The German Patient

Crisis and Recovery in Postwar Culture
Jennifer M. Kapczynski

A fascinating study of disease as a trope in German debates about the Nazi past


The German Patient takes an original look at fascist constructions of health and illness, arguing that the idea of a healthy "national body"---propagated by the Nazis as justification for the brutal elimination of various unwanted populations---continued to shape post-1945 discussions about the state of national culture. Through an examination of literature, film, and popular media of the era, Jennifer M. Kapczynski demonstrates the ways in which postwar German thinkers inverted the illness metaphor, portraying fascism as a national malady and the nation as a body struggling to recover. Yet, in working to heal the German wounds of war and restore national vigor through the excising of "sick" elements, artists and writers often betrayed a troubling affinity for the very biopolitical rhetoric they were struggling against. Through its exploration of the discourse of collective illness, The German Patient tells a larger story about ideological continuities in pre- and post-1945 German culture.

"A highly evocative work of meticulous scholarship, Kapczynski's deftly argued German Patient advances the current revaluation of Germany's postwar reconstruction in wholly original and even exciting ways: its insights into discussions of collective sickness and health resonate well beyond postwar Germany."
---Jaimey Fischer, University of California, Davis

"The German Patient provides an important historical backdrop and a richly specific cultural context for thinking about German guilt and responsibility after Hitler. An eminently readable and engaging text."
---Johannes von Moltke, University of Michigan

"This is a polished, eloquently written, and highly informative study speaking to the most pressing debates in contemporary Germany. The German Patient will be essential reading for anyone interested in mass death, genocide, and memory."
---Paul Lerner, University of Southern California

Jennifer M. Kapczynski is Assistant Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Washington University in St. Louis. She is the coeditor of the anthology A New History of German Cinema.

Cover art: From The Murderers Are Among Us (1946). Reprinted courtesy of the Deutsche Kinemathek.

Praise / Awards

  • "...Jennifer M. Kapczynski's book constitutes a significant contribution to scholarship because of its novel and persuasive argument..."
    —Sonja E. Klocke, German Studies Review

  • "Jennifer Kapczynski's excellent volume is an accessible and astute contribution to the study of German cultural history."
    —York University, Toronto

Look Inside

Copyright © 2008, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted September 2008.

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Product Details

  • 272 pages.
  • 1 line drawing and 5 B&W photographs.
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  • 2010
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  • 978-0-472-02527-5

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  • postwar Germany, metaphors of illness/illness metaphor, postwar masculinity/gender, national socialism, coming to terms with the past/Vergangenheitsbewaltigung, Karl Jaspers, The Question of German Guilt, Die Schuldfrage, Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus/Doktor Faustus, Wolfgang Staudte, The Murderers are Among Us/Die Morder sind unter uns, Peter Lorre, The Lost One/The Lost Man/Der Verlorene, postwar German culture/literature/film/cinema