In selecting Herta Müller for the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature, the Nobel Committee chose someone many Americans had not heard of. The New York Times found that many New York booksellers were caught unprepared as they hoped to set up displays for the Nobel Prize Winner. So who is Herta Müller? According to the Nobel website, while shaped by German heritage, like so many, her writing expresses her emotions about her absence from Germany.
“Her parents were members of the German-speaking minority in Romania. Her father had served in the Waffen SS during World War II. Many German Romanians were deported to the Soviet Union in 1945, including Müller’s mother who spent five years in a work camp in present-day Ukraine. Many years later, in Atemschaukel (2009), Müller was to depict the exile of the German Romanians in the Soviet Union.
The German network Das Erste conducted an interview with Herta Müller.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama’s surprise win evoked another precedent for the Nobel Committee. In an interview with the New York Times Thorbjorn Jagland, chair of the Nobel panel, brought up the comparison with German chancellor getting the Nobel Prize in in 1971:
“He likened this year’s award to the one in 1971, which recognized Willy Brandt, the chancellor of West Germany, and his “Ostpolitik” policy of reconciliation with Communist Eastern Europe.
“Brandt hadn’t achieved much when he got the prize, but a process had started that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall,” Mr. Jagland said.”
One famous symbolic gesture of Brandt, a social democrat, was his “Kniefall von Warschau”, the Warsaw Genuflection, where the chancellor knelt in front of the Warsaw Ghetto where the uprising against the Nazi power had taken place, in an effort to thaw relations with Poland and the Eastern bloc. Obama himself made reference to the successful conclusion of this process in his speech in Berlin last summer.
For more on this, and to practice your German, check out this clip from the well-known German documentary series 100 Jahre – Der Countdown.
A film clip about Brandt’s meaningful visit to Warsaw is here.