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Kurt Tucholsky: "To Speak, to Write, to be Silent" / קורט טוכולסקי: "לדבר — לכתוב — לשתוק"

הרמן הארמאן, אלדד זלצמן and Hermann Haarmann
Kesher / קשר
No. 15 (מאי 1994), pp. 56-60
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23911230
Page Count: 5
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Abstract

Kurt Tucholsky (1890-1935) was a noted Berlin poet, journalist, publicist and polemicist during the Weimar Republic period. Born in Berlin to a wealthy Jewish family, he studied law and received a doctorate in 1914. Writing was a favorite pastime from his youth, however, and in 1912, at the age of 22, he published a light satire, Reinsberg, A Picture Book For Lovers, which enjoyed immediate success. While still a student, he was hired by Siegfried Jacobsohn, the noted Berlin theater critic, to work for his theater weekly Die Schaubuehne ("Stage"). Jacobsohn acted as guide and advisor to Tucholsky, encouraging his many talents, and Tucholsky became an accomplished arts critic. After World War I Jacobsohn renamed his paper Weltbuehne ("The World Stage"), turning it into a vehicle for serious commentary on politics, literature and the arts. Tucholsky continued as a regular columnist, while also working as editor in chief of Theodor Wolfe's Ulk ("Joker") during 1918-20. Sent to Paris in 1924 as a correspondent for Weltbuehne and for another paper, Vossische Zeitung, he returned to Germany thereafter only for visits. In 1926, upon Jacobsohn's sudden death, he filled the role of publisher of Weltbuehne for 10 months. During the period from 1928 to 1931 he wrote a series of novels on diverse subjects in varied styles, reflecting the changeability of persona that typified him all his life. He was, however, consistent in his satiric approach to weighty topics and in the typically Berlin stamp of his colloquial style of writing. It was his use of humor that particularly incensed the German establishment, which viewed any form of mockery as a crime against the German spirit. Tucholsky was, above all, a moral man in a hard time. His jokes, his stylistic fluency and his biting satire were unfailingly on target not only then but to this day. He was the model of an incorruptible social critic who exposed the real meaning of contemporary developments — in the case of the Weimar Republic, a road to disaster. He wrote not only political journalism but also poetry with a social message — bitingly anti-fascist, critical of the oblivion of the republic, and of the left, to the threat of Nazism. His message was more far-reaching still: an accusation of the Communists for equating the failures of the Social-Democratic Weimar Republic with the evil of Nazi National Socialism, a tragic misreading of reality that led to the fractiousness of the left and the takeover by the Nazis without any resistance. Tucholsky used every possible literary device, including four pseudonyms, to expose these failures and to sound an alarm, and his readers responded to his message avidly. The censor too followed his output keenly. He was attacked not only by the right but by the Weimar establishment, which hounded Weltbuehne and its second publisher, Carl von Ossietzky. In 1928, after Tucholsky had emigrated, Ossietsky was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for alleged revelation of secret military information, which Tucholsky viewed as revenge by the government against all that the paper had stood for for years. Tucholsky settled in Sweden in 1933, but by then his sojourn abroad, initially undertaken of his own free will, had become exile, as his books, along with those of many other noted writers, had been publicly burned by the Nazis and his citizenship annulled. Though other exiles attempted to continue writing, Tucholsky felt displaced professionally. The Germany he had known no longer existed, and he had thereby lost his subject-matter. He viewed Hitler's regime as a permanent given and was convinced of the futility of an exiled German-language press railing against it. His generation of intellectuals had failed to stop the catastrophe; the word had been vanquished by brute force. He bitterly criticized every attempt by his coreligionists to arrive at some understanding with the Fascists, and their failure to grasp the absoluteness of German anti-Semitism. He was equally incensed by the silence of the Jewish community in contemplating its increasingly ominous fate. Depressed by illness and even moreso by loneliness, he committed suicide in 1935 at the age of 45.

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