Dieter Forte’s Der Junge mit den blutigen Schuhen/The Boy with the Bloody Shoes (1995) and Martin Walser’s Ein springender Brunnen/A Springing Fountain (1998) are novels of childhood, written for adult readers, that approach the German National Socialist past from profoundly different political perspectives. The two novels nonetheless share a good deal of common ground as regards the centrality of childhood to their narrative strategies. Both texts are autobiographically infl ected novels that describe childhood during the National Socialist period, and each has as its setting the Heimat or place of origin of its author. For Forte this is the urban-industrial enclave of Düsseldorf-Oberbilk (referred to as “das Quartier,” or the neighborhood, throughout the text), and for Walser the village of Wasserburg, which lies on the shore of Lake Constance in the Baden-Württemberg region. Each novel features a young male protagonist (the unnamed boy in Forte’s text, Johann in Walser’s) whose experience of the regime and of the war is charted, and each novel seeks to represent National Socialism as in some way foreign or “other” to its central community. Forte thus represents the working-class neighborhood as radically resistant to the regime, in contrast to the farmers of the rural south, who are represented as fervently National Socialist and deeply hostile to the urban refugees. Conversely, Walser presents National Socialism as a state apparatus that arrives in Wasserburg from distant urban centers of power in the guise of minor civil servants and functionaries. Thus, although neither text
pursues an agenda of national exculpation as regards Germany’s Nazi past, both texts nonetheless pursue agendas of local exculpation in relation to the home regions of their authors. Furthermore, both texts produce constructions of Western culture, particularly literature, as capable of imparting powers of resistance to and immunity from National Socialist ideology to their child protagonists, so that a valorization of Western cultural canons accompanies the texts’ projects of local exculpation. This article traces the roles played by tropes of childhood and innocence in the authors’ projects of exculpation and valorization in relation to the German past.