gle against a in the Strug e Dram A German Exil Fascism John J. White and Ann White Bertolt Brecht’s Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches Studies in German Literature, Linguistics, and Culture Bertolt Brecht’s Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches A German Exile Drama in the Struggle against Fascism John J. White and Ann White Rochester, New York Copyright © 2010 John J. White and Ann White All Rights Reserved.
Except as permitted under current legislation, no part of this work may be photocopied, stored in a retrieval system, published, performed in public, adapted, broadcast, transmitted, recorded, or reproduced in any form or by any means, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. First published 2010 by Camden House Camden House is an imprint of Boydell & Brewer Inc. 668 Mt. Hope Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620, USA www. camden-house. om and of Boydell & Brewer Limited PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 3DF, UK www. boydellandbrewer. com ISBN-13: 978-1-57113-373-1 ISBN-10: 1-57113-373-9 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data White, John J. , 1940– Bertolt Brecht’s Furcht und elend des dritten reiches: a German exile drama in the struggle against fascism / John J. White and Ann White. p. cm. — (Studies in German literature, linguistics, and culture) Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13: 978-1-57113-373-1 (acid-free paper) ISBN-10: 1-57113-373-9 (acid-free paper) 1. Brecht, Bertolt, 1898–1956. Furcht und Elend des III. Reiches. I. White, Ann. II. Title. III. Series. PT2603. R397F839 2010 832’. 912—dc22 2010004401 A catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library. This publication is printed on acid-free paper. Printed in the United States of America. Contents
Acknowledgments Textual Note Abbreviations of Works Frequently Cited 1: The Historical Context of the Furcht und Elend Project 2: Brecht and Fascism 3: Fear and Misery in Brecht’s Depiction of Third Reich Germany 4: “Der Widerstand, und zwar der wachsende Widerstand”: Brecht’s Dramatized Typology of Forms of Opposition 5: Songs, Poems, and Other Commenting Devices in Furcht und Elend and The Private Life of the Master Race 6: Epic Structure, Alienation Effects, and Aristotelian Theater Concluding Remarks Appendix A: Furcht und Elend Scene Titles and their English Equivalents Appendix B: The First Four Verses of “Die deutsche Heerschau” in German and English Bibliography Index vii ix xi 1 29 70 103 147 180 222 231 232 235 253 Acknowledgments OME PARTS OF THE ARGUMENT in Chapters Four, Five, and Six of the present study are based on readings that have been published elsewhere in an earlier form. We are grateful to the Modern Humanities Research Association for permission to re-use material from “Bertolt Brecht’s Furcht und Elend des III. Reiches and the Moscow ‘Realism’ Controversy,” first published in The Modern Language Review in 2005.
A draft of Chapter Five was presented as a paper at the international conference “Bertolt Brecht: A Reassessment of His Work and Legacy,” held at the Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, School of Advanced Studies (University of London), in February 2006. We should like to thank Gerd Labroisse, editor of the Rodopi series Amsterdamer Beitrage zur Neueren Germanistik, for permission to use some sections of our London paper in the present volume. We also want to express our thanks to the following friends and colleagues for commenting on various versions of the present study and for other forms of help given during our work on the project: Robert Gillett (London), Michael Minden (Cambridge), Hamish Ritchie (Sheffield), Ritchie Robertson (Oxford), Ronald Speirs (Birmingham), Martin Swales (London), Alfred Trupat (Berlin), and Godela Weiss-Sussex (London).
We owe a special debt of gratitude to William Abbey, former librarian of the erstwhile Institute of Germanic Studies in the School of Advanced Studies, University of London. Bill, a scholar-librarian of the old school, was of inestimable help to us in our search for early versions of Furcht und Elend and material relating to Brecht’s exile antifascist work. He is the embodiment of the academic ethos of a specialist research library. We should also like to thank Camden House’s two expert readers, Stephen Brockmann (Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh) and Stephen Parker (University of Manchester), for their challenging queries, comments, and suggestions. We are much indebted to Edward Batchelder for his scrupulous copy editing, valuable observations, and assistance with presentation.
Particular thanks go, as always, to Jim Walker at Camden House for encouraging the present project and for the tireless patience with which he helped us nurse it through to completion. This book is dedicated to Jonathan White (London School of Economics) and Lea Ypi (Nuffield College, Oxford) for all the support and encouragement they gave us over the years. J. J. W. and A. W. March 2010 S Textual Note I quotations in German from Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches and references to individual parts of the play are to the version in the Gro? e kommentierte Berliner und Frankfurter Ausgabe (BFA 4:339–453). This standard thirty-volume scholarly edition is also our source when other material by Brecht is cited in the German original. The BFA text of the play, published in 1988 as Furcht und Elend des III.
Reiches, is that of a surviving Prague galley proof dating from 1938. The BFA corpus comprises twenty-seven scenes arranged in the sequence approved by Brecht for publication in Volume 3 of the aborted Malik-Verlag edition of his Gesammelte Werke. (Two further scenes, “Der Gefuhlsersatz” and “Moorsoldaten,” are contained in an appendix to the main corpus. ) Our decision to work with this source is, however, not unproblematic. Some scenes subsequently added to the ever-changing corpus do not appear here, nor does the expository information about the setting and date of each episode that was printed at the beginning of each scene in later versions.
Some scenes that formed part of the Malik Ur-version were dropped or replaced in subsequent editions. Those relegated to the BFA appendix are, unfortunately, made to appear less important, even though one of them was eventually integrated into the Aurora edition (New York, 1945) that superseded the planned Malik sequence. The Aurora edition became the textual basis for virtually all subsequent versions of Furcht und Elend, including those in the East and West German Suhrkamp editions of Brecht’s Gesammelte Stucke, upon which the Methuen translation (Fear and Misery of the Third Reich) is based. The order of scenes in the Aurora edition differs significantly from that in prior publications.
It represents the final text approved for publication by the playwright: the “Ausgabe letzter Hand. ” Nonetheless, in the chapters of our study that follow, pagination and indications of a scene’s position within the sequence refer to the version in BFA 4, which is now the standard edition of Brecht’s collected works, so far as Brecht scholarship is concerned. The notes to this edition, details of variants, and copious documentation of the work’s genesis and reception make it indispensable for anyone working on Brecht. Major differences in the order of scenes in other editions of Furcht und Elend have, where appropriate, been taken into account in our analyses.
Substantial reference will also be made to The Private Life of the Master Race, the first N THE FOLLOWING STUDY, x TEXTUAL NOTE English translation of some of the work’s principal scenes. Although never reprinted after 1944, this version remains crucial to an understanding of the complex evolution of Brecht’s Furcht und Elend project. In responding to our publisher’s request to supply, where we felt it was appropriate, English translations for passages from Brecht’s writings quoted in German, we have, whenever possible, cited the standard published English translations, using the abbreviations given in the list that follows. Where published translations are not available, we offer our own.
