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Extract from : More Lives than One



This book is devoted to the life of a remarkable man – among other things an alcoholic, drug addict, womanizer, jailbird and thief, in his time wooed by both the Nazi and the Soviet cultural authorities – who in his novels chronicles the fate of a social class in a period of great upheaval and makes an eloquent plea for ordinary human decency and who, in the words of one of the heroes of his youth, discovered for himself that ‘he who lives more lives than one/More deaths than one must die.’

‘Hans Fallada’ was a best-selling German novelist of the early 1930s. His Kleiner Mann – was nun?(Little Man – What Now?)rescued the business of his publisher and friend Ernst Rowohlt from bankruptcy in 1932. Little Man – What Now?was also a success in Britain and the US, where it was filmed by Universal Pictures. However, Rudolf Ditzen, the man behind the nom de plume Hans Fallada, had been largely forgotten in the English-speaking world until 2009, when the phenomenal success of Alone in Berlin, the first English translation of his last novel, Jederstirbtfürsichallein, brought him again to the attention of English readers.

Fallada’s reputation has been as much at the mercy of political developments since his death in 1947 as it was during his lifetime. Yet his output – novels, poems, short stories, letters, translations, reviews and children’s stories – was prodigious, his observation of the contemporary scene acute, and his talent as a storyteller unsurpassed in twentieth-century German literature. Now, more than sixty years after his death, it is time to undertake a reassessment of a writer who lived a turbulent life in turbulent times and through it all maintained a belief in universal human values.

Hans Fallada was the pseudonym of Rudolf Ditzen, who published his first novel at the age of twenty-six under an assumed name ostensibly in order to spare his parents’ feelings. Ditzen relates that his pen name derived from characters in two of Grimms’ Fairy Tales: ‘Hans’, the happy-go-lucky simpleton in ‘Lucky Hans’ and ‘Fal(l)ada’, the horse in ‘The Goose Girl’, who, even after he has been beheaded, continues to bear witness to the truth.

The adoption of a pen name had an additional and more complex significance: it permitted Rudolf Ditzen through the persona of Hans Fallada to create a world in which the conflicts and tensions of his life could be resolved. The pseudonym was thus cause and effect of the artistic process. In a radio broadcast in 1946 Ditzen declared: ‘Everything in my life ends up in my books.’

The strongly autobiographical dimension which is a striking feature of Ditzen’s writing is a further indication that the pseudonym Hans Fallada was not a mere stratagem to protect his family from publicity but was central to his artistic impulse. As we shall see, everything written under the name Hans Fallada was fiction – even ostensibly autobiographical pieces. This biography, which views its subject not only as a writer but also as farmer, white-collar worker, husband and father, will therefore refer to him as Rudolf Ditzen since this is the name which he used in everyday life and by which he was known both inside and outside his immediate family circle.

Born on 21 July 1893, the son of a member of the Prussian judiciary who was later appointed to the German Imperial Supreme Court in Leipzig, Rudolf Ditzen was committed to a psychiatric hospital at the age of eighteen after killing a close friend in a duel. This was the first of many periods spent in psychiatric care. In the 1920s he served two prison sentences for theft and embezzlement; in 1933 he was arrested and held in custody by the SA, the Nazi Party’s private army, or storm troop (Sturmabteilung); eleven years later he was imprisoned once again, on this occasion for the attempted murder of his first wife.

Ditzen chose to remain in Germany during the Nazi period. He never joined the Nazi Party, indeed he loathed all the strutting and posing, the corruption and the denunciations. However, he accommodated himself to the authorities to the extent that he rewrote the conclusion to one of his novels at Goebbels’s behest, and as a major in the Reichsarbeitsdienst he undertook three officially sponsored tours to the Front in 1943 to gather material for the Nazi propaganda machine. Yet, when the Soviet army arrived in Mecklenburg in the spring of 1945, it installed him as mayor of Feldberg, his local town, where his duties included supervising the denazification effort.

Is this the life-story of a moral coward or a political opportunist or, even, a schizophrenic? Or is it representative of thousands upon thousands of Germans in the first half of the twentieth century? Momentous decisions, such as Rudolf Ditzen’s decision not to emigrate to England in 1938, were made without the benefit of hindsight. Should this make the judgement of posterity less harsh? Bertolt Brecht, in his poem ‘To Those Born Later’, begs future generations to remember him and his contemporaries ‘with forbearance’. Does this apply to Ditzen, too? Or was Thomas Mann right when he stated: ‘. . . any books which could be printed at all in Germany between 1933 and 1945 are worse than useless . . . A stench of blood and shame attaches to them; they should all be pulped.’ To what extent can Ditzen’s lack of resistance to National Socialism be read as support? These are all questions which a biographer is obliged to address. Indeed, these are the very questions that make Rudolf Ditzen such a fascinating and challenging subject.

