Stefan Heym, German writer dies (fwd: from Boston Globe)

Johannes Schneider Johannes.Schneider at
Tue Dec 18 03:44:49 MST 2001

Orbituary from today's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:

Seeing With One Eye
By Sabine Brandt
FRANKFURT. In spring 1996, about the time of his 83rd birthday, the writer
Stefan Heym had his last book published. The work titled Der Winter unseres
Mißvergnügens (The Winter of our Discontent) described what had gone on
behind the propaganda scenes when the singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann was
expelled from East Germany in 1976. In the introduction, Heym wrote,
"Looking back, I wish to say that this was the writing on the wall that
announced the end of real Socialism -- there were good reasons why this
precise term had been coined -- the end of this failed revolution, this
republic with no legitimacy."
Over four decades, Heym had repeatedly criticized the East German state,
sometimes acidly, that he had once deliberately chosen as his home, but he
always professed loyalty to it. It was only in this late diary, written at
the end of his life that he completely rejected the construction that would
always respond to his offer of solidarist comradeship with distrust, and in
the end, with blatant enmity.
Heym always had his enemies. The century that was allotted to him as a life
span gave him a number of them, the worst right at the start of his career.
Helmut Flieg, the merchant's son from Chemnitz who later took the name
Stefan Heym, was just under 20 when the National Socialists seized power. In
the light of the new prevailing political conditions, what he thought and
wrote was wrong, for he was a left thinker. But this was only of minor
importance, for he was also a Jew, and according to the will of the new
rulers, Heym would have had little chance to live to be 30. Therefore it can
be considered a victory that he survived his persecutors' hour of triumph by
more than 60 years.
It was a difficult victory. Heym first escaped to Czechoslovakia, then
received an invitation from the University of Chicago in 1935. The émigré
financed his studies and supported himself by working as a waiter,
dishwasher, department store salesman, sales representative and language
teacher, before becoming editor of the German language weekly Deutsches
Volksecho in 1937. In 1943, after he became a U.S. citizen, he joined the
army, and in 1944 landed in Normandy with the invasion force. He approached
Germany's western borders as a sergeant in a psychological warfare company
and after victory served as a re-education officer. Heym was among the
founders of the Neue Zeitung, published with a U.S. license and one of the
few renowned newspapers in the early postwar period.
Germans, meanwhile, had more important things to worry about. What did they
care if one of their re-educators, a leftist by the name of Heym, had to
leave the service because of ideological differences and returned to the
United States? Indeed, they did not prick up their ears until April 1953,
when Heym bid his home away from home farewell -- with a bang. In a letter
addressed to President Dwight D. Eisenhower himself, Heym accused the United
States of having deliberately provoked the Korean War. He renounced his
officer's rank and U.S. citizenship, gave back his war medals. He then
applied for political asylum in East Germany and moved to East Berlin.
In Nachruf (Obituary), the autobiography he wrote in 1988, Heym acknowledged
that his jumping ship had not been as glorious as he depicted it at the
time. The East German regime valued rebels only as long as they were on the
other side, preferring to have only the unimaginative party faithful rather
than turncoats within its own ranks. Laboring under political oppression and
horrendous food shortages, ordinary East Germans could not imagine why
anyone would volunteer to exchange the freedom and affluence of the American
way of life for the desolation of East Germany, which they themselves would
have been only too glad to leave for good.
Trapped between official mistrust and public incredulity, the socialist
idealist became waspish, complaining that Germans were still under Hitler's
malign influence; while those in the West had become stooges of U.S.
capital, those in the East had lost all faith in their socialist salvation.
In the first of Heym's novels to be published again in Germany, titled
Kreuzfahrer von Heute (The Crusaders of Today) in the East and Bitterer
Lorbeer (Bitter Laurels) in the West, Heym threw American victors and German
losers into the same pot, describing the one as protofascist militiamen and
the other as a mulish and servile people. Living in East Germany, Heym
continued to use newspaper articles and short stories to portray his fellow
citizens as the accumulated debris of history.
He viewed the workers' uprising of June 17, 1953, a protest over meager
Eastern wages, as a dire confirmation of what he had long suspected. That
the novel he wrote in an attempt to make sense of this event never got past
the East German censors is something which his friend Robert Havemann,
himself a fierce critic of the East German regime, believed was ultimately
for the best. In his 1970 book Fragen, Antworten, Fragen (Questions,
Answers, Questions), Havemann wrote that Heym should be grateful to the
party for not having published that book, for in it he "adopted the
fundamentally faulty official line of reasoning, according to which June
17th was a counterrevolutionary event organized by Western secret services."
After several revisions, none of which changed the basic tenor of the work,
the novel was finally published by Westverlag publishers as 5 Tage im Juni
(Five Days in June) in 1974. By this time, the author's relationship with
the ruling communist party had long since soured beyond repair. The party
that Heym had never belonged to could not forgive him for trying to hold it
to its promises and for constantly drawing attention to its failure to live
up to its own standards.
As a "hostile, negative writer," Heym was put under surveillance by the
secret police. Once East German publishers had closed their doors on him, he
had no choice but to have his books published in the West. Although Heym
never once hesitated to use the opportunities offered him by the capitalist
West, this had no impact on his ideological position. He remained a
passionate socialist all his life and was keen to dissociate himself from
the distorters of socialism who ruled East Germany. It was a precarious
balancing act, but one he mastered well. The 1970s and early 1980s saw the
publication of some of his most important and entertaining works including
Die Schmähschrift (The Queen Against Defoe, 1970), which is a story about a
conflict between the English writer Daniel Defoe and Queen Anne's censors;
Der König David Bericht (The King David Report, 1972), a novel in which King
Solomon has the story of both his reign and his rise to power rewritten;
Collin (Collin, 1979), a report on the politics and morality of the ruling
communist party and Ahasver (Ahasver, 1981), in which the angels Ahasver and
Lucifer fall from heaven and crash through German history, at the end of
which Stalinist East Germany is found to be devilish.
But not so Socialism. On Nov. 4, 1989, Heym was asked to address one of the
mass rallies that five days later were to lead to the demise of the Berlin
Wall. The aging writer told the sea of people gathered on Berlin's
Alexanderplatz square of his dream of a better, genuinely socialist German
Democratic Republic. Only 11 months later, he was a resident of the Federal
Republic of Germany. He voiced his disappointment in Filz (Graft), a
collection of angry commentaries published in 1992 in which Heym describes
the eastern half of the country as an exploited province.
Germany will have a socialist future or none at all, Heym once said in an
interview with the East Berlin-based magazine, Neue Deutsche Literatur. His
reasoning went like this: "If they (the people of the east) cannot be
offered a leftist democratic solution, then they will go to the right and
return to fascism." Doubtless it was this conviction that made him agree to
be a member of the German parliament for the Party of Democratic Socialism,
the successor party to the party that for more than 40 years ruled East
Germany and harassed and bullied the writer and citizen, Stefan Heym.
Why did this persecution mean so little to him? This is one thing he never
adequately explained. One cannot help but suspect that for him, there was
only ever one real enemy -- the one that had killed so many of his friends
and family members. The other dictatorial German regime may have oppressed
and frightened him, but it did allow him to live. It was this that enabled
him to continue drawing a distinction right to the last between the purity
of the idea and its botched implementation.
True, he was one-eyed, but he was an antagonist only in his opinions and
words, never in his deeds. There is no evidence whatsoever of one single
dishonorable act in this man's long life, and that alone is reason enough to
be thankful for all those inspiring hours we have spent engrossed in the
books he wrote for us. Stefan Heym, who was born on April 10, 1913, died in
Israel on Sunday afternoon.

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