International Workshop in Leipzig
21 Oct 2019 – 22 Oct 2019

»Sprachhandeln«. Reflexionen über die deutsche Sprache nach dem Holocaust

Venue: Leibniz-Institute for Jewish History and Culture – Simon Dubnow (DI), Goldschmidtstr. 28, 04103 Leipzig, Seminarraum
Contact: and registration (until 14 Oct 2019): Nicolas Berg/Elisabeth Gallas (DI) +49 341 21735-50
Research project(s): Early Modes of Writing the Shoah

International Workshop in cooperation of Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture – Simon Dubnow (DI) and Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung (ZfL) within the framework of the DFG/ANR cooperation project »Early Modes of Writing the Shoah. Practices of Knowledge and Textual Practices of Jewish Survivors in Europe 1942–1965«
Concept: Nicolas Berg (DI), Elisabeth Gallas (DI), Aurélia Kalisky (ZfL)

The theory that the German language was not just an innocent vehicle instrumentalized for expressing national-socialist thought but rather enabled such thought in the first place, was nowhere as decisively formulated as in George Steiner’s text The Hollow Miracle (1959). In it, he asserts that »Nazism found in the [German] language precisely what it needed to give voice to its savagery […], an immense outpouring of precise, serviceable words.« The contamination of the German language with its lingering national-socialist jargon was, for Steiner, not merely a literary phenomenon but an inherently epistemological one. His essay, furthermore, can be seen in the tradition of similar interventions reaching back to the 1930’s. Many German Jews realized early on that the new linguistic reality not only represented the changed political reality but also preceded it.

After 1945, the focus on language and its ability to incite violence can be found in a remarkable number of contemporary cultural diagnoses, such as in the work of Victor Klemperer, Nachman Blumental, H. G. Adler, Joseph Wulf or that of Peter Weiss. Several literary criticism projects were begun to examine how the German language was instrumentalized by the Nazis. This generated an entire corpus of studies and dictionaries, constituting its own genre of historical analysis. In such studies, language is seen as an action, speech as an intentional act, and its preparatory influence on the practice of dictatorship, displacement and annihilation is examined. At the same time, though, language was and stayed the realm in which new terminologies were ventured for the experiences of Jewish communities under the Nazi regime, experiences which could no longer be adequately described with regular vocabulary.

The workshop centers on these Jewish scholars reflecting on the German language in the face of catastrophe. In this vein, literary criticism will be discussed in its significance as a tool for cultural diagnosis and in its potential for a historical reflection of the holocaust.


Program flyer

Monday, 21 Oct 2019

Arrival and registration


  • Jörg Deventer: Welcoming address
  • Nicolas Berg/Elisabeth Gallas/Aurélia Kalisky: Introduction

14.30 Literarische Reflexionen zur Sprache
Chair: Nicolas Berg

  • Stephan Braese: »Sprachlos ist das Schicksal der Dichter«. Fünf Antworten auf George Steiner
  • Mona Körte: »Meine Sprache ist eine, die zu Fremdwörtern neigt«. Zur Ökonomie von Reden und Schweigen in Ilse Aichingers Kurzprosa

17.00 Public evening lecture
Introduction: Aurélia Kalisky

  • Jeremy Adler: Zur Philologie des Bösen. Sprachkritik als Widerstand
    Ort: Literaturhaus Leipzig, Gerichtsweg 28, 04103 Leipzig


Tuesday, 22 Oct 2019

09.30 Vokabularien der Gewalt
Chair: Annette Wolf

  • Arvi Sepp: Sprachgewalt: Victor Klemperers Reflexionen zum verletzenden Sprechen im Nationalsozialismus
  • Katrin Stoll: Der Doppelcharakter »unschuldiger Worte«. Nachman Blumentals Wörterbuchprojekt der NS-Sprache

11.30 Sprachsoziologie und Sprachphilosophie
Chair: Magnus Klaue

  • Lynn L. Wolff: Continuity in Spite of the Catastrophe. H.G. Adler’s Relationship to and Reflections on the German Language
  • Hans-Joachim Hahn: Rausch, Rancune und »ambitiöse Transzendenz«. Adornos Reflexionen beschädigter Sprache

14.30 Das Deutsche im Spiegel der Sprachen
Chair: Elisabeth Gallas

  • Jenny Willner: Die Sprache des Autoritarismus. Kritische Perspektiven von Sándor Ferenczi bis George-Arthur Goldschmidt
  • Arndt Kremer: Brisante Sprache. Deutsch in Palästina und Israel

16.00 Concluding discussion

Media Response

23 Mar 2020
»Sprachhandeln«. Reflexionen über die deutsche Sprache nach dem Holocaust

Workshop review by Cornelia von Einem, in: H-Soz-Kult, 23 Mar 2020