1933 PEN Congress Speech
I regret that the German delegates are not present. Many people advised me not to speak today. But the author is solely bound to the spirit. He who believes that, besides force, moral laws also rule life may not remain quiet. And I have still another obligation that forces me to speak. Fate is responsible for my being here. In the night after the burning of the German Reichstag they wanted to arrest me. By chance I was in Switzerland. This gift of freedom is my duty towards all comrades who are imprisoned in Germany.
[Shouts from the floor: “You have no right to speak because you are Communist! You talk against Germany!”]
I do not belong to the Communistic party. I am speaking as an author not against Germany, but against all power throughout the world. During the War I fought on the German side. Only when I recognized that war was a disgrace did I rebel.
Yesterday the German delegates adopted a resolution in which the following words appear: “It is the duty of the artist to keep the spirit in its freedom in order that humanity does not become the prey of ignorance, of evil and of fear. Literature knows no boundaries and should remain universal free property in spite of political and international changes.”
I was very much surprised that the gentlemen of the German PEN Club agreed to this resolution and I wanted to ask them: How does their vote agree with reality? Several weeks ago ten members of the German PEN Club were barred from the club because of their alleged leanings toward Communistic or similar organizations. I do not wish to concern myself with the vague meaning of these words. Yesterday, with their vote, the gentlemen of the German PEN Club agreed that no political questions were to be discussed in the PEN Club. If they exclude authors for reasons of their opinion, is it not they who carry politics into PEN?
Last year in Budapest, Misters Schmidt-Pauli and Elster, who today belong to the official German PEN delegation, agreed to a decision against persecuting the author and his works on account of their opinions. What did they do when the German pacifistic authors Lugwig Renn, Carl von Ossietzky, and others were thrown into prison?
They did nothing.
On May 10th, works of the following German authors were burned: Thomas Mann, Ernst Toller, Stefan Zweig, Arnold Zweig, Jakob Wassermann, Emil Ludwig, Theodor Wolf, Bertolt Brecht, Anna Seghers, Jose Roth, Hans Marchwitza, Professor Grossmann, Egon Erwin Kisch, Heinz Pol, Bernhard Kellermann, Vicki Baum, Adrienne Thome, Georg Kaiser, Carl Zuckmayer, Erich Baron, and dozens of others.
What did the German PEN Club do against this destruction? Now the gentlemen will say that the destruction was the act of young, immature men. This destruction Minister Goebbels defended, and he termed as spiritual ‘filth’ the burned works of those men who represented a noble Germany.
After the war, the world was flooded with a wave of hatred against Germany. It was the persecuted poets of today, who went forth into the world and fought for Germany, with their work, their word, and their deed. They were the same men who since 1919 have raised their voices against the injustice of the Treaty of Versailles, not the gentlemen who today are suppressing us.
What has the German PEN Club done against the ousting of the most outstanding German University professors and learned men, against the expulsion of Einstein, Zandek, Heller, Tederewski, Bonn Schücking, and all the men of the medical profession, of law, of philosophy? They must live in a foreign country, banned, separated from their work, their profession, no longer in a position to serve Germany or humanity.
What has the German PEN Club done for artists like Bruno Walter, Klempener, Weill, Busch, Eisner, who were prevented from performing in Germany?
What has the German PEN Club done in the cases of well known painters like Kate Kollwitz, Otto Dick, Hofer, and Klee, who today can work no longer at German academies? What of the great painter Liebermann who was forced to leave the academy because he did not want to work in degradation? What did the German PEN Club do against the committee of German poets who belonged to the protective organization of German authors, against the black list of all those authors whose work may no longer be printed in Germany today and sold in German book stores?
These are the questions that I wanted to present to the members of the German PEN Club. Yesterday the German delegates agreed to a resolution that believes in the freedom of artistic creation. Does this agreement mean a change of mind? If so, I congratulate the gentlemen on their courage, and expect them in Germany to show the same courage, and that their words will be followed by actions. Let us wait!
I do not speak of my private fate, nor of the private fate of all those who are compelled to live in exile today. It is hard enough. They are not allowed to see again the country in which they were born; they were expelled, chased away, outcast. But others have suffered still more.
I thank this congress for the unanimous defense of the spiritual persecution, the persecution of thought; I thank them for their willingness to fight against the persecutors.
We are living in an era of nationalistic madness, a madness of race, of hate. The spiritual people are isolated, are threatened and menaced by the powers of force, and reason is being ignored in many countries. The spirit is being abused. I have only mentioned here the happenings in Germany with which I am familiar, but I hope that you will show similar courage in your fight against violence in your own countries.
I will be reproached in Germany for talking against Germany. I deny the charge; I am only turning against the methods of those men who are governing Germany today, but they do not represent all Germany. Millions of people in Germany may neither speak nor write freely. I am talking for all those millions who, today, have no voice. The gentlemen of the German PEN delegation have referred to the great German men. In that respect, are the spiritual claims of Goethe, Schiller, Kleist, Herter, Lessing, and King Frederic the Great conformant with the persecution of free peoples? With the persecution of the Jews? How brilliant are the laws that are valid today? The only living grandson of Chancellor Bismarck could not be a government official because he has a Jewish grandmother; Strosemann’s son could not be a lawyer because of a Jewish mother.
Madness rules the time, cruelty the people. The air around us becomes thinner and thinner. Don’t let us be deceived—the voice of the soul, the voice of humanity, is only noticed by people in power when it serves as a front for political purposes.
The voice of truth has never been pleasant. For centuries, people like Socrates, Giordano Bruno, Spinoza, and other great thinkers have been massacred, persecuted, and killed because they would not surrender their principles; because they preferred death to lies; because they believed in a world of freedom, justice, and humanity.
I question whether we will again find an opportunity to convene and talk together in the Europe of today because he who rebels is doomed. Let us conquer the fear that crushes and humbles us. We fight in many ways; may there be one way in which, though we stand on opposite sides, nevertheless each of us dreams of a Utopia where freedom from barbarity, lies, social injustice, and slavery will prevail.