Scholar Rescues Lost Masterpiece by Author Georg Hermann Who Died at Auschwitz
A long-lost manuscript by renowned 20th century German author Georg Hermann has been published over 80 years after it was written, thanks to the efforts of a University of London researcher.
Godela Weiss-Sussex, Professor of Modern German Literature at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, discovered the manuscript when she was handed a bag of unsorted papers at a conference on the author. Titled Those Who Stayed At Home, the novel offers a poignant portrayal of a Jewish family in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi regime, 1933 to 1935.
Hermann, who was a powerful voice in German literature prior to World War II, wrote the novel while in exile in Holland in 1939. After being ordered to move to the ghetto in Amsterdam by Nazi officers, Hermann’s daughter, who had recently had a baby, smuggled out many of Hermann’s papers – including the manuscript – in a pram. Most of these were then donated to the Leo Baeck Institute in London, but somehow Those Who Stayed At Home slipped through the net.
"The book is remarkably similar in structure to Tom Stoppard's recent play Leopoldstadt,” says Professor Weiss-Sussex. “It follows the same underlying idea, a large Jewish family gathering in Act I, then in the following acts the dwindling family and at every stage a stock-taking, telling the history of German-speaking Jewry through the focus on one family."
Professor Weiss-Sussex discovered the manuscript while sorting through the papers she was handed at the conference. Among letters, notes, and lists she found two closely typed manuscripts covered in additions and corrections in the author’s distinctive handwriting. To her amazement she realised they were the first two parts of a novel Hermann had mentioned in letters to family and friends before being murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943. The novel had been planned as a four-part series of 'momentary glimpses' focusing on March 1933 (Hitler’s rise to power), September 1935 (Nuremberg race laws), September 1938 (exiles in Florence reacting to Mussolini’s race laws) and 9 November 1938 (the pogroms of ‘Reichskristallnacht’).
Hermann had urged his daughters to find a publisher for the two first parts of the novel, as he desperately wanted the memory of those Jewish Germans who ‘stayed at home’ to be kept alive. However, no publisher wanted to touch this material in the war years, and so the texts were forgotten. Now, finally, Hermann’s wish has been fulfilled: Professor Weiss-Sussex has carefully edited the manuscripts of the two first parts and prepared them for publication by the Wallstein publishing house in Germany.
The book also includes a substantial afterword by Professor Weiss-Sussex. Now she hopes the novel will be translated into English and reach a new audience of readers keen to know more about life in pre-war Germany and the works of Georg Hermann.