Czechowski or me! Whereupon Ammann decided in Kirsten’s favor…”) (243) Later, the narrator mentions that in a moment of self-criticism he decided to repair his old friendship with Kirsten. When he saw him getting out of a taxi at a cultural celebration to which they both were invited, Czechowski went to him and addressed him in a friendly way. However, Kirsten responded, “er pflege nicht mehr mit mir zu sprechen” (“it was not his custom any more to talk to [him]”) (245). Thinking about it, Czechowski states self-critically: “Ich bin in diesem Zusammenhang auch oft Opfer meiner eigenen Irrtümer geworden” (“In this respect [the fact that he lost many friends due to his verbal attacks], I often became a victim of my own misapprehension”) (245). Nevertheless, for reasons of pride he decides not to regret having published his poem on Kirsten; otherwise he would not have republished it in his autobiography. Furthermore, almost proudly, the narrator quotes the critic Jürgen Serke stating: “Heinz Czechowski hadert mit seinen Schriftstellerfreunden von einst […], die sich auf eigenes Versagen nicht einlassen wollen” (“Heinz Czechowski quarrels with his former friends […] who do not want to engage in any critical discussion of their failure”) (250). In Czechowski’s eyes, “failure” means in this context that they remained in East Germany after the Fall of the Wall. The question must be raised, why does the author overreact in such a way? Susanne Schädlich in her autobiographical text about her stay in the United States retells a story she heard about an American Indian and relates it to her own situation after her family had moved from East to West Berlin in 1977. She states that they felt deeply unhappy in the West and can explain this unhappiness only in the following way: Because everything had changed in the way they lived their lives they felt overwhelmed and lost balance: “wir waren schon hier und immer noch dort” (“we were here already and still there”) (81). As an analogy, she continues to tell the story of an Indian standing at the side of the road to hitch a ride. A car stops; the Indian gets in. Halfway on his route, the Indian wants to get out. “Der Fahrer fragt warum? Und der Indianer sagt, er müsse warten, bis seine Seele nachgekommen sei” (“The driver asks why; and the Indian says he has to wait until his soul has followed”) (81). Czechowski’s situation after he moved to West Germany was similar. His soul had not been able to follow him yet; unhappily, he drives to the East to visit old friends in whose houses his soul might still be lingering; as a result, he gets entangled in situations of misunderstanding. Erroneously, he thinks that if these friends had also moved to the West, these painful encounters would not be necessary.

In fact, the darkest colors dominate in the description of his old friends in Poles of Remembrance. They are mainly the members of the so-called “Sächsische Dichterschule” (“Saxon School of Poets”) that included Karl Mickel, Rainer Kirsch, Adolf Endler, Elke Erb, Bernd Jentzsch, and others. What makes Czechowski’s text worth reading is his awareness that he is not fair in such aggressive portrayals as, for instance, that of Kirsten, and tries to come to terms with his unfairness. Claiming that it comes mainly from his inclination to fall prey to his own “Irrtümer” (“errors”) (245) means acknowledging the unreliability of his memory and his inability to draw appropriate conclusions from it. Mainly Czechowski’s inner conflict of wanting to regret his errors and make up with his old friends in the East and not being able to prevents the construction of an autonomous subject and of narrative closure. A critic of this autobiography states that the text has something “Unfertige[s]” (“unfinished”) (Grandt). Given Czechowski’s deep skepticism towards the genre of autobiography that is based on the insight that we are unable to separate fact from fiction when we look back at our life, the text’s fragmentary character must be interpreted as strength, not a weakness.

