Refiguring Authenticity in Irina Liebmann’s Biography Wäre es schön? Es wäre schön! Mein Vater Rudolf Herrnstadt

Michele Ricci Bell


This article analyzes Irina Liebmann’s 2008 biography as it reframes the life of her father, Rudolf Herrnstadt, GDR pressman and politician. Although a departure from fictionalized treatments of his life, this biography nonetheless makes great use of the novelist’s tools to heighten our understanding of Herrnstadt. Specifically, I suggest that underlying formal and thematic approaches common to Wäre es schön? and post-Holocaust literature is a shared concern for exploring notions of authenticity in historical retelling. The generational divide that demands the meticulous, critical treatment of an individual’s past simultaneously elicits questions unexplorable with authenticating facts alone. This alternative kind of authenticity admits to the value of traces that may be inconsistent with long-proclaimed truths, and to the mediated quality of evidence. This form of authenticity supports Liebmann in her quest to characterize her father’s story in terms of the world as she—both daughter and interlocutor— understands it. (MRB)

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