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07 October 2019

70 Years of Books From and About East Germany

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On 7 October 1949 the Soviet-occupied area of Germany became an independent state with the official name Deutsche Demokratische Republik/DDR (German Democratic Republic/GDR). The Western-occupied territories had become the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany) in May of the same year, and for the next four decades there would be two separate German states with very different government, societies, ideologies and allegiances.

Map of the German Deomcratic Republic (East Germany) in 1979

Map of the German Democratic Republic, from Deutsche Demokratische Republik: Handbuch (Leipzig, 1979) X:800/14702

Wilhelm Pieck (left) aned Johannes Dieckmann (right) in the East German Parliament

Wilhelm Pieck (left) is sworn in as President of the newly-founded GDR, 11 October 1949, from Heinz Heitzer [et al.], DDR – Werden und Wachsen: Zur Geschichte der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik (Berlin, 1975) X:809/23404

The British Library and its predecessors acquired books and other material from the GDR for the whole period of its existence and continues to buy works about the East German state and its legacy. Many are of course research-level publications, the backbone of our non-British collecting, including the output of East German academies, universities, museums and other scholarly institutions, but there are also more general and in some cases ephemeral works which shed light on everyday aspects of life in the GDR.

Cover of 'Die Volkskammer der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik'

A official handbook of the East German Parliament, Die Volkskammer der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik  (Berlin, 1964) S.F.1372/2.

9th Party Conference 1976

Images from the 9th Party Conference of the SED, from Deutsche Demokratische Republik: Handbuch

Official GDR Government publications were received by the Library via international exchange agreements. While our holdings are not complete, we have the proceedings of the East German Parliament (Volkskammer) from the late 1950s to 1990 and the official record of laws and treaties for the whole period of the GDR’s existence. Full details of our own holdings, as well as those of the LSE and Bodleian libraries, can be found in the collection guide on our website  We also hold a complete run on microfilm of Neues Deutschland the official newspaper of the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED).

Masthead of 'Neues Deutschland' 7 October 1949 with headlne 'Tag der Geburt der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik'

Masthead of Neues Deutschland, 7 October 1949, announcing the birth of the German Democratic republic. MFM.MF538H

We hold a small amount of material for and about the East German youth movements, including a collection of poems and art by members of the Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organisation to celebrate its 30th anniversary. In one poem a boy reflects that in 30 years time his will have a son of his own who will be a pioneer; I wonder if he remembers that today?

Cover of 'So sind wir, so ist ein Pionier', showing a girl in uniform saluting

Cover of So sind wir - so ist ein Pionier! Literarische und bildkünstlerische Arbeiten der Schuljugend des Bezirkes Neubrandenburg zum 30. Jahrestag der Pionierorganisation 'Ernst Thälmann' (Neubrandenburg, [1978])  X:990/11196

Cover of songbook 'Leben, singen, kämpfen' showing a young man brandishing a flag

Cover of a songbook for the Freie Deutsche Jugend, Leben, Singen, Kämpfen (Berlion, 1949) A.697.dd

Many publications serve as guides to or histories of the East German state. An impressive publication from 1979, simply titled Deutsche Demokratische Republik: Handbuch gives a full overview of the state’s geography, history, economy, institutions and culture. Like other state-approved histories such as Heinz Heitzer’s DDR – Werden und Wachsen, the Handbuch gives a resolutely upbeat account of the GDR. Inevitably much material has a greater or lesser degree of propagandist content and is openly critical of the West German state, such as a study of the popular magazines and pulp fiction found in a typical Munich news kiosk and described by the study’s author as ‘poison in colourful pamphlets’.

Book jacket showing a newspaper kiosk and the covers of some West German magazines

Gift in bunten Heften: ein Münchner Zeitungskiosk als Spiegel des westdeutschen Kulturverfalls (Berlin, 1960). X.529/47019

Cultural and leisure activities within the GDR are also represented: music, art and sport all feature in the collections, often in books received as donations or as part of exchange arrangements, intended to showcase the GDR’s cultural credentials. 

Cover of 'Sports in the GDR' showing a girl in a leotard holding a teddy bear

Cover of Sports in the GDR (Dresden, 1980) L.45/1458. This was published on the occasion of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the young gymnast is shown holding the official mascot for the games

And of course we acquired original literary texts by prominent East German writers,  such as Christa Wolf, Volker Braun, Heiner Müller and many others.

We also hold West German material about the GDR from the period of its existence, also often propagandist in its own way. In the early decades of the two states, West German authors deliberately avoided using the name ‘Deutsche Demokratische Republik’, instead referring to the ‘Soviet Occupation Zone’ (Sowjetische Besatzungszone/SBZ), or sometimes just as ‘the Zone’ as in a 1965 history.

Front cover of the handbook 'SBZ von-A-Z ',1966

SBZ von A bis Z : ein Taschen-und Nachschlagebuch über die Sowjetische Besatzungsone Deutschlands (Bonn, 1966) W8/7230. A guide to the GDR produced by the West German Federal Ministry for All-German Affairs

Cover of "20 Jahre Zone" showing an East German Politician and a crowd of protestors

Henning Frank, 20 Jahre Zone: kleine Geschichte der "DDR" (Munich, 1965) F13/4579. (Note how thew designation DDR is placed in inverted commas)

The GDR lasted only 41 years; in October 1989, even as the regime celebrated the state’s 40th anniversary, mass protests were growing in the country and many citizens were taking advantage of new opportunities to flee to the west. Within a few weeks the Berlin Wall had been breached and within a year the GDR had officially ceased to exist, acceding to the Federal Republic to form a single state.

After German reunification, books about the GDR continued to appear: scholarly studies of all aspects of East German history, politics and society; official reports on the activities of bodies such as the Ministry for State Security (STASI); literary works with the GDR as a theme; memoirs of former GDR citizens. We even have some more light-hearted items, some of which pick up on the trend for ‘Ostalgie’ (nostalgia for East Germany), such as a collection of the ‘best Trabi jokes’ mocking the famously unreliable East German cars.

Book cover with a cartoon of a Trabant car springing over the Berlin Wall

Nils Brennecke, Warum hat der Trabi Räder? Die schönsten Trabi-Witze (Reinbek, 1991) YA.1994.a.9428 

All the material we hold from and about the German Democratic Republic can be found in our online catalogue. With 70 years’ worth of material, we must have something for every research interest in the area.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

01 October 2019

Defending a Nazi – a barrister’s path from opponent of Nazism to advocatus diaboli

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“If you appoint me to defend this man, I will stand on the river bank naked, wearing only a white sheet, and scream that I am Jesus Christ” – that’s how we can summarize the reaction of Jaroslav Mellan, a lawyer, at the idea of him being asked to defend Karl Hermann Frank.