As Czechowski’s editor Sascha Kirchner points out, due to this skepticism towards the genre, the writer had tried hard to refrain from writing his autobiography for years, stating for instance: “Alle Autobiographien sind Fiktion, sind das Ergebnis eines Nachdenkens über sich selbst, das mit der Wirklichkeit nicht übereinstimmt” (“All autobiographies are fiction, are the result of a reflection about yourself that does not agree with reality”) (Kirchner 281). However, as Kirchner states correctly: “Wer sich selbst auf solche Weise mahnt, dessen Erinnerungsmechanismus läuft schon heiß und reproduziert Bilder – oder produziert Trugbilder –, die festgehalten werden wollen” (“Who warns himself in such a way, the person’s mechanism of memory is already overheated and reproduces images – or chimeras – that want to be written down”) (281). In addition, as Kirchner states, Czechowski had also political reasons for delaying his autobiographical writing, as he did not want to “einstimmen” (“be attuned”) into the “Chor der Vergangenheitsbewältiger” (“chorus of those who have set out to overcome the past [of the GDR]”) (Kirchner 281). It means that he felt bad about judging the GDR and his role in this country too quickly and, perhaps, superficially. We should add that the word “Trauerarbeit” (“work of mourning”) (217) scares Czechowski because it is too ambiguous: “Sollte man trauern, 45 Jahre lang vergeblich einer DDR angehört zu haben? Sollte man das Unrecht bedauern, das man anderen angetan hatte?” (“Should you mourn to have belonged in vain for 45 years to a GDR? Should you regret the injustice you have done to others?”) (218). Looking back at the injustices he did to others as a former candidate and later member of the SED also includes the injustices he did to animals. As a renowned “Naturlyriker” (“poet of nature”) (“Gödden” 128), the reader can imagine Czechowski’s agony when he was writing about his role in the controversial “Rinderoffenstall” (“open stables for cattle”) affair, in which he uncritically had supported the Party line. The SED had ordered the agricultural production cooperatives to leave the cattle outside overnight also during the “strengsten Frösten” (“the worst freezing”) (92) – a new Soviet method according to which the animals would produce more meat. As a result, “viele Tiere froren in der eigenen Jauche fest und mussten getötet werden” (“many animals froze in their own liquid manure and had to be put down”) (92). The author’s self-criticism in instances like this one, in which he had justified a political measure that turned out to be “Unsinn” (“stupidity”) (92) and had to be paid for with a high price of suffering, certainly contributes to the many mainly positive reviews the text The Poles of Remembrance has received after its publication.

Wolfgang Ertl concludes from reading Czechowski’s poetry written after the Fall of the Wall that the writer mourns the loss of the “Utopie-Potentials der untergegangenen DDR” (“potential for utopia of the disappeared GDR”) but not the downfall of its political regime. This also seems to be the case in the text The Poles of Remembrance. However, as the “Rinderoffenstall” episode shows, it is not always clear; sometimes, Czechowski is not sure if it was not the socialist utopia itself that led to suffering. After all, without his strong belief in this utopia he would not have blindly supported such absurd political measures; and how many other believers had acted like him? Such uncertainty of the first-person narrator about the reasons for the downfall of the GDR and the problematic character of his life contributes to the text’s lack of closure.

As Kirchner remembers, Czechowski also had worried that “es werde mir an der Fähigkeit mangeln, das Vergangene in seiner Tatsächlichkeit als Text wieder hervorzurufen” (“I might lack the ability to evoke the past in its factuality in the text”) (281); this means he was concerned about the lack of authenticity. As Dennis Tate states, this concern is typical for the middle generation of critical GDR authors, born between the 1930s and 1950s. Many of them, as for instance Christoph Hein and Wolfgang Hilbig, preferred to tell their life stories in the form of fiction because they regarded the autobiographical genre with its implied claim for authenticity and consistency “as an obsolete structure for conveying the elusiveness and fragmented nature of contemporary identity” (12). In fact, their reason for preferring a fictional form is strong; nevertheless, also Karen Leeder’s thought is noteworthy: “Any form of work on the GDR past which allows itself the freedom of fiction might ultimately not prove finally rigorous enough to do justice to its subject matter” (262). Obviously, Czechowski thought along similar lines when he preferred the controversial genre of autobiography for telling his life’s story that, on the other hand, he could only begin to write down after he had given up his claim of authenticity and consistency. He states: “In Wirklichkeit, so scheint mir, ist […] die Vergangenheit nur eine Imagination, die dem jeweils gegenwärtigen Stand des Bewußtseins entspricht” (“In reality, so it seems to me, […] the past is only an imagination that corresponds to the state of consciousness at a time”) (Kirchner 281). It speaks for the author’s sincerity when he admits that his “Stand des Bewußtseins” (“state of consciousness”) was troubled at the time when he wrote The Poles of Remembrance. Having survived the firebombing of the city of Dresden as a child and experienced the “Krallen” (“claws”) (47) of Stalinism later on, he suffered from depression to such a degree that in between writing the chapters of his autobiography he had to spend time in mental institutions. After he had moved to the West he felt so depressed that he became an alcoholic with dire consequences: “Der Schmerz um das Verlorene saß in der Kehle. Ich fuhr fort, die im Osten zurückgebliebenen Freunde zu beschimpfen, vom Alkohol angeheizt, in einer Art Verfolgungswahn” (“The pain about my loss was sitting in my throat. I continued to verbally harass my friends who had stayed in the East, heated up by alcohol, in a kind of paranoia”) (247). As Jürgen Serke pointed out in reviewing this text, Czechowski always needed a circle of well-meaning friends to be able to stay alive. The critic continues: “Wenn er heute über frühe Freunde enttäuscht ist und mit Verbitterung reagiert, so ist das eine Verbitterung, die sich im Kern gegen ihn selbst richtet.” (“When he today is disappointed about former friends and reacts with bitterness against them, so it is a bitterness that basically is directed against himself”) (203). In other words, his attacks are a form of self-destruction. At times, The Poles of Remembrance reads like a desperate self-portrayal by a madman who needed the desperation to be able to write.

