Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Last Hour

I have spent weeks translating parts of a book in German (Der Letzte Stunde) written by a Lutheran pastor and social worker, Harald Poelchau.  He was the Lutheran chaplain at Poltzensee Prison in Berlin, where many of Hitler's enemies (over 1,000 between 1933 and 1945).  In the book, Poelchau focuses on members of the Red Orchestra, a resistance group that passed on information to the US and USSR, wrote pamphlets and flyers, and helped to smuggle Jews and Communists out of Hitler's Germany. 

Assuming that German copyright laws are more reasonable than the ones here, I'm going to post the translation, in pieces, on this blog.  I was unable to find an English translation anywhere; the original German was at the New York Public Library.  It begins with Poelchau's dedication, and a brief autobiography.  It was printed in East Berlin in the late 1940s.  Poelchau was flirting with Communism at that time (though he later changed his mind and went back to the West), so there are sections that read like cheerleading for Stalin.  But it helps to remember that the West let many Nazis slip through its nets, which if you were in the resistance (as Poelchau was) cannot have been pleasant to witness.

Here's the beginning:

“There are probably times, during insane times, when it’s the best of men who hang.”
Albrecht Haushofer, d. 13 April 1945

p. 8  It was a little prison house, with 300 inmates, and three social workers to care for them.  Each had a hundred prisoners to care to.  So each social worker got to know his people thoroughly, their crimes and humanity were his particular study.  Krebs is an advocate of the modern, strict execution.  So he had the first Sunday prisoner walk out.  He did not wear an official uniform.  Krebs had never once had an escape occur.  The press responded screaming, naturally, over these “humanitarians.”  Krebs was undeterred in his view.  He knew than in human society you can only love human nature.

            My application hit the mark and was without fault.  In Thuringia they did not want a theologian, but a social worker.  1931 is when the political situation changed.  There was little prospect of work for a social worker with progressive principles to work undisturbed in prisons.  I reported hastily for my second theology examination in Berlin, for the duration of 1932, and applied for a place as prison minister at Tegel.

            It was the right instant.  The new regime cleared Thuringia of progressives, drove Albert Krebs underground and put social workers in the power of the dictator’s Nazi schemers. 

            When I was prison chaplain, I had great freedom of movement and more power to fight against it.  I had attained my appointment."

Monday, September 29, 2014

Write Out Front

I just found another article about it:  http://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Over-125-Playwrights-to-Participate-in-WRITE-OUT-FRONT-Live-at-the-Drama-Book-Shop-in-August-20140728

Thursday, August 28, 2014

New Poem from Berlin

In the August 11 & 18 issue of the New Yorker, there's a poem by Bertolt Brecht. It doesn't say where or when he wrote it, the poem has no title, there is no mention of the original German.  The poem was translated by David Constantine, who's not a German translator I'm familiar with.  But the more I read the poem, the more I like it.

"Send me a leaf, but from a little tree
 That grows no nearer your house
 Than half an hour away.  For then
 You will have to walk, you will get strong and I
 Shall thank you for the pretty leaf."

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Write Out Front!

Starting tomorrow, over 125 playwrights will work in the front window of the Drama Book Shop as part of Write Out Front 2014.  Writers begin at 11am most days, taking two hour shifts.  I know a couple of them:  Jenny Lyn Bader kicks it off tomorrow morning; Roland Tec on 14th; Zack Calhoon on the 16th; and Robin Rice Lichtig on the 27th.  This is all the brainchild of Micheline Auger. 

I'll be working on my latest play on Friday, August 1, 3-5 PM.  I can't tell you what it's about, but it's called "I Loved It so Much." 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Paper of Record Broke My Heart

I had two jolts to my worldview on Sunday, via the New York Times.  In the City section, there was an article about a woman chronicling the history of Bank Street.  Among the illustrious New Yorkers mentioned, she knew Edward Tanner's real-life aunt, who was the basis for his character Auntie Mame.  She described Miss Tanner as unkempt, and missing several teeth.  How could this be possible?  Anyone raised on movies and musicals knows that Auntie Mame started as Rosalind Russell, morphed into Angela Lansbury and finally became Lucille Ball.  Not a shabby snaggle-tooth!

Still there was more disillusionment to come.  In junior high school, my friends and I avidly passed a copy of Go Ask Alice among us.  We were, I expect, much less sophisticated than teenagers are these days.  To us, Go Ask Alice was about drugs and sex and getting out from under parental authority-  all exciting things to contemplate.  It was the subject matter, not the style (I could figure that out even back then) that allured us.  The Bookends column in the Book Review revealed that it was not written by a real teenager who died of an overdose, but "Beatrice M. Sparks, a therapist and Mormon youth counselor." 

Next thing you know, I'll find out there's no Santy Claus.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


I finished reading Simon Mawer's Trapeze last night.  It could not be more different from Mendel's Dwarf, which I also enjoyed (you wouldn't think that a novel about the origins of genetics could be that compelling, but you'd be wrong).  Trapeze is about Marian Sutro, a young British woman who grew up in French-speaking Geneva, Switzerland.  She is recruited by the World War II equivalent of MI6.  Her mission is to make contact with and try to help a nuclear physicist escape from Nazi-occupied Paris.  The writing is beautiful, carefully researched (yes, I can tell) and Marian is a character whom you understand and root for.  Some less skillful novelist would cheat the ending, but Mawer doesn't.  The story ends just as it must.       

Saturday, March 29, 2014


I am fifty pages from the end of Swamplandia! by Karen Russell.  I had a hard time getting into it (I started it and put it aside last fall).  But about 75 pages in, it takes off.  The author is remarkable in her ability to go from the real to dream world and back again, and making it look completely effortless.  The two main characters, Ava and Kiwi, are equally compelling in their individual ways.  It also reminds me very much of a playwright I knew at La Mama Umbria who had a day job as a mermaid, and referred to her tail as "the uni-fin."

Illustration:  Blexbolex, via the New York Times