Skip to main content

International Reflective Writing


Berthold Brecht

Born in Augsburg, Germany in 1898, Brecht studied philosophy and medicine at university. During the First World War he worked in a German army hospital, where his beliefs and convictions begun to lean to leftist causes. His first play, Baal, was produced in 1923, and a volume of poems appeared in 1927. One of his most famous works, The Threepenny Opera was written in collaboration with the composer Kurt Weill in 1928. Prior to the Second World War, Brecht went into exile, first in Denmark and then the U.S. While in the U.S. he wrote a collection of poems, Svendborger Gedichte, and his most famous plays, Mother Courage, The Life of Galileo, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and The Good Woman of Setzuan. While in the U.S. Brecht was forced to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He left the country in 1947.

The poems presented here come from Brecht’s War Primer, which wasn’t published in English until 1998. The primer consisted of what Brecht called “photo-epigrams”, photographs from wartime mass-circulation magazines, mostly from Life, each picture accompanied by a 4-line, rhyming epigram, or short poem, commenting on the photo.


From a German War Primer

When the Leaders Speak of Peace

The common folk know

That war is coming.

When the leaders curse war

The mobilization order is already written out.


Those at the Top say: Peace and War

Are of different substance.

But their peace and their war

Are like wind and storm.

War grows from their peace

Like son from his mother

He bears

Her frightful features.

Their war kills

Whatever their peace

Has left over.


On the Wall Was Chalked

They want war.

The man who wrote it

Has already fallen.


This way to glory.

Those down below say:

This way to the grave.


The War Which is Coming

Is not the first one. There were

Other wars before it.

When the last one came to an end

There were conquerors and conquered.

Among the conquered the common people

Starved. Among the conquerors

The common people starved too.


Those at the Top Say Comradeship

Reigns in the army.

The truth of this is seen

In the cookhouse.

In their hearts should be

The selfsame courage. But

On their plates

Are two kinds of rations.


When it Comes to Marching Many do not Know

That their enemy is marching at their head.

The voice which gives them their orders

Is their enemy's voice and

The man who speaks of the enemy

Is the enemy himself.

It is Night

The married couples

Lie in their beds. The young women

Will bear orphans.


General, Your Tank is a Powerful Vehicle

It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.

But it has one defect:

It needs a driver.

General, your bomber is powerful.

It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an elephant.

But it has one defect:

It needs a mechanic.

 General, man is very useful.

He can fly and he can kill.

But he has one defect:

He can think.



Albert Schweitzer: Peace or Atomic War?

Albert Schweitzer (January 14, 1875-September 4, 1965) was born into an Alsatian family which for generations had been devoted to religion, music, and education. His father and maternal grandfather were ministers; both of his grandfathers were talented organists; many of his relatives were persons of scholarly attainments.

Schweitzer entered into his intensive theological studies in 1893 at the University of Strasbourg where he obtained a doctorate in philosophy in 1899, with a dissertation on the religious philosophy of Kant, and received his licentiate in theology in 1900. He began preaching at St. Nicholas Church in Strasbourg in 1899; he served in various high ranking administrative posts from 1901 to 1912 in the Theological College of St.Thomas, the college he had attended at the University of Strasbourg. In 1906 he published The Quest of the Historical Jesus, a book on which much of his fame as a theological scholar rests.

Meanwhile he continued with a distinguished musical career initiated at an early age with piano and organ lessons. Only nine when he first performed in his father's church, he was, from his young manhood to his middle eighties, recognized as a concert organist, internationally known. From his professional engagements he earned funds for his education, particularly his later medical schooling, and for his African hospital. Musicologist as well as performer, Schweitzer wrote a biography of Bach in 1905 in French, published a book on organ building and playing in 1906, and rewrote the Bach book in German in 1908.

Having decided to go to Africa as a medical missionary rather than as a pastor, Schweitzer in 1905 began the study of medicine at the University of Strasbourg. In 1913, having obtained his M.D. degree, he founded his hospital at Lambaréné in French Equatorial Africa, but in 1917 he and his wife were sent to a French internment camp as prisoners of war. Released in 1918, Schweitzer spent the next six years in Europe, preaching in his old church, giving lectures and concerts, taking medical courses, writing On the Edge of the Primeval Forest, The Decay and Restoration of Civilization, Civilization and Ethics, and Christianity and the Religions of the World.

Schweitzer returned to Lambaréné in 1924 and except for relatively short periods of time, spent the remainder of his life there. With the funds earned from his own royalties and personal appearance fees and with those donated from all parts of the world, he expanded the hospital to seventy buildings which by the early 1960's could take care of over 500 patients in residence at any one time.

At Lambaréné, Schweitzer was doctor and surgeon in the hospital, pastor of a congregation, administrator of a village, superintendent of buildings and grounds, writer of scholarly books, commentator on contemporary history, musician, host to countless visitors. The honors he received were numerous, including the Goethe Prize of Frankfurt and honorary doctorates from many universities emphasizing one or another of his achievements. The Nobel Peace Prize for 1952, having been withheld in that year, was given to him on December 10, 1953. With the $33,000 prize money, he started the leprosarium at Lambaréné.