A sign of Czechowski’s distrust in his ability to create authenticity in his autobiographical writing is the inclusion of poems in the text. As Karl Corino states, “Die in seine Autobiographie eingefügten Gedichte führen oft wie unter dem Vergrößerungsglas die Konstellationen vor Augen, in denen er stand [in einem bestimmten Augenblick]” (“The poems sprinkled into his autobiography often show, like under a magnifying glass, the constellations in which he lived [at a given moment]”). Obviously, Czechowski hoped that the included poems could make up for the lack of authenticity in his autobiographical narrative. This inclusion, as well as that of excerpts from his Stasi-files, gives the text a hybrid character, loosening up the stiff structure of the autobiographical form for its good.

Relentlessly, the author also examines his personal life, including his unfaithfulness towards his first wife and the breakdown of his two marriages. This examination reaches its climax when the author remembers driving from West Germany to the East to break into his second ex-wife’s apartment. She calls the police; Czechowski has to spend an embarrassing night in jail. An author who falls prey to the temptation of painting a rosier picture of his life in order to give it meaning, probably would have left out this incident. Czechowski explains:

Das Absurde der Situation wurde mir dergestalt bewußt, daß ich in der DDR […] niemals in Haft gewesen war, obwohl ich einen präventiv ausgestellten Haftbefehl in meinen Stasiakten fand. Ausgerechnet der Bundesrepublik, die ich mit herbeigerufen hatte, blieb es vorbehalten, mich hinter Gitter zu bringen…
(The absurdity of the situation became clear to me in such a way that in the GDR […], although I found a preemptively issued warrant of arrest in my Stasi-files, I was never in jail. Of all things, the Federal Republic of Germany that I had helped to create had reserved the right to put me behind bars…) (241).

It should be repeated that due to such radical self-criticism and self-questioning until the end, there can be no closure, neither narrative closure nor closure in meaning. If the text has a message, it comes close to what Milan Kundera said famously: “human life as such is a defeat” (10). However, when Kundera continues to state, “All we can do in the face of that ineluctable defeat called life is to try to understand it” (10), Czechowski would add, he tried hard to understand his life; however, it was such that it cannot be understood, neither by him, nor by anybody else. Not even the fact that he wrote remarkable poetry during his life in the GDR suffices to give it meaning.

The text ends with the author’s visit to his hometown Dresden where he has was a writer-in-residence from April to September 1998. The last lines are drenched in melancholy when he remembers a walk on Christmas Eve through the part of the city in which he grew up on: “Alles, so schien es, war eine Täuschung: die Häuser, der Kirchturm, der alte Friedhof – zu nichts anderem bestimmt, als vom Vergessen verschlungen zu werden” (“Everything, so it seemed, was a deception: the buildings, the church tower, the old cemetery – destined to nothing else but to be forgotten”) (278).

Besides having enriched the portrayal of East Germany before and after German reunification in 1991 by many interesting details, the merit of Czechowski’s autobiography lies in the author’s radical self-reflection that includes the critical scrutiny of his ability to remember and write about his memories. Kirchner summarizes the author’s thoughts in the following way: “Identität – eine Fiktion. Die Erinnerung – eine Fiktion. Daraus folgt mit gnadenloser Notwendigkeit: Eine Autobiographie ist nichts anderes als – Fiktion” (“Identity – fiction. Memory – fiction. The pitiless conclusion is: an autobiography is nothing but – fiction”) (282). Praising Czechowski’s sincerity, the critic states correctly: “Wer dies erkannt und artikuliert hat, der schreibt der Erzählung seiner Biographie das höchstmögliche Maß an Wahrhaftigkeit, an Überzeugungskraft und an Objektivität ein, derer ein einzelner fähig ist” (“Who has realized and articulated this, writes the story of his life with the highest possible amount of truthfulness, persuasiveness, and candor a person is able to”) (282).

