Vortrag: The Refugee’s Trauma. Reflections on North- and South Vietnamese in East- and West Germany

15.12.2016 | 18:00 - 20:00

Tam Ngo und Peter van der Veer (MPI MMG): “The Refugee’s Trauma. Reflections on North- and South Vietnamese in East- and West Germany”


In “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759), Adam Smith observed that what made us moral beings was the imaginative capacity to “place ourselves in his (the other’s) situation . . . and become in some measure the same person with him, and thence form some idea of his sensations, and even feel something which, though weaker in degree, is not altogether unlike them.” Empathy or ‘Einfühlung’, however, is not a given, but structured according to narratives of connection. Narratives are supported by metaphors, symbols, and crucially images that are globally spread and received. In this paper we explore the narrativization of refugees, and asylum in Germany in the case of the mass exodus of Vietnamese in 1979 and subsequent years. Crucial in the narrative legitimation of admitting 40.000 Vietnamese in Western Germany is the Cold War context. This is illustrated by the simultaneous recruitment of Vietnamese contract laborers by the DDR, the German Democratic Republic. The largest number of contract laborers in the DDR was Vietnamese, amounting to 60.000 in 1989. The paper also examines the aftermath of asylum and contract labor in the encounter of North- and South Vietnamese in unified Germany. Finally, it will make some comparative remarks about the Vietnamese refugee crisis in the 1980s and the Syrian refugee crisis today.


Peter van der Veer is Director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity at Göttingen.

Tam Ngo is a Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity at Göttingen.

Zeit & Ort

15.12.2016 | 18:00 - 20:00

Raum J 27/14
Habelschwerdter Allee 45
14195 Berlin