Joseph Roth on the “Politics of Literary Emigration”

The Austrian writer Joseph Roth (1894-1939) did not wait long and left Berlin shortly after Hitler’s seizure of power. By February 1933, he was already in Paris – a city to which he had felt close since the 1920s. He practically fled home and immediately became an active voice of the German exile literature movement. In his letter to Klaus Mann (1906-1949), he explains what he considers the “politics of literary emigration.”

An Klaus Mann

Hotel Foyot

Paris VI

33. Rue de Tournon

12. Januar 1934

Lieber Herr Klaus Mann,

ich habe Ihnen einen Vorwurf zu machen – sogar mehrere – und ich möchte sie sofort machen.

In der letzten Nummer der Sammlung bringen Sie einen ziemlich großen (übrigens ziemlich klugen) Aufsatz von Golo Mann 11Golo Mann (1909-1994), zweiter Sohn von Thomas Mann, Historiker und Biograph. über Ernst Jünger 22Ernst Jünger (1895-1998), Essayist, Militarist, Tagebuchschreiber. Kämpfte im Ersten Weltkrieg, von 1941 bis 1944 in der Wehrmacht in Paris und im Kaukasus. Obwohl er der NSDAP nicht beitrat und deren rassistische Ideologie ablehnte, galt er nach 1945 als intellektueller Wegbereiter des Nationalsozialismus und gehört zu den umstrittensten Autoren Deutschlands.. Ich halte das für äußerst undiplomatisch. Es gibt sozusagen eine Politik der literarischen Emigration. Wir wollen uns daher auf die Frage der Bedeutung Jüngers gar nicht einlassen. Gesetzt den Fall, er hätte wirklich eine – aber meiner Meinung nach ist er ein Tor, ein Barbar und ein Verworrener – man müßte ihn entweder gar nicht zur Kenntnis nehmen, oder in zwei wegwerfenden Sätzen abtun. Eine Zeitschrift – in diesen Zeiten – hat nicht Literaturgeschäfte zu treiben, oder Literaturpolitik. Sie selbst haben durch Ihre Buchbesprechung bewiesen, daß Sie es wissen. Haben wir dazu Deutschland verlassen, um draußen noch die Welt auf die “interessanten” literarischen Erscheinungen des barbarischen Heidentums aufmerksam zu machen? Hat man das nötig? Aber noch was Anderes: Ihre Zeitschrift wendet sich an Emigranten, an Literaten, die Schrittmacher für das breite Publikum, die absolute Feinde der Gattung Jünger sind. Sie stoßen diese Leute nicht nur vor den Kopf – Sie beleidigen sie auch. Denn jeder Einzelne ist eingebildet – er fragt sich, und nicht mit Unrecht: weshalb nicht sechs Seiten über mich? – (Ich brauche Ihnen kaum zu sagen, daß ich nicht dazu gehöre.) Also schaffen Sie sich überflüssig Gegner.

Etwas Anderes: Sie halten George für einen großen Dichter. Ich z.B. für eine großen Taschenspieler. Es ist nicht die Zeit – einerlei, welcher Meinung man über das Können Georges ist – Respekt vor einem Kerl zu bezeugen, einem großen Kerl meinetwegen, der uns einen großen Teil der Scheiße eingebrockt hat, erhabene Scheiße. Es ist sachlich ferne nicht richtig, daß George ferne von Deutschland hat sterben wollen. Er wollte überhaupt gerne leben und gerne sterben. Nicht ferne dem “Getriebe” – was ich ja begreife. Aber im Getriebe der Wolken, weil Wolken ihm angenehmer waren als Menschen. Goebbels und Sieburg sind seine Schüler. Schüler sind Zeugnisse.

Es ist gut und richtig, daß die Sammlung nicht “langfristig” ist. Wenn Sie aber draußen wieder mit jener “Objektivität” redigieren, an der wir drinnen krepiert sind, so werden Sie es bald erleben, daß man Sie haßt.

Dies allein möchte ich vermeiden helfen, und deshalb schreibe ich Ihnen.

Herzlichst Ihr

Joseph Roth

    Footnotes

  • 1Golo Mann (1909-1994), zweiter Sohn von Thomas Mann, Historiker und Biograph.
  • 2Ernst Jünger (1895-1998), Essayist, Militarist, Tagebuchschreiber. Kämpfte im Ersten Weltkrieg, von 1941 bis 1944 in der Wehrmacht in Paris und im Kaukasus. Obwohl er der NSDAP nicht beitrat und deren rassistische Ideologie ablehnte, galt er nach 1945 als intellektueller Wegbereiter des Nationalsozialismus und gehört zu den umstrittensten Autoren Deutschlands.

To Klaus Mann

Hotel Foyot, Paris 6e

33 rue de Tournon

12 January 1934

Dear Mr. Klaus Mann,

I have a bone to pick with you—several, in fact—and I want to do it right away.