Cover of Noc pred popravou with a photograph of Karl Hermann Frank

Cover of Ladislav Tunys, Noc před popravou (Prague, 1995), YA.1999.a.737

The Czechoslovak Bar Association was in a tricky position. It was March 1946. Karl Hermann Frank, one of the most prominent Nazi leaders, had just been transferred from an American prison to Czechoslovakia, where he was to be tried and convicted of war crimes. The Bar Association, closely watched by the international community, had the difficult task of finding an advocatus diaboli for Frank, a job which no one wanted. The choice fell on Kamill Resler, a member of the anti-Nazi resistance movement and a defender of Jewish clients during the war, who was threatened with the withdrawal of his professional qualifications if he refused to defend the accused. Resler tried to challenge the decision a number of times, but to no avail. The situation was made even more dramatic by the fact that some of Resler’s relatives and friends were killed during the war as a result of Frank’s orders.

Photograph of Frank in front of his shop

Frank in front of his bookshop in Karlovy Vary, reproduced in Emil Hruška, Pán protektorátu: K.H. Frank známý a neznámý (Prague, 2015), YF.2016.a.15829

And yet, despite his hatred for Frank, Resler believed that every criminal deserves a fair trial. In his opinion, a barrister’s duty was to disregard his feelings about the accused and to defend him to the best of his abilities. And that’s precisely what he did. Resler argued that Nazism was a disease and Frank, as its follower, must have suffered from a psychiatric disorder. He claimed that Frank lacked the ability to judge the consequences of his actions during the war and, on top of that, was unaware of what was happening in the concentration camps, even though he visited them several times.

Caricature of Resler

Caricature of Resler, reproduced in Jakub Drápal, Defending Nazis in postwar Czechoslovakia: the life of K. Resler, defence counsel ex officio of K.H. Frank (Prague, 2018), awaiting shelfmark.

Before the war Frank worked as a bookseller and clerk. He enrolled in the German National-Socialist Workers Party in 1919, and when it was dissolved by the state, in the Sudeten German Party. Gradually he managed to reach the highest-ranking position in occupied Czechoslovakia, that of Secretary of State of the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and chief of police. But now, with the war being over and he himself incarcerated in a Czechoslovak prison, isolated from family members and fully aware of the general hatred towards him, he became extremely depressed and struggled to find the emotional stamina to defend himself. That meant that Resler not only had to defend Frank, but that he actually found himself forced to console the Nazi prisoner and motivate him to fight for his life till the very end. The idea of Frank’s having hope of avoiding the death sentence would contribute to the image of a fair court trial that could not be questioned by international opinion.

Photograph of Resler during Frank’s trial

Resler during Frank’s trial, reproduced in Defending Nazis in postwar Czechoslovakia

Frank was at first very displeased with the fact that he would be defended by a Czech barrister. Resler upset him a number of times, as he didn’t hide his criticism of Nazi ideology and actions. Yet Frank had his softer side too. One day prison guards found him crying in his cell because two Czech prisoners had given him a loaf of bread as a Christmas gift. Frank was emotionally prepared to deal with hatred, but he wasn’t prepared for kindness.

Throughout the trial Resler was careful to keep a distance from him. Only when Frank heard the pronouncement of the death sentence did Resler shake his hand for the first time. He stayed with him in the prison cell for the three hours between the announcement of the verdict and the execution. When Frank was being taken to the gallows, he bade him farewell by saying: “Die like a man!”

Photograph of Frank sitting on a chair in a prison cell

Frank in prison cell, reproduced in Pán protektorátu

And thus Frank had a fair trial and the Czechoslovak justice system could not be criticized by the international public. The only detail that spoiled the whole picture was the hangman, who after the execution took the noose with which Frank was hanged and drank it away in a bar. Other than that, the moral standards of the Czechoslovaks successfully passed the test.

Zuzanna Krzemien, Slavonic and East European Collections Cataloguer

References/further reading

Jakub Drápal, Defending Nazis in postwar Czechoslovakia : the life of K. Resler, defence counsel ex officio of K.H. Frank (Prague, 2018), awaiting shelfmark.

Emil Hruška, Pán protektorátu : K.H. Frank známý a neznámý (Praha, 2015), YF.2016.a.15829

Ladislav Tunys, Noc před popravou : K.H. Frank a jeho obhájce : archivy promluvily (Praha, 1995), YA.1999.a.737

16 August 2019

‘C’est un détournement’: Mezioud Ouldamer’s copy of Guy Debord and Asger Jorn’s Mémoires

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In 1959 Guy Debord and the Danish artist Asger Jorn published Mémoires, ‘a work entirely composed of prefabricated elements’ with ‘supporting structures’ by Jorn. In the jargon of the Situationist International (SI), the avant-garde anti-authoritarian movement they helped form in 1957, it is a work of détournement:

Détournement is the opposite of quotation, of appealing to a theoretical authority that is inevitably tainted by the very fact that it has become a quotation — a fragment torn from its own context and development, and ultimately from the general framework of its period and from the particular option (appropriate or erroneous) that it represented within that framework. Détournement is the flexible language of anti-ideology. (Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, thesis 208)

Double-page spread from Mémoires featuring fragments of text and photographs with red splodges

Double-page spread from Mémoires (Copenhagen, 1957; RF.2019.b.63), section 2, bright red indicating Debord’s creative energy

Double-page spread from Mémoires with fragments of maps struck through with blue lines, facing a nebulous blue splodge

Double-page spread from Mémoires section 3, fragments of maps struck through with blue lines, facing a nebulous blue splodge

Wrenched from their original contexts, fragments of texts and isolated images are linked and obscured by roughly applied, bright inks. Not always ‘supporting structures’, Jorn’s paintwork draws connections between fragments, but ‘then Debord’s words and pictures change Jorn’s avenues into labyrinths […] A connection is made, a connection is missed, the reader is lost, the reader enters another passageway, then another’ (Marcus, p. 128).

A page from from Mémoires featuring fragments of text, including a 'Guinness is good for you' advertisement. There is a large red splodge covering some of the fragments

‘Guinness is good for you’: détourning advertising as the slogan is placed next to the fragment ‘in the daily struggle’

Through his creative reinterpretation of the autobiographical genre, the author enacts the process by which the ‘society of the spectacle’ and the commodification of experience might finally be blown apart to uncover again the unique everyday amidst the alienating capitalist superstructure. As Mémoires’ final fragment puts it, ‘I wanted to speak the beautiful language of my time’.

Final page of Memoires featuring the words 'I wanted to speak the beautiful language of my time' (in French) and a large red splodge.

Final page of Mémoires

The British Library’s copy of Mémoires has an inscription by Mezioud Ouldamer (1951-2017), an Algerian political activist and author of a number of works inspired by the Situationists and his friendship with Debord.

Inscription by Mezioud Ouldamer in Mémoires

Inscription by Mezioud Ouldamer in Mémoires

Ouldamer writes: ‘It is a détournement | It was in Ecclesiastes. | And even in Proverbs. | There is still a belief in this rotten “God”. There is nothing, Evy. I love you. | Le Singe [the monkey or the imitator]’. It isn’t clear when Debord gave Ouldamer the copy, of which there were perhaps one thousand in small circulation amongst associates, but their friendship appears to have flourished in the early 1980s. Ouldamer’s presence in our copy shifts the frame of the work and provokes us to think about race, ethnicity and the Algerian crises that were part of the context of both the original publication and Debord’s subsequent gift to Ouldamer.

