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Missing Prisonner

October 8, 1999

Missing prisoner

STRAFGEFANGENER, ZELLE 32. Tagebuch 22. Juni-2.September 1924. By Hans Fallada Edited by Gunter Caspar. 189pp. Berlin : Aufbau. DM32. 3 351 03203 X

Rudolf Ditzen (1893-1947), who wrote under the name Hans Fallada, was widely read in the English-speaking world in the 1930s. Putnam had a huge success with Little Man, What Now? in 1933 and published the next six Fallada novels up to and including Iron Gustav in 1940. However, Ditzen's decision to remain in Germany during the Third Reich largely cut him off from his English readership.
Attempts to revive this connection began in 1952 with the publication of The Drinker, one of the most successful literary portrayals of addiction, and continued with the reissue of this translation in 1989 by Libris who also published a new translation of Little Man, What Now? in 1996.
After his death in the Soviet sector of Berlin in 1947, Hans Fallada remained a popular writer in both German states. However, it was not until after unification that the Aufbau publishing house were able to acquire all the rights to his work, since when they have been pursuing a policy of publishing previously unpublished manuscripts.
Strafgefangener, Zelle 32 is the diary which Ditzen kept in 1924 while serving a sentence of six months in Greifswald prison. The son of a High Court judge, Ditzen, like many of his generation, rebelled against the order which his father represented. A suicide pact in 1911, which resulted in the death of his best friend, brought his schooling to an abrupt end and led to the first of a number of periods in psychiatric care. Rejected by the army in 1914, he spent the war years working as a steward on estates in what is now Poland ; by the end of the war, which claimed the life of a much-loved younger brother, he had added morphine and cocaine to his nicotine and alcohol addictions. Indeed, it was the need to finance his drug dependency which led
to his imprisonment for embezzlement.
The diary makes interesting reading for a number of reasons. First of all, it provides an inmate's view of day-to-day prison life during the Weimar Republic : the cockroaches, the (lack of) food, sawing wood in the prison yard and the work gangs in Greifswald and the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, all references to male sexuality, an important dimension of the diary, have been excised from this edition. (This clearly happened after some review copies had been sent out, because one German reviewer commented on the prominence given to masturbation.) The result is a somewhat incoherent text in places.
It also gives a fascinating insight into Ditzen's relationship to literature and to writing. By 1924, he had published two Expressionist novels, and his first priority on arriving in prison was to obtain permission to write - writing became his strategy for coping with prison life, a strategy which Ditzen was subsequently to employ during terms of imprisonment in 1933 and
1944. The diary begins as a "completely honest" account of prison life, then on July 12 Ditzen records a translation exercise and by July 19, he "feels the scent of the first chapter of my new book". Ditzen's comments illuminate the creative process which he describes as "the most incomprehensible and thrilling experience".
He is also "completely honest" about his attitude to authority. Although he had rejected the religious, sexual and social mores of his upbringing, he still could not help squealing on fellow inmates. He was sufficiently ashamed of this authoritarian trait to seek to justify it.
Ditzen's experience of prison life in 1924, particularly the lack of transparency in the remission procedures, gave him a lifelong interest in prison reform and prisoner rehabilitation. This first found expression in an essay in 1925 and then in the novel Who Once Eats Out of the Tin Bowl in 1934.
His period in Greifswald prison also convinced him that the regimentation and privations of a prison regime offered a much better cure for his drug addiction than a mental hospital. When he was arrested again in September 1925 on similar charges, he greatly exaggerated his criminal activities to ensure a suitably long prison sentence.
This edition marks the end of an era, in that it is the last of Ditzen's manuscripts to be edited by Gunter Caspar, who died earlier this year. Caspar, incidentally, was first introduced to the classics of twentieth-century German literature, most of which had been banned during his youth, in a POW camp in Quorn in Leicestershire at the end of the Second World War. A meticulous and painstaking editor, his Fallada editions for Aufbau, dating back to 1962, have become much-sought-after classics.
The present volume may well also become a collector's item, albeit for rather different reasons. Not only have all references to masturbation been excised, the name "Ditzen" has also been removed from the title (which was originally Strafgefangener Ditzen, Zelle 32) and from the diary itself - presumably at the insistence of the Ditzen family. Again, this intervention appears to have happened at a late stage, since the name has been removed with correcting fluid/strips. These blank spaces, when raised to the light, clearly reveal the word "Ditzen". Caspar's excellent afterword, however, directly refers, correctly, to the author/prisoner as Rudolf Ditzen. Censorship, a constant factor in Hans Fallada's writing life, seems determined to pursue Ditzen beyond the grave.

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