Vergangenheitsbewältigung is a German term describing the “struggle to overcome the negatives of the past” or “working through the past”. The word has become key in the study of post-1945 German literature, society, and culture. In true German form, vergangenheitsbewältigung has 25 letters. But perhaps its extreme length shows the importance of the processes needed for a society to move forward from it’s criminal, violent past. Vergangenheitsbewältigung is based upon philosopher George Santayana’s observation that “those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it”. (Source: Wikipedia)
Annette Hess’s novel The German House focuses on the concept of vergangenheitsbewältigung as seen through the eyes of those involved with the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials of 1963. The main character, Eva Bruhns, is hired by the Frankfurt prosecution team to translate what the Polish witnesses are saying. Eva’s family and her wealthy boyfriend, Jürgen Schoormann, do not want her to participate in the trials. However, Eva feels her role as a translator is important in that she is able to provide a voice for the witnesses. Eva’s parents are the owners of a Frankfurt restaurant called The German House. The family has always been very close. However, as the trial goes on, Eva realizes that her parents are possibly hiding something from her about their own wartime activities. Eva’s relationship with Jürgen also suffers, but she keeps her resolve to be helpful and independent.
On a personal note, I have never visited Poland or Auschwitz, but I have toured Dachau in Germany. It was gut-wrenching to walk through the “showers” and to see the furnaces where the bodies were burned. I am thankful the German government has preserved this camp so that the atrocities will not be forgotten.
The novel has been translated into English by Elisabeth Lauffer and will be published on December 3, 2019, by HarperVia a new division of HarperCollins Publishers which is focused on acquiring international titles for World English publication. I would like to thank HarperVia and Bookishfirst for my Advanced Reader copy in exchange for this unbiased review. 4 Stars. Book Club recommended.
And now for my Recipes For Readers Recommendation: Authentic German Jägerschnitzel (Hunter Schnitzel with Mushroom Gravy) by The Daring Gourmet.