Albert Schweitzer died on September 4, 1965, and was buried at Lambaréné.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1952


Peace or Atomic War?

Reviewed Edition:  Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1958

This book contains the text of three appeals by Albert Schweitzer broadcast from Oslo, Norway, on April 28, 29 and 30, 1958. The appeals were rebroadcast and reprinted in many countries. The first calls for a halt to nuclear tests, the second concerns the immense danger of atomic war, and the third prescribes the process to be used in getting nuclear powers to abandon nuclear weapons.

At that time, many people in the free world were being assured of the harmlessness of the radiation produced by above-ground nuclear testing. In his first appeal, Schweitzer uses his prestige to draw attention to scientific findings of the danger of radiation, and the immorality of inflicting this danger on all the peoples of the world during nuclear weapons testing. The next two appeals deal with the inherent danger of policies of mutually assured destruction and the importance of nuclear disarmament. As is typical of Schweitzer, his hope for the future lies not solely in political maneuvering, but rather in the development of a spirit of love and respect in and for all the people of the world.

Quotes from Peace or Atomic War?

"Of course, neither the United States nor the Soviet Union is thinking of producing this less effective [clean] bomb for use in a possible war. The U.S. Department of Defense has quite recently declared that the irradiation of whole areas has become a new offensive weapon.

The clean hydrogen bomb is intended for window display only, not for use. The bomb is to encourage people to believe that future nuclear tests will be followed by less and less radiation, and that there is no argument against the continuation of these tests."

"We are constantly being told about a 'permissible amount of radiation.' Who permitted it? Who has any right to permit it?"

"This propaganda [about the safety of nuclear tests] will continue to set the tone in certain newspapers. But beside it the truth about the danger of nuclear tests marches imperturbably along, influencing an ever-increasing section of public opinion. In the long run, even the most efficiently organized propaganda can do nothing against the truth."

"Past, too, is the time when NATO generals and European governments can decide on the establishment of launching sites and the stockpiling of atomic weapons. The dangers of atomic war and its consequences are now such that these decisions have ceased to be purely matters of politics and can be valid only with the sanction of public opinion."

"The fact is that the testing and use of nuclear weapons carry in themselves the absolute reasons for being renounced. Prior agreement on any other conditions cannot be considered. Both cause the deepest damage to human rights. The tests, in that they do harm to peoples far from the territories of the nuclear powers and endanger their lives and their health--and this in peacetime; an atomic war, in that the resulting radioactivity would make uninhabitable the land of peoples not participating in such a war. It would be the most unimaginably senseless and cruel way of endangering the existence of mankind. That is why it dare not become reality.

The three nuclear powers [U.S.A., Soviet Union, and England] owe it to themselves and to mankind to reach agreement on these absolute essentials without first dealing with prior conditions."

"But we live in a time when the good faith of peoples is doubted more than ever before. Expressions throwing doubt on the trustworthiness of each other are bandied back and forth. They are based on what happened in the First World War when the nations experienced dishonesty, injustice, and inhumanity from one another. How can a new trust come about? And yet, it must.

We cannot continue in this paralyzing mistrust. If we want to work our way out of the desperate situation in which we find ourselves, another spirit must enter into the people. It can only come if the awareness of its necessity suffices to give us strength to believe in its coming. We must presuppose the awareness of this need in all the peoples who have suffered along with us. We must approach them in the spirit that we are human beings, all of us, and that we feel ourselves fitted to feel with each other; to think and will together in the same way.

The awareness that we are all human beings together has become lost in war and through politics. We have reached the point of regarding each other only as members of a people either allied with us or against us and our approach; prejudice, sympathy, or antipathy are all conditioned by that. Now we must rediscover the fact that we--all together--are human beings, and that we must strive to concede to each other what moral capacity we must have. Only in this way can we begin to believe that in other peoples as well as in ourselves there will arise the need for a new spirit which can be the beginning of a feeling of mutual trustworthiness toward each other. The spirit is a mighty force for transforming things. We have seen it at work as the spirit of evil which virtually threw us back from striving toward a culture of the spirit into barbarism. Now let us set our hopes on the spirit's bringing peoples and nations back to an awareness of culture."



 Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, After Ten Years (December 1942)

Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau, Germany  in 1906.  He was a star student who earned his doctorate in theology when he was just 21. In 1930, he went to New York City to study at Union Theological Seminary. He didn't think much of the school, but he loved the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where he taught Sunday school, learned gospel music, and started to think about the role of social justice in Christianity.

He went back to Germany, and he was ordained in 1931, when he was 25 years old. But a couple of years later, Hitler rose to power, which caused a huge rift in the German Evangelical Church. The big debate was not about Hitler's racist policies toward Jewish people, per se, but whether the Church should continue to convert and baptize Jewish people. Everything about the history of Christianity pointed towards "yes" — proselytizing, converting, and baptizing were central to the religion. But a group of hard-core Nazi followers within the German Evangelical Church decreed that only Aryan people should be welcomed into the church, no matter what. Bonhoeffer opposed the pro-Nazi contingent within the Church, and he was outspoken in his opposition to the Nazis and Hitler especially. Two days after Hitler was inaugurated as the chancellor, Bonhoeffer — who was then 26 years old — got on national radio and gave a speech about the danger of following any leader who demanded a cult-like following, saying that such a leader could easily become a "misleader." The German authorities cut him off during his speech.