Algerian intellectuals were already part of the Lettrist International, the SI’s forerunner, including Hadj Mohamed Dahou, who continued into the SI. Compatriot Abdelhafid Khatib wrote a fragmentary first example of a psychogeography in 1958. Thus the Algerian Situationist context was well established when the next generation came to maturity. Between 1953, the year of ‘The Manifesto of the Algerian Group of the Lettrist International’, and Ouldamer’s early activism came Algeria’s hard-won independence in 1962. From this point onwards, the violent suppression of native Algerian rights by French colonists transformed into the suppression of Berber rights by the single-party leadership Front de liberation nationale (FLN) with their exclusive focus on Arabization. This eventually led to the Berber mass activism and strikes of 1980, known as the ‘Berber Spring’.

Ouldamer, a native of the largest Berber region, Kabylia, co-edited a pamphlet entitled L’Algérie brûle! [‘Algeria is on fire’], attributed to ‘un groupe d’autonomes algériens’. In it, they pay homage to the activists for restoring to millions of Berber people a long-restricted freedom of expression. They reveal the illusion of Algeria being the standard-bearer for third world revolution, when it has reproduced ‘all the mediocrities and ignominies shared across all the world’s police states’. The incendiary pamphlet then evokes our inscription as it continues, ‘Les insurgés de Tizi-Ouzou n’ont fait que cracher sur toute cette pourriture’ [the insurgents of Tizi-Ouzou have done nothing else but spit in the face of this rottenness].

Cover of L’Algérie brûle!

L’Algérie brûle! (Paris, 1981) X.809/55238

L’Algérie brûle! was published by Debord’s longstanding publisher and friend Gérard Lebovici at éditions Champ Libre, Paris. It appeared early in 1981, by which time Ouldamer had been arrested, ultimately to serve one year in prison for breaking article 144 of the Algerian penal code, which is cited on the back flap of his next book, Offense à President. The law forbids citizens to attack the honour of authorities ‘by words, gestures, threats, […] even by writings or drawings not made public’. This book was written in Paris, Ouldamer’s new home following his release, where his friendship with Debord developed. In March 1984, Lebovici was assassinated. Debord rigorously investigated the circumstances of his friend’s death, all the while encouraging Ouldamer to publish his work with the same publisher, now run by Gérard’s widow Floriana under the name éditions Gérard Lebovici.

Cover of Offense à President

Mezioud Ouldamer, Offense à Président (Paris, 1985), YA.1987.a.18728

The success of Offense à President led Ouldamer to work on the book that would spark the most reaction, Le Cauchemar immigré dans la decomposition de la France [‘The Immigrant Nightmare in the Decomposition of France’]. Debord again offered advice throughout. One letter from Debord on 9 May 1985 invites Ouldamer to the small hamlet of Champot, adding that his girlfriend would also be welcome. Is this the ‘Evy’ mentioned in Ouldamer’s inscription in Mémoires?

Cover of Le Cauchemar immigré dans la décomposition de la France

Le Cauchemar immigré dans la décomposition de la France (Paris, 1986), YA.1987.a.3700

Le Cauchemar immigré inspired Debord to pass his own comments on the politics of immigration that had risen to the surface, especially since 1983’s March for Equality and against Racism. Debord’s ‘Notes on the “immigrant question”’ were written in response to Ouldamer’s ideas and are probably more famous today than the work that inspired them. Ouldamer’s matter-of-fact delivery is similar to Debord’s as he writes ‘the spectacle of a nightmarish immigration dominates every mind, to the extent that immigrants themselves have begun to give in to this image’. The last lines of Le Cauchemar immigré are indeed taken from Debord’s last lines of his notes to Ouldamer. The gist is, will the earth’s future inhabitants emancipate themselves from the current hierarchical and repressive system, or ‘will they be dominated by an even more hierarchical and pro-slavery society than today?’ Sharing a militancy, Debord and Ouldamer close by saying, ‘we must envisage the worst and fight for the best. France is assuredly regrettable. But regrets are useless.’

Ouldamer’s inscription in the BL’s copy of Mémoires arguably offers a détournement of its own to Debord and Jorn’s détournement. At the very least, this contextual history reinserts global and racial dynamics into a work of the European political avant-garde, in which the Algerian crises of the 20th century arguably often only played a sub-textual role. If Mémoires ‘wanted to speak the beautiful language of my time’ then that language was surely not just the fragmented artistry of Paris, but also the Arabic and the Berber languages of Algeria.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References / Further reading

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York, 1994), YC.1994.b.6105

Guy Debord, Correspondance [vol. 6, Janvier 1979 – Décembre 1987] (Paris, 1999-2010), YF.2008.a.37298

Nedjib Sidi Moussa, ‘In Memoriam Mezioud Ouldamer’, in Textures du Temps

Erindringer om Asger Jorn, ed. by Troels Andersen and Aksel Evin Olesen (Silkeborg, 1982), X.425/4198

Greil Marcus, ‘Guy Debord’s Mémoires: A Siutationist Primer’, in On the passage of a few people through a rather brief moment in time: The Situationist International 1957-1972, ed. by Elisabeth Sussman (Cambridge, MA: 1989), YC.1992.b.1936

Boris Donné, Pour mémoires: un essai d’élucidation des Mémoires de Guy Debord (Paris, 2004), YF.2004.a.15028

Tom McDonough, ‘The Beautiful Language of my Century’: Reinventing the Language of Contestation in Postwar France, 1945-1968 (Cambridge, MA: 2007), YK.2007.a.9440

Bart Lans and Otakar Mácel, ‘The Making of Fin de Copenhague & Mémoires: The tactic of détournement in the collaboration between Guy Debord and Asger Jorn’ (Delft, 2009) 

Ella Mudie, ‘An Atlas of Allusions: The Perverse Methods of Guy Debord’s Mémoires, Criticism 58 (2016), pp. 535-63

25 July 2019

Matilde Serao: proud to be imperfect

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This woman so conventional and gossipy, false among the people and so simple, so affectionate, so frank with herself, so vain with others and so humble with me, so ugly in her daily life and so beautiful in moments of love, so incorrigible and disgusting, so docile to the teachings, I like her a lot, very much, too much […]

This is how, in a letter to a friend, Edoardo Scarfoglio describes the woman he was about to marry. The future wife was Matilde Serao (1856-1927), writer and journalist, who, at 26, left Naples to live in Rome where, in the capital’s literary salons, she became known for her wit, and was often frowned upon because of her spontaneous laughter and gestures. Scarfoglio had already brutally criticised Fantasia, the novel published in 1883 that made Serao famous, describing its language as inexact, improper, a mixture of dialectal words from Italian and French.