For reasons of space, we have not normally offered English translations in our footnotes, nor have we translated passages from secondary literature, historical sources, or the writings of other German exile literature cited in footnotes, unless we felt that these were vital to our readings. Note Titles of individual published works by Brecht that were not given, or approved, by him follow the BFA convention of indicating this by the use of square brackets. Abbreviations of Works Frequently Cited Aurora BAP Bertolt Brecht, Furcht und Elend des III. Reiches: 24 Szenen (New York: Aurora, 1945). Brecht on Art and Politics, ed. Tom Kuhn and Steve Giles, trans.
Laura Bradley, Steve Giles, and Tom Kuhn (London: Methuen, 2003). Die Bibliothek Bertolt Brechts: Ein kommentiertes Verzeichnis. Bearbeitet von Erdmut Wizisla, Helgrid Streidt, and Heidrun Loeper (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2007). Items by published catalogue number. Bertolt Brecht, Journals, 1934–1955, ed. John Willett, trans. Hugh Rorrison (London: Methuen, 1993). Bertolt Brecht, Letters, 1913–1956, ed. with commentary and notes by John Willett, trans. Ralph Manheim (London: Methuen, 1990). Bertolt Brecht, Poems, 1913–1956, ed. John Willett and Ralph Manheim, with the co-operation of Erich Fried (London: Eyre Methuen, 1978). Bertolt Brecht, Gro? e kommentierte Berliner und Frankfurter Ausgabe, ed.
Werner Hecht, Jan Knopf, Werner Mittenzwei, and Klaus-Detlef Muller, 30 vols. + Registerband (Berlin, Weimar: Aufbau and Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1988–2000). By volume and page number. Brecht-Handbuch in funf Banden, ed. Jan Knopf (Stuttgart, Weimar: Metzler, 2001–3). By volume and page number. Bertolt Brecht, The Messingkauf Dialogues, ed. and trans. John Willett (London: Methuen, 1965). Brecht on Theatre, ed. and trans. John Willett (London: Methuen, 1964). Bertolt Brecht, Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, ed. and introduced by John Willett and Tom Kuhn, trans. John Willett (London: Methuen, 2002). BBB BBJ BBL BBP BFA BHB BMD BT FM xii ABBREVIATIONS OF WORKS FREQUENTLY CITED GW Malik MEW
The Private Life Bertolt Brecht, Gesammelte Werke: Werkausgabe, ed. Suhrkamp Verlag in collaboration with Elisabeth Hauptmann, 20 vols. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1967). By volume and page number. Bertolt Brecht, Furcht und Elend des III. Reiches, galleyproof version (Prague: Malik-Verlag, 1938). First published in 1988 in BFA 4:339–455. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Werke, ed. Institut fur Marxismus-Leninismus beim ZK der SED (Berlin: Dietz, 1956–90). By volume and page number. Bertolt Brecht, The Private Life of the Master Race: A Documentary Play, trans. Eric Russell Bentley, assisted by Elisabeth Hauptmann (New York: New Directions, 1944). : The Historical Context of the Furcht und Elend Project MARCH 1938 to Wieland Herzfelde of the Malik-Verlag, an influential left-wing German publisher by then in exile in Prague, Bertolt Brecht made the first of a series of pleas for expediting the publication of his Gedichte im Exil (Poems Written in Exile) and a new play with the working-title Deutschland — Ein Greuelmarchen (Germany — an Atrocity Story). It was not by chance that one of these two literary exposes of the ugly reality of Hitler’s Third Reich was a cycle of mainly satirical poems and the other a series of dramatized illustrations of life during the first five years of National Socialist rule.
Satirical poetry and political drama were by this time the two genres Brecht tended to favor for his orchestrated campaign of attacks on the ruthless dictatorial regime that had driven numerous German writers and intellectuals into exile and was now threatening many of the country’s European neighbors. What made Brecht’s new antifascist play1 exceptional was the fact that the method of attack had now changed. Deutschland — Ein Greuelmarchen (later to bear the title Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches) was neither an austerely didactic play (Lehrstuck) in the manner of Brecht’s early political theater nor was it a piece of Epic Theater making its propaganda points via a series of often contrived “anti-illusionistic” illustrations.
In generic terms, it occupied a unique position among Brecht’s antifascist works by virtue of its subtle combination of documented source material, a series of fictive, yet plausibly realistic, incidents, and a framework designed to embrace both Epic and Aristotelian elements. Brecht’s letter to Slatan Dudow of 24 April 1938 modestly describes the entire project as “technically interesting” (BFA 29:90), which in many respects it most emphatically is. More importantly, however, Furcht und Elend’s unforgettable pictures of harsh life in Third Reich Germany and the play’s theatrical contribution to our RITING IN W 1 Brecht had already published two antifascist dramas in the 1930s: the parable play Die Rundkopfe und die Spitzkopfe (1932) and the Spanish Civil War play Die Gewehre der Frau Carrar (1937).
After Furcht und Elend, he went on to write further antifascist works, including the first version of Leben des Galilei (1939), Der Aufstieg des Arturo Ui (1941) and Schweyk (1943). He also collaborated on Fritz Lang’s film about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich: Hangmen Also Die (1943). 2 THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT understanding of what is nowadays called “Alltagsfaschismus” (everyday fascism) are a rare achievement among exile literature’s continuously proliferating depictions of the Hitler regime’s impact on Germany’s seventy million citizens, a population soon to rise to around eighty million as a result of various territorial plebiscites and annexations.
Although optimistically conceived with theater performance foremost in mind, Furcht und Elend more often than not tended to make its way into the public arena via the prepublication of a string of seemingly autonomous individual scenes. While initial dissemination of extracts from plays via literary journals and the substitution of Buchdrama for live performance were common enough phenomena during the exile years, this unavoidable feature of Furcht und Elend’s reception persisted well into postwar decades. 2 Brecht’s friend Walter Benjamin tried to make a virtue of the predicament, claiming that the play’s ingenious montage of powerful scenes could appeal to a reading public as much as to theater audiences,3 an assertion at odds with Brecht’s own position. Das Lesen der Stucke, die doch eigentlich immer Soufflierbucher sind,” Brecht once confessed to the painter George Grosz, “ist ungemein schwer” (BFA 28:484; It’s exceedingly difficult to read the plays, which are actually nothing more than prompt books: BBL 198). That is to say, he felt that the dialogue demanded more contextual support, visual detail, and stage presence than the printed page could usually offer. 4 As early as May 1933, Brecht had taken exception to his theater agent’s assumption that none of his plays was likely to be staged in the foreseeable future (BFA 28:358). Despite such a bleak prospect, his tireless devotion to the practicalities of staging Furcht und Elend and his other antifascist plays is well documented.
