Guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Programme 2007, Samuel Fischer Guest Professorship for Literature 2014–2015
Her grandmother spoke Yiddish. Since the language of the Eastern European Jews is very similar to German, and since Cécile Wajsbrot wanted to understand her grandmother better, the young French girl learnt German at school. However, for a long time with conflicting feelings. For her, it was the language of the Nazis, those who had brought her family death and suffering. Today, she speaks fluent German and lives alternately in Paris and Berlin. In 2007, the writer spent a year in Berlin as a guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin programme.
History speaks to us from the streets of Berlin.
Cécile Wajsbrot’s life as well as her works are characterised by the painful examination of her family history. She was born in Paris in 1954, to where her Polish grandparents had already migrated in the early 1930s. After the Nazis occupied the French capital in 1940, her grandfather was deported to a camp a year later and was then murdered in Auschwitz. Cécile Wajsbrot’s grandmother and her mother, who was just 10 at the time, survived by hiding here and there. Her father, also a Polish émigré, and his family fell victim to the Nazis as well.
Cécile Wajsbrot read comparative literature, spent eight years working as a French teacher at a grammar school, and then took on a post as a literary editor for newspapers and radio stations. She published her first novel Une vie à soi in 1982 and many others since then, in which she above all deals with the grave consequences of the Nazi past for her generation. In her novel Memorial (2008) a young woman travels from Paris to Poland to search for traces of her family. “My parents only rarely spoke about their origins and the persecution during the Nazi regime,” remembers Cécile Wajsbrot. “But for us, the second generation, the past continues to exist.”
She was only able to approach Berlin – which had long meant the capital of the Third Reich for her – after the fall of the Wall. But when she did come to the German capital, it was all the more intensive. In 2000, she wrote her Berlin novel Caspar-Friedrich-Straße during a several-week-long stay there. In the novel, which was translated into English as Casper Friedrich Street (2002), she examines the city’s past and present. In 2012, her novel Die Köpfe der Hydra (Hydra Heads) was published in German by a Berlin publisher. Cécile Wajsbrot explains her fascination for Berlin as follows: While she missed the visible preoccupation with the Nazi Era in Paris, she encounters it everywhere in Berlin. “Whether memorials, commemorative plaques, or Stolpersteine (memorial stones embedded in city streets to commemorate those deported and killed by the Nazis) – history speaks to us everywhere from the streets of Berlin.”