From then on, he worked tirelessly to oppose the Nazi regime. He wrote essays and gave lectures about the obligation of the Church to fight social injustice and to fight for non-Christians as well as Christians. He worked to publicize the truth about what was happening under the Nazis, sending updates to his friends and contacts outside of Germany, because he was afraid that the international community would believe the propaganda by powerful Nazi supporters in the German Evangelical Church. In 1933, he turned down a position in Berlin in protest because only Aryan pastors were allowed to serve. He had succeeded in forming a splinter group within the Church called the "Confessing Church," which was opposed to the Nazi regime, but slowly more and more of his friends within the Confessing Church cowed to Hitler's influence.

Frustrated and lonely, he accepted a position in London. He returned to Germany two years later, in 1935, but his work was becoming increasingly difficult. He was banned from Berlin and from any public speaking. He trained young, radical pastors in secret. After the widespread violence and burning of synagogues in November of 1938, known as Kristallnacht, some Christians maintained that this was the curse of the Jewish people, since they were responsible for Jesus' execution. Bonhoeffer had no patience with that argument. He said that the Nazis were simply evil and that Christianity had no place in their doctrine.

By 1939, the situation had gotten so dire, and Bonhoeffer's opportunities were so limited, that he decided to leave Germany and come to the United States, where he had been offered a position at Union Seminary. As soon as he got there, he changed his mind, convinced that he was being a coward. He went back to Germany and started working as a double agent. On the surface he was working for German Military Intelligence, for the Abwehr, the rival to the Schutzstaffel (or SS). In reality, Bonhoeffer was spreading information about the German Resistance, as were many other members of the Abwehr, including its leader. Despite a lifetime of pacifism, Bonhoeffer finally joined in the attempt to assassinate Hitler, convinced it was the only option.

He was arrested in 1943 on much smaller charges of misusing his position as an intelligence agent. He was in prison for 18 months, where he continued to write, and his writings were smuggled out of prison and later published as Letters and Papers from Prison.

In 1944, after an attempt to assassinate Hitler failed, the extent of Bonhoeffer's work in the resistance movement came to light. The SS uncovered the extent to which the Abwehr was working to undermine the regime, and Hitler ordered them all executed. Bonhoeffer's final message was to a friend and bishop in England: "This is the end — for me the beginning of life." He was killed on April 9, 1945; three weeks later, Hitler committed suicide, and one month after Bonhoeffer's death, Germany surrendered.

In prison, he wrote: "We have learned a bit too late in the day that action springs not from thought but from a readiness for responsibility."

Source: The Writers' Almanac with Garrison Keillor:


Photo below: Bonhoeffer standing in the prison yard

Bonhoeffer's Writing

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell me of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my thoat,
Yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine,
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

On December 19th 1944, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his bleak underground prison in the cellars of the Gestapo headquarters in central Berlin, began to write a Christmas letter to his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer. In it he included a poem to be shared with his parents called By the Powers of Good, "which has been running through my head in the last few days". It was to be his final greeting. The last verse goes as follows:

While all the powers of good protect us
Boldly we'll face the future, come what may.
At even and at morn God will befriend us
And never fails to greet us each new day!

The sixth Christmas season of the war was a terrifying time of impending overwhelming disaster. In the circumstances, the seven short verses of this poem expressing Bonhoeffer's affirmation of God's enduring and comforting presence have to be seen not as just a conventional expression of escapist pietism, but, rather, a most moving and timely confession of faith. It begins:

The powers of good surround us in wonder,
Comforted and kept beyond all fear,
So I will live with you in these days
And go with you to meet the coming year.

The old year still fills our hearts with terror.
We carry still the burden of these evil days.
O Lord, give our chastened souls your healing
For which you have so gracefully created us.


Gratefulness: A Source of Strength

First: Nothing can console us when we lose a beloved person and no one should try. We have to simply bear and survive it. That sounds hard but is in fact a great consolation: When the hole remains unfilled, we remain connected through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the gap, because he keeps it empty and so helps us to sustain our old communion, even through pain. 

Then: The more beautiful and fulfilling our memories, the harder the separation. But gratefulness transforms the agony of memory into a quiet joy. We should avoid burrowing in our memories, just as we do not look at a precious gift continuously. Rather, we should rather save them for special hours, like a hidden treasure of which we are certain. Then a pervading joy and strength will flow from the past.


Understanding Reality

To understand reality is not the same as to know about outward events. It is to perceive the essential nature of things. The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential. But on the other hand, knowledge of an apparently trivial detail quite often makes it possible to see into the depth of things. And so the wise man will seek to acquire the best possible knowledge about events, but always without becoming dependent upon this knowledge. To recognize the significant in the factual is wisdom.



