Writers

 

 

August 1939 in Lidingö near Stockholm, Sweden: Helene Weigel, Bertold Brecht, Hans Tombrock, Martin Andersen-Nexø und Margarete Steffin.  Nexø was a Danish author of novels, a communist since the 1920's.  He is known in the U.S. only through the films of his Pelle the Conquerer novels.  Like Brecht, Nexø fled from the Nazis: he later became a citizen of the German Democratic Repubic and died in Dresden in 1954.  Hans Tombrock was a German artist who fled.  He and Brecht became friends.

Click on title for German original

How Future Times Will Judge Our Writers

                                                          For Martin Andersen Nexö

I.

Those who have been seated on the golden chairs, to write
Will be asked about those
Who wove their garments.
Their books will not be searched
For their lofty thoughts, but rather
Any sort of casual sentence, that gives a notion
Of the uniqueness of those who wove garments,
Will be read with interest, because they may reveal a trait
Of the searchers' famous ancestors.

Whole literatures
Of the most refined expression
Will be examined for indications
That rebels lived too where there was oppression.
Imploring exhortations to supernatural beings
Will prove that mortals presided over other mortals.
An exquisite music of words will only report
That for many there was nothing to eat.

II

But in that time there will be praise
For those who did their writing seated on the barren ground,
Those who sat among the lowest ranks
Those who sat among the fighters.
Those who reported the sufferings of the lowest,
Those who reported the deeds of the fighters
Artfully. In the noble language
Previously reserved
For the magnification of kings.

Their descriptions of deplorable conditions and cries of outrage
Will still bear the thumb print
Of the lowest orders.  For this was their
Charge to convey, this they carried on under their sweat stained shirts
Through the cordons of police
To their own people.


Yes, there will be a time, when
These clever and friendly,
Angry and hopeful sorts,
Who sat on bare ground to do their wrting,
Who were surrounded by the lowest orders and the fighters
Will be praised in public.

 

 (June 1939)
 

 

 

Click on title for German original


On the occasion of Nobel Prize Winner Thomas Mann’s
approval of the right of the Americans and English to
chastize the German people for the crimes
of the Hitler regime for a period of ten years


Yes, keep on chastising the chastened!
Chastise them in the name of Demons!
Chastise them in the name of the Spirit!

With his hands in his scrawny lap,
The Refugee requests the death
Of half a million people.

For their sacrifices he requests
Ten years of punishment. The sufferers
Are to be to be punished.

The Prize Winner has requested the cross bearers
To attack their armed tormentors with their bare hands.
The press brought no reply, so now
The Aggrieved Party requests the chastisement
Of the Crucified.
 
2

In order to gain a hundred thousand dollar name
In this matter of the tormented people
The Writer put on his very best suit.
With little obsequious bows,
He approached the Prize Holder
To seduce him with smooth words
For a gracious statement about the people,
To bribe him with flattery
To do a good deed
Pretend to him slyly
That there is money to be made in honesty

Suspiciously the Celebrated one listened.
For a moment
He pondered the possibility of being celebrated here, as well,
Well, write it down, my friend, I consider it my responsibility
To do something for the people. Hurriedly
The Writer wrote down the precious words, greedy
For more, looking up, all he saw was the back
Of the Celebrated One in the door frame. The assault
Had failed.

3

And for a moment, too
The Petitioner stood confused
For servility made him
Sorrowful wherever he encountered it.
But then, mindful
That this degenerate human being
Lived from his degeneration, but that the people
Only come to death, when they degenerate
He went more quietly on his way.


As it grew obvious that the Allies were winning the war against the Nazis WII, German émigrés with Brecht in the lead wrote and signed a declaration calling on the Allies to differentiate between the Nazis and their supporters and the rest of the German people, and calling on them, too, to support a strong democracy in Germany. Thomas Mann, who signature would have lent great weight to the document, signed, but withdrew his signature the next day, citing as his reason, that he did not wish to tie the hands of the Allies, who might very well see reason to chastize the German people for a decade. Brecht was furious.