After the war, in the Soviet zone of occupation, Ditzen enjoyed the patronage of Johannes R. Becher, the senior literary figure among those German Communists who returned from exile in the USSR, and there in 1946 he wrote the first anti-fascist novel of the post-war period, Alone in Berlin. Rudolf Ditzen died on 5 February 1947 in East Berlin, a physical and psychological wreck – amid praise in the East for his contribution to the German humanist tradition and opprobrium in the West for his opportunism and capitulation to fascism.

The story of Hans Fallada does not end with Rudolf Ditzen’s death. His second wife, Ulla Ditzen, was named his sole and legitimate heir in September 1949 and she remarried a month later. The chaos of the immediate post-war period, combined with her drug dependency, her ignorance of literary matters and her apparently rather unscrupulous third husband resulted in a number of Ditzen’s manuscripts being sold and/or lost. The Hey family bought what remained in 1955 and Ditzen’s letters, reviews, manuscripts and other writings lay in a cellar in Braunschweig until they were acquired by the Academy of the Arts in East Berlin in the late 1970s at the instigation of Tom Crepon, the then Director of the Writers’ Centre in Neubrandenburg.

The view of Ditzen/Fallada in what was then, and remained until 1990, the German Democratic Republic (GDR/East Germany), had been moulded by Becher, who in his graveside oration expressed the view that: ‘Fallada the writer was no profound thinker . . . It was everyday life and ordinary people he loved . . . He knew the lives of these ordinary men and women better than almost anybody else and he reflected their joys and their sorrows in a realistic manner. This was his strength and at the same time it was his weakness as both man and artist.’ This view was taken up and developed by Alfred Geßler, who produced the first comprehensive East German assessment of Fallada’s work in 1972, placing him, in Marxist terms, in the petit bourgeois, democratic tradition. Geßler saw Ditzen as an outsider with a tendency to run away from problems, who observed and chronicled people and events but did not understand the forces at work in society. According to Geßler, Ditzen’s critical realism and humanism enabled him to potray the plight of the ‘little man’, the white-collar worker with his working-class income and middle-class aspirations, with sympathy and understanding, thereby ensuring the success of his novels. Geßler’sstudy, entitledHans Fallada. Sein Leben und Werk (‘Hans Fallada. His Life and Work’), views the writer through the filter of his work, with the result, for example, that the first thirty-three years of Ditzen’s life are covered in a mere twelve pages. Geßler and subsequent East German critics discounted Ditzen’s first two novels, Der jungeGoedeschal (‘Young Goedeschal’) and Anton und Gerda (‘Anton and Gerda’), on the grounds that they were immature ‘puberty novels’ and not representative of Ditzen the critical realist.

The second East German biography, by Tom Crepon, appeared in 1978. In the foreword the author describes his Leben und Tode des Hans Fallada (‘The Lives and Deaths of Hans Fallada’) as ‘not a scholarly monograph’ but ‘a largely authentic report’, an attempt ‘to follow Rudolf Ditzen’s path through life and to reconstruct situations, places and conversations along the way’. Crepon, who acknowledges the influence of Anna (‘Suse’) Ditzen, the author’s first wife, on his study, chronicles Rudolf Ditzen’s life in a largely non-judgemental and sympathetic manner, filling gaps in the record with imaginative ‘reconstructions’.

In 1981, Ditzen’s papers and manuscripts were returned to Feldberg and housed in an archive in a refurbished villa on the wooded slopes of the Hausseelake. Across the lake lived Anna Ditzen, widely acclaimed as the ‘model’ for the heroine of Little Man – What Now?, and her house, too, soon became a place of pilgrimage for students and scholars interested in her husband’s work. The year 1981 also saw the publication of a third East German biography – Hans Fallada. Sein großes kleines Leben (‘Hans Fallada. His Great and Little Life’) by Werner Liersch. Liersch views Rudolf Ditzen as the product of a particular socio-historical situation and draws parallels with other male writers of his generation and class. He argues that Ditzen’s illnesses and addictions were determined primarily by social and historical factors rather than genetic or psychological ones.