Photograph of Matilde Serao in 1887

Photograph of Matilde Serao in 1887, reproduced in Alberto Consiglio, Napoli amore e morte – Edoardo Scarfgoglio e Matilde Serao (Naples, 1959) 010601.aaa.94

In an interview with Ugo Ojetti, Matilde Serao said this in her defence:

Even though my language is incorrect, even though I cannot write and I admire those who write well, I must confess that if I should by any chance learn to do it, I would not do it. I believe, with the liveliness of that uncertain language and broken style, to infuse warmth in my works, and warmth, not only vivifies the body, it also preserves it from the corruption of time.

Cover of the Italian edition of Serao's Fantasia

Cover of the English translation of Serao's Fantasia

Covers of Serao’s Fantasia (Florence, 1914) W12/6416 and of an English translation by Henry Harland and Paul Sylvester, Fantasy (London, 1891). 12205.ee.3/17.

In the introduction to the edition of Fantasia published in 2010, Riccardo Reims wrote:

[…] if a novel containing the same rapid descriptions of 10 young girls in a college, lined up in a classroom, […] briefly defined […] – Giovanna who, without reading, her eyes semi closed, bites a rose, and the pale Lucia with her mellow hair, lips too red, who holds her own head with one hand and through the fingers looks at the teacher […] – were published today, there would be screams of wonder, no offence to the living writers.

In 1884 Serao published Il ventre di Napoli, clearly recalling Zola’s Le ventre de Paris (1873). She gives a vivid and concrete image of late nineteenth-century Naples, under the influence of the positivistic approach of French literary Naturalism and the detached look of Italian Verismo. Her description of Naples takes us to the most tragic and dark parts of the city, and suddenly we are dazzled by the remarkable livelihood of the people in it: it is as if Serao makes the Neapolitans flourish from the dirt of the city with their colourful songs, elegance and passion for handicraft.

Title-page of Il Ventre di Napoli

Title-page of Il Ventre di Napoli (Milan, 1884) 10130.bb.19.

Serao and Scarfoglio married in 1885. In the same year the couple founded the newspaper Il corriere di Roma. Two years later in Naples they founded Il corriere di Napoli, which in 1892 became Il Mattino. After a while, the marriage went though some crisis: in 1903, Serao left Il Mattino and founded Il Giorno.

In March 1925, the philosopher Giovanni Gentile wrote a manifesto of the fascist intellectuals, following a conference of fascist cultural institutions. The manifesto was published by the national press on 21 April; Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Luigi Pirandello were among the signatories.

On the following 1 May, Benedetto Croce wrote a poster entitled ‘A reply from writers, professors and Italian publicists, to the manifesto of the fascist intellectuals’. The poster was published by the daily newspaper Il Mondo and Matilde Serao was among the contributors. In 1926 the newspaper was suppressed by the Fascist regime and Matilde Serao’s nomination for the Nobel Prize in Literature was stopped. She died the following year, on 25 July.

Giuseppe Alizzi, Curator Romance Collections

References/Further reading

Matilde Serao, Fantasia, introduzione di Riccardo Reim. (Milan, 2010). YF.2011.a.19669

Ugo Ojetti, Alla scoperta dei letterati.... (Milan, 1895). 11852.bb.23.

All translations by Giuseppe Alizzi

12 April 2019

Poets in Power: the 1919 Bavarian Soviet Republic

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In April 1919, Munich was briefly the seat of one of the strangest governments in the history of any country. Led initially by men who were writers and thinkers first and politicians second (if at all), the Munich Räterepublik – a ‘Soviet’ or ‘Council’ Republic – was the culmination of Bavaria’s revolution of 1918-19, and its defeat would see Bavaria turn decisively to the political right.

Cartoon showing Munich's Frauenkirchr turned upside down
Cover of O. Estée, München auf dem Kopf: die Geschichte einer Räterepublik in 40 Bildern (Munich, 1919) 12316.w.1. A collection of drawings of Munich and its people during the Soviet Republic with an ironic commentary from a conservative perspective. The image of the city's iconic Frauenkirche turned upside down reflects the chaos of the period.

Revolution had broken out in Bavaria, as elsewhere in Germany, during the last days of the First World War. Journalist and Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) member Kurt Eisner had seized the initiative ahead of more established politicians, declaring a People’s State of Bavaria on 8 November and becoming its first Prime Minister. However, he faced opposition not only from the political right but also from other left-wing factions: too radical for the mainstream Social Democrats (SPD), not radical enough for the Communists. Elections in January 1919 saw his party come a humiliating last, with less than three per cent of the vote.

In February Eisner was assassinated, inflaming an already chaotic political situation. Johannes Hoffmann of the SPD was elected Prime Minister, but there were still deep divisions over whether the new state should be a parliamentary or soviet-style republic. On 6 April, a group of idealistic pacifists and anarchists decided for the latter and, as Hoffmann and his government retreated to Bamberg, proclaimed a Bavarian Soviet Republic. At its head was the poet and playwright Ernst Toller, supported by, among others, fellow-writers Gustav Landauer and Erich Mühsam.

Front page of a newspaper with a proclamation headed 'To the People of Bavaria'
The proclamation of a Bavarian Soviet Republic on the front page of the newspaper Münchener Neueste Nachrichten (MFM.MF461)  on 7 April 1919.

Landauer was made commissar for education and culture, and dreamed of creating progressive schools and free museums. He wrote to a friend: “If they give me a couple of weeks, I hope to achieve something; but it’s possible it will only be a couple of days, and then all a dream.” His pessimism was well founded: for all its conviction and high ideals, the new regime was ill-equipped to govern, especially in an already confused and chaotic situation. Landauer himself claimed that he had no time for the everyday work of government since he was too busy reshaping society. Toller was besieged in his office by petitioners asking every kind of favour, many of them far beyond his remit. The behaviour of the commissar for foreign affairs, Franz Lipp, grew increasingly eccentric; after he sent a telegram to the Pope claiming, among other things, that Hoffmann had stolen the key to his lavatory, Toller was forced to remove him from office.

Photograph of Ernst Toller
Ernst Toller, frontispiece portrait from his autobiography, Eine Jugend in Deutschland (Amsterdam, 1933) 10709.a.29

Meanwhile the Communist leader Eugen Leviné was accusing Toller of leading a “pseudo-soviet” and demanding a harder line more in keeping with that of Lenin’s Russia. On 13 April he succeeded in ousting Toller and began to impose what he saw as more genuine soviet rule, confiscating weapons, houses and food from the ‘bourgeoisie’, and calling a general strike. Ironically, the committed pacifist Toller ended up commanding a unit of Bavaria’s newly-formed ‘Red Army’ against the right-wing Freikorps militias with which Hoffmann’s Bamberg government had allied itself in the hope of regaining power.

Cover of 'Als Rotarmist vor München' showing an armed man standing in a city street
Cover of Erich Wollenberg, Als Rotarmist vor München: Reportage aus der Münchener Räterepublik (Berlin, 1929)  X.0700/10339. Wollenberg was Infantry Commander of the Bavarian Red Army. As a committed Communist, his account of the struggle to defend the Soviet Republic is critical of more moderate figures such as Toller.

