Wickert, Erwin 1915-2008

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Wickert, Erwin 1915-2008

PERSONAL: Born January 7, 1915, in Bralitz, Germany; died March 26, 2008, in Remegen, Germany; son of Erwin and Hanna Wickert; married Ingeborg Weides, 1939 (died, 1999); children: Wolfram, Ulrich, Barbara Wickert-Wood. Ethnicity: “German.”Education: Attended Friedrich-Wilhelm University, Berlin, 1934-35; Dickinson College, B.A., 1936; University of Heidelberg, D.Phil., 1939.

CAREER: German Foreign Office, Berlin, attaché in Berlin, 1939-40, Shanghai, China, 1940-41, and Tokyo, Japan, 1941-45; writer in Japan, 1945-47, and in Heidelberg, West Germany, 1947-55; German Foreign Office, counselor at NATO embassy in Paris, France, 1955-60, counselor at Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bonn, 1960-68, minister plenipotentiary at embassy in London, England, 1968-71, ambassador to Romania, 1971-76, and China, 1976-80.

AWARDS, HONORS: Radio Play Award of the War Blind, 1952; Rheinland-Pfalz State Prize for Literature, 1992; Grosses Bundesverdienstkreuz.



Der Auftrag (novel), Henry Goverts-Verlag (Stuttgart, West Germany), 1961, published as Der Auftrag des Himmels, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (Stuttgart, West Germany), 1979, translation by James Kirkup published as The Heavenly Mandate, Collins (London, England), 1964.

China von innen gesehen, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (Stuttgart, West Germany), 1982, translation by J. Maxwell Brownjohn published as The Middle Kingdom: Inside China Today, Harvill (London, England), 1983.

(Editor) John Rabe: Der gute Deutsche von Nanking, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (Stuttgart, Germany), 1997, translation by John E. Woods published as The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998, published as The Good German of Nanking, Little, Brown (London, England), 1999.


Fata Morgana über den Strassen (short stories; title means “Mirage above the Roads”), Arwed-Strauch-Verlag (Leipzig, Germany), 1938.

Das Paradies im Westen (novel; title means “The Paradise in the West”), Hohenstaufen-Verlag (Stuttgart, Germany), 1939.

Die Adamowa (novella), Hohenstaufen-Verlag (Stuttgart, Germany), 1941.

Du musst dein Leben andern (novel; title means “You Must Change Your Life”), Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (Stuttgart, West Germany), 1949.

Dramatische Tage in Hitlers Reich (title means “Dramatic Days in Hitler’s Reich”), Steingriiben-Verlag (Stuttgart, West Germany), 1952.

Die Frage des Tigers (novella; title means “The Question of the Tiger”), C. Bertelsmann (Giitersloh, West Germany), 1955.

Caesar und der Phoenix (radio plays; title means “Caesar and the Phoenix”), Steingriiben-Verlag (Stuttgart, West Germany), 1956.

Robinson und seine Gaste (radio play; title means “Robinson and His Guests”), Hans-Bredow-Verlag (Hamburg, West Germany), 1960.

Der Klassenaufsatz; Alkestis (radio plays; title means “The Class Composition [and] Alcestis”), Reclam (Stuttgart, West Germany), 1960.

Der Purpur (novel; title means “Purple”), Henry Goverts-Verlag (Stuttgart, West Germany), 1965, new edition, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (Stuttgart, West Germany), 1965.

Vom politischen Denken der Chinesen (title means “About Chinese Political Thinking”), Franz Steiner Verlag (Stuttgart, West Germany), 1983.

Der verlassene Tempel (novel; title means “The Abandoned Temple”), Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (Stuttgart, West Germany), 1985.

Der Kaiser und der Grosshistoriker (radio plays; title means “The Emperor and the Grand Historian”), Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (Stuttgart, West Germany), 1987.

Knut Hamsun und die grosse Konferenz von Chang’an (nonfiction; title means “Knut Hamsun and the Great Conference of Chang’an”), Franz Steiner Verlag (Stuttgart, West Germany), 1987.

Der fremde Osten (nonfiction; title means “The Strange East”), Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (Stuttgart, West Germany), 1988.

Mut und Übermut (autobiography; title means “Courage and Daring: Stories from My Life”), Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (Stuttgart, Germany), 1991.

Von der Wahrheit im historischen Roman und in der Historie (title means “About Truth in the Historical Novel and in History”), Franz Steiner Verlag (Stuttgart, Germany), 1993.

Sonate mit dem Paukenschlag (short stories; title means “Sonata with the Beat of the Drum”), Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (Stuttgart, Germany), 1993.

Zappas oder die Wiederkehr des Herrn (novel; title means “Zappas; or, The Return of the Lord”), Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (Stuttgart, Germany), 1995.

Die gliicklichen Augen (autobiography; title means “The Happy Eyes”), Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (Stuttgart, Germany), 2001.

Konfuzius—sein Leben und Scheitern (nonfiction; titles means “Confucius: His Life and His Failure”), Franz Steiner Verlag (Stuttgart, Germany), 2001.

Das Gipfelgesprach (essays; title means “The Summit Talk”), Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (Stuttgart, Germany), 2003.

