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Wiechert, Ernst (Emil)

WIECHERT, Ernst (Emil)

Pseudonym: Ernst Barany Bjell. Nationality: German. Born: Forsthaus Kleinort, Prussia, 18 May 1887. Education: University of Königsberg, teaching diploma, 1911. Military Service: German Army during World War I: lieutenant. Family: Married 1) Meta Mittelstädt in 1912 (separated late 1920s; died 1931); 2) Paula Marie Junker in 1931. Career: Private tutor near Königsberg, ca. 1906; teaching assistant, Königsberg, 1911-14; teacher, beginning 1914; lived and wrote in Bavaria, beginning 1933, and in Switzerland, beginning 1946. Died: 24 August 1950.

Publications

Collection

Sämtliche Werke (10 vols.). 1945.

Novels

Die Flucht [The Flight] (as Ernst Barany Bjell). 1916.

Der Wald [The Woods]. 1920.

Der Totenwolf [The Death Wolf]. 1924.

Die blauen Schwingen [The Blue Wings]. 1925.

Der Knecht Gottes, Andreas Nyland [God's Servant, Andreas Nyland]. 1926.

Die kleine Passion [The Little Passion]. 1929.

Jedermann: Geschichte eines Namenlosen [Everyman: Story of Anonymous]. 1931.

Die Magd des Jürgen Doskocil. 1932; as The Girl and the Ferryman, 1947.

Die Majorin: Eine Erzählung. 1934; as The Baroness, 1936.

Hirtennovelle. 1935.

Das einfache Leben. 1939; as The Simple Life, 1954.

Der Totenwald: Ein Bericht. 1945; as The Forest of the Dead, 1947.

Die Jerominkinder: Roman (2 vols.). 1946; as The Earth Is Our Heritage, 1950.

Missa sine nomine. 1950; translated as Missa sine nomine, 1953; as Tidings, 1959.

Der Exote. 1951.

Short Stories

Der silberne Wagen: Novellen [The Big Dipper]. 1928.

Die Flöte des Pan: Novellen [The Pipe of Pan]. 1930.

Der Todeskandidat; La Ferme morte; Der Vater: Drei Erzählungen. 1934.

Atli der Bestmann; Tobias: Zwei Erzählungen. 1938.

Demetrius und andere Erzählungen. 1945.

Erzählungen. 1947.

Die Gebärde; Der Fremde. 1947.

Der Richter. 1948.

Die Mutter: Eine Erzählung. 1949.

Fahrt um die Liebe: Erzählung. 1957.

Regina Amstettin; Veronika; Der einfache Tod; Die Magd: 4 Novellen. 1969.

Plays

Das Spiel vom deutschen Bettelmann [The Play of the German Beggar]. 1933.

Der verlorene Sohn [The Prodigal Son]. 1935.

Okay; oder, Die Unsterblichen: Eine ernsthafte Komödie in drei Aufzügen. 1946.

Other

Die Legende vom letzten Wald. 1925.

Der Kinderkreuzzug [The Children's Crusade]. 1935.

Von den treuen Begleitern [On the Loyal Companions] (essay). 1936.

Der Dichter und die Jugend. 1936.

Wälder und Menschen [Forests and People] (autobiography). 1936.

Eine Mauer um uns baue. 1937.

In der Heimat. 1938.

Vom Trost der Welt. 1938.

Der ewige Stern: Eine Adventsgeschichte. 1940.

Totenmesse. 1945.

Rede an die deutsche Jugend 1945. 1945; as "Address to the Youth of Germany," in The Poet and His Time: Three Addresses, 1948.

Der Dichter und seine Zeit: Rede, gehalten am 16. April 1935 im Auditorium Maximum der Universität München (lecture). 1945; as "The Poet and His Time," in The Poet and His Time: Three Addresses, 1948.

Der weisse Büffel; oder, Von der grossen Gerechtigkeit. 1946; as The White Buffalo, or, Concerning Great Justice, 1986.

Der brennende Dornbusch. 1946.

An die deutsche Jugend: Drei Reden und ein Aufsatz. 1946. Über Kunst und Künstler: Aus einer ungesprochenen Rede. 1946.

Märchen (2 vols.). 1946.

Rede an die Schweizer Freunde. 1947; as "Address to My Swiss Friends," in The Poet and His Time: Three Addresses, 1948.

The Poet and His Time: Three Addresses (includes "Address to the Youth of Germany," 1945; "The Poet and His Time," 1935; "Address to My Swiss Friends," 1947). 1948.

Der grosse Wald. 1947.

Das zerstörte Menschengesicht: Rede an der Goethe-Feier in Stäfa (Zurich) am 22. IX. 1947. 1948.

Jahre und Zeiten: Erinnerungen [Years and Times] (autobiography). 1949.

Das Antlitz der Mutter: Eine Bilderfolge. 1949.

Ernst Wiechert: Lebensworte aus seinem Schrifttum, edited by Adolf Wendel. 1950.

Es geht ein Pflüger übers Land: Betrachtungen und Erzählungen, edited by Lilje Wiechert. 1951.

Vom bleibenden Gewinn: Ein Buch der Betrachtung. 1951.

Meine Gedichte [My Poems]. 1952.

Gesegnetes Leben: Das Schönste aus den Werken des Dichters, edited by Gerhard Kamin. 1953.

Am Himmel strahlt der Stern: Ein Weihnachtsbuch. 1957.

Briefe an einen Werdenden, and Ein deutsches Weihnachtsspiel, edited by Sumner Kirshner. 1966.

Häftling Nr. 7188; Tagebuchnotizen und Briefe, edited by Gerhard Kamin. 1966.

