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November 19: The Anti-Nazi Novelist

Lawrence Bush
November 19, 2016
Anna Seghers (Netty Reiling), an anti-Nazi novelist who wrote an internationally acclaimed book, The Seventh Cross -- one of the very few war-time depictions of Nazi concentration camps -- was born in Mainz, Germany on this date in 1900. She joined Germany's communist party in 1928 and warned about rising Nazism in her 1932 novel, Die Gefährten ("Companions"), which resulted in her internment by the Gestapo. Two years later she emigrated to Paris, where she had a prolific outpouring of books and essays, then to Marseilles and Mexico, where she headed an anti-fascist Heinrich Heine Club and launched a journal titled Free Germany. The Seventh Cross was published in English in the U.S. in 1942, and was turned into a movie starring Spencer Tracey. Seghers returned to Germany in 1947 and lived in East Berlin. "[T]hroughout her life," writes Christiane Zehl Romero at the Jewish Women's Archive, "she championed art and the necessary freedom of artistic expression -- as much as she felt her loyalty to the Party would allow. It was a life-long balancing act which became much harder, even tragic, in later years, when she lived in the German Democratic Republic and became privately disillusioned with the path communism had taken." "[E]thically and imaginatively [she] was deeply rooted in Jewish traditions and lore. Through her stories she indirectly stressed her Jewish comrades’ contributions to 'the cause.' Even if she talked little about it in public, the Holocaust and her mother’s fate in it shaped her post-war vision. It made her cling even more desperately to socialism in which she saw the one chance to create a Germany and a world which would not allow the past horrors to recur."--Christiane Zehl Romero

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.