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Prison Diary


Hans Fallada. In meinem fremden Land. Gefängnistagebuch 1944.

Ed. Jenny Williams and Sabine Lange. Berlin: Aufbau, 2009.



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Fifteen years before the first publication of Günter Grass’s anti- Nazi classic Die Blechtrommel, with its memorable opening: “Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me...,” Hans Fallada wrote:

I am writing these lines under the threat of the hangman’s rope in the criminal asylum in Strelitz, where by the kindness of the senior public prosecutor accommodation has been found for me as “a lunatic dangerous to the public safety” in September 1944. About every ten minutes a guard comes into my cell, looks curiously at my scribblings and asks me, what am I writing? I say: “A story for children” and continue writing. I suppress every thought about what will become of mc if someone reads these lines. I have to write them. I can feel the end of the war approaching, and before then I want to have written down what I experienced. (20—1)

But whereas Grass wrote fiction, Fallada was writing fact Following a violent argument with his estranged wife, Fallada really was committed on 4 September 1944 to the criminal asylum in Strelitz where, having been granted access to pen and paper, he really did write a manuscript which recorded his experiences in the institution, and recalled his earlier life in Nazi Germany.

Fallada’s manuscript survived because he contrived to smuggle it out of the asylum during an escorted visit to his home on 8 October, and Fallada himself survived because he was released for good on 13 December. The manuscript indeed included “stor[ies] for children,” as well as the novel Der Trinker, which was released in 1950. However, In meinem fremden Land is the first complete publication of the autobiographical materials in the manuscript, although Fallada drew on them for the series of articles entitled “Osterfest 1933 mit der SA” which appeared in the Tägliche Rundschau in November and December 1945, and although some extracts from the materials have been quoted in various biographical and critical studies of die author.

The editors of In meinem fremden Land identify two conflicting currents in the text, suggesting that Fallada’s account of his experiences is intended for “the defence of his own actions, of his ‘inner emigration” (271), but that “[t]he prison diary documents above all the failure and the growing despair of an unpolitical man” (279). It is difficult to disagree with either of these assessments. Thus in the passage quoted above (which is from the second daily entry in the diary), Fallada does not simply express his willingness to tell his story in the extremely hazardous environment of “the criminal asylum in Strelitz,” but also numbers himself among the patriots who chose to suffer with their own people, by contrast with the exiles who preferred an easier life elsewhere: “But even under these conditions I say: ‘I did die right thing by staying in Germany. I am a German, and I would rather perish with this unfortunate-fortunate people than enjoy illusory happiness among foreigners” (21). Fallada reiterates this self-justifying and highly questionable dichotomy (which vas most famously propagated by Frank Thieß and his supporters in the “Emigrantenstreit” of 1945-46) later in his diary, for example when he claims that those who stayed in Nazi Germany “said something useful here and something useful there, we supported each other, we endured, even if often we were afraid” (143), while the “fools out there in foreign countries, they’re sitting very comfortably and securely” (142). But Fallada’s defence of his “inner emigration” is undermined by his numerous stories of failure and despair. The best known and most telling of these concerns Der eiserne Gustav, the novel which vas commissioned by the Reich Propaganda Ministry as the basis for a film with Emil Jannings, and which Fallada revised significantly when Jannings reported that Joseph Goebbels was dissatisfied with the manuscript. In describing how he complied with Goebbels’s instructions, Fallada no longer represents himself as resolutely prepared to “perish with this unfortunate-fortunate people,” but as simply scared for himself and his family: “I have no love for the grand gesture before tyrants’ thrones, allowing myself to be slaughtered, senselessly, helping no-one, harming my children [...]; after three minutes’ thought I accepted the additional commission” (170). Towards the end of the diary, Fallada is equally blunt about the quality of his literary production in Nazi Germany, declaring that after Wolf unter Wölfen, (which was published in 1937) “I lapsed into shallow entertainment” (229).

While Fallada repeatedly writes about himself as a public figure—a bestselling author who sometimes encountered other people prominent in his arts or politics—he of course spent most of the years between 1933 and 1944 in Carwitz in Mecklenburg, and one section towards the end of In meinem fremden Land is devoted to his experience of village life in Hitler’s Germany. This section (which has not previously been published in any form) is particularly interesting in documenting the influence exercised by low-level Nazi functionaries, here primarily the teachers at the local school, who held numerous offices in Party and civic organizations, and who did not hesitate to show the village children photographs of alleged Polish atrocities, or to ask them “exactly where at home father has hung the picture of Hitler, and whether he says ‘Heil Hitler’ every morning and evening as well?” (213).

In another remarkable and hitherto unpublished section in the last pages of In meinem fremden Land, Fallada describes various fantasies of escape from Nazi Germany. The most extensive of these envisages a vast, well equipped and generously provisioned bunker into which the author and his family withdraw to await the end of the Second World War. As Fallada’s biographers have noted, such “Robinsonaden” were a recurring feature of his mental life; one was projected for (but then omitted from) Kleiner Mann — was nun?, and another was published in Der Alpdruck. The particular significance of the elaborate “Robinsonade” in the prison diary is as a symbol of Fallada’s decision to remain in Germany after 1933, because he imagines that when he and his family descend to the bunker underneath their house, the villagers will ask each other: “Where can the Falladas have got to?’ […] And they will answer: They must have fled abroad!” (255). But the symbolism of this radically “inner” emigration is clearly (if perhaps unconsciously) negative, for Fallada also imagines his children staying underground so long as to lose all consciousness of the natural world, so that when the family finally re-emerges after the end of the war, a neighbour accuses the author and his wife: “How could you do that do your children?” (261).

Hans Fallada’s 1944 prison manuscript is an extraordinary document of modem German literary history, and presents considerable challenges which have been skillfully overcome by the editors of In meinem fremden Land, Jenny Williams (the eminent scholar and biographer of Fallada) and Sabine Lange (the long-serving archivist at the Fallada Archive in Mecklenburg). As a facsimile page from the manuscript in this edition (289) indicates, Fallada “scribblings” — the microscopic handwriting which he employed as a defense against scrutiny by his guards—would defeat ail but the most indefatigable editors. Because Fallada was writing both under psychological pressure and entirely from memory, his manuscript contains numerous factual errors, which Williams and Lange rectify in their extensive footnotes. The editors also carefully trace the revisions which Fallada made to the manuscript at the end of the war, and explore their implications for the author’s state of mind.


University of Queenland


In meinem fremden Land. Gefängnistagebuch 1944

Wilkes, Geoff . AUMLA : Journal of the Australasian Universities Modern Language Association 114 (Nov 2010): 133-136.


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