Ernst Friedrich: The Anti-War Museum

Ernst Friedrich, the founder of the Anti-War Museum in Berlin, was born on February 25th 1894 in Breslau. Already in his early years he was engaged in the proletarian youth movement. In 1911, after breaking off an apprenticeship as a printer, he became a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). In 1916 he joined the anti-militaristic workers youth and was sentenced to prison after an act of sabotage in a company of military importance.

As a leading figure of "youth anarchism" he fought against militarism and war, against arbitrary action by police and justice. In 1919 he took over the youth centre of the »Free Socialist Youth« (FSJ) in Berlin and turned it into a meeting place of anti-authoritarian youth and revolutionary artists.

Besides organising exhibitions he travelled Germany and gave public lectures reading anti-militaristic and liberal authors like Erich Mühsam, Maxim Gorki, Fjodor Dostojewski and Leo Tolstoi.

In the Twenties the pacifist Ernst Friedrich was already well-known in Berlin for his book "War against War!" when he opened his Anti-War Museum at 29, Parochial Street. The museum became a centre of cultural and pacifist activities until it was destroyed by the Nazis in March 1933 and its founder got arrested.

Ernst Friederich by Bukowski

Friedrich’s book War against War! (1924) is a shocking picture-book documenting the horrors of the First World War. It made him a well-known figure in and outside Germany. Owing to a donation he was able to buy an old building in Berlin where he established the "First International Anti-War Museum." After having been in prison already before Friedrich was financially ruined when he was convicted again in 1930. Nevertheless he managed to bring his precious archive abroad.

In March 1933 Nazi storm troopers, the so-called SA, destroyed the Anti-War Museum and Friedrich was arrested until the end of that year. Thereafter he and his family emigrated to Belgium, where he opened the "II. Anti-War Museum."When the German army marched in he joined the French Resistance. After the liberation of France he became French citizen and member of the Socialist Party.

With the compensation payment he got from Germany Friedrich was able to buy a piece of land near Paris, where he established the so-called »Ile de la Paix«, a centre for peace and international understanding where German and French youth groups could meet. In 1967 Ernst Friedrich died at Le Perreux sur Marne.

Today’s Anti-War Museum recalls Ernst Friedrich and the story of his museum with charts, slides and films.

Ernst Friedrich's Pacifistic Anarchism
by Douglas Kellner

Friedrich's anarchism was closer to the communal socialism of the Russian Peter Kropotkin than to Bakunin's more individualistic anarchism. and in contrast to Tolstoy's more passive religious anarchism, Friedrich always opposed quietistic and nonrevolutionary forms of pacifism, publishing in his various journals statements like:

"Without social revolution there can be no lasting peace....We must prepare systematically an uprising against war."

War Against War made a strong impression on Friedrich's contemporaries and was widely read & discussed. Never before had a German audience been subjected to such horrendous images of the savagery & destruction of WWI.

Friedrich helped form a "Revolutionary Pacifist Group" whose membership included such figures as Kurt Tucholsky, Walter Mehring, & the Expressionist writer Ernst Toller. During the last years of Weimar, Friedrich found himself in constant litigation against people who alleged that he had defamed them, and against state officials who accused him of "treason." In 1930, Friedrich was imprisoned for "high treason" for about a year because of the publication of antimilitarist writings intended for secret distribution among the army & police.


The Anti-War Museum of Ernst Friedrich 

Museum display

Ernst Friedrich founded the first international anti-war museum In Berlin (1923) as a testament to the German anti-militarist movement. He was conscious of the fact that the world was still thinking of Germany as irreconcilably militarist, despite the discrediting of the old Prussian aristocratic military state, and wanted to show many German workers had struggled against the military state. He also wanted in turn to show other German workers how vital that struggle was, and to demolish nationalist lies. The horrors of the war, on the front and at home, were overwhelmingly portrayed in his International Anti-War Museum at No. 29 Parochialstrasse, Berlin.


Nazi takeover of the museum

When the Nazis took power, they seized the Museum, burned the exhibits and books and transformed the place into an SA-Heim (storm troopers' barracks) They could not wait for the necessary alterations to be made and overnight painted out the word "Anti" from the fascia and posted a guarded on the door.


Selections from War Against War



Hannah Arendt--On Violence

(born October 14, 1906, Hannover, Germany—died December 4, 1975, New York, New York, U.S.) German-born American political scientist and philosopher known for her critical writing on Jewish affairs and her study of totalitarianism.

Arendt grew up in Hannover, Germany, and in Königsberg, Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia). Beginning in 1924 she studied philosophy at the Universities of Marburg, Freiburg, and Heidelberg; she received a doctoral degree in philosophy at Heidelberg in 1928. At Marburg she began a romantic relationship with her teacher, Martin Heidegger, that lasted until 1928. In 1933, when Heidegger joined the Nazi Party and began implementing Nazi educational policies as rector of Freiburg, Arendt, who was Jewish, was forced to flee to Paris. She married Heinrich Blücher, a philosophy professor, in 1940. She again became a fugitive from the Nazis in 1941, when she and her husband immigrated to the United States.