Despite initial Red Army successes against the Freikorps, it was clear that the Soviet Republic could not hold out, not least because of schisms caused by factional infighting: by the end of April, Toller recalls in his autobiography, “two separate governments were operating at once in Munich.” The general strike was exacerbating food shortages, and the people were growing tired of and angry at the ongoing chaos. When Freikorps troops finally entered and re-took the city at the beginning of May, they were welcomed by many as liberators, but the liberation was a brutal one. Street fighting left over 600 dead, more than half civilians, and the retaliation against the supporters of the Soviet Republic saw some 2200 people imprisoned or executed. Landauer was murdered in prison and Leviné executed for high treason.

Flyer calling for the arrest of Ernst Toller with his photograph and description
Police poster offering a reward for the capture of Toller, wanted for high treason. Reproduced in Edward Crankshaw’s translation of Toller’s autobiography, I was  a German (London, 1934) 2402.a.14

Toller faced the same charge, but was comparatively fortunate in receiving only a five-year prison sentence. Although he was judged to have committed high treason, the court believed that he had done so “with honourable intent”. In his case at least, then, the high initial ideals of the Bavarian Soviet Republic were given a kind of official, if grudging, respect.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator, Germanic Studies

References/Further reading

Volker Weidermann, Träumer: als die Dichter die Macht übernahmen. (Cologne, 2017) [Awaiting shelfmark] English translation by Ruth Martin, Dreamers: When the Writers Took Power, Germany 1918 (London, 2018) ELD.DS.338669

Kurt Kreiler, Die Schriftstellerrepublik: zum Verhältnis von Literatur und Politik in der Münchner Räterepublik: ein systematisches Kapitel politischer Literaturgeschichte (Berlin, 1978) X:709/28448

Gerhard Schmolze (ed.), Revolution und Räterepublik in München 1918/19 in Augenzeugenberichten (Düsseldorf, 1969) X.809/9992.

Richard Dove, He was a German: a Biography of Ernst Toller (London, 1990) YK.1990.a.7

Herbert Kapfer, Carl-Ludwig Reichert (ed.), Umsturz in München : Schriftsteller erzählen die Räterepublik (Munich, 1988)

05 February 2019

Against Totalitarianism: the Serbian émigré review ‘Naša reč’, 1948-1990

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The review Naša reč (‘Our word’) was published in Paris from 1948 to 1958, then in London until 1990. Naša reč was printed in Serbian, initially every six weeks and from 1951 ten times a year. Democratically-oriented Yugoslav emigrants produced this journal for like-minded fellow emigrants in Western Europe and North America who opposed communism at home.

Although Naša reč advocated strongly against the communist political system imposed in 1945, it did not argue for a return to the pre-1941 regime in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Instead, it pleaded for a new democratic country as a community of free nations willing to live together in a federal state which would guarantee human rights and civil, social and religious freedoms to all citizens. Naša reč strongly believed in a western model of parliamentarian multi-party political system with a free press and free vote at its core. Its editors thought that the one-party system could be replaced by compromise and reform in a peaceful democratic transition. Naša reč provided a platform for political debate not only for Serbs but also for all Yugoslavs, and welcomed contributions from outside émigré communities.

As an open, independent, democratic and liberal, often unapologetically Serbian and yet genuinely Yugoslav phenomenon, Naša reč was unique among other South Slavonic emigrant publications published in Britain and in the west in this period.

I Nasa rec 1949Issue of Naša reč for 1 September 1949. (P.P.3554.nzs) with title header in Cyrillic.

Permanent columns in Naša reč besides the editorial were Yugoslav and international politics, history and current affairs, topics from emigré life, book reviews, opinions and polemics, and letters to the editorial board as well as useful information about the review and its contributors over time. The review was open to political and cultural contributions in general.

II  Izdanje Nasa rec 1970Front cover by Budimir D. Tošić from Dvadeset godina stave i rada Saveza Oslobođenje (London, 1970)  X.709/10307, a special edition of Naša reč

Naša reč was published by an alliance of Serbian political, social and cultural emigrant organisations in Western Europe called cooperatives. The membership of these cooperatives included the Young Democrats, the youth section of the Democratic Party, a major party in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The Union Oslobođenje (‘Liberation’) was founded in 1949 as an umbrella organisation for the Western European and North American cooperatives. Naša reč was its official newspaper, funded mainly by the membership, but also by subscriptions, sales and donations.

III Biblioteka Nase delo 1960 Cover of Božidar Vlajić, Svodjenje računa i preispitivanje (London, 1960) W.P.7433/7. No. 7 of the series Naše delo published by Oslobođenje 

The majority of Oslobođenje’s members were young people born in the 1920s and 1930s. They belonged to the generation traumatised by enemy occupation and the ensuing civil war in Yugoslavia during the Second World War. Oslobođenje organised biannual conferences and published political programmes abroad, but its ideas, ideology and plans were designed for the country it intended to change. Oslobođenje wholeheartedly supported Yugoslav dissidents and gave them a voice in Naša reč, and over time collaboration was extended to democratically-minded people in Yugoslavia. After the death of the Yugoslav communist leader Tito in 1980, Naša reč began receiving contributions from that country, and by the late 1980s it was being discreetly distributed in Belgrade.

IV w_p_7433_map_1952Ethnographic map of Yugoslavia according to the 1921 and 1931 censuses and 1946 administrative division. From Desimir Tošić, Srpski nacionalni problemi (Paris, 1952) W.P.7433/1-4.

By creating a political model for a future multi-party system in the country, contributors to Naša reč were drawing on free thought, independent information, experience of public debate and critical media reporting in Britain. Between 1952 and 1988 the Union Oslobođenje published 17 books on Yugoslav political, historical, cultural and literary topics in the series Naše delo (Our work). While the review Naša reč was published solely in Roman script, giving the newspaper a Yugoslav character, the series Naše delo enabled authors to publish in both Roman and Cyrillic scripts.

V Biblioteka Nase delo 1975 Cover of Kosta Stevan Pavlović, Ženidba Kralja Petra Drugog: prema Britanskim dokumentima (London, 1975.) Series Naše delo no. 11. X.909/40358

In addition to the review and the series, Naša reč printed 15 special editions as offprints or separate publications between 1964 and 1990. These were mainly works and pamphlets by Yugoslav dissidents and writers such as Milovan Đilas, Mihajlo Mihajlov, Miodrag Ilić, Gojko Đogo and others.

Leading figures of the Union Oslobođenje were behind all its publishing activities. Desimir Tošić was the sole editor of Naša reč and the chief writer of editorials together with Božidar Vlajić, a pre-war politician and prominent member of the Democratic Party.

A major permanent subject of political debate in Naša reč was the national question in Yugoslavia. Naša reč advocated a compromise and sought a solution that would command the support of the majority in each of the Yugoslav nations. The preferred option for Naša reč was a federal multi-party parliamentary state such as Switzerland, but it was also open to a Yugoslav confederation, self-rule or independence for the Yugoslav nations. The standpoint of Naša reč and the Union Oslobođenje in this matter was that the nations of Yugoslavia, not its constituent republics, should decide on the future form of government and state.

