Becker, Jurek

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Nationality: German (originally Polish: immigrated to East Berlin, 1945). Born: Lodz, 30 September 1937. Education: Studied philosophy, Humboldt University of Berlin, 1957-60; studied film, Potsdam-Babelsberg, 1960. Military Service: People's Army, 1955-56. Family: Married Christine Harsch-Niemeyer in 1986 (second marriage); three children. Career: Joined the Socialist Unity party, 1957; expelled from East Germany; 1976; moved to West Berlin, 1979. Wrote television plays and film scripts for the DEFA during the 1960s. Poet-in-residence, Oberlin College, 1978; guest professor, University of Essen, 1979, University of Augsburg, 1981, Cornell University, 1984, University of Texas, Austin, 1987, and Washington University. Awards: Charles Veillon prize (Switzer-land) and Heinrich Mann prize, both in 1971, for Jakob der Lügner; City of Bremen literature prize, 1973, for Irreführung der Behörden; Silver Bear for East Germany, Berlin Film Festival, 1974, for the screenplay of Jacob the Liar; National prize for literature of the GDR, 1975; Adolf-Grimme prize, 1987, for Liebling Kreuzberg; Bavarian TV prize, 1990; Bundesfilmpreis, 1991; Thomas Mann award. Member: Berlin Academy of the Arts, 1990. Died: 14 March 1997.



Jakob der Lügner. 1969; as Jacob the Liar, 1975.

Irreführung der Behörden [Confusing the Authorities]. 1973.

Der Boxer [The Boxer]. 1976.

Schlaflose Tage. 1978; as Sleepless Days, 1979.

Aller Welt Freund [Everybody's Friend]. 1982.

Bronsteins Kinder. 1986; as Bronstein's Children, 1988.

Amanda herzlos. 1992.

Short Stories

Nach der ersten Zukunft [After the First Future]. 1980; translated as a dissertation, 1992.

Five Stories. 1993.



Jakob der Lügner, 1973.

Television Plays:

Liebling Kreuzberg (series), 1986; Wir sind auch nur ein Volk, 1994; Ende des Grössenwahns, 1996.


Ende des Grössenwahns: Aufsätze, Vorträge. 1996.


Film Adaptations:

Jacob the Liar, 1999.


"Bibliography" by Colin Riordan, in his Jurek Becker, 1998.

Critical Studies:

"The Treatment of Holocaust Themes in GDR Fiction from the Late 1960s to the Mid-1970s: A Survey" by Nancy Lauckner, in Studies in GDR Culture and Society, edited by Margy Gerber, 1981; The Works of Jurek Becker: A Thematic Analysis by Susan Martha Johnson, 1988; "Radios and Trees: A Note to Jurek Becker's Ghetto Fiction," in Germanic Notes, 19(1-2), 1988, pp. 22-24, and "Jurek Becker's Holocaust Fiction: A Father and Son Survive," in Critique, 30(3), Spring 1989, pp. 193-209, both by Russell E. Brown; "Tales and the Telling: The Novels of Jurek Becker" by Martin Kane, in his Socialism and the Literary Imagination: Essays on East German Writers, 1991; Writing As Revenge: Jewish German Identity in Post-Holocaust German Literary Works: Reading Survivor Authors Jurek Becker, Edgar Hilsenrath, and Ruth Klüger (dissertation) by Jennifer L. Taylor, Cornell University, 1995; "1945 World War II Ends, and Eight-Year-Old Jurek Becker Is Freed from a Concentration Camp and Begins to Learn German" by Frank D. Hirschbach, in Yale Companion to Jewish Writing and Thought in German Culture, 1096-1996, edited by Jack Zipes and Sander L. Gilman, 1997; Jurek Becker, 1998, How I Became a German: Jurek Becker's Life in Five Worlds, 1999, and Jurek Becker and Cultural Resistance in the German Democratic Republic, 2001, all by Sander L. Gilman; Jurek Becker, edited by Colin Riordan, 1998; Jurek Becker: A Jew Who Became a German? by David Rock, 2000.

* * *

Jurek Becker can be defined as an author of the Holocaust on several levels: as a concentration camp survivor, as a teller of stories about the Holocaust, and as an intellectual who struggled with the role of narrative in post-Holocaust Germany. Becker's work is often divided into two categories: "Holocaust" fiction and "political" fiction, with the latter category referring to those texts dealing ostensibly with German social and political developments. Attempts, however, to categorize Becker's texts thusly often fail to recognize that as a part of the postwar German identity, the Holocaust has taken on political dimensions, meaning that politics and the Holocaust are as intertwined in postwar Germany as they are in Becker's fiction.

As a nonnative speaker of German, who learned the language only after the Holocaust when he and his father were reunited and settled in East Berlin, Becker has an interesting relationship to the language. Two specific influences on Becker's language are noteworthy. He has explained that even though he experienced relatively little Jewish culture during his childhood in East Berlin, he was exposed to Jewish storytellers. Critics have noted similarities between Becker's writing and the storytelling styles of Sholem Aliechem and Isaac Bashevis Singer , notably the linear nature and distinct vocal quality of his narratives. Becker's language has also been influenced by his work in film. Before turning to literary texts, Becker began his writing career at the East German film studios. After his falling-out with the socialist elite in East Germany and his subsequent move to the West, he also wrote for West German television and films. (Indeed, he achieved his greatest popular recognition with the scripts for the German television series Liebling Kreuzberg.) The dialogues and descriptions in Becker's literary texts often contain the type of detail and tone found in television, film, and storytelling. Such influences help explain Becker's ability to write literary texts that are popular and accessible, while still obtaining a level of literary merit worthy of several prestigious literary awards.

The texts commonly grouped together as Becker's Holocaust novels are Jakob der Lügner (1969; Jacob the Liar, 1975), Der Boxer (1976; "The Boxer"), and Bronsteins Kinder (1986; Bronstein's Children, 1988). At least one of Becker's short stories, "Die Mauer" ("The Wall") in his collection Nach der ersten Zukunft (1980; "After the First Future," translated as a dissertation, 1992) can also be included in this category. Jacob the Liar, which was originally written as a film script, tells the story of a Jewish resident of a ghetto who brings hope to his fellow Jews with his lies about the imminent approach of the Soviet Army. Its sensitivity, humor, and poetic language make it a rare gem among stories of the Holocaust written in German. Der Boxer and Bronstein's Children both tell the stories of intergenerational conflicts between Holocaust survivors and their children. Though set at different times, these two later novels reflect the difficulties facing both survivors and other Germans as they deal with the emotional, political, and personal consequences of the Holocaust.

While Becker's "non-Holocaust" texts do not deal directly with the Holocaust, their themes have much in common with his Holocaust narratives. These thematic commonalities reflect Becker's ability to place the Holocaust into the context of broader societal debates in postwar and post-Holocaust Germany—debates dealing with issues of history, resistance, truth, guilt, and identity.

Becker rarely provides his readers with answers, and his stories often lack resolution for the characters involved. Becker even goes so far as to provide Jacob the Liar with two endings so that readers must choose which to believe. In this way, Becker captures the ambiguity surrounding the Holocaust in Germany during the latter half of the twentieth century. But rather than shutting down debate, this ambiguity has served as an impetus to further discussion about how to deal with Germany's past and, in particular, with the Holocaust.

—Gregory Baer

See the essays on Bronstein's Children and Jacob the Liar.