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The Representation of Forced Migration in the Feature Films of the Federal Republic of Germany, German Democratic Republic, and Polish People’s Republic (1945–1970)


My dissertation investigates the cinematic representation of forced migration (due to the border changes enacted by the Yalta and Potsdam conferences in 1945) in East Germany, West Germany, and Poland, from 1945–1970. My thesis is that, while the representations of these forced migrations appear infrequently in feature film during this period, they not only exist, but perform an important function in the establishment of foundational national narratives in the audiovisual sphere. Rather than declare the existence of some sort of visual taboo, I determine, firstly, why these images appear infrequently; secondly, how and to what purpose(s) existing representations are mobilized; and, thirdly, their relationship to popular and official discourses. Furthermore, I articulate to what extent and in what way the experiences of “others” (e.g. Jews, Ukrainians, Soviets, etc.) are (or are not) integrated into these narratives of victimhood. To these ends, I conduct close analyses of ten films, focusing on those scenes that depict refugee treks and “repatriate” trains. Both as representations in a filmic narrative and as historical, real-world facts, the refugee trek and the repatriate train are specific subsets of what Mikhail Bakhtin calls the “chronotope of the road,” and function within a text as a representation of that real-world fact—indeed, many of the filmic representations clearly utilize documentary images for their own compositions. It is at the intersection of chronotope and photographic/filmic index, I argue, that the films negotiate between competing myths, politics, and collective memories with regard to the hotly contested topic of forced migration as a socio-political reality. By conducting close readings of the films and by situating the films and their chronotopic representations of forced migration in the historical, political, and social contexts that generated them, I am able to articulate the function of these scenes, find potential explanations for their paucity in pre-1970 cinema, and express to what extent they contribute to what Cornelia Brink calls the “soziales Bildged�chtnis” (“social image memory”) of these forced migrations in German and Polish contexts.

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