In the end Naša reč didn’t find an answer to the key question of the first and the second Yugoslavia, but believed in the future of the ‘Third Yugoslavia’, a democratic country of free and equal nations and citizens. With the renewal of the multi-party system in Yugoslavia in 1990 Naša reč ceased publication, and the Union Oslobođenje was able to transfer its ideas and experiences into the newly-founded Democratic Party in Serbia. In his last editorial Tošić declared that the journal had completed its mission but the struggle for democracy continued at home.

VI Nasa Rec 1990 The last issue of Naša reč. (No. 420, December 1990) with a header in Roman type against a stylized Cyrillic backdrop

Naša reč is an indispensable source for studying the questions of liberal and totalitarian ideologies during the Cold War, the problems of interwar and post-war politics in Yugoslavia, and the topic of nationalism in general. In 43 years, Naša reč had over 300 hundred contributors and published a total of over 6,000 pages. The British Library holds an almost complete set of Naša reč in 420 issues; the missing issues are 1-3 (1948) and 137 (1963).

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

References:

Dejan Đokić (editor), Nesentimentalni idealisti. Desimir Tošić, Božidar Vlajić i uvodnici časopisa Naša reč (Belgrade, 2013) YF.2014.a.25606.

 

16 November 2018

The Netherlands’ ‘Red Week’ in November 1918 – Troelstra’s Mistake

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“I let myself go, but as soon as I noticed it would not have the desired effect I withdrew.”

Pieter Jelles Troelstra wrote these (freely translated) words in the fourth volume, posthumously published, of his Memoirs.

Portrait of P.J. Troelstra
Portrait of P.J. Troelstra, frontispiece from his memoirs, Gedenkschriften. Vierde deel: Storm. (Amsterdam, 1931) 010760.g.18.

Following the failures of the Second International in 1916 and of the peace conference in Stockholm in 1917 he advocated direct action when parliamentary processes failed.

Caricature of Troelstra as a shabby soldier
“What is left of the Internationale in the Netherlands”, cartoon by Louis de Leeuw from De Roskam, October 1916. Reproduced in A.H. Hahn, Troelstra in de karikatuur (Amsterdam, 1920) X.429/4421.

Troelstra deemed the time ripe for a revolution in the Netherlands, following food riots and an uprising on an army base. 

Caricature of Troelstra dressed as a revolutionary and carrying knives inscribed with the word 'revolution'
 “… And when the revolution is there, Pieter Jelles is ready.” Cartoon by Jan Sluyters from De Nieuwe Amsterdammer, 9 February 1918. Reproduced in Troelstra in de karikatuur.

Going against his own party and without their prior knowledge he held two speeches: in Rotterdam in front of dock workers on 11 November and in Parliament on 12 November, where he called upon the government to step aside for a socialist regime ans claimed that if they did not do so peacefully he would not rule out the use of violence. He then went home and waited for events to happen!

Whilst he was resting others were frantically busy organising a counter-revolution.

Leading figures were the secretaries of one of the directors of the Bataafse Petroleum Maatschappij (precursor of Shell) Hendrik Colijn, H.H.A. Gybland Oosterhoff and F.C Gerretson.

Colijn happened to be in London, where he negotiated an economic agreement, including food supplies. Gerretson & Oosterhoff contacted British Ambassador in The Hague, Walter Townley, on the evening of 12 November asking him to forward a telegram from Colijn’s party, but written by Gerretson, urging him to press Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to strongly emphasis that any food supplies would only be sent to the ‘Royal Government of the Netherlands’, and none would be forthcoming in case of disorder.

This happened and the strong warning was sent to the Dutch Government who immediately passed it on to the people in the form of a proclamation, issued on 13 of November.

Text in Dutch of a proclamation warning against popular violence and disturbance
Text of the Dutch Government’s proclamation issued on 13 November, warning that any revolt, violence or disturbance would halt the promised food supplies. From: H.J. Scheffer, November 1918: journaal van een revolutie die niet doorging. (Amsterdam, 1968)  X.809/7108.

This seemed to have had the desired effect, for Townley wired to Balfour on the 14th of November that “the proclamation had worked wonders” and suggested publishing a similar notice in London.

Meanwhile the largest Dutch trade union, the N.V.V., had distanced itself from Troelstra, as did his own party. It became clear that calling for a revolution on the basis of events in Germany had been a grave miscalculation.


Caricature of Trade Union leader Stenhuis being pulled in two directions by Troelstra and a rival
“The N.V.V, Wijnkoop and Troelstra. Stenhuis (Secr. Gen N.V.V.): Let go of my jacket, we’re going our own way.” Cartoon by Louis Raedemaekers, from De Courant, 22 March 1920. Reproduced in Troelstra in de karikatuur

On 14 November Troelstra was back in Parliament, admitting he had made an error. He claimed never to have called for a coup-d’état, nor advocated violence. This U-turn caused some unrest in the gallery to the extent that the speaker had to call for order.

Extract from proceedings of the Dutch parliament with Troelstra's denial of having planned a coup or advocated violence
 Troelstra: “I have never used the word ‘coup d-etat’. …. Troelstra: “ I have explicitly stated that I reject violence.” From: Handelingen Tweede Kamer 1918-1919 , 14 November 1918, p 395. www.statengeneraaldigitaal.nl.

The government has regained its grip, both mentally and in practice and the Dutch had shown their loyalty to the House of Orange in a mass demonstration in The Hague, on Monday 18th where the queen and her family were present. Townley gives a nice summary of events in his despatch to Balfour of that day, covered in the Rijskgeschiedkundige Publicatiën, vol 145, pages 619-624. He mentions the small group of people who ‘spontaneously’ unharnessed the horses in front of the queen’s carriage and pulled it themselves, a story that became a legend, although it later proved to have been a thoroughly rehearsed plan.

The consequences of Troelstra’s ‘mistake’ were that some of the social reforms that his socialist party had demanded were widely supported, resulting in an eight-hour day and 45 hour working week, more social housing, higher wages for civil servants and women’s suffrage!

