Lecture by Jessica Ortner

Transnational vs transcultural Holocaust-memory– European memory politics and contemporary Jewish literature

by postdoctoral fellow Jessica Ortner (Dept. of English, Germanic and Romance Studies)

The aim of this paper is to investigate the relationship between the role of the Holocaust in current European memory politics and the commemoration of the Holocaust in the contemporary Jewish writer Barbara Honigmann. As Aleida Assmann has stated recently, the distance to the Holocaust has not caused a decline of the public attention towards the event, but rather a reinforcement of common interest (2013: 56-57). This attention towards the Holocaust has culminated in a transnational memory discourse which has given the event a significant political role: As negative founding myth of the west it has become a “de-territorialized moral lesson” that is supposed to support human rights and to guide future political actions (Sznaider/ Levy [2001] 2006; Assmann 2010).

Also contemporary Jewish literature is often designated as “a truly transnational phenomenon”: the Nazi regime has pushed the European Jews back into a diasporic state, which still affects the writers who descend from the expelled and persecuted Jews. However, in this paper, I suggest that it is necessary to distinguish sharply between transnational and transcultural memory discourses. Whereas transnational memory belongs to official levels of memory, and often has a homogenizing effect, transcultural memory refers to aesthetical manifestations of Holocaust memory that represent individual perspectives on the past which enables the combination and mixing of antithetic mnemonic frameworks. This transcultural type of Holocaust memory shall be exemplified in the writings of the German-Jewish author Barbara Honigmann (1999, 2000).


-        Assmann, Aleida: Das neue Unbehagen an der Erinnerungskultur. Eine Intervention. (München, C. H. Beck: 2013)
-        Assmann, Aleida: “The Holocaust – Global Memory? Extensions and Limits of a New Memory Community” In: Aleida Assmann/Sebatian Conrad (Ed.): Memory in a Global Age. Discourses, Practices and Trajectories (Palgrave, 2010), pp. 97-117.
-        Levi, Daniel / Sznaider, Natan: The Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age translated by Assenka Okisloff (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001),
-        Honigmann, Barbara: Damals, dann und danach (München: dtv, 1999)
-        Honigmann, Barbara: Alles, alles Liebe (München: Carl Hanser Verlag 2000)

Short CV

Jessica Ortner studied literature and cultural studies in Odense, Zürich and Copenhagen from 1998 to 2006. In May 2012, she received her PhD degree on the Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek, focusing on Jelinek’s literary strategies of representing the Shoah and broaching Austria’s national socialist past. Ortner is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Copenhagen investigating German and Austrian Holocaust literature written by the second and third generation. Beside a main interest in postmodern and magic realistic narratological strategies of representing the Shoah, Ortner is examining to which extent present Holocaust literature develops in relation to, or across, national boundaries.