Trauma, Postmemory, and Empathy: The Migrant Crisis and the German Past in Jenny Erpenbeck’s Gehen, ging, gegangen [Go, Went, Gone]

Humanities. 2017;6(4):88 DOI 10.3390/h6040088


Journal Homepage

Journal Title: Humanities

ISSN: 2076-0787 (Print)

Publisher: MDPI AG

LCC Subject Category: General Works: History of scholarship and learning. The humanities

Country of publisher: Switzerland

Language of fulltext: English

Full-text formats available: PDF, HTML



Brangwen Stone (Department of International Studies, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia)


Blind peer review

Editorial Board

Instructions for authors

Time From Submission to Publication: 11 weeks


Abstract | Full Text

The novel Gehen, ging, gegangen [Go, Went, Gone] by the celebrated German writer Jenny Erpenbeck was published at the height of the European refugee crisis. The novel tells the tale of Richard, a retired Berlin classics professor, who becomes intrigued by the Oranienplatz refugee protest camp. He initially approaches the refugee crisis as a new research project, methodically searching for secondary literature, composing questionnaires and conducting interviews with asylum seekers, but eventually he begins to develop friendships with some of them. Throughout the novel, Richard, who fled from the approaching Red Army with his mother as a baby and then lived in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) until reunification, notices similarities between the traumatic experiences of the Oranienplatz protesters and the trauma in his personal history, German collective history, and ancient and medieval literature. This article focuses on trauma and empathy in Gehen, ging, gegangen, exploring how the parallels drawn between the varied fates of the asylum seekers and the stories of exile and displacement in the literary canon, and German historical experiences of displacement and loss of home, establish points of empathic connection between Richard and the refugees, and attempt to establish the same between the reader and the refugees.