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Out of the History of a Novel by Hans Fallada

An interesting document found : http://www.osaarchivum.org/ - it seems to be the script of a broadcast on Radio Free Europe (but nothing is very clear on that site) [Ed note]


The text below might contain errors as it was reproduced by OCR software from the digitized originals,
also available as Scanned original in PDF.



TITLE: Out of the Higtory of a Novel
DATE: 1971-2-4
COUNTRY: Soviet Union


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Hans Fallada's novel "The Iron Gustav", which has recently been issued in a Russian translation, has passed through a difficult, veritably dramatic experience. It appeared in Berlin in 1938, and surprised the reader by having a "happy" ending, something unusual for Fallada. The principal characters in the novel, Gustav and Hans Hakendahl became members of the Nazi party, which proved to be, for them, a solution for all their problems and a way out of all their difficulties. The unnatural, disorganised nature of such an ending to the novel was obvious. Besides that, it is common knowledge that Fallada, who continued to live in Germany under the Nazis, tried to have nothing to do with them. Already at that time, many people suspected that pressure had been brought to bear on the author. At a later date I.R. Becher. having stated that "The Iron Gustav" was a book "of which we, Germans, are entitled to be proud", added a reservation "if we disregard the artificially manufactured ending, which had been imposed on him 'from above' at the time". The details of this happening became known only at a later date, out of autobiographical notes written by Fallada in the autumn of 1944 in the Strelitz Hospital for Alcoholics, where he had been interned on the orders of the State prosecuting organs. This institution was a hospital only in name. Actually, to be consigned to it was a form of imprisonment.

To give this complicated human document the merit is deserves, it is necessary to form an idea of the conditions in which it was written. Making his notes under constant observation of the staff of the hospital, Fallada could have little hope that the notes he made, written, crisscrossed and overwritten, to disguise them and to economise on paper, would ever become available to the reader. On September 30, 1944, Fallada notes:

"I know that I am mad. It is not only my own life that I am placing under threat. The longer I write, the more I recognise that I am putting under threat the lives of many people that I mention. At the moment, I have not the faintest idea as to how I can evade the censor, how I can get my notes out of this place. Is this just a question of flightiness, or am I being driven by a force which I am incapable of withstanding?"

Then, among other things, the history of "The Iron Gustav" is set out in the notes of October 1-2, 1944. It is impossible to have any doubts about the truthfulness of this relation.

Fallada recalls how, in 1937, the Tobis Cinema company asked him to prepare a script for the popular cinema star Emil Jannings. It was suggested that the true story of a Berlin cabby, who in 1928 drove his cab from Berlin to Paris and back, should be taken as a basis. After some hesitation, Fallada agreed to this subject, but he stated that he could not write up a script.

Translator's Note. The Soviet writer cannot fail to recognise the many parallels between his own situation and the one described here, notably the pressure to inject propaganda into his works or the prospect of seeing them banned; censorship and enforced alterations; the moral agony of compromise; the possibility of repression - perhaps in a "medical" institution.

It was agreed that he should write a novel, which would then be converted into a script by the studio.

Three months later (Fallada working non-stop as usual) the novel was finished. The fate of the film then depended on what the Propaganda Minister Goebbels would have to say about it.

Fallada writes: "To me it seemed that everything was perfectly simple. The Minister should be invited to read the novel. But the experienced cinema hounds shook their heads when they heard such a simple-minded suggestion. There was no point in asking the Minister to read the novel.

There were too many things in it that it would be better for the Minister not to see. Also there was a lot left out. So several authors were tacked on the job, who were described by E (mil) J (annings) as "Nazi skunks".
These gentry pounced on my novel, compressed it, cut down and trimmed the characters. All this cheap hullabaloo was alleged to be necessary in order to meet the 'specifics of the cinema', which imposes laws different from those of the theatre, the novel, life itself, the whole world in general.
I am giving all this detail in order to let the reader see how under N (azi) rule, any creative work was hampered and made practically impossible".

Fallada goes on:- "Thank heaven, I was not mixed up in all this, My feeble protests were laughed off as the complaints of a child knowing nothing about life. Like everybody else, I waited anxiously to hear what Dr. G (oebbels) would have to say about the script."

A bit later on, the director of the studio informed the author about the main requirements of Goebbels. "The film should not end with the trip to Paris. Only one end to the film was possible, obviously - the siezure of power" (by the Hitlerites - M.K.) "Some of the characters should be brought to the moment of the siezure of power, above all old Hakendahl, the Iron Gustav, who, in the years after the trip to Paris would be converted into an ardent N (azi)."

"Whilst he was speaking, I sat frozen.  This was something I had not expected. Had I foreseen it, I would never have accepted this order. What I wanted to do was to write a part for E (mil) J (annings). Propaganda work on behalf of the party was something which was very, very foreign to me."

Out loud, Fallada expressed himself somewhat differently. He reminded the director that to the Nazis he had always been an "undesirable writer", that for his novel "Anyone who has once tasted prison skilly", which appeared in 1934, he had almost incurred a complete ban. If such a writer started to portray Nazis, they might resent it, and the whole film would come under threat.  The director and Jannings, who was present, recognised the justice of the objection, but their reaction was different from what Fallada had hoped.

"J (annings) promised at once to arrange for me to be received by the Minister. Incidentally, Dr. G (oebbels) had expressed a wish to meet me, and to hear my objections personally.  I shuddered and refused. To survive dislike and be regarded as an undesirable writer was bearable,  But to come under the rays of Goebbels' approval appeared to me to be asking for the fate of Icarus".

The answer which the author received from Goebbels "was short and sweet, permitting of no doubts or misunderstandings. If F (allada) still does not know what his attitude towards the party is, the party knows very clearly what its attitude to F (allada) is".

"I don't like dramatic gestures.  To kill oneself before the throne of the tyrant, doing no good to anybody and doing harm to my children, is not for me.
After considering for three minutes, I accepted the amended order. The month during which I wrote this tail piece is bordered in black ink on my calendar".

What a tremendous degree of mercilessness to himself is contained in this admission about the three minutes, just three minutes needed for complete surrender! What a huge lack of logic in the decision of the author, who shuddered away from any approval by Goebbels, but regarded resistance to pressure as being merely a "dramatic gesture." Even after this clash, he did not forego the possibility of leaving Germany, but he did not take advantage of it, although he came very near to doing so. He was too obsessed with an unhealthy conviction that he would never be able to live or write outside of Germany. Six years later, he summed up the sad total in the Strelitz hospital.

The film about the Iron Gustav was never shot. "M(inister) R(osenberg) announced that no genuinely German film could appear under the name of F(allada). He is regarded as the representative of Bolshevik culture, and his removal is highly desirable."

The novel which had appeared in the meantime came under savage persecution and was withdrawn from sale.

"Once again, like it was after 'prison skilly' the storm troopers and SS men marched through the streets, demanding that my books should be removed, not only from the showcases but altogether I was made bankrupt."

To his honour be it said that Fallada discovered in himself the courage and determination to become master of himself once more. His creative road reached its peak with the novel "Each dies alone" (1947) in which the idea of the need to fight and to resist, learnt through his sufferings by the author, manifests itself with impressive force.

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