However, the East German scholar who made the greatest contribution to ensuring the success of Fallada’s work is Günter Caspar, who was responsible for the ten volumes of AusgewählteWerke (‘Selected Works’) published by Aufbau between 1962 and 1987. Caspar not only produced meticulous editions but wrote detailed and extremely well- researched commentaries for eight of the volumes.

Following the opening of the archive, a Friends of Hans Fallada society (FalladaFreundeskreis) was formed in Feldberg in 1983. This band of enthusiasts collected rare editions, celebrated the author’s life and work and carried out and published valuable research, such as Manfred Kuhnke’s work on Ditzen’s last period in Berlin. The existence of such a society is testimony to the special place that Ditzen/Fallada continued to enjoy in the hearts and minds of his readers in East Germany.

East German television contributed to the popularity of Fallada’s work by commissioning a regular supply of films: Wolf unterWölfen (Wolf among Wolves) in 1964, Little Man – What Now?in 1967, Alone in Berlin in 1970 and AltesHerzgeht auf die Reise (Old Heart Goes on a Journey) in 1987. There were also a number of films based on Fallada’s stories for children.

In the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG/West Germany), Rowohlt began publishing again in 1946. Little Man – What Now?was the first volume to appear (in 1950) in the popular rororo paperback series. This novel found a steady readership in the 1950s in West Germany, as did the ‘unpolitical’ books. In 1963 a biography by Jürgen Manthey appeared in the Rowohlt Picture Monograph series. Manthey regards Ditzen as the victim of an authoritarian, repressive upbringing which engendered guilt and a desire for self- destruction. He draws on Wilhelm Reich’s psychoanalytic analysis of the petit bourgeois personality in his assessment of Ditzen’s psycho-sexual development, concluding that Ditzen suffered from acute identity problems and a dual personality, which he attempted to resolve through writing and the excessive use of alcohol and other addictive substances. Manthey lays particular emphasis on Ditzen’s relationship with his father, noting that nowhere in Fallada’s work is a positive father figure to be found, and he characterizes his literary output as ‘the work of an author with a clear mother fixation’.

Television in West Germany commissioned Fallada films, too. The first post-war Fallada film, WereinmalausdemBlechnapffrißt (‘Once a Jailbird’) was made in 1962 for the West German Broadcasting Company (WDR), which also produced a film of Alone in Berlin in the same year. Der Trinker (The Drinker) followed in 1967, Bauern, Bonzen und Bomben (A Small Circus) in 1973, a second film of Alone in Berlin in 1975, and Der eiserne Gustav (Iron Gustav) in 1979.

It was not until the late 1960s that the prison novel ‘Once a Jailbird’ and the political novels Wolf among Wolves and A Small Circus began to sell in significant numbers in West Germany. In 1972, Peter Zadek produced a musical based on Little Man – What Now?which was adapted for the stage by TankredDorst, and by the late 1970s in West Germany the status of Little Man – What Now?as a twentieth- century German ‘classic’ was confirmed when extracts began appearing in school textbooks. Two publishers included studies of the novel in their ‘Teachers’/Students’ Notes’ series in 1978 and 1983. By the mid-1980s in England Little Man – What Now?was a set text for the German A-Level examination and in 1987 Methuen published a schools edition.

The popularity of the novel on its publication was not confined to Germany. In England, where Little Man – What Now? was published by Putnam, The Times Literary Supplement review of 11 May 1933 concluded: ‘How the little family survive the pressure of the dole, how they cling to each other with the clutch of the drowning, all this is revealed with an insight and sympathy that makes the book no mere series of photographs but rather a formidable picture.’ In the United States the Simon and Schuster edition was equally successful. Universal Pictures acquired the film rights and the film Little Man – What Now?, starring Margaret Sullavan and Douglas Montgomery, was premiered on 31 May 1934 in New York.

Putnam published seven Fallada novels between 1933 and 1940. While Little Man – What Now?was the most popular, with sales of over 22,000 by the beginning of 1939, Who Once Eats out of the Tin Bowl sold over 11,000 and Once We Had a Child over 7,000 copies in Great Britain during the period. Fallada short stories were sold to the Evening Standard and the News Chronicle as well as to Esquire, The Argosy and Hutchinson’s Golden Book. After the war, Putnam published The Drinker in 1952. While some of the 1930s translations were reissued by Howard Baker in the 1960s and 1970s, it was not until 1989 that a new Fallada edition appeared in England, when Libris published The Drinker with an introduction by John Willett. This was followed in 1996 by a new translation of Little Man – What Now?introduced by Philip Brady.

