Correspondence with Gottfried Benn (Briefwechsel mit Gottfried Benn)


Dear Herr Dr. Gottfried Benn,

you received a letter from an exiled writer, from ‘near Marseilles’, and replied to it in the newspapers and radio. You quote, above all, and repeatedly, from the letter, that for its author you, Herr Dr. Benn, are the very epitome of the highest standards, and a no less than fanatical purity. Now, letters to artists sometimes contain somewhat exaggerated compliments, of which no tasteful recipient would boast, but you needed such praise to legitimate yourself to a new audience and defend yourself against your old one. However, even your repeated reproduction of the declaration of your fanatical purity does not conceal the fact that you quote another sentence of the letter, according to which your admirer told you that the emigrants are living in the minor resorts in the French Mediterranean coast and in the hotels of Zurich, Prague and Paris, incorrectly.

No, Herr Dr. Benn, nobody wrote that to you. At best, you have generalized from the fact that this letter was sent from a French fishing village, and your generalization shows little understanding. From where do you think that the German writers, whose manuscripts and life-work was ripped up during house searches, whose books are forbidden and burned, whose publishers are ruined, who can no longer contribute to German newspapers and magazines, get the money for Riviera tours and hotel bills? You, Herr Dr. Benn, claim to know that the refugees are passing their time as resort and hotel guests, while the refugees themselves don’t know on which mattress, in which room, they will spend the night. Their only luxury is to not have surrendered their convictions to accommodate the philistines in power.

In your opinion, the emigrants have no right to comment on German issues. One can only talk to “those who have experienced the suspense of the last few months: from newspaper article to newspaper article, from procession to procession, from radio broadcast to radio broadcast.” One can talk to these, but not with the refugees, who went abroad. That’s your irrational advantage over us: in the first paragraph you legitimate yourself with self-praise, in the second one with the fact that you were there, by reading papers, watching processions and listening to radio broadcasts.

The emigrants have also experienced the suspense of the last few months, although their suspense was a bit different: the suspense of being dragged out of bed, beaten up, taken with bare feet into the Nazi barracks, pistol shots, blows on the head and backside, compulsory exercises, handcuffs and ankle shackles for elderly intellectuals, because they did not stand to attention, unrepeatable humiliations, silent, solitary confinement with no communication with the outside world. Others leap out of windows, hold their breath in their hiding place in the yard, run away from the house, run across the border…

We also experienced the processions. We heard them in our cells, when some demonstrators tried to get in, to kill one or other of the prisoners, as they did in Kiel and elsewhere. We read the newspapers just like you. We read about the mass arrests of our colleagues and friends. “Suicide in captivity”, “Shot while attempting to escape”, “Dead bodies discovered”, boycotts, persecution of the Jews, student agitation against literature, books forbidden, books burned. We actually read more newspapers than you, Herr Dr. Benn: foreign newspapers which are forbidden in Germany. Those which smuggled in tales of atrocities. Tales which are unfortunately true and well-documented.

We also listen to the radio. We hear the speakers of the newly-risen Germany. In the clear tone of undoubtedly genuine emotion, undoubtedly genuine conviction, they repeat the empty phrases of the most superficial public bar arguments and the social solutions of the petty bourgeoisie which were proven wrong a hundred years ago. We can understand that you like that, Herr Dr. Benn, because your denunciations run parallel to them, just at a higher level. They play with political fire, while you employ exquisite expression and rare quotations, but your content is about the same as that of your leaders, because your logic is weak and you are ignorant of socialist questions. But no analogy can explain why you participate in the new cultural politics, with its solemn Potsdam recognition of the party poet Dietrich Eckardt (you used to hate party poets, didn’t you?), with its trash novel Michael by the minister Goebbels, or the trash play Totila by the minister Kube, or the trash biography Horst Wessel by Ewers, or that you express solidarity with the proscription of the ‘intellectual monster’ and ‘exaggerated intellectuality’, and with those who say, “When I hear the word culture, I release the safety catch on my Browning”.