In the latest issue of Die Sammlung, you print a rather long (and rather clever) essay by Golo Mann 11Golo Mann (1909–1994), second son of Thomas Mann, historian and biographer. on Ernst Jünger. 22Ernst Jünger (1895-1998), essayist, militarist, diarist. Fought in World War I, from 1941 to 1944 in the Wehrmacht in Paris and in the Caucasus. Although he did not join the NSDAP and rejected its racist ideology, he was considered an intellectual pioneer of National Socialism and one of the most controversial authors in Germany. I find that extremely tactless. There is, so to speak, a politics of the literary emigration. Let’s not even get into the question of the importance or otherwise of Jünger. Even given that he has some—though in my view, he’s a fool, and a barbarian, and a muddlehead—one would either have to ignore him altogether, or have done with him in a couple of dismissive sentences. A magazine—in these times—isn’t there to serve the book business. You showed that you understood that in your clever book review. Have we left Germany just to alert the world beyond to “interesting” new literary products of the barbarian heathens? Is that what we’re for? And another thing: your magazine addresses itself to emigrants, to writers, to tastemakers for a wider public, to people who are absolutely opposed to Jünger and everything he stands for. You don’t just alienate such people—you offend them. Because each one of them has his own conceit, and he will ask himself: hm, why not six pages on me?—(I need hardly tell you that I am not among these people.) So you make yourself enemies, quite needlessly.
Another thing: you take George 33Stefan George (1868–1933), cultish poet and translator. He resisted Goebbels’s overtures to him in 1933, and died—this is at issue here between KM and JR—on Swiss soil. for a great poet. I take him for a great con artist. It’s not the time—whatever one thinks of George—to show respect to a guy, a great guy if you like, who has landed us in some of this shit we’re in, some of the loftier or deeper parts of it. Factually, too, it is not true to say that George wanted to die far away from Germany. He was very keen on life, and very keen on death, period. Not far from the “hurly-burly”—which I can understand. But in the hurly-burly of clouds, because he preferred clouds to people. Goebbels and Sieburg are among his disciples. Your disciples say something about the kind of person you are.

It’s a good thing that Die Sammlung isn’t too “long-term” in its orientation. But if you continue to edit it outside with that “objectivity” that you did for us inside Germany, then you will soon find yourself hated.

I wanted to warn you of that danger.

Yours sincerely

Joseph Roth

    Footnotes

  • 1Golo Mann (1909–1994), second son of Thomas Mann, historian and biographer.
  • 2Ernst Jünger (1895-1998), essayist, militarist, diarist. Fought in World War I, from 1941 to 1944 in the Wehrmacht in Paris and in the Caucasus. Although he did not join the NSDAP and rejected its racist ideology, he was considered an intellectual pioneer of National Socialism and one of the most controversial authors in Germany.
  • 3Stefan George (1868–1933), cultish poet and translator. He resisted Goebbels’s overtures to him in 1933, and died—this is at issue here between KM and JR—on Swiss soil.

Joseph Roths is considered one of the most famous journalists of the 1920s, a precise chronicler, successful novelist and committed opponent of National Socialism. His literary and journalistic work consists of newspaper articles, glosses, travel reports, feature articles, novels and short stories.

Roth grew up in Brody in eastern Galicia, studied in Lemberg and Vienna, was a soldier in World War I and experienced the collapse of the Habsburg Empire – his home country. Nostalgia for this multi-ethnic empire haunted the rest of his life and many of his novels are dedicated to the loss of homeland and the experience of uprooting. From 1919 he worked as a journalist for various Viennese, Berlin and Prague newspapers and magazines as well as for the Frankfurter Zeitung.

As a Jew, Roth was no longer allowed to publish there after 1933. He left Germany for good and continued his commitment against the National Socialist dictatorship in exile in Paris. He was involved in aiding fugitives, for example for Entre’ Aide Autrichienne, and cultivated close ties with fellow refugees, including Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), Ernst Toller (1893-1939), Egon Erwin Kisch (1885-1948), Soma Morgenstern (1890-1976), Irmgard Keun (1905-1982) and, as here, Klaus Mann.

Klaus Heinrich Thomas Mann was the oldest son of Thomas Mann and also a German-speaking writer. To avoid arrest, he left Germany on March 13, 1933, and fled to Paris. He became a militant writer against National Socialism and, as early as September 1933, published the monthly literary magazine Die Sammlung at Querido Verlag in Amsterdam, to which Joseph Roth refers in his letter. Roth discusses the difficult question of a political and moral responsibility as a refugee intellectual for the entire refugee community, which he/she represents according to Roth. Ultimately, it is also a media criticism that is still relevant today: do you give political “enemies” space and discuss them or not? In September 1938, Klaus Mann fled to the USA, like his parents.

Roth stayed in Paris and lived most of the time in hotels. Café Le Tournon became Roth’s main place of residence, where he gathered his “entourage” around him. Suffering from a severe alcohol addiction, his last years were clearly impacted by the political circumstances and the experiences of refugeedom. He did not live to see the Second World War; he died on May 27, 1939, in the Hôpital Necker, a hospital for the poor in Paris. 11https://kuenste-im-exil.de/KIE/Content/DE/Personen/roth-joseph.html

    Footnotes

  • 1https://kuenste-im-exil.de/KIE/Content/DE/Personen/roth-joseph.html

German Original: Joseph Roth, Briefe, S. 303–304.

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