- Germanophone Intellectuals in Stalin’s Russia:Diaspora and Cultural Identity in the 1930s
In recent years, scholars in a variety of fields have been interested in the phenomenon of diaspora. Many have sought ways to analyze the impact on cultural, ethnic, or national identity when large numbers of people from one ethnic group or country find themselves, whether by accident or design, scattered over many other countries, as was true of Germanophone exiles from Central Europe and another, earlier diaspora, the postrevolutionary Russian emigration. In our present diasporic age when, for example, the distinction between colonial and metropolitan culture is eroding, there has been a revival of interest in the concept of "world literature," a notion first introduced by Goethe in an essay of 1827.1 In seeking models for going about the study of "world literature," many have turned to the examples of Leo Spitzer and Erich Auerbach, Jewish exiles from Nazi Germany who found academic employment in Istanbul and wrote about general literary phenomena in a strikingly transnational way. Auerbach's Mimesis, essentially the summa of his Istanbul musings,2 has long been regarded as a milestone in the evolution of Comparative Literature, but has recently been looked at anew precisely because of its diasporic inception.3
Here I will be looking at a very different group in that same diaspora of the 1930s. My subject is the hundreds of intellectuals from Central Europe (former citizens of Germany, Austria or Hungary, and some Czechs) displaced as a result [End Page 529] of the rise of Nazism. These intellectuals wrote primarily in German but, unlike Auerbach and Spitzer, they either resided in the Soviet Union in the 1930s or played an active role in three German-language periodicals that were published in Moscow and circulated widely in the diaspora: Das Wort, Internationale Literatur–Deutsche Blätter, and Deutsche Zentral-Zeitung. Das Wort, founded in 1936, was published in Moscow but co-edited by Willi Bredel, Leon Feuchtwanger, and Bertolt Brecht.4 The latter two then resided outside the Soviet Union (Feuchtwanger on the French Riviera and the peripatetic Brecht in Denmark and elsewhere). This choice of big-name, non-resident editors was deliberate because Das Wort was targeted to become, in effect, a literary organ of the scattered diaspora. The other two periodicals that were important for the Moscow-centered émigrés, Internationale Literatur–Deutsche Blätter and Deutsche Zentral-Zeitung, also performed that function, if to a lesser extent. When Johannes Becher took over in 1933 as editor of Internationale Literatur, hitherto the German-language version of the Soviet journal International Literature, the periodical became semi-autonomous, publishing primarily works from the emigration.5 Deutsche Zentral-Zeitung, which had been publishing since 1926 and appeared daily in the 1930s, was much less centrally an organ of or for the Germanophone exiles. To some extent it functioned as a sort of German-language edition of Pravda, to some extent it serviced the scattered German population of the Soviet Union, most of it worker or peasant, reporting on their production statistics, new schools, and so forth. Under the editorship of Julia Annenkova, however, it also began publishing articles by, or targeted for, intellectuals of the emigration. All three periodicals were subscribed to by important figures of the emigration who lived in other countries.6 The editorial staff of all three periodicals worked in close collaboration, often passing manuscripts to each other or recommending to authors that they try to place their works in another of the three periodicals. It was on the pages of these journals that, from the mid to late [End Page 530] 1930s, Germans in exile bandied about the concept "world literature" as their preferred recipe for finding a way through to an anti-Nazi intellectual modus vivendi.
I will be looking at these three journals in what might be called their Popular Front phase. This phase, approximately the years of the French Popular Front, extended from 1935 to early 1939 and was marked by a shift on the part of the Soviet Communist Party and the Comintern to a radically more inclusive account of their allies in the common cause. The most authoritative...