Global Humanities Senior Research and Teaching Stay at Freie Universitaet Berlin
The Jewish Invention of the German Landscape
This project examines the contemplation of the German concept of Heimat by Jewish intellectuals and artists who were in exile between the years 1933 and 1945. Loosely translated as “homeland,” the notion of Heimat traditionally embeds an organic territory, a landscape which gives rise to the unique characteristics of the national community. Based on generic representations of the local place as a metaphor for the imagined nation, Heimat iconography was a vital component in the formation of modern German national identity. In its emphasis on homogeneous authenticity, however, this concept had often appeared to undermine the fundamentals of assimilation. Despite and perhaps because of this tension Heimat had become a vital trope in the literature and visual art of German-speaking Jews. In focusing on the visual aspects of Heimat-culture, my research analyzes the utilization of generic Heimat imagery in the works of Jewish émigrés. The focus on their participation in and criticism of the production of Heimat imagery would highlight two hitherto understudied phenomena. First, it would explore how the artistic contemplation of place enabled men and women of Jewish ancestry to play a significant role in the German national identity discourse both before 1933 and after 1945. Second, it would underscore an overlooked yet substantial influence of the Weimar-era Jewish experience on the formation of post-1945 national cultures in the United States, Germany and Israel. In emphasizing these two phenomena, this research suggests that the pre-1933 Jewish confrontation with the imaginary German “national space” had a vital impact on the ways national identities have been envisioned in the post-World War II context.
Ofer Ashkenazi is the Director of the Richard Koebner-Minerva Center for German History at the Hebrew University. He is the author of two monographs, "A Walk into the Night: Reason and Subjectivity in Weimar Film" (2010) and "Weimar Film and Modern Jewish Identity" (2012). He published articles on various topics, including East German cinema, German-Jewish emigres in Palestine, the discussion of the Nazi past in contemporary Germany and the interwar European peace movement. He is currently a fellow at the Israeli Center of Research Excellence, conducting a research on the participation of Jewish artists in the constitution of Heimat iconography in modern Germany.