Exchanging Glances

by Christa Wolf
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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 233

‘‘Exchanging Glances’’, or ‘‘Blickwechsel,’’ as it is known in the original German, was first published in Germany in 1974 in a collection titled Gesammelte Erzahlungen. The story appeared in English translation in 1993 in a collection named after and including Christa Wolf’s most controversial novella, What Remains and Other Stories. In ‘‘Exchanging Glances,’’ Wolf began to explore her memories of her childhood and the effects that World War II had on her and her view of the world.

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The story’s German perspective is unique for most American and western European readers. The events that the narrator recalls in the story take place in the closing days of World War II when Hitler’s regime was collapsing and Russia’s Red Army was marching through what is now Poland, where Wolf and her family had lived. She recounts watching American planes strafe the ragged columns of German families attempting to move to safety; hearing the news of Hitler’s death; and watching Polish hired men abandon their oxcarts and turn back the other way. But the most chilling of all her memories, and the moment that gives the story its title, is the encounter the fleeing families have with liberated survivors of concentration camps. Wolf’s courageous portrayal of the complex emotions of the moment—and the memory—explains why she is regarded as one of the most important German writers of her generation.

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