German expat Krug struggles to reconcile her longing for her home country with guilt over its Nazi history in Belonging (Scribner, Oct.) a family scrapbook–styled graphic memoir.
Did you begin researching your family’s history knowing that you wanted to create a book?
I had been doing short visual biographies about people who experienced war—a kamikaze pilot, an American soldier stationed in Korea. I was interested in people who aren’t perpetrators or heroes. I realized that I was intrigued by this topic because I’m German.
How did you arrive at the combination of comics, source documents, realistic illustrations, and essays?
I avoided drawing myself in the entire book, because I didn’t want a repetition in word and image, and I wanted to move away from the traditional graphic novel format of speech bubbles and panels. I thought about how we construct war in terms of memory.
People say that Germany is a model of reconciliation. Do you find that to be true?
Vergangenheitsbewältigung is one of those long German words that describes trying to come to terms with a negative past, but I don’t think it’s a process that should end. Reconciliation is a tricky concept, because it implies that you can ask to be forgiven. It would be very arrogant to ask for forgiveness. I don’t want to make it appear as if Germans were victims. The dialogue needs to continue, especially now that the perpetrators and victims are dying.
The “notebook of a homesick émigré” sections describe uniquely German objects and traditions—what do they mean to you?
That section was a way for me to reconnect, while also showing the problems of identification. A lot of those images have been misappropriated by Nazis, like walks in the forest and folk songs. The Nazis tried to ban Jews from what they termed a “German” forest.
At the end of Belonging, you write about being pregnant. What are you telling your child about her heritage?
I hope the younger generation of Germans, including my daughter, don’t grow up with the paralyzing sense of guilt that I did, because that can turn into the opposite sentiment: “I’m sick and tired of feeling guilty.” I want them to find something more productive, so they can think about how to contribute to society today.
In Germany, and in the other foreign editions, the book is published with the title Heimat [which translates roughly to “homeland”], and I had a long conversation with the publisher about it, because the term has been claimed by the right and the Nazis. We wanted to say we have the right to love our Heimat too, and we want to keep talking about the Holocaust.