Troelstra himself never gave up the idea of the possibility of revolution, should democracy fail.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

Caricature of Troelstra drawing a dagger inscribed with the word 'revolution'
“The coquette politician. Mr Troelstra: ‘Such a dear knife! But…. What if it cuts the party in two?’”  Cartoon by Jan Sluyters from De Nieuwe Groene, 22 March 1919, reproduced in Troelstra in de karikatuur

References:

D. Hans, Troelstra en de Revolutie (Dalfsen, 1920) 8079.e.36

C. Smit et al. ‘Bescheiden Betreffende de buitenlandse politiek van Nederland 1848 -1919’. In: Rijskgeschiedkundige Publicatiën ; Grote Serie, 145. (The Hague, 1973) 9405.p. Also available online at: http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/retroboeken/bupo/#source=13&page=465&accessor=toc 

 

05 October 2018

‘The Mafia doesn’t exist’

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Of the over 1000 books on the subject of the mafia held at the British Library, about 700 were published after 1992, when the murders of Judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino made the whole world talk about the Sicilian mafia. Before then, in the 1980s, it was not uncommon to hear that ‘the mafia didn’t exist’, or that it only existed in Palermo, but not in the rest of Sicily. Denouncing the businesses of Sicilian Cosa Nostra, and its ties with the Italian government, had a high price to pay for too many intellectuals. Just to mention two, in 1978, Giuseppe ‘Peppino’ Impastato, and, in 1984, Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Fava, paid for their work with their lives. Peppino Impastato was a political activist, who didn’t leave many writings behind. The other Giuseppe, on the other hand, was a celebrated playwright, a writer and an investigative journalist, so we have collected most of his works since the 1970s and have recently acquired the full run of the magazine that he edited until his murder, and which was the reason for his murder, I Siciliani.

Giuseppe_Fava

 Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Fava (Picture from Wikimedia Commons)

Coming from rural Sicily, Pippo Fava moved to the town of Catania to study law, and then became a professional journalist in 1952. He wrote for several newspapers and magazines, also establishing himself as author for theatre and cinema (he co-wrote the movie Palermo or Wolfsburg, which won the Golden Bear at the 1980 Berlinale). Given the task of editing Il Giornale del Sud, Fava recruited a team of young journalists and photographers to help him carry out some serious investigative journalism. When he was fired by the owners, who would have preferred him to avoid writing so much about the mafia, he used his charisma and influence to persuade these young journalists to join him in creating a fully independent and self-funded monthly magazine, a loud voice for the anti-mafia movement in Sicily, I Siciliani.

Siciliani covers Issues of I Siciliani 

Poor in budget but rich in ideas, Fava started with a very clear agenda of the topics to tackle. He wanted people to see Sicily as it really was. Showing the bad was a moral and ethical duty. Murders were photographed and reported without filters, corruptors were named and shamed. The damage to the environment caused by industrial and building speculation was clear to him, and he was not ashamed to talk about it. His stories are still relevant. His most important contribution was identifying the links between national politicians and the mafia, and stating that the mafia was effectively ruling the country; this was something Pippo Fava was saying out loud at times when nobody was ready to hear it (Pippo Fava’s last interview with Enzo Biagi, December 1983). But I Siciliani also portrays normal life, showing both the rich and profound culture of the island and as the urban lifestyle that must have surprised those who thought of Sicily as the land of The Godfather.

In the first issue, dated January 1983, in his first editorial, Fava was the first to talk about the Catanian mafia, whose existence everyone else was trying to deny. He names the powerful entrepreneurs behind it; he shows their faces, as well as that of Bernardo ‘Nitto’ Santapaola, the local mafia boss.

I siciliani1Giuseppe Fava, ‘I Quattro Cavalieri dell’Apocalisse Mafiosa’ (above) and Bernardo Santapaola (below), from I Siciliani, Issue 1, January 1983.

Santapaola

It wouldn’t be long. One year later, that same man ordered his murder. Pippo Fava was killed on 5 January 1984, on his way to pick up his grandniece from a theatre rehearsal. I Siciliani tried to survive for a few more years, penniless, mostly relying on subscriptions and a few brave advertisers who didn’t fear the isolation of the magazine.

If you read it now, I Siciliani is still as shocking, powerful and compelling as it was 30 years ago. The issues are still there. The love for the place is still there. Nothing ever changes in Sicily: If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change. (Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Il Gattopardo)

Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections (Italian) @miravale

References/Further Reading

I Siciliani (Sant’Agata li Li Battiati, 1982-[1985]) ZF.9.b.2335

Giuseppe Fava, Gente di rispetto (Milan, 1975) X.909/34407

Giuseppe Fava, Passione di Michele (Bologna, 1980) X.950/20292

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard (London, 1974) X.908/28903

30 August 2018

A diary as a form of art: Jiří Kolář

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The Czech poet, writer and artist Jiří Kolář (1914-2002) does not need a long introduction. He was one of the most prominent figures of the Czech avant-garde of the 1950s-70s and along with Ladislav Nová, Bohumila Grögerová, and her partner Josef Hiršal, one of the four founders of post-war Czechoslovak experimental poetry. Given his aesthetic views it is not surprising that Kolář, like many Czechoslovak intellectuals who lived through the communist regime, was a signatory of Charter 77 .

Having published his first collection of poems Křestní list (‘Birth Certificate’; YA.1996.a.15846) in 1941, by the mid-1950s Kolář started exploring new potentials of lyrical forms, reducing verbal expression to a bare minimum and concentrating on the capacities of visual expression. By the 1960s he developed his unique artistic style, using collage that would incorporate text as well as images as his main medium.

Kolar Self-portraitSelf Portrait by Kolář in Očitý svědek: deník z roku 1949 (Munich, 1983) X.958/30382

Having lived through all the major historical events with his nation, Kolář was very sensitive to them. Czech and Slovaks shared the turbulent history of Europe in the 20th century by marking it with events that were for some reason seemed to happen in the 8th year of decades: gaining independence in 1918, losing it to Nazi Germany in 1938, falling under the control of the Stalinist USSR in 1948 through a communist coup d’état, and unsuccessfully trying to shake off Soviet dominance in 1968. This strange coincidence makes this year extremely memorable for the Czech and Slovak republics. Only the Velvet Revolution of 1989 does not fit this pattern, but this means that we will have the whole of next year to dedicate to this great achievement.

It is especially interesting to note how the poet and artist developed a special interest in diaries and was meticulously devoted to this form. One of his critics observed that “considering Kolář’s permanent, insatiable thirst for facts, his undying passion for documenting the true pace of events and the truthfulness of impressions, we must admit that this autobiographical nature, this diary principle, committed to factography, permeates both his work and his deeds”. And this is very true. Kolář documented the year 1949, the beginning of the communist rule with a literary diary in verse and prose called Očitý svědek: deník z roku 1949 (‘Eyewitness, a diary of the year 1949’).

Kolar Ocity Svedek X.958-30382Cover of Očitý svědek 

The diary of the artists’s thoughts and emotions gives the readers the most faithful and honest impression of the time. On 11 July 1949 the diary entry begins:

Mě udolají snadno, neumím lhat, podobám se už červu, kterého přepůlili jen tak, pro podívanou a svíjím se. (I’m easy to destroy, /I cannot lie, / I’m like a worm, / Who was cut just so / for the show, and I’m curdling, / the soul is separate from the body).

In 1968, Kolář expressed himself through a series of 52 collages (one per week) that became an amazing artistic document of the year leading to the Prague Spring and its aftermath.

