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Hermann Ungar a Life and Works

By Dieter Südhoff

Translation Copyright 2011 Angela Ladd

Published by Vicky Unwin at Smashwords

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Table of Contents



1 The gradual recollection of a forgotten reception after 1945

2 Stages: Life – Work - Influence

I Background, Family, Childhood: Boskowitz (1898 – 1903)

II Grammar School in Brno (1903 –1911)

III University Studies Berlin-Munich-Prague: (1911-1914)

IV WAR (1914 – 1918)

V Transitional Times – Prague – Eger – Prague (1918 – 1920)

Excursus 1 Boys and Murderers - Reception

VI Diplomat and Author, Berlin (1921 – 1928)

Excursus 2: The Maimed - Reception

Diplomat and Author - continued (1924 -1927)

Excursus 3: The Class – Reception

Diplomat and Author – continued (1927-1928)

VII The End: Prague (1928 – 1929)

Excursus 4: The Red General – Reception

The End – Continued (1928-1929)

VIII The Final Act – Posthumous Reception until 1945

1 Obituaries

2 The Arbour

3 Colbert’s Journey

4 Forgotten


In May 2009 my father called me into his study. He was dying from Parkinson’s Disease and felt it was time to reveal some family secrets. He showed me a suitcase which, he said, contained books and files relating to my grandfather, Hermann Ungar, the little-known Czech writer.

When I returned home from that visit to my father I decided to try and find out as much as possible about my father’s history. The family mythology was simple: my father had come to England in 1938, sent by his mother from Prague to join his older half-brother John Weiss/West, who had fled Prague with Rudi, her first husband. She and her younger son, Alex (Sasha) had joined them in 1939; they lived in Fairfax Road, then moved to Wells in Somerset as part of the evacuation. The young Tomy found work in a factory in Wells, his mother cooked for the night shift and Sasha managed to get a scholarship to Bembridge in the Isle of Wight.

There had never been any mention of any Jewish link to their flight from Europe just before the war; in fact it was vehemently denied: the family were intellectuals who had fled on principle and out of fear of persecution under the suppression of freedom of speech that accompanied the rise of Hitler. My grandfather Hermann Ungar had been a well-known and controversial Czech writer, who died of peritonitis as a result of his hypochondria, at the age of 36 in 1929. But strangely his life and work were uncelebrated in our family, so that when I, as a young publisher and German-speaker, grew curious about him and started asking questions, this drew blanks.

Staring at the famous photograph of my grandfather in my father’s study, it dawned on me how Jewish-looking he was and, spurred on by the surprise arrival on my doorstep in Belsize Park in the 1990s - ironically just around the corner from Fairfax road - of his cousin Helen Stransky on her way to a Kindertransport reunion, I felt I had to confront him with the truth.

With my father’s deterioration from Parkinson’s it became critical to find out as much as possible about this past before he died. I had taken the family to Prague for his 79th birthday; we had walked the streets, my father full of schoolboy memories - ‘Look this is the statue [on Charles Bridge of three snooty looking men looking as if they are experiencing a bad smell] we called it somebody’s farted’ and so on - and even found the apartment he grew up in after his father’s death, still occupied by the collaborators who had taken it over from them; we found his maternal grandfather’s factory where they made buttons and zips: according to his cousin Helen [Stransky] their grand-parents were one of the richest families in Prague. We visited the Jewish quarter but he never told us that his father was buried in the Malvazinka. What a missed opportunity!

In the meantime I had been googling grandfather Ungar and had tracked down three of his books in translation into English – two novels, The Class and The Maimed and a collection of short stories, Boys and Murderers. I had also been using a fantastic resource called JewishGen, which helps researchers with family trees, traces holocaust victims and survivors and puts people in touch with each other globally. I began to build a family tree of Ungars, Stranskys and Kohns and discover relations I did not know existed.

I went down to Somerset to open the suitcase and to record my father’s memories of his early childhood, his time in England, and his wartime experiences in the Navy.

The suitcase revealed some wonderful secrets – a 700 page PhD thesis by German scholar Dieter Sudhoff on my grandfather, with over 200 pages of Leben, with intricate details of his family in Boskovice, Moravia, traced through the earliest recorded Ungar in the early 1800s; his marriage to Margarete Stransky and information about her side of the family, as well as diaries, letters and notebooks not only written by Ungar but also by his close friends and fellow literary circle members, for instance Thomas Mann, Camill Hoffman (who had been his best man) Max Brod and so on. And another two volumes of literary criticism by a Czech Professor from Boskovice, Jaroslav Bransky, as well as yet another tome by Jurgen Serke on the vanished Jewish towns of Bohemia and their heroes. All of these volumes contained interviews with my father and photographs supplied by him; yet he had never said a word. Sadly as my German is no way near good enough to understand what are very complex grammatical records, the first thing to do was to try and find a translator to unlock the missing world of the genius that was Hermann Ungar, forgotten almost entirely since his death, apart from a few German and French translations, but unnoticed in the great literary cannon of the interwar years. Unnoticed largely due to his untimely death, his proscription by the Nazis, but most of all because, apart from Dieter Sudhoff, who also died young, he had no champion. Kafka had Max Brod, who admired Ungar hugely while he lived, but turned against him after his death.