For example, he suggests in 1938, the year of Furcht und Elend’s premiere, that a series of short plays (“eine Reihe kleiner Stucke (zu zehn Minuten)”) could, together with Die Gewehre der Frau Carrar (Senora Carrar’s Rifles) make a full evening (BFA 29:36). Such a claim seems to have ignored the fact that one of the play’s main challenges was its overall length. 5 By 1938, the work was already becoming, on After attending a seminar for proletarian students at Leipzig University in January 1949, Brecht complained that young people only knew the book edition of Furcht und Elend (BFA 27:299). This was hardly surprising, given that both the Soviet Zone of Occupation and the later GDR authorities had little time for literary attempts at coming to terms with what they claimed was an exclusively West German problem. “Das Land, in dem das Proletariat nicht genannt werden darf: Zur Urauffuhrung von acht Einaktern Brechts” (Die Neue Weltbuhne, 30 June 1938). 4 In his letter to Herzfelde of March 1938, Brecht compromises by suggesting that the play was “ein gro? es Stuck [und] eigentlich auch ein Lesestuck” (BFA 29:79). 5 According to James K. Lyon, Bertolt Brecht in America (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980), 138, “virtually every reviewer of the American stage-adaptation faulted 2 THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT 3 Brecht’s admission, a project of enormous dimensions (BFA 29:88). Very few of the play’s scenes would take a mere ten minutes to perform. Not that the problem of burgeoning length ever deterred Brecht from continuing his energetic crusade on behalf of the project!
His correspondence for the first half of 1938 repeatedly displays a paternalistic concern with ensuring that Dudow, the Bulgarian director of the Paris production, got the German casting for the principal parts and other details right (BFA 29:86–87). Even throughout the darkest years of Scandinavian and American exile, Brecht’s journal entries and correspondence remain full of suggestions about ways in which Furcht und Elend might be staged, how the material could be bulked out or, if necessary, pruned. He unstintingly gave advice on which actors, music, and stage sets should be used, and how such an essentially “German” work might be repackaged to reach as large an audience and in as palatable a form as was possible under current exile conditions.
The Predicament of German Antifascist Writers: Agendas and Setbacks The following two passages from “Bericht uber die Stellung der Deutschen im Exil” (BFA 23:32–33; Report on the situation of Germans in exile), written when Brecht was contemplating staging and ultimately publishing The Private Life of the Master Race, sum up some of the feelings and the pressures under which such a work had been written, staged, and eventually brought to press: Die Deutschen im Exil sind wohl einstimmig in diesem Krieg fur die Niederlage Deutschlands. Sie bedauern jeden Sieg der deutschen Waffen, sie begru? en jeden Fehlschlag. Sie wissen, da? jeder Fehlschlag tausend deutscher Soldaten das Leben kostet, aber auch jeder Sieg kostet Tausenden deutscher Soldaten das Leben. [. . . ] Ein Sieg wurde die ganze bewohnte Welt in solchem Elend sehen, Deutschland naturlich eingeschlossen.
Dieses System blutiger Unterdruckung, hemmungsloser Profitiererei, volliger Unfreiheit wurde wie eine einzige ungeheure Dreckwelle alles verschlingen, was von den Volkern in Hunderten von Jahren mit solchen Opfern errungen wurde. Die endgultige Niederlage Deutschlands hingegen wird nicht nur die andern Volker von der standigen Bedrohung befreien, sondern auch das deutsche Volk. (BFA 23:32) [Germans in exile are, it is fair to say, unanimously in favour of Germany’s defeat in this war. They regret every victory won by German [The Private Life] for its length and its slow gait,” even though it consisted of only nine of the original twenty-seven Furcht und Elend scenes. 4
THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT weapons, they welcome every failure. They know that each failure costs the lives of thousands of German soldiers, but equally that every German victory costs the lives of thousands of German soldiers. The inevitable final defeat of Hitler’s Germany will see our country in inconceivable misery. A victory would see the entire inhabited world in such misery, naturally including Germany. This system of bloody oppression, unbridled profiteering and complete lack of freedom would, like a single tidal wave of mud, swallow up everything that the people of different nations had achieved through centuries of sacrifice.
The final defeat of Germany, on the other hand, will liberate not only the people of other nations from constant threat, but also the German people. (BAP 292)] Having summed up the ambiguous predicament and feelings of Germans in exile, Brecht moves on to the role of their antifascist program and the hopes they had that Germans in the homeland would play a major part in the Third Reich’s downfall: Wir hoffen, wir sagen, was das deutsche Volk selber sagen wurde, konnte es reden. Wir sagen, da? Hitler und seine Hintermanner nicht Deutschland sind, was immer sie behaupten mogen. Da? sie Deutschland sind, das ist die erste ihrer unverschamten Lugen.
In Wahrheit haben sie die Deutschen unterworfen, wie sie die Tschechen oder die Franzosen unterworfen haben. Sie haben das deutsche Volk unterworfen mit Polizeigewalt und Propaganda, wie sie die fremden Volker mit Militargewalt und falschen Versprechungen unterworfen haben. Sie haben Franzosen und Englander und Tschechen eingefangen mit Propaganda, wie sie Deutsche eingefangen haben. Diese Eingefangenen werden aufwachen. Sie werden aufwachen oder untergehen. Sie werden uberzeugt werden konnen oder beseitigt werden mussen. An dem endgultigen Sieg uber Hitler und seine Hintermanner in Militar, Diplomatie und Finanz wird das deutsche Volk einen gewaltigen Anteil haben. BFA 23:33) [We trust that we are saying what the German people itself would say, if it could talk. We say that Hitler and his backers are not Germany, whatever they may claim. Their claim to represent Germany is the first of their barefaced lies. The truth is that they have subjugated the Germans, like they subjugated the Czechs or the French. They have subjugated the German people with the violent authority of the police and with propaganda, just as they have subjugated foreign peoples with the violence of the military and with false promises. They have captured French, English and Czech people with their propaganda, just as they have captured Germans. But these captives will awake. Either they will awake, or they will perish.
Either they will allow themselves to be convinced, or they will have to be removed. The German people will have an immense role in the final victory over Hitler and his backers in the military, diplomatic service and the world of finance. (BAP 293)] THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT 5 Brecht may have nurtured misplaced hopes about the German people’s role in bringing about the defeat of Third Reich Germany, but the above passages give some sense of the thinking that lay behind the Furcht und Elend project, both during the build up to hostilities (the context of the original Furcht und Elend des III. Reiches) and during the Second World War itself, when The Private Life came into being.