Settling in New York City, she became research director of the Conference on Jewish Relations (1944–46), chief editor of Schocken Books (1946–48), and executive director (1949–52) of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc., which sought to salvage Jewish writings dispersed by the Nazis. She was naturalized as an American citizen in 1951. She taught at the University of Chicago from 1963 to 1967 and thereafter at the New School for Social Research in New York City.

Arendt's reputation as a major political thinker was established by her Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), which also treated 19th-century anti-Semitism, imperialism, and racism. Arendt viewed the growth of totalitarianism as the outcome of the disintegration of the traditional nation-state. She argued that totalitarian regimes, through their pursuit of raw political power and their neglect of material or utilitarian considerations, had revolutionized the social structure and made contemporary politics nearly impossible to predict.

The Human Condition, published in 1958, was a wide-ranging and systematic treatment of what Arendt called the vita activa (Latin: “active life”). She defended the classical ideals of work, citizenship, and political action against what she considered a debased obsession with mere welfare. Like most of her work, it owed a great deal to the philosophical style of Heidegger.

In a highly controversial work, Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), based on her reportage of the trial of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1961, Arendt argued that Eichmann's crimes resulted not from a wicked or depraved character but from sheer “thoughtlessness”: he was simply an ambitious bureaucrat who failed to reflect on the enormity of what he was doing. His role in the mass extermination of Jews epitomized “the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil” that had spread across Europe at the time. Arendt's refusal to recognize Eichmann as “inwardly” evil prompted fierce denunciations from both Jewish and non-Jewish intellectuals.

On Violence

In Arendt's own words:The end of human action, as distinct from the end products of fabrication, can never be reliably predicted.  The means used to achieve political goals are more often than not of greater relevance to the future world than the intended goals.

[T]here are, indeed, few things that are more frightening than the steadily increasing prestige of scientifically minded brain trusters in the councils of government during the last decades [the 1950s and '60s] ... they reckon with the consequences of certain hypothetically assumed constellations without, however, being able to test their hypotheses against actual occurrences.

Arendt writes that it is "a rather sad reflection on the present state of political science that our terminology does not distinguish among such key words as power, strength, force, authority, and, finally, violence -- all of which refer to distinct, different phenomena and would hardly exist unless they did."  She makes the distinctions:

Power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert. Power is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together. 

Strength unequivocally designates something in the singular ...

Force  ... should be reserved, in terminological language, for the "forces of nature" or the "force of circumstances," that is, to indicate the energy released by physical or social movements.

Authority can be vested in persons -- there is such a thing as personal authority, as for instance, in the relation between parent and child, between teacher and pupil -- or it can be vested in offices, as, for instance, in the Roman senate or in the hierarchical offices of the Church. (A priest can grant valid absolution even though he is drunk.) Its hallmark is unquestioning recognition by those who are asked to obey; neither coercion nor persuasion is needed.

Violence, finally, as I have said, is distinguished by its instrumental character. Phenomenologically, it is close to strength, since the implements of violence, like all other tools, are designed and used for the purpose of multiplying natural strength...

"Violence," she writes, "can always destroy power. Out of the barrel of a gun grows the most effective command, resulting in the most instant and perfect obedience. What never can grow out of it [violence] is power." [For example, violence and threat of violence by the emperors Caligula and Nero did not enhance their power. It diminished their power.]

Arendt writes that "In a head-on clash between violence and power, the outcome is hardly in doubt"  -- as in a military against collective non-violent resistance (power). But, she adds, "Nowhere is the self-defeating factor in the victory of violence over power more evident than in the use of terror to maintain domination, about whose weird successes and eventual failures we know perhaps more than any generation before us.

"Violence, she sums up, "can destroy power; it is utterly incapable of creating it." Writing at the end of the 1960s, Arendt was critical of the advocacy of violence by blacks critical of Martin Luther King's non-violent movement, and she took issue with the advocacy of violence by the Left in the 1960s. On Sartre she writes:

Sartre with his great felicity with words has given expression to the new faith. "Violence," he now believes, on the strength of Fanon's book, "like Achilles' lance, can heal the wounds it has inflicted." If this were true, revenge would be the cure-all for most of our ills.

The rarity of slave rebellions and of uprisings among the disinherited and downtrodden is notorious; on the few occasions when they occurred it was precisely "mad fury" that turned dreams into nightmares for everybody. In no case, as far as I know, was the  force of these "volcanic" outbursts, in Sartre's words, "equal to that of the pressure put on them.

"In the third part of her book, pages 59 through 87, she describes her discomfort with social scientists trying "to solve the riddle of 'aggressiveness' in human behavior."  She asks why we should ask humans to take their "standards of behavior from another animal species.

"Under some conditions, writes Arendt, rage and violence are justified. Violence inspired by a short-term goal can be rational. The absence of emotions neither causes nor promotes rationality. "Detachment and equanimity" in view of "unbearable tragedy" can indeed be "terrifying." Violence, she writes, " rational to the extent that it is effective in reaching the end that must justify it." But, she adds, "And since when we act, we never know with any certainty the eventual consequences of what we are doing.

