Homecoming as a National Founding Myth: Jewish identity and German landscapes in Konrad Wolf's i was nineteen

Ofer Ashkenazi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Konrad Wolf was one of the most enigmatic intellectuals of East Germany. The son of the Jewish Communist playwright Friedrich Wolf and the brother of Markus Wolf-the head of the GDR's Foreign Intelligence Agency-Konrad Wolf was exiled in Moscow during the Nazi era and returned to Germany as a Red Army soldier by the end of World War Two. This article examines Wolf's 1968 autobiographical film I was Nineteen (Ich war Neunzehn), which narrates the final days of World War II-and the initial formation of postwar reality-from the point of view of an exiled German volunteer in the Soviet Army. In analyzing Wolf's portrayals of the German landscape, I argue that he used the audio-visual clichés of Heimat-symbolism in order to undermine the sense of a homogenous and apolitical community commonly associated with this concept. Thrown out of their original contexts, his displaced Heimat images negotiate a sense of a heterogeneous community, which assumes multi-layered identities and highlights the shared ideology rather than the shared origins of the members of the national community. Reading Wolf from this perspective places him within a tradition of innovative Jewish intellectuals who turned Jewish sensibilities into a major part of modern German mainstream culture.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)130-150
Number of pages21
Issue number1
StatePublished - 22 Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • GDR
  • Heimat
  • Ich war Neunzehn
  • Konrad Wolf


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