Originally scheduled to appear in Volume 3 of the Malik edition of his Gesammelte Werke,6 the work that would become known as Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches was, Brecht suggested to Herzfelde, “wahrscheinlich das reprasentativste, was ich, seit wir aus Deutschland herau? en sind, veroffentlichen kann” (BFA 29:79; probably the most representative work that I am able to publish since we left Germany). Gedichte im Exil and Deutschland — Ein Greuelmarchen, he insisted, “mu? ten, vor allem aus politischen Grunden, noch dieses Jahr herauskommen” (ibid. ; have to appear this year, above all for political reasons). 7 As late as July 1941, Brecht, now in the United States, still expressed the opinion that, of all his antifascist works, “beinahe die meisten Chancen scheint [. . . Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches zu haben” (BFA 29:208; It now seems to me that Fear and Misery of the Third Reich might almost have the best chances: BBL 336). Due in no small part to his tireless campaigning on its behalf, the work would become the first to date of Brecht’s major plays to be put on in the United States, although unfortunately represented by a modest handful of scenes at that time. Brecht’s main political reasons for placing Deutschland — Ein Greuelmarchen and Gedichte im Exil at the top of his publication agenda back in 1938 were self-evident under the circumstances. The Hitler regime’s aggressive expansionist policy had by then begun systemati-
Volume 3 of Brecht’s collected works had been scheduled to include a representative cross-section of plays from the Weimar Republic years: Baal, Leben Konig Eduards des Zweiten von England, Im Dickicht der Stadte, and Trommeln in der Nacht. Brecht later toyed with the idea of a miscellany that would place Furcht und Elend in more meaningful antifascist combinations alongside Die Gewehre der Frau Carrar, Leben des Galilei, Deutsche Kriegsfibel 1937, and “Funf Schwierigkeiten beim Schreiben der Wahrheit. ” A further project was at one stage considered, to be called “Neunzehnhundertachtunddrei? ig. ” This would have combined Furcht und Elend with Gedichte im Exil and three essays (BFA 29:98). Which essays the playwright had in mind is not specified. Herzfelde’s original plan had been to publish Die Gewehre der Frau Carrar and Deutschland — Ein Greuelmarchen as freestanding volumes before bringing them out in the Gesammelte Werke edition together with other items. By the end of May 1938, Brecht was becoming impatient: “nach allem, was ich uber die Pariser Aufnahme [. . . ] hore, scheint es mir ganz unumganglich, da? man dieses Stuck [Furcht und Elend] sofort veroffentlicht. Herbst ist viel zu spat” (BFA 29:95). 6 6 THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT cally to target much of continental Europe, including a number of territories confiscated from a defeated Germany by the Versailles Treaty of 1919.
With the 1935 Saar Plebiscite deciding in Germany’s favor8 and the French-occupied Rhineland region having been audaciously repossessed by the German military in 1936, Hitler’s territorial intentions towards Czechoslovakia, the Polish Corridor, Memelland, and — despite repeated disclaimers on his part — Alsace-Lorraine had become too saber-rattling to ignore. Virtually half of Europe now found itself facing the threat of an unprovoked attack from the Third Reich, invariably to be followed by punitive occupation and systematic economic exploitation, as the Versailles Treaty’s conditions were deliberately flouted alongside the requirements of the League of Nations, from which Third Reich Germany had withdrawn for tactical reasons in October 1933. In the wake of Germany’s annexation of Austria in March 1938, the Nazi majority among Czechoslovakia’s Sudeten Germans promptly ratcheted up their campaign to be integrated into the new Greater Germany (Gro? deutschland).
The infamous Munich Agreement responded that same year by handing over the entire Sudetenland region to Nazi Germany in fulfillment of Neville Chamberlain’s misguided appeasement policy, soon predictably interpreted by its beneficiaries as giving the Third Reich a green light for the invasion of the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia and their incorporation into Hitler’s newly created Reichsprotektorat. These territorial achievements, coupled with the fact that Germany was still successfully continuing its covert involvement in the Spanish Civil War on General Franco’s Nationalist side, gave Hitler sufficient leeway to set his sights on further irredentist goals in western Poland and Upper Silesia. The widespread threat to European peace that these developments collectively represented, together with the intolerably oppressive conditions within Third Reich Germany itself, account for the urgency of Brecht’s claim that Deutschland — Ein Greuelmarchen needed to be published before the year was out.
The truth about Nazi Germany needed to be known by the outside world. “Kein deutscher Wissenschaftler, kein deutscher Kunstler, kein deutscher Politiker,” he declared in “[Nicht Deutschlands Interessen]” (Not in Germany’s Interests), in all probability as a result of his frustration with the outcome of the Munich Agreement, halt heute Deutschland fur von irgendeiner Macht bedroht oder fur berechtigt, der Tschechoslowakei ihre innere oder au? ere Politik zu diktieren. Niemand glaubt Herrn Hitler, da? er lediglich die deutschsprechenden Menschen der Tschechoslowakei “befreien” will, was 8 In his poem on the plebiscite’s political significance, “Das Saarlied: Der 13.
Januar” (BFA 14:219–20), Brecht refers to the event as “fur langere Zeit das letzte Bollwerk,” i. e. , a final bulwark against the threat of NS territorial expansionism (BFA 28:450). THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT 7 sie der Gestapo ausliefern hie? e; jedermann wei? , da? er die Tschechoslowakei als Ganzes zertrummern, gleichschalten, besetzen will, um sich damit ein Sprungbrett nach Osten zu schaffen [. . . ]. (BFA 22:471) [These days no German scientist, no German artist and no German politician believes that Germany is threatened by any power or justified in dictating Czechoslovakia’s internal or external policies. No one believes Mr.
Hitler when he says he simply wants to “liberate” the German-speaking people, meaning that they would be handed over to the Gestapo; everyone knows that he wants to destroy the whole of Czechoslovakia, to coordinate and occupy it, and in so doing to give himself a springboard towards the East [. . . ]. ] The Reich is expanding, Brecht noted in March 1939 (BFA 26:332). Within months, he would be warning about the danger of imminent war (BFA 22:587). But by this time his plans for an adequate antifascist literary response had already been overtaken by events. Brecht’s publisher, the Malik-Verlag, soon to decamp to London, was no longer safe from the hostile attentions of Czech anticommunists and exFreikorps wreckers. By the time German troops rolled into Prague in March 1939, extreme right-wingers had broken into its premises, destroying the plates for the print run of Furcht und Elend along with all but one set of page proofs. “Wielands Prager Satz ist (zusammen mit dem von Furcht und Elend und den Gesammelten Gedichten) verloren,” Brecht’s journal entry for 23 April records (BFA 26:337; Wieland’s Prague type-formes are lost (along with those for Fear and Misery and the Collected Poems): BBJ 29). In his application for a financial subvention in September 1938, Brecht explained to the American Guild for German Cultural Freedom: “Die augenblickliche Verscharfung der politischen Lage macht das Herauskommen der neuen Bande [der Malikschen Gesamtausgabe], in die viel Arbeit investiert ist, sehr zweifelhaft” (BFA 29:111; The present worsening of the political situation makes it very doubtful whether the new volumes, in which a great deal of work has been invested, will ever appear: BBL 292).
In fact, it would be 1945 before Herzfelde’s New York–based Aurora publishing house, the successor to the Malik-Verlag in exile, was able to publish the full German text10 of what to this day remains Brecht’s most impressive antifascist work, one he had judged to be virtually complete back in April 1938 (BFA 29:90). As his petition to the American Guild suggests, Brecht’s reasons for exerting maximum pressure on Herzfelde were at the time not primarily motivated by any personal need to enhance a once-famous exile writer’s literary standing, although that had originally been one of the Malik edi9 10 “Furcht und Elend des III. Reiches” (the surviving galley proof). Furcht und Elend des III.
Reiches: 24 Szenen (New York: Aurora, 1945). 8 THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT tion’s tasks. 11 Now, however, the subsequent campaign for accelerated publication was driven first and foremost by Brecht’s determination to ensure optimal dissemination of a play that in his judgment still had the capability (even in the late 1930s) to become an effective weapon in the ideological struggle against fascism. Furcht und Elend was, Brecht felt, precisely the kind of counter-propagandistic work that needed to get through to sympathetic audiences — or if all attempts to get it staged failed, then at least to a politically receptive clandestine readership.
