European Jewish Literary and Cultural History


The teaching and research unit European Jewish Literature and Cultural History is dedicated to the cultural history of German-speaking Jews in Europe from the middle of the 18th century to the present day. In addition to literary production – which includes the works of such famous authors as Heinrich Heine and Franz Kafka – the work of Jewish scholars – such as Sigmund Freud and Walter Benjamin - whose work has had a major influence on the world we live in today, is of particular interest. Their writings are always viewed in the historical context of the non-Jewish majority, which set the most decisive conditions for their emergence. In the study of the works of Jewish authors in the German language, it becomes clear that although special questions and perspectives are often required in order to understand their origin, content and impact, they are by no means a 'subdivision', but an integral part of German literature as European literature.



Prof. Dr. Stephan Braese



Dr. Hans Kruschwitz

Dr. Tom Vanassche

Dr. Christine Waldschmidt



Tanja Daniels


Research Projects

German Jewish Literature from the Enlightenment to the Present –
New approaches to research in Paradigms

In cooperation with Prof. Alfred Bodenheimer, University of Basel, and Prof. Primus-Heinz Kucher, University of Klagenfurt)

The project aims at a fundamental and systematic reappraisal and presentation of German Jewish literature since the Enlightenment, based on the perspective of cultural studies, expanded by approaches from reception aesthetics, semiotics, spatial and media theory as well as the history of science. Traditional order criteria such as nation, identity, culture and religion as well as efforts towards unity, canonization and binary differentiability in Jewish and non-Jewish culture and literature are put aside in favour of more open approaches in paradigms. These paradigms meet the usual master narratives with research-oriented reflection and exemplarity, with a change in the perspective of representation in order to detect hidden connections and to enable synchronous and diachronic comparisons and cross sections. In this way, it is easier to circumvent the fixation and appropriation of texts, and the polyphonic and intercultural space of German Jewish literature can become more prominent, even more accentuated, with the reader also being given a voice as a factor in the context of literary production and cultural debates. Approaches and suggestions in this direction can be found in the "Yale Companion to Jewish Writing and Thought in German Culture" or in Dan Diner's "Encyclopedia of Jewish History and Culture". However, as these are historically broader, they are hardly able to make thematic, motivic-historical deepening. The paradigm structure of the project, whose results are to be incorporated into six handbooks, takes this circumstance into account; paradigms that, on the one hand, enable a connection to fundamental, temporally overlapping questions and problems, and, on the other, provide for exemplary and controversial positions that include more in-depth studies. These paradigms also correspond to the research expertise at the participating universities and their respective project leaders: tradition and faith as well as historical thinking (main focus University of Basel), language cultures as well as knowledge and learning (main focus RWTH Aachen University); spaces and landscapes or interrelations (main focus University of Klagenfurt/Centre of Jewish Studies, University of Graz).
• Sponsored as a D-A-CH-project by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.

That's cool. Jazz as a counterculture in post-war Germany

The project aims to determine the specifically oppositional, antagonistic, conflicting potential of a social and habitual milieu and its forms of expression, particularly in literature and the media, which began with the (re-)introduction of African American music culture into German-speaking Central Europe by the US occupying forces immediately after the military suppression of Nazi Germany. The focus is on the question of how African American music culture in its specific aesthetic forms served as a projection surface for the social and psychological needs of a minority of the German population in the years 1945 to 1965 and during the first post-war years and how it could become an oppositional aggregate that could influence the development of culture and self-image in society, especially in the Federal Republic of Germany, but in a modified form also in the GDR. Key functions of jazz in such paradigmatic texts as Wolfgang Borchert's "Das ist unser Manifest", Günter Grass's "Die Blechtrommel" or Wolfgang Koeppen's "Tauben im Gras" suggest this often overlooked, but in the background all the more effective virulence of jazz in genuine post-war German cultural history. Particular significance is attached to the numerous projections that the post-war German audience of the various age cohorts, including their Nazi-contaminated individual histories, associated with jazz.
A book publication 2023 is planned.


Completed Research Projects

Topography of Plural Cultures in Europe in Respect of the 'Shifting of Europe to the East'

As part of the BMBF's humanities funding initiative "Geisteswissenschaften im gesellschaftlichen Dialog"
Duration: 2006 to 2009
Application as joint partner with the "Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin" Conception of the subproject "Berlin und der Osten"

Lessing and the Jewish Enlightenment

International Scientific Conference, RWTH Aachen University, January 23 to 25, 2012
In cooperation with Prof. Dr. Monika Fick, RWTH Aachen University
Supported by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation for the Promotion of Science
The results were published in the Lessing Yearbook XXXIX (Göttingen: Wallstein 2012).

