* edited to define Kontingentflüchtling with the help of the internet. It’s one of those words that doesn’t exist in English. A Flüchtling is a refugee. However, Kontingentflüchtlinge are refugees who belong to pre-determined number of a persecuted group, a contingent. These are not asylum seekers. Rather, they are called to a country for humanitarian reasons when a clear and deadly threat is presented to a group within a war-zone, for example.
I didn’t think I’d have to write on of my favorite number posts in a hair dresser’s chair, but sometimes life throws you a few punches, and you just have to roll with them (as the expression goes). So I’m writing without Internet or my research, so excuse me more than usual. I guess this will be a bit of an Auerbach moment.
I can lead up to a favorite moment in one of my recent reads by Saša Stanišić, Wie der Soldat das Grammofon repariert, by explaining the significance in relation to other new German literature.
As political and social movements lead to the migration of groups of people, and these people settle in their new countries, often the children grow up with a bicultural identity, honoring their heritage and naturally becoming members of the community they grew up in. Of course, these children grow up to pursue various professions, not the least of these is writer. Many of these people’s first novels are autobiographical in nature, fictionalizing their personal history and often verbalizing many of the conflicts they experienced within themselves. Not all migrants are considered equal- as a recent article about the difference between refugees and migrants shows [inserted after the fact, don’t have Internet now, remember?]. Not all refugees are the same, either. Kontingentflüchtlinge make up a small proportion of refugees.
Olga Grjasnowa, and most recently Dimitri Kapitelmann are some examples of these kinds of authors. In Grjasnowa’s Der Russe ist einer, der Birken liebt, we see a Kontingentflüchtling struggle with her experiences in Frankfurt, Germany. These struggles are not necessarily caused by her status-she tries not to identify as Azerbaijani, and she identifies even less with her a Jewish heritage, but the reason I write “not necessarily” is because one could in fact claim it is part of her problem. While her personal trauma parallels the trauma she experienced in war in war in Baku, it also parallels the trauma of her grandparents who escaped death in a concentration camp during the holocaust. To some extent, the novel supports an argument that Kontingentflüchtlinge cannot ever escape their heritage.
Kapitelmann’s novel, from what I can tell without being able to attend the reading happening tomorrow, presents a similar sort of story.
Saša Stanišić’s novel, on the other hand, presents a different perspective of Kontingentflüchtlinge, after all, he isn’t one. He does not have “einen falschen Namen” (113). (The play between richtig and falsch, each having two meanings – right and real, wrong and fake- is important for this passage).
Rather, he observes the fates of people with different religious denomination during the Yugoslavian wars. For example, he tells of the “Dreipunktemann,” a rabbi who had been persecuted by the soldiers. Popes, or Slavic orthodox priests were also persecuted, so one knows that these soldiers were probably Bosnian=Serbian, but these (same?) soldiers persecute the Muslim inhabitants of Višegrad later.Stanišić and his narrator, Aleksandr, are both mute about the identity of the soldiers… to the narrator they are all the same- they all bring destruction and pain.
At any rate, the only chapter without a word title is “. . .” It’s the Dreipunktemann’s chapter in which he describes what happens to him.
nichts habe ich mitgenommen, mit leeren Händen ging ich über den See und hinter mir brach das Eis in meinen Fußspuren durch […] es krachte ohrenbetäubend, als sich nun von allen Seiten neue Rissen ins Eis keilten und in der Mitte des Sees aufeinander trafen, unter dem Torahschrein, er ist als Erster verschwunden, nur Sekunden, before alles andere, nichts habe ich gerettet, in die Tiefe sank: mein Name, meine Würde, mein Atem für lange Sätze […] (101-102).
Enough breath to say long sentences is one of the things Rabbi Avram lost, but he also lost his name, honor, and ability to trust, besides. At one point, Aleksandr asks why people always listen to the silence (107), but maybe it’s a good thing… as that is precisely the very thing Rabbi Avram is threatened to get swallowed up in. Books like Birken or Grammofon help keep the stories of these persecuted people alive.
Work cited: Stanišić, Saša. Wie der Soldat das Grammofon repariert. Munich: Random House GmbH, 2008. Print.
Disclaimer: this series is a collection of brainstorms and free-writes that are a part of my planning for actual text in my dissertation. Therefore, I am giving myself the liberty to make mistakes, make assumptions (call me out on offensive ones, though!), not tie up loose ends, and generally not make any sense.
Copyright 2016 Dorothea Trotter: because these writings are planning for actual text in my dissertation, some of this will appear in my dissertation. I hold the right to the words in this post and require that interested parties ask for permission before copying the words or ideas too closely. Obviously, the date of posting is the date of copyright and I reserve the right to challenge suspected plagiarism in my future dissertation submission using these blogs as proof of originality