Grossman, Victor 1928-
GROSSMAN, Victor 1928-
PERSONAL: Born Stephen Wechsler, March 11, 1928, in New York, NY; son of Mitchell (an art dealer) and Judith (a social worker; maiden name, Ortman) Wechsler; married Renate Kschiner (a librarian), August 13, 1955; children: Thomas, Timothy. Ethnicity: "Jewish-American." Education: Harvard University, B.A., 1949; University of Leipzig, journalism diploma, 1958. Politics: "Leftist." Hobbies and other interests: Birdwatching.
ADDRESSES: Home—Karl-Marx-Allee 49, Berlin 10178, Germany. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer. Seven Seas Books, Berlin, East Germany (now Germany), publisher's reader, 1958; Democratic German Report, Berlin, journalist, 1959–63; Radio Berlin International, Berlin, journalist, 1963–65; German Academy of Arts, director of Paul Robeson Archive, 1965–68; freelance journalist, lecturer, translator, and author, 1968–. Member of Peace Movement Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal; Friends of the Spanish Republic, member, 1936–39. Military service: U.S. Army, 1951; served in Germany.
Nilpferd und Storch (children's picture book; title means "Hippopotamus and Stork"), Kunderbuch Verlag (Berlin, Germany), 1965.
Von Manhattan bis Kalifornien (history; title means "From Manhattan to California"), Kinderbuch Verlag (Berlin, Germany), 1974.
Per Anhalter durch die USA (title means "Hitchhiking through the USA"), Neues Leben (Berlin, Germany), 1976.
Web über die Grenze (autobiography; title means "The Way across the Border"), Neues Leben (Berlin, Germany), 1985.
If I Had a Song (in German; popular history of American songs and singers), Lied der Zeit (Berlin, Germany),1988.
Crossing the River (autobiography), University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 2003.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Wir Kämpeten in Spanien (title means "We Fought in Spain"), a collection of eyewitness accounts, completion expected c. 2006.
SIDELIGHTS: Victor Grossman told CA: "My writings, indeed my life, were determined by the fact that I deserted the U.S. Army in 1952, swam across the Danube River into the former Soviet Zone of Austria, and was taken by Soviet military authorities to East Germany, where I remained as long as the German Democratic Republic existed. I still live in our apartment in what was then East Berlin.
"The reason for my panicky flight lay in my past. While growing up in the leftist atmosphere of the 1930s, especially in or near New York City, I decided to devote my life to the worldwide fight against poverty, war, and racism. Despite any questions or doubts, this led me to become a convinced Communist. I was active at Harvard University, where I got my B.A., and afterward, in line with my beliefs, I worked as a laborer at two factories in Buffalo.
"In 1951, during the Korean war, I was drafted. Presented with a loyalty oath stating I had never been in any of over a hundred mostly leftist organizations, but facing a McCarthy era atmosphere, with many being ostracized, fired, and imprisoned for their unpopular views I lied and fearfully signed the oath (which was later ruled unconstitutional). While I was stationed in West Germany this was discovered; I was ordered to appear in military court. Threatened with up to five years in prison, I fled eastward.
"In the German Democratic Republic, after six months as a laborer, then a year as an apprentice lathe operator, I went to the college of journalism in Leipzig, and after four years got a number of jobs in East Berlin, all connected with my knowledge of English. After a dispute with my boss at the last of four jobs, I became a freelance journalist, but I also taught English, translated, interpreted (including work for people like Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Jane Fonda), wrote subtitles for films, lectured, and began to write books. As one of the relatively few in East Germany who knew much about the United States I was lucky—and tried to satisfy general interests with information of a relatively straightforward, factual, popularly written kind, without clichés and when possible with some humor. This often required a kind of balancing act, as it does for honest journalists the world over.
"Though we were not privileged, my wife (whom I met shortly after my arrival) and I never had expensive tastes and, despite problems with this or that, were in general content and comfortable. That is of course oversimplified: a much fuller story, with some analysis and some conclusions, is contained in Crossing the River, my first book in English and the first published in my home country, which I have visited frequently since 1994, when I could make peace with the relevant authorities. In conclusion I might add that, though perhaps wiser than in earlier years, I remain committed, in whatever I write or say, to the same principles: always supporting the 'underdog.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Grossman, Victor, Web über die Grenze, Neues Leben (Berlin, Germany), 1985.
Grossman, Victor, Crossing the River, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 2003.