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Facettenreich und vielschichtig, so sind die Gedichte Berndt Seites zu beschreiben. Neben Liebesgedichten gibt es Naturlyrik, die immer wieder auch die Seenlandschaft der Müritz ins Auge fasst. Ebenso finden sich politische  Gedichte oder reine Gedankenlyrik, die sich mit den Sinnfragen des Lebens, mit dem Glauben und mit Anfang und Ende beschäftigen.

Stefan Heym [en]

Translation by Christoph Werner (Weimar, Thuringia) and Michael Leonard (Petaluma, California)

Part 1

It was probably one of the most disgraceful hours in the Deutscher Bundestag (German Federal Parliament), when on November 10th, 1994, Stefan Heym (1913-2001), chairman by seniority, gave the opening speech, and the Christian Democrats, really honoring their name, refused to applaud him. Nor did they pay their respects to the 81 year old writer in any other form. Only one of them, a woman, had the courage, in biblical words, “to kick against the pricks”: Rita Süssmuth.

Such courage, though under more dangerous circumstances, distinguished Stefan Heym all his life, the courage to question all arbitrary power.

Helmut Flieg, who later called himself Stefan Heym, was born on April 10th, 1913 in the city of Chemnitz in Saxony, the eldest son in a Jewish merchant family. They were not orthodox Jews, did not eat kosher and attended synagogue only on important holidays. But society, school and the Jewish community kept the son permanently aware of his Jewishness. He was and remained all his life a sort of Wandering Jew, an angel who refused to resign himself to God's imperfect creation. Later this attitude was to form the foundation for one of Stefan Heym's most fascinating novels, Ahasver (1981, English title: "The Wandering Jew").

The young Flieg attended the Chemnitz grammar school (Gymnasium), where he wrote the anti-militarist poem "Exportgeschäft" (Export Deal), which was published in the social-democratic newspaper "Chemnitzer Volksstimme". The poem met with strong protests from nationalist circles and the growing Nazi party. At school the young author was roughed up by schoolmates. This was to become a signal experience, "from which grew the determination never to fall into those hands again”, the compulsion to constantly prove to himself that he was well able to resist a hostile crowd, to stand up to a superior force. ("Nachruf" (Obituary), p. 49)

The teaching staff of the school gave him the consilium abeundi (the advice to leave), in fact threw him out. He left that school and was lucky enough to be allowed to pass his "Abitur" (university entrance examination) in Berlin. He began to study philosophy, German philology and journalism and contributed to journals, among them Ossietzky's "Weltbühne".

In 1933, when Hitler was handed the government, Flieg emigrated to Prague and wrote under various pseudonyms, among them Stefan Heym, for German and Czecho-Slovakian newspapers. His pen-name from then on would be Stefan Heym.

In 1935 his father committed suicide. Other members of his family were later murdered in Nazi extermination camps.

He emigrated to the USA, studied German philology at Chicago university, worked as chief editor for the New York antifascist weekly "Deutsches Volksecho", which was close to the Communist Party of the USA. Still, at the time, he was appalled by the contradiction in the Communist Party between ideology and reality.

In 1942 he published his first novel "Hostages" (German: "Der Fall Glasenapp", 1958), which became a great success. And here occurs what can be called a philological miracle, only comparable to the works of the French-German poet Chamisso, because after only seven years in the USA Heym wrote in English, a practice he continued when writing many of his books, even when he was back in Germany.

In 1943 he joined the U.S. Army and took part in the invasion of Normandy as a sergeant in a unit for psychological warfare.

His opus magnum, the novel "The Crusaders" (German: Kreuzfahrer von heute, 1959) appeared in 1948 and became a worldwide success.

In 1952, at the height of the Red Scare in the USA, he resigned his lieutenant’s commission and gave back his military awards, then via Warsaw and Prague settled in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

Part 2

He was fundamentally a well-meaning as well as critical supporter of the German Democratic Republic until 1989, though almost always at odds with its misguided and doomed politics, which led inevitably to its downfall.

As a consequence he was defamed, persecuted, punished, watched by the secret police and excluded from the union of writers. Still he remained in the country.

After the reunification he continued to believe in a democratic socialism, becoming more and more dissatisfied with the way society, under different and sometimes painful circumstances, attempted to find a way into the new capitalist order.

How unrealistically, even ignorantly Stefan Heym clung to his utopia in the end is evident in the following quotation:

"So I am reading my file (of the Ministry of State Security) ... less as a piece of evil gossip ... than as a case history, which is part of the history of a downfall of a great social experiment, which with much luck and wisdom and friendliness could perhaps have been successful" ("Offen gesagt" (Frankly spoken, p. S. 63)

Stefan Heym died on December 16th, 2001 in Israel. His books helped many, among them this author, through a difficult time in the German Democratic Republic. He managed to strengthen their belief that an upright gait should be part of an innermost moral standard, a search for human dignity, even though in view of the demands and seductions of daily life it is not reached by most. It is an attitude Stefan Heym would understand.

But his books also provided a mirror in which those in power recognized themselves – unwillingly - and which they therefore frowned upon.

Read "The Crusaders", "The King David Report", "Ahasver" and "The Queen against Defoe" and you will know Stefan Heym. How close this great humanist was to us can be felt when reading his last published text ("Offene Worte in eigener Sache"), in which he meditates on the fear of death and the loneliness of the dying, in fact a Heym variation of the Shema Yisrael, the Jewish Confession of Faith.

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Stefan Heym
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