NS Medicine and the Public - Forms of Reconciliation after 1945

International Scientific Conference, June 7 to 8, 2013
In cooperation with Prof. Dr. Dominik Groß, Institute for the History and Ethics of Medicine, RWTH Aachen University
The results are available under Stephan Braese, Dominik Groß (ed.): NS-Medizin und Öffentlichkeit – Formen der Aufarbeitung nach 1945, Frankfurt/New York: Campus 2015.

Franco-German Cultural Relations 1945 to 1960

International Scientific Conference, September 18 to 20, 2013
In cooperation with Dr. Ruth Vogel-Klein, Département Littérature et Langages of the École Normale Supérieure Paris
The results are available under Stephan Braese, Ruth Vogel-Klein: Zwischen Kahlschlag und Rive gauche – Deutsch-französische Kulturbeziehungen 1945-1960, Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann 2015.

"Meine Sprache ist Deutsch" German Language Culture of Jews and the Humanities 1870 to 1970

International Conference at the Centre for Literary and Cultural Studies Berlin, January 17 to 19, 2013
In cooperation with Dr. phil. habil. Daniel Weidner, Center for Literary and Cultural Studies Berlin
Approved by the Axel Springer Foundation
The results are available under Stephan Braese, Daniel Weidner (ed.): Meine Sprache ist Deutsch – Deutsche Sprachkultur von Juden und die Geisteswissenschaften 1870-1970, Berlin: Kadmos 2015.

Wolfgang Hildesheimer: A Scientific Biography

Duration: 2012 to 2016
The work is available as Stephan Braese: Jenseits der Pässe: Wolfgang Hildesheimer. Eine Biographie, Göttingen: Wallstein 2016, ²2017.

Wolfgang Hildesheimer: Exchange of letters

Duration: 2013 to 2017
In cooperation with Olga Blank (RWTH Aachen University) and Prof. Dr. Thomas Wild, Bard College, NY (USA)
Sponsored by Dr. Kurt Groenewold, Hamburg
The work is available as Wolfgang Hildesheimer: „Alles andere steht in meinem Roman“ – Zwölf Briefwechsel. Herausgegeben von Stephan Braese gemeinsam mit Olga Blank und Thomas Wild, Berlin: Suhrkamp 2017.


Current Dissertation Projects

Heng Barone: 'Auf-Bruch'. Home from the Perspective of German Intercultural Contemporary Literature

It is not uncommon for the (scientific) discourse on home to talk about the untranslatability of the word 'Heimat' or at least about elementary translation difficulties that are caused by the same thing. Home and thus its inherent complex of meaning thus advance to a hermetic concept whose exclusivity seems to be limited to the German-speaking cultural area. Against this background, the study addresses the question of how contemporary authors from other cultural backgrounds, who write and publish literary texts in the German language, narratively stage their homeland.
• Supported by the Heinrich Böll Foundation

Vera Heinen: Blank spaces and negations as a writing concept. The place of negation in the works of Hans Günther Adler, Jorge Semprún and Primo Levi

The central concern of the doctoral project is to reveal the writing concepts of the three survivors on the basis of the implicit empty spaces and negations in the selected texts by Hans Günther Adler, Jorge Semprún and Primo Levi. Wolfgang Iser's concept of spaces in reception aesthetics forms the theoretical basis of the academic debate in a modified form. The dissertation project reflects the subtle strategies of deconstruction in the works of Hans Günther Adler, Jorge Semprún and Primo Levi, and therefore focuses predominantly on the unremembered, the unsaid and the unidentified in the works.

Gerald Manstetten: Telling Disasters. The Processing of Genocides in German Literature

The dissertation project focuses on the question to what extent recurring narratives and motifs can be found in German genocide literature. Following on from the literary treatment of the Shoah, German texts on the colonial genocide of the Herero and Nama, the Armenian genocide, the genocidal massacres in the Yugoslavian war and the genocide in Rwanda will be included in the analysis.
The starting point are the first two German novels that critically examine genocides beyond the Shoah: Uwe Timms "Morenga" (1978) and Edgar Hilsenrath's "Märchen vom letzten Gedanken" (1989).
• Supported by the RWTH Graduate Program