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  • The Other Side of Silence: On W.G. Sebald, by Evelyn Toynton

    The Other Side of Silence: On W.G. Sebald, by Evelyn Toynton

    March 26, 2010

    Questioned by his interviewers about the Nazi era, [Sebald] describes the "conspiracy of silence" that prevailed while he was growing up after the war; he is convinced that his parents, who had been supporters of Hitler, never spoke about what had happened even when they were alone. "But then pressure eventually saw to it that in schools the subject would be raised," he tells the writer Joseph Cuomo. "It was usually done in the form of documentary films which were shown to us without comment. So, you know, it was a sunny June afternoon, and you would see one of those liberation of Dachau or Belsen films, and then you would go and play football." He talks, too, about his discomfort, later on, as a student at Freiburg University -- a sense of some falseness he could not exactly pin down. Eventually, he realized that all his professors had received their doctorates in the 1930s and early '40s; he even hunted up their dissertations: "If you . . . looked at what their Ph.D.'s were about, your hair stood on end." When Wachtel asks him about his feelings for Germany, Sebald begins, "Well, I know it's my country," and winds up by saying, "in a sense it's not my country. But because of its peculiar history and the bad dive that history took in this century . . . because of that I feel you can't simply abdicate and say, well, it's nothing to do with me. I have inherited that backpack and I have to carry it whether I like it or not." — Evelyn Toynton, from her 2008 Harper's review of The Emergence of Memory

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