His confidence on this score was echoed in Eric Bentley’s essay “Bertolt Brecht and His Work,” published in 1944 as a postscript to the American adaptation: “No single work of Brecht’s is more important than Fears and Miseries of the Third Reich [sic], of which The Private Life of the Master Race is the stage version” (The Private Life, 132). Of all his exile plays, the Furcht und Elend project alone had the potential, Brecht remained convinced, to serve a range of vital political functions: by presenting an unsparing picture of the brutal conditions currently prevailing in Nazi Germany, it could give the lie to the heroic propaganda image still being peddled by the NS media, above all by press, radio, and cinema newsreels (ii) by offering a spectrum of images of a discontented, often politically disenchanted society, it could give renewed political and moral impetus to the resistance cause within the country, as well as to Nazi Germany’s critics in the outside orld (iii) by undermining drastically the regime’s repeated claims to have forged a new classless Germany (a national community, Volksgemeinschaft, which offered its followers the rewards of socialism after releasing the country from the harsh constraints imposed on it by the Versailles Treaty), it would bring out the contrast between the Third Reich’s facade of socialism and what Brecht took to be the exemplary socialism of the USSR (iv) by giving expression to the idea that in the Third Reich a “good Germany” still existed alongside the “bad” one, such a work would offer a crucial rebuttal of the crude wartime Vansittartist position12 according to which Germany was axiomatically an empire of evil whose citizens shared in a collective guilt for the crimes committed in the country’s name (i) 11 In his letter to Herzfelde of 31 May 1938 (BFA 29:96), Brecht sets out his personal reasons for needing Gesammelte Werke to be a success. 12 The reference is to Sir Robert Vansittart’s Black Record: Germans Past and Present (London: Hamish, 1941), based on an extremist thesis that Brecht frequently contested. See “The Other Germany: 1943” (BFA 23:24–30), “Bericht uber die Stellung der Deutschen im Exil” (BFA 23:32–33), and “[Komplizierte Lage]” (BFA 23:33–34). THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT 9 However, each of these overlapping agendas faced enormous challenges.
Some of the principal practical ones are identified in Brecht’s landmark Popular Front essay “Funf Schwierigkeiten beim Schreiben der Wahrheit” (Five Difficulties in Writing the Truth), written in the first year after the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) had come to power in 1933. As Brecht saw it in that essay: Wer heute die Luge und Unwissenheit bekampfen und die Wahrheit schreiben will, hat zumindest funf Schwierigkeiten zu uberwinden. Er mu? den Mut haben, die Wahrheit zu schreiben, obwohl sie allenthalben unterdruckt wird; die Klugheit, sie zu erkennen, obwohl sie allenthalben verhullt wird; die Kunst, sie handhabbar zu machen als eine Waffe; das Urteil, jene auszuwahlen, in deren Handen sie wirksam wird; die List, sie unter diesen zu verbreiten. (BFA 22:74) [Today anyone who wants to fight lies and ignorance and to write the truth has to overcome at least five difficulties.
He must have the courage to write the truth, even though it is suppressed everywhere; the cleverness to recognise it, even though it is disguised everywhere; the skill to make it fit for use as a weapon; the judgement to select those in whose hands it will become effective; the cunning to spread it amongst them. (BAP 141–42)] During his long years of Scandinavian exile, Brecht did on the whole manage to display the requisite attributes for a writer intent on uncovering the true ugly face of National Socialism. As Chapter Two of the present study will show, he clearly felt confident that he possessed the cleverness to recognize the truth (“die Klugheit, [die Wahrheit] zu erkennen”), inasmuch as he unerringly based his antifascist campaign on a rigorously class-oriented Marxist-Leninist analysis of the characterizing features of European fascism, as well as its specifically German manifestation.
What is more, his 1934 essay “Uber die Wiederherstellung der Wahrheit” (BFA 22:89–90; On Restoring the Truth) and his crusading “Rede uber die Widerstandskraft der Vernunft” (BFA 22:333–36; Speech on the Power of Resistance of Reason) of 1937 are eloquent testimony to the fact that Brecht for a long time subscribed to the belief that truth and reason, and not just the power of military might, would in the long term prevail over fascist propaganda, mindlessly brutal oppression, and, most important of all, ideological bankruptcy. Brecht’s conception of Furcht und Elend as a work predicated on accurate, well-researched evidence of what life was like in the Third Reich is very much of a piece with his trust in the powers of logical reasoning and convincingly presented contemporary source material. As Chapters Three and Four of our study are designed to show, Brecht worked, from the very onset of the NSDAP’s coming to power, with a dialectical conception of the relationship between fear and misery, on the one hand, and resistance, on the other — a conception ideologically reinforced where it was 10 THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT ost successful by a Marxist-Leninist underpinning. There is little doubt either, as subsequent chapters of the present study will demonstrate, that by the late 1930s Brecht had become a master in the art of transforming his ideological and socio-historical insights into a program of literarypolitical interventionist activity; or, put another way, that he possessed the skill to make the truth fit for use as a weapon (“die Kunst, [die Wahrheit] handhabbar zu machen”). Nevertheless, with Brecht becoming progressively deprived of adequate outlets for the effective dissemination of the true nature of Third Reich Germany, even the ambitious Furcht und Elend project ran the risk of foundering.
The numerous obstacles and challenges arising from an ever-fluctuating, volatile exile predicament ultimately meant that the two most imperative requisites of “Funf Schwierigkeiten” — the judgment to select in whose hands the truth would become effective, and the cunning to spread the truth amongst them (“das Urteil, jene auszuwahlen, in deren Handen [die Wahrheit] wirksam wird” and “die List, sie unter diesen zu verbreiten”) — at times eluded Brecht’s grasp or remained beyond his personal control. This was especially true in the case of such a complex play as Furcht und Elend, an uncompromising work of counter-propaganda that frequently had to be launched from within various host communities that either failed to understand, or could not accept, the playwright’s conception of German National Socialism, his broader materialist (anticapitalist) platform, or even his basic aesthetic assumptions about what made for effective contemporary political theater. Seldom had Brecht encountered so many difficulties when trying to access the most effective means of communication in order to target appropriate audiences and readers.
And never before had he had to plead so forcefully to get one particularly promising documentary work positioned in what was left of the public domain before it was too late for it to have its intended impact. “Meine Betatigungen, selbst die gegen Hitler, waren immer rein literarische, und sie waren von niemandem abhangig,” Brecht claimed in the personal statement he was prevented from reading out to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in Washington (“Anrede an den Kongre? ausschu? fur unamerikanische Betatigungen in Washington 1947” [BFA 23:61; My activities, even those against Hitler, were always purely literary, and they were dependent on no one: BAP 300]).
