By International Federation of Resistance Fighters (FIR) – Association of Antifascists. From the 2023-06 edition of their newsletter.
125 years ago, on February 10, 1898, the German writer and dramatist Bertolt Brecht was born in Augsburg. Even as a schoolchild, he made his first literary attempts.
Unlike many of his generation, he does not enthusiastically want to go to the First World War. After taking his A-levels in an emergency, he enrolled in medical school in order to avoid deployment at the front. Nevertheless, he was drafted as a hospital soldier in the fall of 1918. In the November Revolution of 1918 he became a member of the Augsburg Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council.
In 1922, his first play is performed in Munich; he experiments with didactic plays and the approach of an epic theater. His real breakthrough, however, comes in 1928 in Berlin with an apparent entertainment revue “The Threepenny Opera”. Two years later followed the sacrifice “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny”.
Yet he always saw himself as a political writer, as evidenced by his works “Mother Courage and Her Children,” an anti-war play with references to the Thirty Years’ War, or “Saint Joan of the Slaughterhouses,” an indictment of capitalist exploitation in the U.S. meat industry and its crisis profiteers.
He wrote not only for the stage, however, but also for everyday use. His literary forms ran the gamut from narrative and short prose, aphorisms, poetry in its various forms, to drama.
His first volume of poetry “Hauspostille”, for example, renewed ballad poetry. In the collection “Svendborger Gedichte” (Svendborg Poems), written in Danish exile, he expanded these into narrative poems. However, he also wrote occasional poetry, protest and battle songs. His “Kalendergeschichten,” especially the story “Der Augsburger Kreidekreis” and the later “Geschichten vom Herrn Keuner” (Stories of Mr. K.), found wide publication, not only among the bourgeois reading public. Brecht saw the interested worker as the addressee of his literary work, who would better recognize his world and its changeability through the examination of literature. This is exemplified by the poem “Questions of a Reading Worker,” which he wrote in 1935 while in exile in Denmark. It was first printed in 1936 in the magazine Das Wort in Moscow.
As an opponent of the Nazis, Brecht went into exile early. The day after the Reichstag fire in February 1933, he left Germany with his family and went via Prague to Vienna, Switzerland and finally Denmark. In exile, he wrote many plays dedicated to the anti-fascist struggle. In Paris he wrote the episodic work “Fear and Misery of the Third Reich”, which tries to explain the establishment of fascist rule in Germany, and the drama ” Señora Carrar’s Rifles” as a sign of solidarity with the struggle of the Spanish Republic against the Franco coup. The Jewish communist Peter Gingold, who had fled with his family to Paris, reports in his memoirs about the rehearsals for this play, the complicated working conditions, but also the great success.
After the German troops invaded Denmark and Norway, Brecht fled to Finland, where he wrote the parable play “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui”. In 1941, he succeeded in immigrating to the USA, where he worked in the “Council for a Democratic Germany”.
When he criticized the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the McCarthy persecutors targeted him. In 1947, he is summoned before the “Committee on Un-American Activities.” After the interrogation, he left the USA for Switzerland, from where he moved to East Berlin. There he took over his own ensemble at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm and continued his immensely productive theater work.
He died as the most important German dramatist of the 20th century on August 14, 1956 in Berlin/GDR. He was buried in the Dorotheenstädtische Cemetery in Berlin with great sympathy from the public and prominent figures from politics and culture.
Even after his death, he remained a bogeyman of the “die-hards”. Brecht warned against them as early as 1941 in his play “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,” a lasting lesson for all anti-fascists:
“Such thing once almost ruled the world!
The peoples became his master, however
That no one triumphs us there too soon –
The womb is still fertile, from which that crawled.”