Der Vogel Niemalsmehr: 12 Märchen. 1973.

*

Bibliography:

"A Bibliography of Critical Writing about Ernst Wiechert" by Sumner Kirshner, in Librarium (Switzer-land), 7, 1964.

Critical Studies:

The Island Motif in the Prose Works of Ernst Wiechert by Marianne R. Jetter, 1957; "Lithuanian Folksong As a Philosophical Leitmotif in German Literature: Ernst Wiechert" by Anatole Matulis, in Lituanus, 12(4), 1966, pp. 49-55; "'Even if They Were Guilty': An Unpublished Letter by Ernst Wiechert about the Jews" by Sumner Kirshner, in German Life and Letters (England), 23, 1970, pp. 138-43; "The Symbolic Role of Fire in the Works of Ernst Wiechert," in New German Studies (England), 10(1), Spring 1982, pp. 33-42, and Ernst Wiechert: The Prose Works in Relation to His Life and Times, 1987, both by Hugh Alexander Boag; "Ernst Wiechert's Dissident Novella, Der weisse Buffel oder von der grossen Gerechtigkeit " by Ford B. Parkes-Perret, in Neophilologus (Netherlands), 73(4), October 1989, pp. 560-73; "Ernst Wiechert and His Role between 1933 and 1945" by Bill Niven, in New German Studies, 16(1), 1990/1991, pp. 1-20.

* * *

In July 1933 and April 1935 the East Prussian novelist Ernst Wiechert delivered two speeches to the students at the University of Munich in which he attacked the regime with understated astringency, taking aim at the mindless cult of youth, the deadening effort to institutionalize literature, and the reversion to anarchy in the curricula. The speeches, couched in elaborately courteous, ironically flattering language and the soft-spoken tones Wiechert cultivated, not only displayed great spunk but were the more surprising in a writer whose right-wing views were well known. Nor did the Nazis lift a finger against him. Wiechert himself disparaged any claims to courage: he confessed that he spoke on the chance that his very popularity might keep the Nazis at bay. But he also knew that a reprieve is by definition contingent, and in 1938 he virtually committed himself to Buchenwald. It pays to look at the conclusion of his two speeches: in 1933 he told his listeners, "I don't know what the poet who will stand in this place after me will talk about"; in 1935, "I don't know whether I shall be allowed to speak to you again two years hence." And he was honest enough to add: "Nor do I know what I shall have to say to you then."

Wiechert, in fact, remains one of the more difficult "cases" to place ideologically. His father was a forest ranger, and this, as well as the landscape in which the young Wiechert grew up, determined his lifelong theme: the splendor of life in the woods, the intimacy between man and nature, the character of the self-reliant recluse. In many ways Wiechert's novels bore all the characteristics of the party-approved blood-and-soil literature—the literature whose greatest exponent remains Knut Hamsun, one of the Nazis' eminent showpieces. (The hero of Wiechert's first serious novel, Der Wald [1920], burns down his forest before he leaves home to keep it from being polluted by alien hands.) Wiechert shared the doctrinal anticosmopolitanism: until his death he looked on the city as the source of a soul-destroying "civilization." In the same year in which he delivered his second Munich Philippic, in the childhood memoir Wälder und Menschen, all urban life, "in its greed, its obsession with rank, the paltry homage it pays to spiritual distinction," is indiscriminately written down as "wholly contemptible." If his novels were rooted in nature, Wiechert disclaimed any belief in the sanctity of the race (that is, the "blood" component of the formula), but book after book reveals that "blood is man's only immortal element," more binding than any divine prophecy, that blood is "des-tiny." And though he palmed himself off as a basically nonpolitical animal, Wiechert remained solidly deutschnational: he loathed the postwar revolutions, despised the Weimar Republic, and stipulated that no Jewish publications were to print his work. At the same time, he expressed his equivocation in a telling gesture; he rejected a book cover prominently featuring the swastika: "The swastika absolutely has to go, even though I am closely enough kinned to it—or perhaps for that very reason."

Though it is idle to date such conversions, very likely by 1929 or 1930 the Nazis had begun to get under Wiechert's skin. (The novel Jedermann, published in 1931, contains his first appealing portrayal of a Jew.) An intensely private person, Wiechert found the Nazis' rowdy mass movement increasingly repellent. In his Munich speeches he drew a thick line between the eternal verities (which are the proper domain of the poet) and the ephemera churned out by Hitler's young lions and old hangers-on (what a splendid thing that Goethe refrained from writing battle hymns in 1813; what a pity that Gerhart Hauptmann wrote them a century later); and in Wiechert this distinction always suggests the distinction between silence and noise: the silence of the stars and the noise of the brown rabble.

In the end Wiechert's place in the ideological spectrum remains disturbingly fuzzy. No doubt he capitalized on his martyrdom, which he may have inflated. Even after his release from Buchenwald, he collected handsome royalties and read to standing audiences. His autobiography Jahre und Zeiten (1949), like lesser species of Selbstrechtfertigungsliteratur , naturally suppresses these unpleasant minutiae. He promoted himself as an almost messianic figure, someone who was forever being handed a halo and forever rejecting it, who hoarded praise only to repudiate it—the repudiation itself confirming the praise. The peasant in him found the splitting of the psyche and of the atom the cardinal sins of the century. And to the end he remained true to his creed, a creed by which such books as The Magic Mountain remained hopelessly cosmopolitan, tendentious, a plaything of time, measured against the eternal truths of the magic East Prussian woods.

—Edgar Rosenberg

See the essay on The Forest of the Dead.

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