Das muss ich Ihnen schreiben (letters; title means “That I Must Write You”), Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (Stuttgart, Germany), 2003.

Warum schreibst du eigentlich Romane? (essay; title means “Why, Actually, Do You Write Novels?”), Akademis der Wissenschaften und der Literatur (Mainz, Germany), 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: Erwin Wickert began his literary career in 1938, when he was still studying for a doctorate in Heidelberg. His first book, Fata Morgana über den Strassen, contains short stories. He followed that with Das Paradies im Westen, his first novel. But only one more volume, the novella Die Adamowa, appeared before his writing was interrupted by World War II. The book was banned by the Ministry of Propaganda in 1941. In 1949, four years after the war ended, Wickert resumed his writing by producing another novel, Du musst dein Leben andern.

In 1952 Wickert published Dramatische Tage in Hitlers Reich. Three years later he produced a novella, Die Frage des Tigers, and he followed that volume with Caesar und der Phoenix, in which he collects four of his plays written for radio broadcast. In the ensuing decade, after resuming his diplomatic career in 1955, Wickert produced only a few more volumes, including another novel, Der Purpur, and two more collections of radio plays, Robinson und seine Gaste and Der Klas-senaufsatz; Alkestis. Another book, the novel Der Auftrag, was published in English translation as The Heavenly Mandate.

Wickert refrained from publishing in the 1970s, when he served the German Foreign Office in Romania and, later, China. But in the 1980s he began writing a range of works. He produced another collection of radio plays, Der Kaiser und der Grosshistoriker, another novel, Der verlassene Tempel, and works of nonfiction, including China von innen gesehen, which appeared in English translation as The Middle Kingdom: Inside China Today.

Also among Wickert’s later publications is John Rabe: Der gute Deutsche von Nanking, which was translated into English as The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe. This volume, edited by Wickert, preserves Rabe’s accounts of atrocities committed in Nanking, China, by Japanese troops in late 1937 and early 1938. Rabe, a German businessman, witnessed countless criminal acts, but his heroism prevented many more. He sheltered several hundred Chinese citizens in his home, and he led an international committee that provided safety to approximately 250,000 additional Chinese. But such actions scarcely brought a halt to the activities of the Japanese soldiers, whose reign of rape, torture, and murder ultimately claimed—according to some sources—approximately 300,000 Chinese lives.

Rabe’s diaries were recognized as a significant historical work. Sheryl WuDunn, writing in the New York Times Book Review, acknowledged that “there is a deep and divided body of literature on the Rape of Nanking,” but she declared that Wickert’s publication “soars above most of the rest.” She affirmed that the book “is at once riveting, inspiring, terrifying and tragically sad.” A Kirkus Reviews critic noted that the book demonstrates “how unremarkable people can sometimes do remarkable things,” and Danise Hoover, writing in Booklist, noted that “the matter-of-fact way that [Rabe] writes… serves to underline the horrors experienced by all in Nanking.” In Library Journal, meanwhile, Marie Marmo Mullaney noted Wickert’s “careful editing” of Rabe’s diaries, and a Publishers Weekly reviewer mentioned the “fascinating complexity” of Rabe’s entries.

“The American publisher,” Wickert once explained to CA, “without asking or informing the author or the German publisher, omitted in the translation three important explanatory chapters from the German edition, namely my comments on Rabe’s Nazi affiliation, man’s aggressiveness against his own species which surpasses everything known in the animal world, and a chapter about the change from the pro-Chinese policy of the German Foreign Office and the Army on one hand to the pro-Japanese policy of Hitler and Ribbentrop on the other hand just at the time of the Nanking occupation. The American publisher similarly, without asking or informing the author and the German publisher, changed the translated title of the book from ‘The Good German of Nanking’ to The Good Man of Nanking’ The British publisher published it under the correct title.”

Wickert told CA: “I do not belong to literary circles or schools. I prefer to associate with nonliterary people and to write about them, their lives, and their world. Several of my novels (for example, Der Auftrag des Himmels, and Der Purpur) are political novels, dealing with the use and abuse of political power in former historical periods. My novel Der verlassene Tempel deals with the concept of time, and Zappas concerns the seeming reappearance of Jesus Christ to the embarrassment of the apostles Paul and Peter and the church during the time of Emperor Nero.”



Klessmann, Eckart, editor, Die Wahrheit umlereisen zu den Romanen von Erwin Wickert, [Stuttgart, Germany], 2000.

Wickert, Erwin, Die glücklichen Augen, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (Stuttgart, Germany), 2001.

Wickert, Erwin, Mut und Ubermut, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (Stuttgart, Germany), 1991.


Booklist, October 15, 1998, Danise Hoover, review ofThe Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of JohnRabe.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1998, review of TheGood Man of Nanking.

Library Journal, October 1, 1998, Marie Marmo Mullaney, review of The Good Man of Nanking, p. 49.

New York Times Book Review, December 13, 1998, Sheryl WuDunn, “The Good Nazi.”

Publishers Weekly, October 26, 1998, review of TheGood Man of Nanking, p. 49.



Der Welt, March 27, 2008.