Where have you been adam

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Where have you been adam is a 1951 novel by Heinrich Böll . An omniscient narrator describes episodes of events in the autumn of 1944 on the southern section of the Eastern Front . The ravages of World War II are brought together in an increasingly oppressive atmosphere. The war is interpreted as a contagious disease, as an alibi for people to absolve themselves of responsibility for their actions. Despite all the grotesque absurdity, the figure of the Jewish- born Catholic Ilona refers to an alternative, the reflection on God.


The author prefixed this work with two mottos . The first comes from the day and night books of the Catholic existentialist Theodor Haecker : “A world catastrophe can serve many things. Also to find an alibi before God. Where have you been adam 'I was in World War I'. "

The second motto quotes Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's flight to Arras : “War is a disease. Like typhus. "


Nine, loosely connected chapters combine to form a collage of impressions and create a harrowing picture of the destruction caused by the war machine. The stories of various characters are told who cross the path of First Lieutenant Adam Feinhals directly or indirectly. Superiors, other soldiers, an old Slovak landlady who saw the Germans advancing and experienced their retreat, the Jewish-Catholic Ilona, ​​whose path ends in a concentration camp : in this novel you are all victims of a never-ending process called World War .

Böll shows the inhumanity of this cumbersome war machine. The language reflects the general hopelessness: nature and people are tired, colorless and broken after the years of destruction. Eating and drinking become just as important information in the descriptions as the description of nature, the emptiness of which symbolizes the emptiness of the human spirit.

Apparently despite the events of the war and against their better judgment, the characters are looking for life and love here too. But Böll disappoints every hope and shows the absurdity of human life in war: Feinhals 'superior is killed by a dud during the surrender to the Russians, Ilona is brutally murdered, and Feinhals himself dies in the end on the threshold of his parents' house by a German grenade, the white flag of surrender becomes his shroud.

Unlike many other post-war novels, Böll is not shaken by brutality or individual human crimes. The effect of the novel draws on the breadth of the many representations. Through the constant repetition of hopelessness and death, the reader goes through a process that produces a similar blunting as Böll shows in the person of the soldier Feinhals.


The first chapter begins by describing the mood of the soldiers who are to fight a battle. Feinhals and his mood while marching are described in great detail. The battle is lost, the survivors find themselves in the hospital. The colonel is injured and only calls out “champagne - cool champagne” or “a woman - a little woman”.

The second chapter begins where the first ended: in the infirmary. But it is told from the point of view of the injured colonel, whose name is now mentioned: Bressen. The reader now learns why he spoke of cool champagne and little women, as in the first chapter: he remembers his life, drinking champagne with a friend or smoking cigars. He looks at the pictures hanging on the walls.

The third chapter is one of the longest in the book. The central characters are Sergeant Alois Schneider and Hauptmann Bauer, who appeared in the first chapter. Alois Schneider's portrayal primarily describes the daily routine in the hospital. For example the regular appearance of the Hungarian Szarka, who brings vegetables and fruit for the camp. An important figure is Hauptmann Bauer, whose life after a motorcycle accident is limited to repeating the word “Bjeljogorsche” (he repeats this word every 50 seconds). He is also on trial for self-mutilation for not wearing his helmet while driving. The hospital where everyone is now is evacuated on orders because the enemy is rapidly approaching. When the Russian tanks stop in front of the hospital, Sergeant Alois Schneider lifts a white flag with the red cross and slowly approaches the tanks. He accidentally steps on a dud that has been there for a long time. The Russian soldiers believe the explosion is a shot and shoot down the hospital. "Only later did they notice that not a single shot was fired from the other side."

The fourth chapter deals exclusively with the Greck figure. His fears and thoughts are described meticulously down to the smallest detail. Greck is stationed in the same hospital as Feinhals. (The hospital was changed between chapters three and four). Greck is now on vacation and is in a nearby town. He sold his pants to a Jew and is terrified of being caught for it. He returns to the camp.

The fifth chapter is again about Feinhals. He falls in love with the Jewish teacher Ilona. But they cannot stay together because Feinhals receives a marching order and Ilona wants to see her family again in the ghetto at all costs. They separate without swapping addresses. Feinhals is picked up by a red moving van that is supposed to take him and other soldiers to the front.

In the sixth chapter the red moving van drops Feinhals, Greck, Finck and the other soldiers in a village to fight a battle there. Finck dies because he carried a suitcase full of wine bottles with him. Dr. Greck suffers terrible pain because of his stomach disease, which was mentioned in the fourth chapter. But he is released from his suffering when a barn roof, hit by a bullet and collapsing, buries him.

The seventh chapter is one of the longest and most important chapters in the book. Ilona is deported to a concentration camp with other Jews in a green moving van. Obersturmführer Filskeit is in command there. This is also one of the characters most accurately described in the book. Filskeit is a staunch racist. He has a crush on two things: the racial idea and the mixed choir. Upon arrival at the camp, the prisoners are sorted according to criteria of their ability to sing, either they are assigned to the “camp choir” or murdered directly. Ilona also has to audition and sings a Catholic song in Latin. Filskeit cannot bear the thought that a Jewish woman could be Catholic, could sing so well and, moreover, did not seem to fit into the racial ideology in her appearance. "He shot his entire magazine at the woman who was lying on the floor and vomited her fear in agony ..." Filskeit gives the order to kill all Jews in the camp, and "the butchery began outside."

