Annelies Augustyns is a doctoral researcher in literary studies at the University of Antwerp and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. In her research project entitled “Urban Experience in the Third Reich: A Topopoetic Analysis of German-Jewish Autobiographical Literature from Breslau”, she investigates the textual representation of the National Socialist city space and everyday urban experience in German-Jewish autobiographical writing of the city of Breslau (now the Polish Wrocław), which used to be home to the third largest Jewish community in Germany. Her research interests revolve around German-Jewish literature as well as Holocaust literature, Jewish history and culture, autobiographical writing and spatiality. Her most recent publication is Annelies Augustyns (2020) : « Deux diaristes à Breslau sous le Troisième Reich: Walter Tausk et Willy Cohn – Lecture et comparaison de leurs journaux intimes », in: Revue belge de philologie et d'histoire / Belgisch tijdschrift voor filologie en geschiedenis (forthcoming).
Abstract : Urban Experience in the Third Reich: A Topopoetic Analysis of German-Jewish Autobiographical Literature from Breslau
National Socialism was not only a biological ideology, but also a thoroughly spatial one. The relationship between 'Aryans' and 'Jews' in the Third Reich was structured in and through space. Reference can be made to the speeches of Hitler, who fought for ‘Lebensraum’ (living space) for the German people, whom he regarded as a ‘people without space’ (cf. Giaccaria, Minca 2016: 1; 19; Stone 2016: 46-47). This living space became a ‘death space’ (Elden 2016: 173) for the Jews and other undesired people. It is precisely the experience of this changing space – which is becoming ever narrower for the Jews – and its reproduction in autobiographical narratives that are central to my research. I will scrutinize which spaces became important, how they are represented and how the autobiographical I experiences and describes the city and the changes: which sensual experiences have shaped their experiences and which metaphors do they use ("sensing and shaping the city")? For this I rely on two Breslau diaries and eight autobiographies. In these sources it becomes clear that power relations are often spatially negotiated and embedded, so that space is not an empty medium, but is produced and reproduced. They offer important insights into the connection between National Socialist use of space and the exclusion of ‘Gemeinschaftsfremde’ (‘community aliens’). Important for the theoretical framework of my research are insights of geocriticism (Westphal) and the concepts of ‘heterotopia’ (Foucault) and ‘strategies and tactics’ (de Certeau), on the basis of which my own methodological approach is being developed. Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life (1984) is essential to see how space is used and perceived, even in marginal situations. Michel Foucault's concept of ‘heterotopias’ (1986) is also of outstanding importance: in the lives of the Jewish victims there were in fact some spaces that play a central role as places of spatial reorientation and offer a possibility of temporary resistance to spatial dominance (cf. Heynen 2008: 319). The aim of the present study is to shed new light on the experience of the constantly shrinking living space and the textual specificity of German-Jewish autobiographical literature under National Socialism.