This may have been what Brecht wanted HUAC to believe, and on occasions he may himself have thought this to be the case. Yet far from being dependent on “no one,” his literary antifascist campaign was precariously dependent on many others in the theater world, inasmuch as his creative activities were always the result of teamwork, but also because exile often made him very reliant on the underground for access to information about the terrible things currently happening within the Third Reich. The fact that by 1938 Brecht’s various Scandinavian host countries (Denmark, Sweden, and Finland) sensed the threat of imminent Nazi invasion now hanging over them THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT 11 uggested that he would have a struggle getting Furcht und Elend staged anywhere in free Europe. He had probably already seen the writing on the wall in 1938 when a selection of scenes from Furcht und Elend premiered in Paris under the title “99%” because the French censorship authorities threatened to ban any work with “Third Reich” in its title (BFA 29:95). Self-censoring political caution vis-a-vis fascist neighbors was becoming virtually the norm in Europe by the late 1930s. It was to have a marked impact on the German exile community, especially in the case of left-wing writers and intellectuals who had been granted refugee status in Western democracies on the explicit understanding that they abstained from political activity.
Despite the fact that Dudow’s Paris production was about to be mounted, Brecht felt a need to inform Karl Korsch in April 1938 that few immediate outlets would soon remain available to the work, “da die Furcht jetzt ja auch Europa ergriffen hat” (BFA 29:92; because the fear has now gripped Europe: BBL 281). In certain respects, Furcht und Elend was a doubly compromising work to be associated with in such dark times. While ostensibly confined to conditions in Nazi Germany during the period 1933–38, Brecht’s play also had a prophetic dimension, given that the Third Reich’s own “Furcht und Elend” was soon to be exported with a vengeance to most of Germanoccupied continental Europe, a development that the replacement frame used in The Private Life of the Master Race would go on to thematize in 1944.
In the meantime, as an inevitable consequence of the disastrous Molotov-Ribbentrop Nonaggression Pact of August 1939, all forms of writing critical of Hitler’s Third Reich were banned in the USSR — until, that is, the Wehrmacht’s invasion of the country in June 1941. Like Stalin’s recent disbanding of the Communist International (usually known as the Comintern), the USSR’s pact with the Third Reich was inevitably a great disappointment to Brecht, as well as many others on the Left who thought that they were engaged alongside comrades in the Soviet Union in the great antifascist struggle. In Brecht’s judgment, the consequences were dire: Die [Sowjetunion] tragt vor dem Weltproletariat das furchterliche Stigma einer Hilfeleistung an den Faschismus, den wildesten und arbeiterfeindlichsten Teil des Kapitalismus. Ich glaube nicht, da? mehr gesagt werden kann, als da? ie Union sich eben rettete, um den Preis, das Weltproletariat ohne Losungen, Hoffnungen und Beistand zu lassen. (Journal entry for 9 September 1939 [BFA 26:344]) [The [Soviet Union] will in the eyes of the proletariat of the world bear the terrible stigma of aiding and abetting fascism, the wildest element in capitalism and the most hostile to the workers. I don’t think more can be said than that the [Soviet Union] saved its skin at the cost of leaving the proletariat of the world without solutions, hopes or help. (BBJ 35)] 12 THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT Yet not even this calamitous setback could diminish Brecht’s belief in Furcht und Elend’s continuing propaganda value.
His plans for the play had to be put on temporary hold, at least until he started to focus his hopes on the anti–Axis Alliance’s newfound ally, the post–Pearl Harbor United States. America was both a logical resistance base and a safer haven for an exile German writer unwilling to risk his chances in post–Great Purge Stalinist Russia. “Ich bringe neue Stucke mit und vor allem viel Lust zur Arbeit,” he informed Erwin Piscator shortly before leaving for America: “Ich glaube, die USA gehoren jetzt zu den wenigen Landern, in denen man noch frei literarisch arbeiten und Stucke wie Furcht und Elend vorzeigen kann” (BFA 29:172; I’ll be bringing new plays with me and, most important, an enormous desire to work.
The USA, I believe, is now one of the few countries where it’s possible to do free literary work and to put on plays like Fear and Misery: BBL 326), a deliberately ambiguous formulation implying a contrast with the USSR as well as German-occupied Europe. Even after the Prague setback of 1939, Brecht had assiduously continued to explore other channels of dissemination for his Furcht und Elend material. Mindful of having successfully placed a number of the play’s showcase scenes in Soviet, French, English, Swiss and (exile) German literary journals, he asked Ruth Berlau to assemble the available translations and prepare them, where feasible, for republication (BFA 29:238).
As has been pointed out,13 the Furcht und Elend cycle’s epic structure lent itself admirably to piecemeal recycling of this kind. Individual scenes were staged (often in translation) in towns and cities across a number of countries, including France, Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union (for details, see FM viii). Brecht also renewed his efforts to ensure that the work would be discussed, whenever appropriate, within the context of antifascist drama in general, rather than being measured against his earlier Epic Theater. Following the German Wehrmacht’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Brecht’s play was no longer taboo in Stalinist Russia.
Russian and English translations were prepared and rushed into print in the following months, and in 1942 a selection of scenes was reframed to create the script for a propaganda-film version made under the direction of Vsevolod Pudovkin: Ubitsy vychodyat na dorogu (The murderers are on their way). Not long afterwards, East and West Coast American productions of The Private Life of the Master Race, staged in the presence of invited actors and influential film and theater personalities (many of them German exiles), were also intended to re-kindle interest in the work, though with limited 13 Tom Kuhn, “The Politics of the Changeable Text: Furcht und Elend des III.