“Because it is my people which is blazing its trail here”, that is why you, Herr Dr. Benn, pledge yourself to barbarity? Really? In that case you would have just as enthusiastically acknowledged Communism, if your people had blazed its trail in that direction. But it chose Fascism, and you have already mastered its arguments and assertions. Now you know things that we don’t know, and that you didn’t tell us over the last fifteen years, for example that the Russian state killed two million bourgeois intellectuals when Marxism triumphed.

When you claim that the emigrants in their holiday resorts wish war, destruction and collapse on the German state and the German people, it is only that fact that you are the very epitome of a fanatical purity that prevents me from answering that that is a lie. No emigrant wishes a war against Germany, none of them want Germany’s destruction and collapse. What they all want fanatically is Germany’s liberation, Germany’s rise, of its own volition, in a socialist direction.

We don’t want that for the reasons of which you accuse us. Not because we owe our intellectual property, reputations and fame to Germany. Not because German publishers printed our books and German theatres staged our plays. What kind of argument is that? Have Shakespeare and Goethe got to be thankful to their countries because they published them? Of course there is no Goethe and no Shakespeare among the emigrants, but that is no more their fault than it would be the merit of their country should there be one. Is one obliged to adopt any and every government and state of a country, just because one was educated and brought up in that culture, and achieved success in it? Even your leader could not acknowledge this argument. He is a foreigner. And you could silence a lot of Germans outside Germany who passionately want the Anschluss to the swastika with it. Did anyone ever make an accusation of the fact that Victor Hugo or Rochefort attacked the Little Napoleon from England or Belgium?

We don’t want to contest your gratitude to those who published your poems, and to whom you owe your fame. OK, Herr Dr. Benn, go to your patrons, exhibit solidarity and political loyalty to them, if that is what you want to do. I can give you the address of the man who told us all about Gottfried Benn, and who took your part fanatically for years: Franz Pfemfert. He is starving in emigration. I can name others who are in prison or hiding.

No, Herr Dr. Benn, you won’t practice the grateful solidarity of which you speak. Your logic is like your character, and your assertion that, “I have contact to a lot of workers, including Communists and Social Democrats, as a doctor in the public health service. There is no doubt about it, everyone says that they are doing better than ever”, is news to us. We only knew about Communists and Social Democrats who were dragged into the Nazi barracks, into the bunkers of the fortresses, into the cells of German prisons, into concentration camps. Not a few, not hundreds, not thousands: tens of thousands, getting towards a hundred thousand. We read that slavery (it is called compulsory labour) has been introduced, that the price of butter has gone up from 1 Mark and 5 pfennig to 1 Mark and 50 pfennig, that fat and margarine are no longer affordable. That people are no longer buying meat. The DAZ writes right next to your article about the decline in sales of other foodstuffs. We read that apprentices had their pay and rights taken away, and workers lost the right of free association and trade unions.

We have read in the cowed press and heard from Dr. Goebbels himself in the radio, that 10,000 snufflers (his word) are actively seeking out nests of Marxism. Do you need an army of spies to find out about contented workers? And what an army you would need to overcome these Marxists. Thirteen million Marxist voters! Do you really believe that they have changed their convictions as quickly and thoroughly as you, Herr Dr. Benn, the epitome of a fanatical purity?

Keep writing your well-paid articles, which you can also read out in the radio for an even higher fee. Underlay the alcohol and morphine-inspired belches of your philistines with subtle foreign words and analogies from the quaternary period (you find the word tertiary period overused). Accompany the murder and pillage of your fellow writers and doctors with sumptuous quotations. Sing the praises of the deprivation of rights and incarceration of workers and intellectuals, in melodious syntax. Justify the war fever with sombre metaphysics. Keep on polemicising against yourself. Keep on piling up disgrace on your intellectual betrayal. Everything that you do from your current convictions can only win you credit with those who think as you do, those currently in power. You epitome of a fanatical purity.

Published in: KischTruth Kisch Truth


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