In the eighth chapter the pointlessness of the war is shown most clearly. Feinhals was transferred to Slovakia, on the border with Poland, to help build a bridge there as an architect that was previously blown up by partisans. It is told from the point of view of Ms. Susan, who owns a restaurant near the bridge. She watches the soldiers and notices that they don't do anything constructive all day long and that they get a fortune for it. The bridge is being rebuilt with great effort and in the shortest possible time, only to be blown up again immediately after its completion, because the Russians are moving closer. This example is the clearest way for Böll to make the war seem senseless and ridiculous. In order to be absolutely sure that the reader does not discover a point in rebuilding and blowing up the bridge, the story is not told from the perspective of a soldier, but from that of an outsider who sees things as they are without any distortion.

In the final chapter, Feinhals returns to his hometown. The Americans shelled it upon his arrival. He stops at Finck Weinstuben and Hotel . He sees the general he met in the first chapter. He has now been captured by the Americans. Feinhals notices that he is now much happier and livelier than before. Finally, Feinhals dies “on the threshold of his house” from a direct shell hit, the last of 7 counted shots that the German artillery gun fires every day. His body is covered by the white flag on his parents' house.

Contemporary reception

The news magazine "Der Spiegel" (edition of January 9, 1952) announced the novel to its readers as "the most vivid war book from a German pen", and the critic Hans Schwab-Felisch attested to the first published novel by the then largely unknown author " in parts real poetic greatness "(" The Month ", March 1952, p. 648). Konrad Stemmer wrote in the "Neue Zeitung" (No. 295, December 15/16, 1951): "For the first time a young German writer has drawn a picture of the last war here, as it was with this relentlessness and just as much realism as art understanding has not yet happened. "

The novel was criticized for the fact that Böll only thematizes war and its horror; the specifically National Socialist crimes of the Holocaust would only be touched upon: the description of an execution in a concentration camp and a transport of Jews underlined the inhumanity of the war machine rather than that Böll was referring to the SS's extermination program. The novel reads more than a pacifist appeal against war in general.


  • First printing: Friedrich Middelhauve, Opladen 1951
  • Paperback edition: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne / Berlin 1954 (reviewed and edited by Böll; the most reliable text to this day, but no longer available).
  • Ullstein Taschenbücher-Verlag, Ullstein Book No. 84, 1957.
  • dtv paperback edition (the most reliable of the editions currently available).
  • Volume 5 of the Cologne Böll edition, Kiepenheuer & Witsch 2004. This edition of Where were you, Adam? According to Werner Bellmann, it has text errors and editing interventions. He counted around 50 errors and came to the conclusion: “This edition is not quotable.” Cf. Bellmann's critical contribution in Wirkendes Wort . 57, 2007.



  • Alfred Andersch: Christ does not give a vacation. In: Frankfurter Hefte. 6, No. 12, 1951, pp. 939-941.
  • Wolfgang Bächler: War is a disease. In: Darmstädter Echo. July 18, 1952.
  • Heinz Beckmann: Heinrich Böll's flares. In: Rheinischer Merkur. (Koblenz / Bonn). 7th vol., No. 30, July 24, 1952, p. 9.
  • Helmut M. Braem: Where have you been, Adam? Heinrich Böll's first novel. In: Stuttgarter Zeitung. December 8, 1951.
  • Ingeborg Hartmann: The landscape of the war. In: The time. No. 47, November 22, 1951.
  • Fred Hepp: War books and no end. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung. 8th year, No. 4, 5./6. January 1952, p. 18.
  • Herbert Nette: Panorama of the war. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. No. 263, November 10, 1951, p. 13.
  • Peter E. Pechel: War as an acting power. In: Deutsche Rundschau. (Stuttgart). Volume 78, Issue 8, 1952, pp. 874 f
  • Georg Ramseger: Where have you been, Adam? In: The world. (Berlin-West edition; Essen). No. 287, December 8, 1951, p. 17.

Research literature

  • Klaus Jeziorkowski: Heinrich Böll: "Where have you been, Adam?" (1951). In: Paul Michael Lützeler (ed.): German novels of the 20th century. New interpretations. Athenaeum, Königstein / Ts. 1983, pp. 273-283.
  • Alan Bance: Heinrich Böll's "Where were you, Adam?": National Identity and German War Writing - Reunification as the Return of the Repressed? In: Forum for Modern Language Studies. 29, 1993, pp. 311-322.
  • Beate Schnepp: The architecture of the novel. On the composition of Heinrich Böll's "Where were you, Adam?". In: Werner Bellmann (ed.): The work of Heinrich Böll. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1995, pp. 109-123.
  • JH Reid: "Where have you been, Adam?". In: Werner Bellmann (Ed.): Heinrich Böll. Novels and short stories. Interpretations. Reclam, Stuttgart 2000, pp. 53-69.
  • Werner Bellmann: Critical comments and testimonials to Heinrich Böll's novel "Where were you, Adam?" In: active word. 57, Issue 1, 2007, pp. 19-29.
  • Heinrich Böll: "Where have you been, Adam?". In: Heinz Ludwig Arnold (Hrsg.): Kindlers Literatur Lexikon . Volume 2: Bal-Bot. JB Metzler, Weimar 2009, ISBN 978-3-476-04000-8 , pp. 732-733.
  • Norman Ächtler: ' Elimination of interference' and dispositive - discourse- analytical considerations on the depiction of war crimes in the literary system of the early Federal Republic. In: Carsten Gansel / Norman Ächtler (ed.): The 'principle of disturbance' in the humanities and social sciences. DeGruyter, Berlin / Boston 2013, pp. 57–81.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Michael Bengel: Show of strength with weak points . In: Kölner Stadtanzeiger . November 16, 2010.