"She is not saying that people should always refrain from taking a chance. But she warns that with violence there is a danger that the means will overwhelm the end.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Hans Magnus Enzensberger was born in 1929 in Kaufbeuren, Bavaria and grew up in Nurnberg. This was an exciting time for a boy – destruction, bombings, death, bulletins, and after the war, shortages, very little government, near anarchy. He realized at a young age that his country had not only been defeated but was in deep disgrace, a pariah throughout the world. He vowed to learn languages and leave Germany behind. While still at school he made friends with American servicemen based at the Nurnberg airbase and earned pocket money interpreting and translating for them, and trading on the black market. He observed the collective amnesia about Germany’s recent past, the fact that cities were in ruins but no one commented on it: “There was no self reflection for a long time in the media in postwar Germany.”

He studied foreign languages, linguistics and Philosophy at various universities, including the Sorbonne and after gaining a doctorate worked as a radio producer. He travelled widely in Scandinavia, the US, Mexico and South America; from 1968-69 he lived in Cuba and for several years on a small island in Norway.

He is an accomplished linguist. He has edited an influential periodical called Kursbuch, and is eminent as a critic, translator and contributor to all the media. He has re-invented the art of essay writing; his writings cover in an often rather quirky style all sorts of topics, politics, the environment, philosophy. He also writes under a pseudonym. (Ref: Michael Hamburger, one of his translators.)

But it is his poetry which I chiefly want to talk to you about.

He says the poet is an omnivore, not a specialist. He thinks a poem should be accessible and easy to understand on one level, while at the same time have layers of other meaning which can be peeled away like onion skins. He does not claim to be prescient, but is an observer and critic. Rather than saying straight out that something is bad, he paints an image or a scene, often with humour, to say what he means in a more original and memorable way.

He hates tyranny and dictators. “If Hitler had survived I would not have been tolerated – I’d have been done away with. I’ve been lucky, I have said what I like, not been sent into exile or put in prison. Poetry is risky. If you take on the risk it’s wrong to complain.”

He loves Europe – there is nowhere better in the world – but is appalled at the growing level of bureaucracy- Brussels is a sort of Politburo, it meets behind closed doors.

George Steiner writes: “HME is a poet of formidable intelligence and range, like Brecht before him he combines an intense political imagination with lyric gusto. The reader discovers in him both a satirist and a friend.”



later on i learned it was friday
when i’d torn loose, screaming
from my coffin, from my mother.

between the deception of my birth,
sealed with oil and water and salt,
and the death bred into my bones,

in the endless ages between friday 
and the black friday, they stuck pins in my arms,
i was baptized and drafted, the sweet

smell of power made it look nice.
once a year the snow would be changed.
I wore a new shroud every day.

also i observed the four quarters of the sky.
my words drifted off on some kind of wind.
success never burned me, nor fire.

most evenings my liver feels as hard as a rock,
and when it’s friday again, i hear screaming,
my own voice screaming in a white shroud,

over dreary ages, from the day of my birth.
i feel awful, i go to sleep thinking:
well i’m out of it.  there’ll be some other

war, some other dead dog (not me)
will get launched at the moon and space
as it buries him, will be aghast and start screaming.

translated by Jerome Rothenbert

Die Verschwundenen/The Vanished

For Nelly Sachs

It wasn't the earth that swallowed them. Was it the air?
Numerous as the sand, they did not become
sand, but came to naught instead. They've been forgotten
in droves. Often, and hand in hand,
like minutes. More than us,
but without memorials. Not registered,
not cipherable from dust, but vanished—
their names, spoons, and footsoles.
They don't make us sorry. Nobody
can remember them: Were they born,
did they flee, have they died? They were
not missed. The world is airtight
yet held together
by what it does not house,
by the vanished. They are everywhere.
Without the absent ones, there would be nothing.
Without the fugitives, nothing is firm.
Without the forgotten, nothing for certain.
The vanished are just.
That's how we'll fade, too.

           * * *

Für Nelly Sachs

Nicht die Erde hat sie verschluckt. War es die Luft?
Wie der Sand sind sie zahireich, doch nicht zu Sand
sind sie geworden, sondern zu nichte. In Scharen
sind sie vergessen. Häufig und Hand in Hand,
wie die Minuten. Mehr als wir,
doch ohne Andenken. Nicht verzeichnet,
nicht abzulesen im Staub, sondern verschwunden
sind ihre Namen, Löffel und Sohlen.
Sie reuen uns nicht. Es kann sich niemand
auf sie besinnen: Sind sie geboren,
geflohen, gestorben? Vermißt
sind sie nicht worden. Lückenlos
ist die Welt, doch zusammengehalten
von dem was sie nicht behaust,
von den Verschwundenen. Sie sind überall.
Ohne die Abwesenden wäre nichts da.
Ohne die Flüchtigen wäre nichts fest.
Ohne die Vergessenen nichts gewiß.
Die Verschwundenen sind gerecht.
So verschallen wir auch.

