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  • Resistance to WarCarl Zuckmayer’s Des Teufels General
  • Gene A. Plunka (bio)

During the Third Reich, German resistance was minimal because defiance of the Nazis was synonymous with treason. Furthermore, the suppression of all opposing political parties, including the Social Democrats and Communists, and the removal of dissenters to German concentration camps by the late 1930s made resistance quite difficult. Nevertheless, several individuals felt that an expression of opposition to a totalitarian dictator who had led them into war and allowed evil to flourish was necessary. This essay focuses on resistance of the German military both to Hitler’s rule and to the abyss of war into which he led the German nation. I demonstrate that in Carl Zuckmayer’s play Des Teufels General, his protagonist General Harras embodies the spirit of resistance to Hitler’s Reich. Zuckmayer also offers rationales for individuals to oppose a diabolical regime that leads its citizens into an unjust war. In other words, this essay argues that Zuckmayer’s play demonstrates how theatre can function as a forum for thoughtful debate about the moral and ethical reasons to oppose totalitarian governments that instigate wars.1

Zuckmayer was born in 1896 in Nackenheim on the Rhine and spent much of his middle-class childhood in Mainz. His grandfather on his mother’s side was a Jew who later converted to Catholicism, the religion that Zuckmayer was born into and embraced throughout his life. When World War I broke out in 1914, the patriotic seventeen-year-old enlisted; subsequently, he achieved the rank of lieutenant. After his war stint, he enrolled briefly from 1918 to 1919 at the University of Frankfurt and then studied at the University of Heidelberg in 1919.2 Zuckmayer later abandoned his studies to turn to writing, and in 1925 he [End Page 108] went to Berlin to work in Max Reinhardt’s Deutsches Theater. There he began a prosperous career and won the Kleist Prize, typically awarded to encourage talented novice playwrights; he married that year, had his enormously successful comedy, Der fröliche Weinberg (The Merry Vineyard), staged at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, and, in 1929, won the Georg Büchner Prize and the Heidelberg Festival Performance Prize. Der fröliche Weinberg, replete with cliches that parodied all walks of German life, was so successful (except among the “moral” National Socialists) that Zuckmayer’s realistic style, deemed to be in the tradition of Gerhart Hauptmann, was believed to bring an end to expressionism in Germany. His 1931 satire on the military, Der Hauptmann von Köpenick (The Captain of Köpenick), perhaps his most critically acclaimed play, brought on Nazi wrath that implicated Zuckmayer as a pacifist. After Hitler rose to power in 1933, Zuckmayer’s plays were banned, so Zuckmayer, who never joined the Nazi Party, took his family to live in his country home near Salzburg, Austria; while in Austria, he wrote several novels, two plays, some poetry, and a few screenplays. After the Anschluss, Zuckmayer fled to Switzerland in 1938, and to the United States one year later. He labored briefly as a screenwriter for Warner Bros. in Hollywood and then leased a dilapidated farmhouse in a rural area of Vermont that reminded him of his former home in the Rhineland. After the war, Zuckmayer worked as a civilian employee of the American government assigned to writing reports on the postwar cultural situation in Germany and Austria. In postwar Europe, Zuckmayer was the most widely performed playwright in West Germany other than Brecht. He continued to write plays and won major awards for his efforts: the Gutenberg Plaque (1948), the Goethe Prize (1952), the Vienna Culture Prize (1955), the Literature Prize of the Rhenish Palatinate (1957), and the Insignia of the Order Pour le mérite for Science and Art (1967). He was also awarded honorary doctorates from Dartmouth College (1956), the University of Bonn (1976), and the University of Vermont (1976). He passed away on January 18, 1977, in Visp, Switzerland.

In December 1941, while in Vermont, Zuckmayer read an American newspaper article about the death of his old wartime friend, pilot Ernst Udet, a World War I ace and winner of the Iron Cross...


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