Stefan Heym was born as Helmut Flieg in Chemnitz on April 10, 1913. When in 1931 he published an antimilitarist poem in a Chemitz newspaper he was expelled from the local high school. His parents sent him to Berlin to finish his schooling. There he got in contact with the pacifist and editor of Die Weltbühne Carl von Ossietzky and wrote articles for the magazine. As a young man, being a Jew, he did not see any future in a racist Germany. It was the Reichstag fire in 1933 that eventually triggered his escape to Prague. When in 1935 he received a grant from a Jewish student association he went to the United States to continue his academic studies at the University of Chicago, which he completed in 1936 writing a master's thesis on Heinrich Heine. Between 1937 and 1939 he worked in New York as Editor-in-Chief of the German-language weekly Deutsches Volksecho, a left-leaning paper for German immigrants. When following the outbreak of the Second World War the weekly ceased publication Heym continued as a freelance author writing in English. As such he got in contact with the Chicago writers around Nelson Algren (The Man with the Golden Arm) and married the dramaturge for film production and member of the Communist Party of the USA Gertrude Gelbin. In 1942 Heym had his breakthrough with his first novel Hostages, describing the situation in Czechoslovakia under the Nazi occupation. The book was made into a movie.
|Heym as an intelligent (intelligence) Sergeant|
in occupied Germany (©gdw-berlin).
Because of his pro-Soviet inclinations Heym was transferred back to the US towards the end of 1945 and was discharged because of "procommunistic" mindset.
In the following years he again worked as a freelance author but in 1952 he, as a left-leaning intellectual, left the US during the McCarthy-era as did Charlie Chaplin, Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann. Following a short stay in Prague he eventually settled in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
In the GDR Heym initially received privileged treatment as a returning antifascist emigre living with his wife in a state-provided villa in Berlin-Grünau. Its owners had just fled to the West. In April 1953 he celebrated his entry into the First German Workers' and Farmers' State with an open renunciation of the US accusing it of becoming a fascist state. At the same time Heym returned his military insignia to his former Commander-in-Chief President Eisenhower. Between 1953 and 1956 he worked at the Berliner Zeitung, thereafter primarily as a freelance author. In his early years in the GDR Heym supported the regime with socialist novels and other works he wrote in English that were subsequently translated into German.
|First edition of The Lenz Papers |
published in East-Berlin in English with
Heym's "special " Seven Seas Publisher (©Google)
|Andrew Lenz's tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery (©ARD-SWR)|
|Television play in four parts (©ARD-SWR)|
|Stefan Heym on Alexanderplatz on November 4, 1989|
|Stefan Heym during his inaugural speech at the 13th Bundestag in 1994 (©dpa)|
But Heym was not silent and he even was foresighted when he said: This Bundestag was elected in a period of crisis. This is not a cyclical but structural crisis that will stay with us for a long time, worldwide. How long will this world, the only one we have, tolerate mankind producing thousands of goods and how are those distributed? As President Lincoln once said: You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
Mankind can only survive in solidarity. This presently means in our own country between East and West but it also means solidarity between above and below, rich and poor.
With respect to the structural crisis: After the Wende in Germany's East whole industrial complexes were platt gemacht (phased out). The overall unemployment in Germany in 1994 was 8.4% but rose to nearly 10% in 1997. The increase in the rate of unemployment between 1994 and 1997 for the long-term unemployed was even 24.1% whereas among the older persons the increase was as high as 42.6%.
Solidarity in this world is still lacking. We are shocked when in Bangladesh a factory building collapses leaving more than 1000 people dead who worked for a breadline wage but we like to buy our clothing cheap.
Has Stefan Heym become in addition to one of my literary heroes a political hero too? Well, for me he was too much of an utopian, naïvely believing in the good in man, dreaming and writing of an ideal socialist republic as in his novel Schwarzenberg of 1984.
|Stefan Heym in 2001, the year of his death (©dpa)|