Translated by Rita Dove and Fred Viebahn


victory will go

to the sighted ones 

those with one eye

have joined hands

seized power
and made the blind man king

at the heavily armed  border policemen are playing blind-man’s-buff 

while on the hunt for an eye doctor 

who is wanted

for activities dangerous to the state

all the prominent gentlemen wear
a small black patch
over their right eye
in lost property offices

abandoned lenses and spectacles 

brought in by guide dogs gather dust

assiduous young astronomers 

are getting glass eyes fitted
while far-seeing parents

instruct their children
in the progressive art of squinting

the enemy is smuggling in eyewash

for the conjunctiva of his agents

but decent citizens

considering the circumstances 

do not trust their eyes
throw pepper and salt into their own faces
weep while running their hands

over works of art 

and are studying Braille

they say the king has just declared

that he looks to the future  with 


Translation: Anne Boilear

Stolperstein: Gunter Demnig's Cobblestone Memorials

Stolperstein is the German word for "stumbling block", "obstacle", or "something in the way". The artist Gunter Demnig has given this word a new meaning, that of a small, cobblestone-sized memorial for a single victim of Nazism. These memorials commemorate those deported and killed by the Nazis, mostly in Nazi concentration camps or extermination camps. The vast majority of victims were Jews, including more than 1.5 million Jewish children, but other victims of the Nazis included Sinti and Romani people (previously called gypsies), members of the Resistance during World War II, 4,500 homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christians in opposition to the Nazis and the disabled. The list of cities that have stolpersteine now extends to several countries and hundreds of cities and towns. 

Schools, relatives, and various organizations research facts about people who were deported or persecuted during the Nazi regime. The database of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem provides more information. 

Once the research is done, Demnig manufactures a concrete cube of 10 cm (4 inches), which he covers with a sheet of brass. Then he stamps the details of the individual; the name, year of birth and the fate, as well as the dates of deportation and death, if known. The words “Hier wohnte” ("here lived") grace most of the memorials, though others are installed at the individual's place of employment and refer instead to the work. The stolperstein is then laid flush with the pavement or sidewalk in front of the last residence of the victim. 

The cost of the stolpersteine are covered by donations, collections, individual citizens, contemporary witnesses, school classes, or communities. One stolperstein costs €95. 

After Demnig had the idea in 1993, the first exhibition took place in 1994 in Cologne. The then priest of the Antoniter church encouraged the project. In 1995, Demnig began to install stolpersteine on trial, without a permit, in Cologne; then in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin. In 1996, he set out 55 stolpersteine in Berlin within the scope of the project “Artists Research Auschwitz”. In 1997, he mounted the first two stolpersteine for the Jehovah's Witnesses Matthias and Johann Nobis in St. Georgen, Austria on the suggestion of Andreas Maislinger, founder of Arts Initiative KNIE and the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service. Four years later, he received permission to install 600 more stolpersteine in Cologne. 

20,000th Stolperstein 

On July 24, 2009, the 20,000th stolperstein was unveiled in the Rotherbaum district of Hamburg, Germany. In attendance were Gunter Demnig, representatives of the Hamburg government and its Jewish community, and a descendant of the victims memorialized. 

As of October 2007, Gunter Demnig had mounted more than 13,000 stolpersteine in more than 280 cities. He expanded his project beyond the borders of Germany to Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and Hungary. Some stolpersteine were scheduled to be laid in Poland on September 1, 2006, but permission was withdrawn and the installation was cancelled. 

As of May 15, 2010, there were over 22,000 stolpersteine in 530 European cities and towns in eight countries formerly under Nazi control or occupied by Nazi Germany. By July 8, 2010, there were over 25,000 stolpersteine in 569 cities and towns. 

A group of school girls in London, England took on a project involving a stolperstein. It memorializes a Jewish victim named Adolf Kahn, who lived in Münster and died shortly after liberation. His stolperstein was laid on November 25, 2009. Extracts from the school girls' essay were read aloud at the Stolpersteine Exhibition earlier that month. They are the only school group from a country not occupied by the Nazis ever to take on a stolperstein project. 

Interest has also come from individuals in America, Israel and elsewhere. 

Some owners have objected to stolpersteine being laid in front of their houses because of concerns about depreciation and of not wanting to be reminded daily of Nazi atrocities. In one case, in Cologne, a stolperstein was placed away from the entrance at the edge of the sidewalk, near the street. 

Munich initially rejected stolpersteine but later relented; in other cities, permission for the project was preceded by long, sometimes emotional discussions. In Krefeld, an officer from the Jewish synagogue said that Demnig's memorials reminded him of how the Nazis had used Jewish grave stones as slabs for sidewalks.  A compromise was reached that a stolperstein could be installed if a prospective site was approved by both house's owner and (if applicable) the victim's relatives. Simbach am Inn refused to install a stolperstein in memory of Georg Hauner, who was executed on May 1, 1945, because he deserted in the last days of the Second World War. The city of Pulheim is still debating the issue. 

In contrast, Berlin has three full-time municipal employees who support volunteers with the project and are contacts for family members who want to attend an installation. 

People’s attention is drawn towards the stolpersteine by reports in newspapers and their personal experience. Their thoughts are directed towards the victims Cambridge Historian, Joseph Pearson, argues that "It is not what is written [on the stolpersteine] which intrigues, because the inscription is insufficient to conjure a person. It is the emptiness, void, lack of information, the maw of the forgotten, which gives the monuments their power and lifts them from the banality of a statistic."