Reiches and the new Brecht edition,” Oxford German Studies, 18–19 (1989–90), 132–49, and id. , “Literary Form and Politics in German Exile Drama” (D. Phil. thesis, University of Oxford, 1985). THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT 13 success. 14 The alternative solution might have been to continue publishing individual scenes from the play. Under the adverse exile circumstances, nothing could adequately compensate for the substantial impoverishment that selective presentation of a miscellany of Furcht und Elend scenes represented, whether on the stage or on the page. “Gedacht war das Ganze als Stuck,” Brecht stressed in a letter to Erwin Piscator of July 1941, “alles mu? e hintereinanderweg gespielt werden” (BFA 29:209; The whole was conceived as a play, with the scenes played successively: BBL 337). He spells out to Hoffman Hays the main rationale behind this claim by drawing attention to the panoramic nature of the work’s 27 Szenen aus den Jahren 33–38, welche das Leben unter der Diktatur der Nazis zeigen, und zwar das Leben der Arbeiter, Kleinburger, Intellektuellen in Familie, Schule, Kaserne, Klinik, Gerichtshof usw. (BFA 29:208) [27 scenes from the years 1933 to 1939, showing life under the Nazi dictatorship, the life of the workers, petty bourgeoisie, and intellectuals, in family, school, barracks, hospital, courtroom, etc. (BBL 336)]
In further epistolary crusades on behalf of Furcht und Elend, Brecht again draws attention to the work’s geographical sweep and the broad socio-political spectrum covered: “Das Stuck gibt einen Querschnitt durch alle Schichten” (BFA 29:83; The play gives a cross-section of all German society: BBL 280), he told Piscator. More accurately, the words of his letter to the American Guild describe the play’s montage of scenes as being structured as a Zyklus [. . . ], der [. . . ] nahezu alle Schichten des deutschen Volkes in ihrer Reaktion auf die nationalsozialistische Diktatur zu zeigen versucht. Ich versuchte, zwei mir fur das Ausland besonders wichtig erscheinende Punkte herauszuholen: erstens die Versklavung,
Entrechtung, Lahmung aller Schichten unter der nationalsozialistischen Diktatur (davon wissen die in Demokratien lebenden Menschen noch viel zuwenig Konkretes); zweitens die seelische Verfassung der Armee des totalitaren Staates, die ja die ganze Bevolkerung umfa? t (so da? sich das Ausland ein Bild von der Bruchigkeit dieser Kriegsmaschine bilden kann). (BFA 29:110) [cycle, an attempt [. . . ] to show the reaction of almost every section of the German people to the National Socialist dictatorship. I tried to bring out two points which I thought it vital to make known abroad: 14 “In 1945 I helped prepare the New York production of his Private Life of the Master Race,” Eric Bentley admits, “which is nothing to boast of: it was a disaster. (Eric Bentley, The Brecht Commentaries, 1943–1980, London: Eyre Methuen, 1981, 15) The redeeming fact that the problems were above all with the production can be seen from the account in Lyon, Bertolt Brecht in America, 132–41. 14 THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT first, the enslavement, disfranchisement, paralysis of all sections of the population under the National Socialist dictatorship (people living in the democracies have far too little concrete knowledge of this); second, the state of mind prevailing in the army of the totalitarian state, which is a cross section of the population as a whole (to give people outside Germany an idea of the fragility of this war machine). (BBL 291–92)]
As the present study’s analysis of the play’s montage structure will try to show, only when encountered in its entirety does Furcht und Elend reveal itself to be a unique work of subtly arranged illustrative episodes. Too much of its thematic integrity risks being sacrificed when individual component scenes are published in isolation or producers cherry-pick which ones to include or omit. This problem continued to challenge the ingenuity of theater companies long after Brecht’s return to Europe; indeed, it has remained associated with this particularly complicated example of Epic Theater right up to the present day. Understandably, therefore, Furcht und Elend has no more often been staged in its entirety than has Karl Kraus’s mammoth play Die letzten Tage der Menschheit, one of Brecht’s models for the work.
As a consequence, its elaborate presentation of the resistance theme, developed incrementally from scene to scene (a feature discussed below in Chapter Four), and the many illustrations of the ways in which the NS regime systematically prepared the German people for war, tend to be deprived of their cumulative effect and didactic narrative continuity. The same holds true for the leitmotifs of “Furcht” and “Elend” that appear in numerous variations throughout the entire sequence. Furcht und Elend as a Work of Literary Counter-Propaganda In the fall of 1938, Brecht wrote an essay entitled “Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches,”15 a piece possibly intended as retrospective contextualization of the work’s Paris staging, although only published posthumously.
The essay draws attention to a series of concrete details symptomatic of daily life in Nazi Germany, daunting factual information that Brecht assumed was not generally known to those living in Western democracies. The citizens of Third Reich Germany are presented as “ein Volk von 2 Millionen Spitzeln und 80 Millionen Bespitzelten. Sein Leben besteht in dem Proze? , der ihm gemacht wird. Es besteht nur aus Schuldigen” (BFA 22:474; a people of 2 million spies and 80 million people being spied on. Life for these people 15 This essay is available in English translation as “Fear and Misery of the Third Reich” (FM 93–96). THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT 15 consists in the case being made against them. They are composed exclusively of the guilty: FM 94).
Elaborating on the consequences of such intimidating close surveillance, Brecht vividly captures the resultant mood of fear and paranoia among the population, a dominant theme in the Furcht und Elend cycle that we will return to in later chapters of the present study: Der Priester blattert seine Bibel durch, Satze zu finden, die er aussprechen kann, ohne verhaftet zu werden. Der Lehrer sucht fur irgendeine Ma? nahme Karls des Gro? en einen Beweggrund, den er lehren kann, ohne da? man ihn verhaftet. Den Totenschein unterzeichnend, wahlt der Arzt die Todesursache, die nicht zu seiner Verhaftung fuhrt. Der Dichter zerbricht sich den Kopf nach einem Reim, fur den man ihn nicht verhaften kann. Und um der Verhaftung zu entgehen, beschlie? der Bauer, seine Sau nicht zu futtern. Wie man sieht, sind die Ausnahmemittel erstaunlich, die der Staat ergreifen mu?. (BFA 22:474) [The priest thumbs through his Bible to find sentences he can quote without being arrested. The teacher puzzles over some action of Charlemagne’s, looking for motives that he can teach without somebody arresting him. The doctor who signs a death certificate chooses a cause of death that is not going to lead to his arrest. The poet racks his brains for a rhyme he won’t be arrested for. And it is to escape arrest that the farmer decides not to feed his sow. As you can see, the measures which the State is driven to take are exceptional. (FM 94–95)]
As we will see in Chapter Three, Furcht und Elend, like its companion essay “Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches,” presents a picture of widespread political gloom and individual fear in the face of repeated experiences of totalitarian repression, coupled with an overwhelming sense of the dire economic misery under which so many of the regime’s subjects were forced to live. Although the essay reads at times like a resume of the specifically angst-ridden nature of certain Furcht und Elend scenes, it concludes by positing a more promising causal relationship between fear and misery, on the one hand, and resistance, on the other, than some of the play’s scenes might lead audiences to expect: Sollte es notig sein, da? auch diese Schichten erst in jenen Zustand der au? rsten Vertierung getrieben werden mussen, gegen den sich nach dem Wort der sozialistischen Klassiker das Proletariat in seinem Kampf um die Menschenwurde wehrt? Wird erst das Elend die Furcht besiegen? (BFA 22:477) [Might the sections in question have to be forced into the same condition of extreme dehumanisation that the proletariat, according to the Socialist classics, is resisting by its fight for the dignity of mankind? Will it be the misery that eventually defeats the fear? (FM 96)] 16 THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT As the later parts of the Furcht und Elend montage sequence are clearly meant to show, the essay’s concluding sentence was much more than a mere rhetorical question.
Indeed, the longer the war continued, the more the theme of resistance began to change its complexion in Brecht’s perception. It was in the context of his move to the United States that Brecht made some of his most helpful comments concerning Furcht und Elend, remarks usually made in private correspondence. Writing in April 1938 to Erwin Piscator, who was himself about to move to America to take up a post at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research in New York, Brecht signals that he is sending him a copy of Furcht und Elend, adding defensively in explanation: Ich konnte mir denken, da? es fur Amerika etwas au? erordentlich Passendes ware. Alle Welt fragt sich, ob, wie, wie lang Hitler Krieg fuhren kann.
Und die sogenannten Demokratien interessieren sich sehr fur die Wirkungen, welche die Diktatur des Hakenkreuzes auf die verschiedenen Schichten hat. [. . . ]. Terror und Widerstand in allen Schichten. Dazwischen konntest Du Dokumentarisches einfugen. [. . . ] Ich denke sehr an New York und mochte alles versuchen, eine Auffuhrung dort zustande zu bringen. (BFA 29:82–83) [This would be just the thing for America I think. Everybody is wondering how long a war Hitler could fight. And the so-called democracies are very much interested in knowing how the Nazi dictatorship affects the various social groupings. [. . . ]. Terror and resistance everywhere.
