“Only Those Who Look Back, Move Forward”: Four Literary Responses to Genocidal Trauma in Greek and Transnational Prose


  • Tessa Hofmann


In my contribution, I introduce four authors of different generations and languages, but all of Greek origin: Elias Venezis, Dido Sotiriou, Jeffrey Eugenides and Aris Fioretos. Both the works of expelled authors from Asia Minor and of their transnational, postmodern descendants are remarkably free of revanchist clichés or the stereotypical ‘othering’ of Turks or Muslims. While Venezis points to the irritating ‘genocidal corruption’ and dehumanization within the victim group, Sotiriou puts the political responsibility for the ‘Catastrophe’ on Germany and the Entente, depicting Asia Minor as the homeland of Greeks and Turks. Eu genides chooses intersexuality as a metaphor of modernity and hybridity of (Greek and other) immigrant communities, whereas Fioretos is interested in flowing, flexible identities and the intersection of past and present that expresses itself in a non-linear narrative, where everybody and everything is related to others.
In my native German language, fiction is called ‘Dichtung’, a noun that means ‘closely compacted in substance’. In historically based prose, fiction can be defined as condensed reality. The literary ways of condensing reality depend on many factors, but mainly on the talent and intent of the author, on the time of publication and, of course, on the object depicted as well as on the intended functions of a literary work. If genocide as the ultimate crime becomes a literary object, the intentions are multiple, oscillating between documentation, accusation, interpretation and reflection. Literature on genocide may even substitute public discourse. When genocide survivors write about their experiences, literature serves as a ‘means of survival’ (‘Überlebensmittel’), as the German Jewish author and Holocaust survivor Edgar Hilsenrath accurately named this particular type of prose. For survivors, it seems easier to write about genocide as the unspeakable than to discuss it.

Author Biography

Tessa Hofmann

Dr. phil., Magistra Artium, Professor h.c., has studied Slavonic literatures and languages, Armenology, and sociology. From 1983-March 2015 she worked at the Institute for Eastern European Studies at Freie Universität Berlin and is now an independent scholar and author with numerous books and articles in Armenian studies on history, culture, and current affairs and genocide/minority studies on the Ottoman genocide against Christians since 1979.


Tessa Hofmann, “Γενοκτονία έν Ροή – Cumulative Genocide: The Massacres and Deportations of the Greek Population of the Ottoman Empire (1912-1923),” in The Genocide of the Ottoman Greeks: Studies on the State-Sponsored Campaign of Extermination of the Christians of Asia Minor (1912-1922) and Its Aftermath: History, Law, Memory, ed. Tessa Hofmann, Matthias Björnlund, Vasileios Meichanetsidis, (New York, Athens: Aristide D. Caratzas, 2011), 100f.

Sue Vice, Holocaust Fiction (London; New York: Routledge, 2000), 93-94.

Speros Vryonis, “Greek Labour Battalions in Asia Minor,” in The Armenian Genocide: Cultural and Ethical Legacies, ed. Richard Hovannisian (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2007), 282.

Elias Venesis [i.e. Venezis], Nr. 31328; Leidensweg in Anatolien (Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 1969), 60-62; translated from Ger man by Tessa Hofmann.


Tadeusz Borowski, U nas w Auschwitzu (Here in Auschwitz), 1946.

Tadeusz Borowski, Pożegnanie z Marią (Farewell to Maria), 1947.

Kamienny świat (A World of Stone), 1948.

Tadeusz Borowski, Proszę Państwa do gazu (This way for the gas, Ladies and Gentlemen), 1949.

Tadeusz Borowski, “Proszę Państwa do gazu” (New York: Penguin Group, 1967; 1976)

Tadeusz Borowski, Die steinerne Welt. Erzählungen (München: R. Piper, 1963), 132.

Vangelis Calotychos, The Balkan Prospect. Identity, Culture, and Politics in Greece a er 1989 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 154.

Dido Sotiriou, Farewell, Anatolia, trans. by Fred. A. Reed (Athens: Kedros, 1991), 61.

Iraklis Millas, “Tourkokratia: History and Image of the Turk in Greek Literature,” in When Greeks Think About Turks: A View from Anthropology, ed. Dimitrios Theodossopoulos (London, New York: Routledge, 2013), 54.

Michael Llewellyn Smith, Ionian Vision. Greece in Asia Minor, 1919-1922 (London: St. Martin’s Press, 1973; with extensive bibliography: Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1998).

Doctoral dissertation of Victoria Solomonides, The Greek Administration of the Vilayet of Aidin 1919-1922 (London: King’s College, University of London, 1984).

Giles Milton, Paradise Lost. Smyrna 1922 (New York: Basic Books, 2008).

Edward Hale Bierstadt, The Great Betrayal. Economic Imperialism & and the Destruction of Christian Communities in Asia Minor (New York: Robert M. McBride & Co., 1924; Reprint: Bloomingdale: The Pontian Greek Society of Chicago, 2008).

Otto Liman von Sanders, Fünf Jahre in der Türkei [Five years in Turkey] (Berlin 1920), 70.

Jürgen Gottschlich, Beihilfe zum Völkermord. Deutschlands Rolle bei der Vernichtung der Armenier (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 2015), 104f., 107-110, 120-123.

Lydia Papadimitriou, “Book Review: The Balkan Prospect: Identity, Culture and Politics in Greece after 1989, Vangelis Calotychos (2013), New York: Palgrave Macmillan”, Journal of Greek Media & Culture, 2014, 1:1, 167.

Aris Fioretos, Der letzte Grieche; Roman (München: Carl Hanser Verlag, 2011), 70. The novel first appeared in Swedish (2009).

Dimitris Tsiovas (ed.), Greek Diaspora and Migration since 1700: Society, Politics and Culture (Farnham, Sur rey; Burlington: Ashgate, 2009).

Anika Götje, “Ethnicity and Ethnic Identity in Jeffrey Eugenides’ ‘Middlesex’.” (MA Thesis, Universität Hannover, 2005), 4ff.

Arne De Boever, States of Exception in the Contemporary Novel: Martel, Eugenides, Coetzee, Sebald (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012), 54.

Sophie Coavoux, Greek Diaspora and Hybrid Identities: Transnational and Transgender Perspectives in Two novels: Loaded, by Christos Tsiolkas (Australia) and Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides (USA) “Transtext(e)s Transcultures: Journal of Global Transcultural Studies”, 7, 2012, http://transtexts.revues.org/451

Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2002), 42.

Huberta von Voss, Portrait of Hope: Armenians in the Contemporary World (New York: Berghahn Books, 2007), 88-92, (Chapter 10: The Ashes of Smyrna: Marjorie Housepian Dobkin, Writer (New York)).

Dora Sakayan, An Armenian Doctor in Turkey: Garabed Hatcherian: My Smyrna Ordeal of 1922” (Montreal: Arod Books, 1997).

Lou Ureneck, The Great Fire: One American’s Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century’s First Genocide (Ecco, 2015).

Lou Ureneck, Smyrna, September 1922: The American Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century’s First Genocide (2016).




How to Cite

Hofmann, T. (2015). “Only Those Who Look Back, Move Forward”: Four Literary Responses to Genocidal Trauma in Greek and Transnational Prose. International Journal of Armenian Genocide Studies, 2(1), 18–37. Retrieved from http://agmipublications.am/index.php/ijags/article/view/19