Date of Award
Dolores L Augustine
This study investigates the relationship between German author Lothar-Günther Buchheim (1918-2007), his bestselling 1973 novel Das Boot (The Boat), and the Federal Republic of Germany’s endeavor to come to terms with the spiritual damage left behind by National Socialism as well as with the responsibility of Germans for that past, known as the Vergangenheitsbewältigung. Buchheim was a reporter for the German Navy during the Battle of the Atlantic who benefitted from distinct privileges, yet he was never in a position of power during the conflict. He fulfilled his duties for the propaganda division with accolades, but thirty years later Buchheim railed against what he perceived to be a varnished truth in West German public memory about the Kriegsmarine and its crews. Michael Rothberg’s theory of the implicated beneficiary is used as a lens to view Buchheim’s life and career in light of this duality. The plot of Das Boot has been retold by others both in Germany and beyond its borders because many people claim that the story bears an anti-war message. Wolfgang Petersen’s critically acclaimed 1981 film and interpretations as a comedy sketch, a live stage play and a streamed television sequel have followed. This trajectory of Buchheim’s personal memory moving into the realm of transcultural memory reflects a process that practitioners of memory studies have described as transnational memory formation. Archival material provides insight into changing attitudes in the American and German book markets during the 1970s that accounted for the postwar generation’s interest in Das Boot. Video footage and interviews reveal how Buchheim linked the psychological damage that National Socialism caused in Germany and in other societies as a way to demystify the past. Teaching materials from the 1980s reflect the relevance of Das Boot for students then. Buchheim’s activity during World War II yielded many reactions that were conducive to classroom lessons about how Germans remembered the war. His depiction of his own experience was meant to relay empathy, truthfulness, and honesty to readers. The debates that he helped to initiate raise the question at present as to whether Germany’s “mastering the past” serves as a model for other societies analyzing their own histories.
Guarnaschelli, Dean Jon, "LOTHAR-GÜNTHER BUCHHEIM’S DAS BOOT: MEMORY AND THE NAZI PAST" (2020). Theses and Dissertations. 131.