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  • Nonconformist Writing in Nazi Germany: The Literature of Inner Emigration by John Klapper
  • Vincent Kling
John Klapper, Nonconformist Writing in Nazi Germany: The Literature of Inner Emigration. Studies in German Literature, Linguistics, and Culture. Rochester, ny: Camden House, 2015. 453pp.

The second part of this valuable study contains in separate chapters discriminating and informative studies of eight “nonconformist” writers active during the years of National Socialism—Werner Bergengruen, Stefan Andres, Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, Gertrud von le Fort, Reinhold Schneider, Ernst Jünger, Ernst Wiechert, and Erika Mitterer—each of whom deployed [End Page 178] individual stratagems for writing outside the framework of official policy. These essays are important enough to make this book essential, especially for correcting various inaccuracies and self-promotions, especially in the case of self-proclaimed aristocrat Reck-Malleczewen (“The Snobbish Dissenter,” to use Klapper’s subtitle). In selecting these particular authors, Klapper is concerned to show the wide range of motives for nonconformism: Protestant and Catholic sensibility, patrician outrage at the triumph of upstarts, political traditionalism objecting to the gross betrayal of the conservative revolution, monarchism, and pacifism. The writers selected represent a valid cross-section of attitudes and approaches that precluded acceptance of Nazi ideology.

It is the first part, however, that makes this book genuinely indispensable, even to readers well versed in the topic of “inner emigration.” The two initial chapters constitute about one-fourth of the total, but they are disproportionately powerful distillations of research in literary history, genre criticism, social analysis, and factual-archival investigation. These chapters—“Nazi Germany and Literary Nonconformism” and “The Writers of the Inner Emigration and Their Approaches”—survey the topic more comprehensively than any other source, incorporating virtually the complete previous literature on the topic (though Austrianists might miss the work of Klaus Amann). Klapper combines skillfully drawn survey with the depth research of minute documentation, making his chapters a “one-stop” compendium. He achieves two objects with notable skill, reviewing intellectual background in the Weimar Republic against the tensions of the conservative revolution and an Innerlichkeit with its roots in Protestant quietism and sketching the history of the relevant decrees, laws, and bureaucratic institutions beginning with the upheaval caused by the Reichstag fire. He succeeds in showing how Gleichschaltung was hampered by a proliferation of agencies and organizations that squabbled among themselves and grew more cumbersome as they multiplied.

Klapper also explains his choice of the designation “nonconformist,” reviewing why scholarship cannot apply the term inner emigration without serious qualifiers, and his history of initial rancor and later outrageous self-justification is a model of terminological analysis in light of the distortions and abuses to which the term was put. Born from a fierce dispute, the term was highly polemical from the start (“Origins and Issues”) and was so preposterously abused as to become “politically tainted and discredited.” When a writer like Hans Friedrich Blunck, head of the Reichsschrift tumskammer, [End Page 179] claims in 1952 with a straight face to have belonged to the inner emigration (!), the term loses practically all meaning. Austrian writers were particularly artful dodgers after 1945, by the way. Still, the term “does denote a real phenomenon and a distinct aspect of literary life under National Socialism” despite later abuse; it points to “a substantial and varied range of writers who [. . .] adopted oppositional positions [. . .] encompassing the rejection of violence, the championing of justice, or the establishment of positive counterimages and ideals.”

The author constantly warns against the either/or thinking that marked the initial controversy about inner emigration. Probably no one today would endorse Thomas Mann’s extreme position that the very fact of publishing anything whatever in Germany during the Nazi years was an act of complicity or the equally drastic reactions by Walter von Molo and Frank Thiess, implying that those who remained were the true patriots as opposed to the emigrants, essentially deserters living on Easy Street. He points out that life under the Third Reich was many-faceted and cites Erich Kästner and Alexander Lernet-Holenia as instances of writers difficult to characterize neatly as “for” or “against” the regime. Even Elisabeth Langgässer’s admired novel Das unauslöschliche Siegel has been construed...


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pp. 178-181
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