At this point it should have become obvious that Czechowski’s text The Poles of Remembrance is an ideal example to be studied in regard to our present critical discourse on autobiographical writing that emphasizes the inability or unwillingness of the author “to accurately recall memories” (“Autobiography” 3). Czechowski has all the willingness in the world to recall his past life accurately, but he is not able to due to what he calls “meine[r] Erinnerungsschwäche” (“the frailty of my memory”) (227).

Linda Maeding, examining autobiographies of German exile writers who tried to come to terms with their painful experience of sudden uprooting before and during World War II, refers to Egon Schwarz3, who reflects on the question of “wie weit der Einzelne sein Leben bestimmt und bis zu welchem Grad es von überpersönlichen Mächten genormt ist” (“how far the individual rules his/her life and to what degree it is ruled by impersonal powers”) (Meading 488). If we look at Czechowski’s autobiography from this point of view, we have to ask: what ruled his life that according to his own judgment suffered from the lack of meaning? Obviously, it was ruled by both his own self-destructiveness due to his mental instability as well as by “überpersönliche[n] Mächte[n]” (“impersonal powers”). However, to what degree was his self-destructiveness, triggered by his depression and his escape into alcoholism, not also caused by the historic events of the twentieth century? Bearing in your memory “zu Kindergröße geschrumpfte Brandleichen” (“burnt corpses shriveled to the size of children”) (42) from the firebombing of Dresden in 1944 and on top of it the “drei-mal verfluchte DDR” (“three-times-cursed GDR”) (280) – how can you be mentally stable enough to construct a meaningful life? And, how can you be now a healthy old man mellowed by age and experience who, surrounded by his grandchildren perhaps, explores his life even-temperedly and gives us a balanced account of it ending with closure? In other words, the question of whose fault it is that Czechowski’s life and autobiography lack closure – is it his? is it that of German history? – cannot be answered. However, the fact that the author discusses his difficulties in writing about his life so openly and self-critically, not falling prey to self-pity or imposing meaning and closure, makes his autobiography Die Pole der Erinnerung worth reading. Kirchner states in his epilogue correctly: “Man liest eine Autobiographie nicht, weil man von ihr Objektivität erwartete, im Gegenteil – man liest sie wegen ihrer ganz und gar subjektiven Perspektive.” (“You don’t read an autobiography because you expect objectivity from it, to the contrary, you read it because of its outright subjective perspective”) (279).

To conclude, many former East German writers published autobiographies after German Reunification reflecting on their lived experience, but only one of them, Heinz Czechowski, also examined very critically the possibility of writing about his life using the genre of autobiography. While he tries hard to get as close as possible to historical truth, he self-critically reflects upon the impossibility of achieving this objective. According to his view, the major reason for this impossibility is that memory is not reliable, so you can never separate fact from fiction.


1 After listing several examples of people with a “parteinahen Vergangenheit” (“past close to the Party”) (247) who were successful in starting a new career after German reunification, he concludes: “Ich hatte mir die Vereinigung, dummen Illusionen folgend, gerechter vorgestellt” (“I had imagined the reunification, following stupid illusions, to be more just”) (247).
2 The books that Daniela Dahn published during the decade following the Fall of the Wall defend the GDR and express a certain amount of nostalgia. Westwärts und nicht vergessen (To the West and Not Forgotten) (1996), for instance, written in view of the property sharks and speculators who moved into the eastern regions during the 1990s, frames an extreme radical political statement and can be read as a polemic pamphlet against the West’s so-perceived colonization of the GDR.
3 Egon Schwarz, born in 1922 in Austria in a Jewish family, had to flee from the Nazis in 1938. The family found refuge in La Paz. Later, Schwarz became a professor of German at Harvard University and a writer. His renowned autobiography is titled Keine Zeit für Eichendorff: Chronik unfreiwilliger Wanderjahre (No Time for Eichendorff: Chronicle of Involuntary Years of Wandering) (1979).

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