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  • In meinem fremden Land: Gefängnistagebuch 1944
  • Reinhard Zachau
Hans Fallada . In meinem fremden Land: Gefängnistagebuch 1944. Ed. Jenny Williams and Sabine Lange. Berlin: Aufbau, 2009. 333 pp. € 24.95. ISBN-10 3351028008.

Fallada wrote his memoirs in September 1944 in a Neustrelitz psychiatric ward where he was held after pointing a gun at his former wife. As he considered his life to be over, he wanted to explain his political position during the Nazi period. Since few prominent critical authors had stayed in Germany voluntarily, Fallada's autobiographical statements had been eagerly anticipated. A section of the first part of the manuscript had been published in the Berlin daily Tägliche Rundschau in 1946 under [End Page 683] the title "Osterfest 1933 mit der SS" as a Soviet effort to rebuild Fallada's reputation in postwar Germany; other parts had been incorporated into the introduction to Fallada's collected works, which were published by Aufbau during the 1960s. But a large part of the manuscript remained locked up at East Berlin's Akademie der Künste and was released only recently after Fallada's family had given permission. The discord about the manuscript continued after publication of the book to the point that one of the editors, Sabine Lange, was not permitted to participate in its publicity. This contentious history masks a very contentious book.

In meinem fremden Land contains the entire text of the 1944 manuscript, which had been concealed in another manuscript, which Fallada smuggled out. The book also contains an explanatory essay and extensive notes, in which the editors discuss Fallada's inability to understand political theories. Instead the book shows the Nazi atmosphere in a number of episodes involving prominent members of Germany's art establishment. It is through these stories that we find out not only about Fallada's own political behaviour during that time but also about the relationship Germans had with the Nazis. Prominent colleagues are shown as behaving no differently than the characters in Fallada's novels. They were sometimes anxious, like his publisher, Ernst Rowohlt; other times they bravely tried to outsmart the unpredictable behaviour of the Nazis, like Erich Ohser or e. o. plauen, the caricaturist who had drawn a famous portrait of Fallada and ended up killing himself before he could be executed by Freisler's Volksgerichtshof, or the musician Alfred Schmidt-Sas, who had unknowingly hidden a mimeograph machine for a communist friend and was executed in Plötzensee as a conspirator. Men like e. o. plauen and Schmidt-Sas, whose story Fallada also told in his 1946 novel Everyman Dies Alone, are real heroes, but most people he portrays are harder to categorize. Among them is Ernst Rowohlt, who left Germany for Brazil after losing his publishing house to the Nazis, or Peter Suhrkamp, who ended up acquiring the S. Fischer Verlag after he became indispensable to the owner, Samuel Fischer. The editors question whether Suhrkamp's behaviour could be called "Erbschleicherei," as by Fallada, or whether his assessment is a result of his own difficult relationship with the Nazis.

Nazi Germany's unknown "little people" are portrayed much more negatively than Fallada's prominent colleagues. Some are characterized as thoroughly evil, interested only in destroying anybody who stands in their way of profiting from the Nazis. Fallada tells the story of his landlady, who sent him a letter with a picture of his son's eyes pierced with a needle because Fallada had not sent his condolences for her husband's death. Living in the midst of these people made it increasingly difficult for the author to explain why he did not leave Germany although he had been offered emigration. Rather than admitting that his country had turned into a trap, Fallada defended his stay by glorifying those Germans who, like him, had remained: "We did not do anything as ridiculous as stage a coup," because his staying was enough "salt" in the wounds of the Nazis. This type of misjudgment (the editors call it "dumm") is a clear indication of the author's political confusion, which he shared with the majority of Germans.

Fallada's memoirs show that nobody could escape...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-026X
Print ISSN
0037-1939
Pages
pp. 683-685
Launched on MUSE
2011-11-18
Open Access
No
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