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Pawels Briefe. Eine Familiengeschichte (original 1999; edition 2001)

by Monika Maron (Author)

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341329,500 (3.5)5
Member:edwinbcn
Title:Pawels Briefe. Eine Familiengeschichte
Authors:Monika Maron (Author)
Info:Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag (2009)
Collections:Read but unowned, Read All Time, Read in 2012
Rating:***1/2
Tags:German Literature, German History, Holocaust, Polish History, Biography, DDR, Communism, CASS

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Pawels Briefe: Eine Familiengeschichte by Monika Maron (1999)

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Pawels Briefe. Eine Familiengeschichte is Monika Maron biography of her family, spanning about a century from 1879 till the end of the Twentieth Century, the history of three generations of a Jewish family in Central Europe.

Sixty-odd pages into the book Maron quotes the German sociologist / philosopher Niklas Luhmann: Die Komponenten eines Lebenslaufs bestehen aus Wendepunkten, an denen etwas geschehen ist, das nicht hätte geschehen müssen. Das beginnt mit der Geburt. (p. 66).

The Marons are a family that originated from Kurow, near Lodz in Poland. In the 1920s the grandparents wanted to move to the United States, following acquaintances who had, but did not. Instead, they moved to Berlin and settled in the Neukölln area, where grandfather Pawel is described as an active member of the Communist Party, at a time when the then emerging Nazi Party started marching.

The rise to power of the Nazis leads to the persecution and destruction of the Jewish population in Germany and Poland, and by 1942 the grandparents are no longer alive. Monika's mother, Hella, Polish and half-Jewish is protected and survives the war in war-ravaged Berlin, where Monika grows up as "ein Kriegskind".

The third part of the book describes the author's life an career growing up in the German Democratic Republic (DDR). After Hella's second marriage in the 1950s, the family falls apart, and Hella loses sight of her brothers and sister.

Pawels Briefe. Eine Familiengeschichte is of interest to readers who are interested in the holocaust and Polish and German history. The title prominently refers to "Pavel's Letters" while, in fact, these letters play a very minor role in the book. The letters are not mentioned until page 112, and on page 120 the author mentions that many letters are lost. No letters are printed in the book. The author writes that the letters were her starting point to work on this family history.

The book is, of course, also a partial autobiography of the author, Monika Maron, and it is an interesting source on the history of the German Democratic Republic (DDR). As the first generation survivors of the holocaust gradually disappears, their children are likely to carry on describing the terrible fate of their parents and grandparent. The historical divide may produce a somewhat different type of description of that period. On the other hand, in this respect Pawels Briefe. Eine Familiengeschichte is somewhat ambiguous. The tree-partite structure of the book could be seen as a logical divide to describe the history of three generations, grand-parents, parents and children. However, by implication, this structure suggests that Monika's life in the GDR is another "thing that should not have happened". By extension, the author portrays herself as a victim, which balances unevenly with the fate of her parents and grand-parent.

Books remain obscure because there is a certain lack of interest in them, even though that may be unjustified. Another reason may be, that the book has not had enough exposure. Pavel's Letters was published in German in 2009, so the English translation may have only been on the market for less than two years.

Pawels Briefe. Eine Familiengeschichte is different from other Holocaust literature in various aspects. Firstly, we are entering an era in which most first generation eye witnesses and survivors cease publishing as a result of old age and natural death. Holocaust literature written by this generation of writers can be regarded as scar literature, focusing very strongly on personal experience of the inhuman system and the horrors of the concentration camps. To many readers this type of writing defines the holocaust experience.

The holocaust story will continue to be told for many more years to come. Not all first generation victims and witnesses were able to tell their story. It is very likely that over the next decades, personal accounts, diaries and memoirs, written over the past six decades will be published.

Children growing up in a family, with one or both parents being first generation survivors will go on and tell the story that was imprinted on them by their parents. However, to them these stories will increasingly be regarded as "family history" as in the subtitle of Monika Maron's book. This second or third generation will most likely describe the holocaust experience of their family in a broader context, involving a greater share of history leading up to and following the "Third Reich" period, and into describing their own lives.

The end of the "Third Reich" and the Fall of Berlin, also marked the creation of the German Democratic Republic. Germans who ended up living in so-called East Germany often could not tell their story. In addition, the failed experiment of the Socialist German Democratic Republic (DDR) is seen by some as a direct result of and prolongation of the horrors of the Second World War. Since the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Unification of the two Germanies in 1991, especially in the past ten years, have seen a steady stream of (auto-)biographies describing authors' youth during the "Third Reich" and subsequent life in the DDR, viz. Günter de Bruyn's two-volume autobiography Zwischenbilanz. Eine Jugend in Berlin (Vol. 1) and Vierzig Jahre. Ein Lebensbericht (Vol. 2) (my review).

Readers of Monika Maron's Pawels Briefe. Eine Familiengeschichte expecting a traditional book about the holocaust will be disappointed. There aren't many details of horror, and Maron's grandparents simply vanish out of the picture. The title of the book, Pavel's Letters is somewhat misleading, if readers would expect primary source, authentic letters. There are no letters in the book. Pawels Briefe. Eine Familiengeschichte is of interest to readers who can appreciate the evolution of historical writing about the holocaust, and who are interested in the continuity of German history before, during, and after the Second World War. ( )
1 vote edwinbcn | Dec 29, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 186046629X, Paperback)

Pavel was Monika Maron's grandfather. But she only remembers him in black and white, as he left his children behind in Berlin when he was deported to his native Poland, and afterwards perished in a concentration camp. As a grown-up with a son of her own, researching a documentary for German television, Monika discovers letters which her grandfather wrote to Monika's mother, Hella. Teasing her family's past out of the fog of oblivion and lies, one of Germany's greatest writers asks about the secrets families keep and about what becomes of the individual mind when the powers that be turn against it.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:49:48 -0400)

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