Foreign Languages & Literatures ETDs

Publication Date



The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff on January 30th 1945 caused the death of nine thousand German refugees, the greatest number of deaths caused by a single sinking ship in maritime history. For a long time, this catastrophe was considered a forgotten' topic, due to the complicated nature of remembering German wartime suffering without simultaneously mitigating the horrific crimes committed by the Germans during the Holocaust. In light of the passing of the first generation of World War II eyewitnesses, the third generation in Germany is confronted with a unique situation. How will they simultaneously remember and retell their grandparents' stories of suffering, knowing full well that their grandparents were also involved in the crimes of National Socialism? In Tanja Dücker's novel Himmelskörper (2003) the pregnant protagonist Freia Sandmann, a third generation representative, sets out on a journey to uncover hidden family secrets. She attempts to find the answers to yet unanswered questions regarding her mother's and grandmother's identity as women and mothers, before her own daughter is born. Freia becomes increasingly aware that memory and gender are interdependent in complex ways. As Freia uncovers the secret of her mother's and grandmother's flight from Gotenhafen and how they managed to escape the fate of nine thousand other German refugees on the Wilhelm Gustloff, she also uncovers evidence exposing her grandparents as Nazis with strong ties to the NS party. In Himmelskörper Dückers demonstrates how to remember German wartime suffering without lessoning German wartime crimes, while simultaneously articulating the extent to which specific gender roles are embedded in stories told by one generation to the next.


memory, gender, Familienroman, Erinnerung

Document Type




Degree Name

German Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures

First Advisor

Baackmann, Susanne

First Committee Member (Chair)

Schröter, Katrin

Second Committee Member

Wilby, Jason