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Anti-Fascist Exile: German Artists in the U.S., 1930-50

ENGL 248.301
instructor(s):
T 1:30-4:30
fulfills requirements:
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

“Hitler is my best friend; he shakes the tree and I collect the apples.”[1] said Walter Cook (New York University) in the early 1930s. Some of the most famous artists’ names of the 20th century can be found on the lists of refugees. When they went into exile, they took with them their rich experiences of artistic creation but also a profound concept of ‘culture’ and a deep conviction that the arts mattered. Acceptance and integration into the English-speaking world was not easy, in fact, it was much more difficult than they had anticipated. Exile, very often, produced and existential crisis. Most refugees remained nameless, lost in an incomprehensible environment and rejected by the majority of the population of the US. What happened to the aesthetic concepts that the German, mainly German-Jewish refugees brought with them? What happened to Bertolt Brecht’s vision of a new theatre, what to Fritz Lang’s Weimar film experience, what to Hanns Eisler’s left-wing music, what to the many writers who could not switch to English as their new writing language? Were they accepted and, as Cook claimed, integrated into American society? British writer and poet Christopher Isherwood, close friend of many of the exiles, painted a rather darker picture of their reception in his Diary.  This course looks at the reality as well as the invaluable and long-lasting contributions of those fleeing political persecution and the reality of finding and living in exile – as an intellectual, or an artist.


[1] Quoted in Erwin Panofsky, Three Decades of Art History in the United States…, in: Meaning in  the Visual Arts. New York: Vintage 1955, p.332.