The continued success of Little Man – What Now?is something Rudolf Ditzen would have found perplexing. While he warmly welcomed the recognition and the financial security the novel brought him in 1932, he never really understood the applause which greeted ‘that wimp Pinneberg who would be nothing without his wife’ and the film ‘which, thank God, I’ve never seen’.

The English translation of Jederstirbtfürsichallein by Michael Hofmann, published first by Penguin in the UK as Alone in Berlin in 2009 and later in the same year by Melville House in the US as Every Man Dies Alone, was a publishing sensation in the English-speaking world. A reviewer in the Observer on 23 May 2010 described the novel as ‘taking bestseller lists by storm on both sides of the Atlantic’, and by the summer of 2011 almost 400,000 copies had been sold. The impact of the English translation resulted in the sale of translation rights in more than twenty languages, with the Hebrew translation topping the Israeli bestseller list in August 2010. The success of Alone in Berlin has ushered in a new era of Fallada translations which will reconnect him with an English readership after a gap of more than seventy years.

A comprehensive assessment of the life and work of this German writer has been hampered by the development of divergent views of Rudolf Ditzen in East and West Germany. In addition, his status as a popular writer has resulted in a reluctance in academic circles to take his work seriously. The unevenness of Ditzen’s work, which ranges from masterpieces of narrative technique to works of little, if any, literary value, also makes it difficult to assign him an appropriate position in the history of German literature. A further factor contributing to his relative neglect has been that his name has not been associated with any particular literary movement. His early works, with their intense subjectivity and fantastic, dream-like sequences are decidedly Expressionist, his novels of the early 1930s belong, if anywhere, to the ‘New Sobriety’ movement; after that, some of his work could be classified loosely as ‘Realist’ but this epithet would have to be modified in turn, depending on the novel in question. Fallada has therefore all too often been seen as unique, a loner, an exception – which is largely how Rudolf Ditzen, whose favourite book as a child was Robinson Crusoe, viewed himself.

However, as the narrator of The Magic Mountain said of Hans Castorp, Ditzen, too, lived ‘not only his personal life, as an individual, but also, consciously or unconsciously, the life of his epoch and his contemporaries’. He was born in the same year as the radical dramatist Ernst Toller and in the same decade as Johannes R. Becher, Bertolt Brecht, Erich Kästner, Kurt Tucholsky, Walter Benjamin, Gertrud Kolmar and Carl Zuckmayer. He belonged to a generation of German writers born into an authoritarian German Reich who attained adulthood at the time of its disintegration in the First World War, and who experienced a mere fourteen years of parliamentary democracy before the advent of fascism and a second world war. This generation was moulded by Wilhelmine Germany and irrevocably changed by fascism, and it was their response to fascism which determined the course of the rest of their lives. This is no less true of Brecht, who went into exile, or of Benjamin and Toller, who both committed suicide, or of Kolmar, who died in a concentration camp, than it is of Ditzen, who retreated into a rural idyll in the hope that by maintaining a low profile he could weather the storm.

The end of the Cold War and the unification of Germany have witnessed a revival of interest in Rudolf Ditzen’s life and work. This process was set in motion by the foundation of the Hans Fallada Society (Hans FalladaGesellschaft) in Germany in 1991 and continued during the centenary celebrations in 1993 when a recurring theme was the timeless and universal appeal of Ditzen’s work, as well as its contemporary relevance in a world where the ‘little man’ is facing unemployment and social upheaval once more. The centenary year saw a new, largely unchanged, edition of Liersch’s ‘Hans Fallada. His Great and Little Life’, as well as a popular and rather sensationalist biography by Klaus Farin, Hans Fallada.‘Welchesind, die habenkeinGlück’ (‘Hans Fallada. “Some People Have No Luck at All” ’), which relies almost entirely on secondary sources. In 1993 Aufbau also published a new edition of Ditzen’s first two novels for the first time since the early 1920s, as well as hitherto unpublished early prose works.

Since the unification of Germany, the University of Greifswald has hosted two conferences on Ditzen’s life and work. Further conferences have been organized by the Fallada Society in Carwitz and by the Fallada Forum in Berlin, Canada, the US and the UK.23 The federchen publishing house in Neubrandenburg has produced a number of monographs and, in addition to the Hans FalladaJahrbuch (Hans Fallada Yearbook), the Fallada Society publishes a regular newsletter which carries not only Society news but short pieces on ongoing research.