Kolar Tydenik 1968 YA.1994.b.1036 Title page of Týdeník 1968 = Newsreel 1968 (Prague, 1993) YA.1994.b.1036

The book is in a way a political pamphlet and reflects life in all its hectic variety, for example:

Week 2: Each day in the new year is a puzzle. Especially when one’s head is in a wire.
Week 10: Antonín Tomalík (a Czech artist) is Dead
Week 15: A liquid triumph of death [is] available at every crossroad. Take your pick!
Week 27: Homage to Ingres … or, the banner of a students’ revolt.
Week 39: Birthday. I was born in the First World War and guns have not fallen silent since.
Week 48: A week of Hands. A rejected hand often turns into a clenched fist.
Week 52: A Face of 1969. Alas, I am a poor prophet – and Utopia? Old men used to usher the world into Paradise. Our masters have long been drowned in mud.

The diary that documented the 1980s is Kolář’s correspondence. The two-volume publication of his letters Psáno na pohlednice (‘Written on postcards’) has the subtitle ‘correspondence in the form of a diary’, as it contains postcards that were sent every day over several years from Paris, where Kolář lived in exile, to his wife in Prague.

Kolar Psano na pohlednice YF.2004.a.6387
One of Kolář’s postcards, reproduced on the endpapers of Psáno na pohlednice (Prague, 2000). YF.2004.a.6387

More books by Jiří Kolář, material about him and catalogues of his works can be found in the British Library catalogue and consulted in the reading rooms.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

Further reading:

A. J. Samuels. ‘Jiří Kolář: The Czech Poet's Life, Work & Cultural Significance’ .

Arsén Pohribný, ‘Jiří Kolář’s Tower of Babel’, afterword in Týdeník 1968 (cited above).

05 June 2018

Ernst Friedrich and his War against War

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In 1924 the German pacifist Ernst Friedrich published the first edition of one of the most powerful anti-war books of the 20th century. Krieg dem Kriege! = Guerre à la guerre! = War against war! = Oorlog an den oorlog! consisted mainly of photographs depicting the destruction wrought by the First World War, with captions in German, French, English and Dutch.

Krieg dem Kriege cover
Cover of Krieg dem Kriege ... (Berlin, 1930) Cup.719/390

Friedrich came from a large working-class family – one of 13 children. He trained as an actor, making his stage debut in his native Breslau (now Wrocław) in 1914, but his career was cut short by the outbreak of war. As a conscientious objector he spent most of the war first in an asylum and later in prison. In the 1920s he became active in both socialist and anti-militarist groups, and Krieg dem Kriege reflects both tendencies.

The book opens with an address – again in all four languages – to ‘Human beings of all lands,’ in which Friedrich sets out his purpose: to ‘paint correctly this butchery of human beings’ in ‘records obtained by the inexorable, incorruptible photographic lens.’ While he blames capitalism for war, he also states that ‘it is … proletarians that make the conduct of war possible’ by agreeing to fight on behalf of their oppressors. He calls on men to refuse to serve and parents to bring up their children without military toys, games and songs, which ‘mobilise the child for the war idea.’

Krieg dem Kriege vol 1 toys
A collection of war toys with an appeal to parents not to give them to children 

The pictures that follow are accompanied by sometimes ironic captions:a photograph of a burnt and mutilated corpse is captioned, ‘A “meritorious” achievement’, while two rotting skulls are set against a quotation from Kaiser Wilhelm II, ‘I lead you towards glorious times.’ Sometimes images are juxtaposed, for example a posed studio portrait of a uniformed soldier aiming his gun (‘The pride of the family’) with the bloody corpse of a shot infantryman. Other juxtapositions place the comforts enjoyed by officers and royalty against the suffering of ordinary soldiers, or show how the higher ranks are commemorated with taller or grander memorials than the lower, maintaining class distinctions even in death. The devastation wrought on landscapes and towns is also shown.

Krieg dem Kriege Vol 1 woods
Devastated forests

But most images stand alone with straightforward captions, showing the terrible reality of mass slaughter on a scale never before seen. Some of the most famous show severely mutilated soldiers – most notably a man with the whole lower half of his face destroyed – and maimed veterans back at menial work or begging for money. Friedrich seldom defines the wounded or dead in these pictures by nationality, forcing the reader to see them all as fellow-humans rather than compatriots, allies or enemies.

Krieg dem Kriege vol 2 workman
A wounded ex-soldier at workThe opposite page shows an aristocrat enjoying a post-war yachting holiday. 

The book ends with an appeal for contributions to an ‘International Anti-War Museum’ which Friedrich opened in Berlin in 1925. Like the book, the museum sought to illustrate the true horrors of war and to encourage pacifist and antimilitarist education.

Krieg dem Kriege vol 2 Appeal
Above: The appeal for contributions to an Anti-War museum, from Krieg dem Kriege. Below: A display at the museum, from Vom Friedens-Museum - zur Hitler-Kaserne : ein Tatsachenbericht über das Wirken von Ernst Friedrich und Adolf Hitler (Geneva, 1935) YA.1990.a.20970

Friedensmuseum zur Hitlerkaserne display

Friedrich continued to campaign against war and for greater social justice, but even in the supposedly tolerant era of the Weimar Republic his publications were frequently banned and he was jailed for his political activities in 1930. He and the museum were early targets for the burgeoning Nazi movement; once the Nazi were in power, Friedrich was swiftly arrested, the museum was destroyed and the building was turned into an SA clubhouse.

Friedensmuseum zur Hitlerkaserne nespaper facsim
An article from the Nazi newspaper Der Angriff celebrating the Anti-War Museum’s change of use, reproduced in Vom Friedens-Museum - zur Hitler-Kaserne 

On his release, Friedrich left Germany. In 1935 he published an account of the museum and its fate, Vom Friedens-Museum – zur Hitler-Kaserne, in the name of the ‘Interational Committee for the Re-establishment of the Peace Museum’. In 1936 he was able to reopen the museum in Brussels, but it was once again destroyed when Belgium fell to the Germans in 1940. After some months of internment in France, Friedrich escaped and joined the French resistance. He was involved in saving a group of Jewish children from deportation and, despite his pacifism, took part in the battles to liberate Nîmes and Alès and was twice wounded.

Friedrich remained in France after the Second World War. Attempts to re-create the museum were unsuccessful, but compensation payments for his suffering under the Nazis enabled him to buy first a ‘peace barge’ and later a small island in the River Seine, which he named the ‘Ile de la Paix’ and where he established an international youth centre for peace and reconciliation.

Friedensmuseum zur Hitlerkaserne cover
Cover of Vom Friedens-Museum - zur Hitler-Kaserne 

After Friedrich’s death in 1967 the island was sold and the centre pulled down. However, his work lives on. In 1982 a new Anti-War Museum opened in Berlin. The museum continues to highlight the brutality of war, and has also reissued both Krieg dem Kriege and Vom Friedens-Museum – zur Hitler-Kaserne. Both museum and books remain as a worthy tribute to a man who devoted his life to the cause of peace.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

The British Library’s copy of Krieg dem Kriege is currently on display in the exhibition Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One  at Tate Britain, which runs from 5 June to 23 September 2018.