Source: adapted from Wikipedia;


Laying of Stolpersteine Cobblestone's for the Bikale Family in Berlin

The Berlin Wall: Poetry of the Wall

Construction began on The Berlin Wall early in the morning of Sunday, August 13, 1961. It was a desperate – and effective - move by the GDR (German Democratic Republic) to stop East Berliners escaping from the Soviet-controlled East German state into the West of the city, which was then occupied by the Americans, British and French. 

Berlin's unique situation as a city half-controlled by Western forces, in the middle of the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany, made it a focal point for tensions between the Allies and the Soviets and a place where conflicting ideologies were enforced side-by-side. However, as more and more people in the Soviet-controlled East grew disillusioned with communism and the increasingly oppressive economic and political conditions, an increasing number began defecting to the West. By 1961 an estimated 1,500 people a day were fleeing to the West, damaging both the credibility and - more importantly - the workforce of the GDR. Soon rumours began to spread about a wall, and it wasn’t long after that those rumours were made a concrete reality.

In a masterfully-planned operation, spanning just 24 hours, the streets of Berlin were torn up, barricades of paving stones were erected, tanks were gathered at crucial places and subways and local railway services were interrupted, so that within a day the West of Berlin was completely sealed off from the East. As of that same day inhabitants of East Berlin and the GDR were no longer allowed to enter the West of the city (including the 60,000 who had been commuters). In response to international criticism that such drastic measures inevitably drew, the GDR claimed that the barricade had been raised as an ‘anti-fascist protection wall’, and that they had moved to prevent a third world war. 

The version of the ‘Wall’ that started life in 1961, was in fact not a wall but a 96 miles barbed wire fence. However, after this incarnation proved too easy to scale, work started in 1962 on a second fence, parallel to the first but up to 100 yards further in. The area in between the two fences was demolished to create an empty space, which became widely known as "death strip" as it was here that many would-be escapers met their doom. The strip was covered with raked gravel, making it easy to spot footprints, it offered no cover, was mined and booby-trapped with tripwires and, most importantly, it offered a clear field of fire to the armed guards – who were instructed to shoot on sight. 

Later on even these measures were deemed insufficient and a concrete wall was added in 1965, which served until 1975 when the infamous ‘Stützwandelement UL 12.11’ was constructed. Known also as Grenzmauer 75 (Border Wall ’75), it was the final and most sophisticated version of the Wall. It was made from 45,000 separate sections of reinforced concrete, each 3.6 m high and 1.5 m wide, and topped with a smooth pipe, intended to make it more difficult for escapers to scale it. The Grenzmauer was reinforced by mesh fencing, signal fencing, anti-vehicle trenches, barbed wire, over 300 watchtowers, and thirty bunkers… Just to be on the safe side! 

Despite the various security measures enforced, escape attempts were commonplace, especially in the years immediately following the erection of the wall, when there was still a fighting chance of making it across alive. Climbing was the obvious way to go and some 5,000 were said to have reached the other side. However in its thirty year history 100 people were shot dead, most famously the eighteen year old Peter Fetcher, who, after he was hit in the hip, was left to bleed to death in no-man’s land as the world’s media watched on. 

As security tightened, more ‘creative’ escape plans became the order of the day. Tunnels and jumping from bordering buildings were two more successful ways of getting to the West, although the Wetzel and Strlzyck families eloped in true style - floating to salvation in a hot air balloon which they had fashioned from hundreds of small pieces of nylon cloth (after which it became almost impossible to buy cloth in the East). Rivalling them for the coveted prize of brave escapes, is the citizen who drove up to the checkpoint barrier and, winding down the roof of his convertible at the last minute, slipped underneath! Needless to say that a lower barrier was subsequently installed. 

For those unable or unwilling to abscond from the East, life was bleak; and things only continued to get worse throughout the 70s and 80s as Communism and the USSR began to collapse. Honecker and the GDR resolutely stuck to their guns, speaking out in support of their regime; but when Hungary opened its borders in the summer of 1989, a flood of East Germans made their way West. Meanwhile student protests in Leipzeig put pressure on the government to lower the borders into West Berlin.

As the Iron Curtain cracked the fall of the wall looked inevitable. In the evening of November 9th, 1989 Gunter Schabowski, Minister of Propoganda, read out a note at a press conference announcing that the border would be opened for "private trips abroad”. The news spread like wildfire and the German people immediately gathered in their thousands by the checkpoints, demanding passage. There was some confusion as to what the official line was and the border guards, uncertain of what to do and ill-equipped to deal with the huge and unyielding mob, were forced to let them pass. The Wall had fallen. 

The days that followed saw chaotic celebrations erupt over the country as Germany celebrated the political fall of the Wall - and in the following days and weeks hundreds of citizens began physically tearing down the concrete division. These events were the first steps to the reunification of Germany, which was formally concluded on October 3rd, 1990. Today remnants of the Berlin Wall can be found at Bernauer Strasse and in front of the Neiderkirchnerstrasse, the former Prussian Parliament and current Berlin Parliament. 

Source: Berlin-Life;


←  Go back                                                  Next page