115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Transnational Memories in Vladimir Vertlib’s play ÜBERALL NIRGENDS lauert die Zukunft

Petra Fiero, Western Washington University

By juxtaposing the transnational voices of Muslim and Christian asylum seekers in a transit camp, and a Jewish Shoah-survivor who was housed in this same erstwhile DP camp, with those of overwhelmed politicians and right-wing nationals, Vertlib’s play about the refugee crisis of 2015 challenges notions of a univocal representation of the past. 

Proposal: 

Austrian writer Vladimir Vertlib’s statement that literature by migrant authors is not to be looked upon as a mere enrichment of mainstream literature produced by national authors, but on the contrary, as one that actually is necessary to constitute normalcy points to the self-confidence of authors of a migratory background tired of being marginalized and categorized as exotic outsiders. Throughout Vertlib’s work he includes transnational memories of his characters, often Russian-Jewish migrants or German Jews of different generations that challenge notions of a stable cultural memory. In Das besondere Gedächtnis der Rosa Masur, e.g. he deliberately adds an episode about the siege of Leningrad to draw the attention of the German audience to this event, which has been suppressed in national memory.

His latest highly topical play ÜBERALL NIRGENDS lauert die Zukunft (2016) about the refugee crisis of 2015, takes place in both the town hall and a refugee camp in a city deliberately placed somewhere in Germany or Austria. The refugees, who hail from a multitude of countries and consist of persecuted Christians and Muslims, are thrown together in this place after their horrendous experiences just getting to Europe. In flashbacks, the “choir of refugees” tells of their perilous journeys, only to find themselves shunned and unwanted upon arrival. Outside, right-wing national demonstrators modelled on the Pegida movement are clamoring for a nation free of these invaders, who they would love to deport in busses or trains to rid themselves of the problem. The overwhelmed mayor, who sways between being a hard liner and feelings of empathy, instrumentalizes the refugees for her transcultural PR-events to polish her image. Refugee workers manipulate the emotions of those who they are supposed to assist to their own selfish goals. Enter the Shoah-survivor David, who has been in this very camp when he was a displaced person after World War II and where he lost his lover Hanna, who died of starvation and weakness. He emigrated to Israel and returns to fulfill his lover’s last utopian wish to be buried in Israel once the conflicts between the Jews and the Palestinians are resolved. Hanna’s poetic voice from beyond the grave can be heard throughout the play reciting poems, among them one of the Persian poet Rumi, dealing with loss, separation and suffering. David and Ibrahim, a Syrian professor, recognize that despite their differences and prejudices they share a common fate. The refugees of today meet those of yesterday and Vertlib draws poignant parallels between the two groups, reminding the audience of the all too often forgotten National Socialist past. Unstable cultural memories indeed! Finally, by recruiting actors who are asylum seekers in real life and having them collaborate with established Austrian and German actors, Vertlib’s latest project ensures not only that suppressed voices are heard on stage, but also that a much needed dialogue between Christians, Muslims and Jews be initiated beyond the confines of the theater.