You could project some documentary material in between. [. . . ] I’ve been thinking a good deal about New York, I’m going to do all I can to swing a production there. (BBL 280)] The idea of inserting supporting evidence — presumably in the form of projected historical documentation, still photographs, and film sequences — was no doubt initially intended to whet Piscator’s appetite. (Brecht at one stage pinned his hopes on having the doyen of German political theater stage the play in America. ) He did, of course, also approach Max Reinhardt and, after falling out with Piscator, was eventually to settle for Reinhardt’s friend and associate Berthold Viertel.
Arguably, this sudden cultivation of high-profile directors currently in exile was a further indication of the value Brecht attached to the Furcht und Elend project, even at a time when the Second World War was nearing its conclusion and the play, having lost some of its topicality, faced the possibility of being demoted to little more than an interesting theatrical experiment all too painfully reminiscent of a recent traumatic era in Europe’s history. 16 Some New York critics were quick to suggest that “Germany’s recent capitulation had robbed the material of much of its timeliness,” according to Lyon. He also quotes a letter of 14 February 1945 from Hallie Flanagan of the Federal Theater 16 THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT 17 Sources and Related Antifascist Projects When New Directions published The Private Life of the Master Race in 1944, it was subtitled A Documentary Play. 7 In one sense, such a subtitle would seem to state the obvious, given that Brecht usually carried out extensive research prior to writing his anticapitalist and antifascist works. With the exception of a handful of his more contrived parables for the stage, Brecht’s writing was as a rule preceded by an impressive body of (often collaborative) historical, socio-economic, and scientific research, albeit often less of the narrowly academic kind, and invariably in the service of an interventionist agenda. “Ich [plane] fortwahrend Schlage gegen die Verbrecher, die im Suden hausen,” Brecht wrote to Grosz in September 1934. “Ich hore jeden ihrer Vortrage im Radio, lese ihre Gesetzentwurfe und sammle ihre Fotografien” (BFA 28:436; I am constantly planning blows against the criminals who dwell in the south, [. . . ].
I listen to all their speeches over the radio, read their draft laws and collect their photographs: BBL 184). In the case of the American stage-adaptation, Eric Bentley refers loosely to “the succession of historical documents which constitute the play” (The Private Life, 133). Likewise, and no doubt prompted to do so by Brecht, Hoffman Hays declared the documentary element to be the play’s core (quoted in BHB 1:347). Such claims can, of course, be misleading. The Erwin Piscator of Trotz alledem! and the Karl Kraus of Die letzten Tage der Menschheit may have claimed with justification that their respective plays were composed exclusively of quoted documentary material. 8 But Brecht’s own preparatory research, in contrast, seldom led to unadulterated documentary evidence being integrated verbatim into the text as a work’s sole, or even predominant, ingredient. What is above all striking about the months of combined research and fieldwork undertaken Project to James Laughlin of New Directions, who was at the time considering publishing The Private Life. Flanagan judged the work to be “of historical interest rather than of topical interest [. . . ] five years ago it would have been very strong — ten years from now it would have great historical significance, but definitely the moment is not now” (Lyon, Bertolt Brecht in America, 139). Laughlin took the long view and published The Private Life in the same year. 7 Given that the scenes used in The Private Life were all, with one exception, translated from Furcht und Elend, we assume that the term “A Documentary Play” applies retrospectively to the original Malik version of the work, as well as to Aurora and all subsequent German editions. 18 “Die unwahrscheinlichsten Gesprache, die hier gefuhrt werden, sind wortlich gesprochen worden,” according to Kraus’s preface to Die letzten Tage der Menschheit: Tragodie in funf Akten mit Vorspiel und Epilog (Vienna-Leipzig: Verlag “Die Fackel,” 1919), 1. For a comparably totalizing claim on Piscator’s part, see note 41 (below). 18 THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT n the case of the Furcht und Elend project is the sheer range of sources that Brecht and his collaborators sifted for crucial information about daily life in the Third Reich. These included published documents, contemporary memoirs, quasi-autobiographical works of fiction, NS film, radio and press propaganda material, personal correspondence from fellow exiles and political comrades still inside Third Reich Germany, newspaper reports (in various languages), oral recollections of experiences, and information from the antifascist underground. Nevertheless, consideration of Brecht’s plethora of sources has, for understandable reasons, tended to concentrate on the available written material to which the playwright was indebted.
Before embarking on Furcht und Elend, for example, Brecht had studied Hitler’s published speeches and, inevitably, Mein Kampf in some detail, as well as acquainting himself, inter alia, with the Hitler biographies of Rudolf Olden and Konrad Heiden, Joseph Goebbels’s autobiography Vom Kaiserhof zur Reichskanzlei, the histories of National Socialism by Heiden and Fritz Sternberg, and Hanns Heinz Ewers’s biography of the Nazi “martyr” Horst Wessel. 19 I’m hard at work, Brecht boasted of his strenuous program of preparatory reading (BFA 28:382). But, equally importantly, he also learned a great deal from such comparatively humble sources of up-todate information as passing visitors,20 reports transmitted by political informants from within Germany, and various early examples of what would nowadays be called oral history.
While in Scandinavian and American exile, Brecht devoted considerable attention to individual eyewitness reports and the clandestine mass-observation material that came his way rather than to the antifascist literary work of fellow exiles, some of it already marred by an outdated picture of life under the swastika. Visits from longstanding acquaintances like Heinz Langerhans, currently gathering testimonies for his study “Deutsche Martyrer in Konzentrationslagern,” and Zenzi Muhsam, widow of the Weimar Republic socialist politician Erich Muhsam who was murdered in the Oranienburg concentration camp in 1934, influenced certain Furcht und Elend episodes more than any exile writer’s publications probably ever did. 19 Rudolf Olden, Hitler der Eroberer (Amsterdam: Malik, 1933); Konrad Heiden, Adolf Hitler: Das Zeitalter der Verantwortungslosigkeit.
Eine Biographie (Zurich: Europa, 1936) and Geschichte des Nationalsozialismus: Die Karriere einer Idee (Berlin: Rowohlt, 1932); Joseph Goebbels, Vom Kaiserhof zur Reichskanzlei (Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP, 1934); Fritz Sternberg, Der Faschismus an der Macht (Amsterdam: Contact, 1935); and Hanns Heinz Ewers: Horst Wessel: Ein deutsches Schicksal (Stuttgart, Berlin: Cotta, 1932). 20 See John Fuegi’s claim that “of great importance to the [Furcht und Elend] project was the visit of Grete [Steffin’s] mother and father from Berlin, whose experiences [were] used as [a] factual basis for writing the play. ” (The Life and Lies of Bertolt Brecht [London: HarperCollins, 1994], 345). THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FURCHT UND ELEND PROJECT 19
Despite this, there has bee