In the 1990s, the Writers’ Centre in Neubrandenburg acquired and set about renovating the smallholding in the remote village of Carwitz which Ditzen bought in 1933 and where he lived with his family until 1944. The house and grounds are now open to the public and copies of most of Ditzen’s papers are housed here, while the archive itself is located in Neubrandenburg.

The fiftieth anniversary of Ditzen’s death, in February 1997, was marked by two new publications. Hans Fallada. Sein Leben in Bildern und Briefen (‘Hans Fallada. His Life in Pictures and Letters’) is a handsome volume from Aufbau of over two hundred photographs and extracts from letters, diaries, articles and reviews which present a kaleidoscopic overview of the complexity of Ditzen’s life and work. This compilation not only made a significant amount of archival material available for the first time but also, as the reviewer of the SüddeutscheZeitung remarked on 7 February 1997, it ‘whets the reader’s appetite for the enormous treasure-trove of correspondence’.

Ditzen was an enthusiastic letter-writer and his correspondence consists of over six thousand letters to friends, family, publishers and readers spanning the years 1912 to 1947. These documents provide valuable insights into his life and creative processes as well as into the times in which he lived. Since 1997, a small proportion of Ditzen’s letters have been published: excerpts from his correspondence with Anne Marie Seyerlen, an early muse, spanning the years 1917 to 1921; a selection of the 2,371 letters which passed between Ditzen and his publisher Ernst Rowohlt from 1919 to 1946; around a third of the letters which he exchanged with his first wife, Anna Ditzen, between 1928 and 1946, and part of Ditzen’s correspondence with his elder son Uli during the years 1940 to 1946.

The second publication in 1997 was a new biography by Cecilia von Studnitz, Es war wieein Rausch. Fallada und seinLeben (‘It was like Intoxication. Fallada and His Life’). The author takes as her starting point the fact that Ditzen’s ‘autobiographical manuscripts are not free from fiction nor are his fictional characters and plots free from autobiography’ and goes on to base her account of Ditzen’s life largely on quotations from his work and the existing German biographies.

In contrast, the present biography is based on both published and unpublished primary sources. The latter category includes correspondence and other writings by Ditzen himself as well as new material donated to the archive in recent years. In addition, members of the former Friends of Hans Fallada society have generously made available archival material in their private possession. Finally, the author was fortunate to have met and talked at length on three occasions with Anna Ditzen, Rudolf Ditzen’s wife for fifteen crucial years.

Ditzen’s own ‘autobiographical’ writings, Damalsbeiunsdaheim (‘Our Home in Days Gone by’) and HeutebeiunszuHaus (‘Our Home Today’), are not sufficiently reliable to provide a sound basis for biography. Ditzen wrote ‘Our Home in Days Gone by’ in 1941 at a time when he needed money and when trivial, escapist literature was all he could hope to have published. In his letters to his sister Elisabeth, who provided a substantial amount of material for the work, he freely admitted, ‘I invent stories – about parents, siblings, relatives – I steal childhood memories shamelessly from other people.’ He confided to a friend, ‘I’m turning my worthy parents, who I couldn’t stand in my youth and who I only came to appreciate as I grew older, into two angelic figures.’ In ‘Our Home in Days Gone by’, Ditzen deliberately omits any reference to one of the most important influences during his youth – his aunt, Adelaide Ditzen, who encouraged his early literary efforts, because ‘I would have to adopt a more faithful and serious approach to give the kind of approximately accurate account which I owe her.’ In a subsequent letter to his sister he also admitted that the conclusion to the book, which depicts a smooth transition from boyhood to manhood, is a complete invention.

Our Home in Days Gone by’ is therefore of very little use to a biographer. Its rosy glow of nostalgia, however, ensured its success on publication in March 1942 and encouraged Ditzen to write a sequel, ‘Our Home Today’. This work’s subtitle – ‘Erlebtes, Erfahrenes und Erfundenes’ (literally: ‘Things Experienced, Heard and Invented’) – indicates its unreliability. A preface contains the further warning that ‘no one is portrayed here as they really are, not even the author.’ Thus Ditzen gave himself a licence to conjure up an idyllic rural existence with no marital disharmony, no extra- marital affairs, no village gossips, Nazi denunciations, unsympathetic publishers, no alcoholism or depression.

Ditzen’s ‘autobiographical’ works, tellingly published under the name Hans Fallada, are, arguably, greater works of fiction than some of his novels and will be treated as such.

It is intended that this biography, which aims primarily to (re)-introduce a neglected German writer to an English-speaking readership, will also make a serious contribution to the reassessment of his life and work wherever he is read.