chapter  8
41 Pages

Barbarism, Exile and Return

WithRaymond Furness

It may safely be claimed that the rapid decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was accompanied by the release of a nervous intellectual and artistic energy which formulated or anticipated those cultural premisses commonly accepted as part of the heritage of modern European thought: the names of Freud, Wittgenstein, Mauthner and Mach, of Hofmannsthal, Kraus and Weininger, of Mahler and Schönberg have been mentioned in this book. The remarkable efflorescence of cultural life, associated particularly with Vienna, set up as reaction a heightened anti-Semitism and a lower-middle-class resentment, which gathered momentum: Adolf Hitler was as much a product of the Habsburg monarchy in decline as Otto Weininger. 1 The dark fantasies of Kraus and Broch, the prophetic torture-visions of Kafka, the uneasy awareness of the growing impossibility of using language in the quest for clarity and humanity which haunted so many writers, and above all the death-wish sensed by Freud to rest at the heart of civilisation, may all be seen as anticipations of what would come to pass within the twelve years of Hitler’s dictatorial rule. To destroy root and branch any cultural manifestations which were in any way modernist, experimental or cosmopolitan was Hitler’s aim: ‘das zersetzende Schrifttum’ was destroyed by fire and a ‘Schreibverbot’ was imposed upon those who dared to place civilised artistic values before narrowly patriotic propaganda. More predisposed to passing his petit-bourgeois criteria upon architecture and the visial arts, Hitler allowed Josef Goebbels free hand with the manipulation of the written word: a Reichsschrifttumskammer; under the direction of the erstwhile expressionist Hanns Johst (now an SS Gruppenführer) was formed to impose an Aryan or völkisch ideology upon all German literature. Johst’s play Schlageter, dedicated to Adolf Hitler in ‘liebender Verehrung und unwandelbarer Treue’, received its first performance on 20 April 1933, and became a national sensation; it is now only remembered for the notorious line ‘Wenn ich Kultur höre, entsichere ich meinen Browning’. 2 Before such brutish ineptitudes men of discrimination and taste could not but despair; the diary of Oskar Loerke gives an excellent description of the triumph of the third-rate chauvinist writers inside the ‘Dichterakademie’, and the sense of impotence felt by all sensitive and civilised men before 250the Nazi victory.