I decided then and there to make it my mission to recover and record my grandfather’s reputation, to trace the lost relatives even if only to re-confirm that most had died in Auschwitz, but above all to celebrate one of the great lost talents of the 20th century.

Sadly my father died on 29 May 2012, before the work was complete. With him dies the last living memory of Hermann Ungar.

This publication is the first step on the journey to bring Ungar back to life. The second stage is the website , which contains photographs, the notes to this work (in German I am afraid), and more recent posthumous reviews.

The aim is to encourage others to read his work, to revel in his modernity of style and content and to celebrate his great talent. And also to pay tribute to some of the other great artists, as well as my family, lost to the Holocaust.


Heartfelt thanks to Angela Ladd who laboured through the rather dense prose of the PhD thesis; to the estate of Dieter Sudhoff for supplying the raw material; to Professor Jaroslav ánský; to my late daughter Louise, to whom this work is dedicated – she was thrilled about her ‘secret history’; to Bonnie Fogel and to my husband Ross, who provided encouragement and support in keeping me going through the tough times.

Vicky Unwin, September 2012


I thus found myself, having mapped out and commenced the draft for my work in my youthful blind enthusiasm, in the part enviable, part disastrous position of a pioneer.

Arno Schmidt, Fouqué and some of his contemporaries, Darmstadt 1960

By undertaking a full-scale monograph on the life, work and influence of a virtually unknown, to all outward appearances remote and dispassionate writer, one exposes oneself to considerable challenges and reservations – the challenges in tracking the author after centuries of obscurity, the reservations as shown by the public, who initially doubt whether it is all really worth the effort. Hermann Ungar is truly deserving of attention and effort and I hope my work will prove this. Ongoing efforts will underline this. My most pressing duty at present is to clear the path forwards, by providing an all-compassing image of the preserved material, by researching as far as possible any mislaid or endangered items and, finally, by analysing Ungar’s major literary works. Without, however, wide-spread help from numerous people and institutions I would never have been able to complete this voluntary task satisfactorily. As a sign of my gratitude and in thanks, I list them in the following as a reminder to me and to everyone.

Dr. Manon Andreas-Grisebach, Aarbergen-Kettenbach; Jean-Paul Archie, Toulouse; Mirjam Becher, Kfar Schmarjahu; Joachim Bechtle-Bechtinger, Berlin; Prof. Dr. Hartmut Binder, Ditzingen; Prof. Dr. Jürgen Born, Wuppertal; PhDr. Jaroslav Bransky, Boskovice; Dr. Hugo Brauner, Haifa; Elias Canetti, Zürich; Elisheva Kohen, Jerusalem; Dr. Jean-Pierre Danäs, Les Essarts le Roi; Dr. Peter Engel, Hamburg; Dr. Herta Haas, Hamburg; Jarmila Haasovä-Necasovä, Prague; Hansotto Hatzig, Oftersheim; Ilse Ester Hoffe, Tel Aviv; Prof. Dr. Wilma Iggers, Buffalo/N.Y.; Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kasack, Much; Michael Kehlmann, Vienna; Dr. Edith Krojanker, Jerusalem; Shulamith Irene Krojanker, Givatajim; Dr. Manfred Linke, Berlin; Cordula Marx, Hanover; Harry Matter, Berlin; Erik Mossel, Amsterdam; Anita Naef, Munich; Hedwig Neumann, Tel Aviv; Friedl Niedermoser, Vienna; Dr. Eva Patkovä, Prague; Prof. Dr. Margarita Pazi, Tel Aviv; PhDr. Josef Poläcek, Prague; Prof. Dr. Ulrich Profitlich, Berlin; Peter Richter, Dresden; Gisela Riff-Eimermacher, Bochum; Prof. Dr. Karl Riha, Siegen; Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Claus Roxin, Stockdorf; Chaim Sharon, Gan-Shmuel; Dr. Nanette Souche, Marly; DrHelmut Schmiedt, Cologne; Dr. Peter-Paul Schneider, Marbach a.N.; Brigitte Schwaiger, Vienna; Prof. Dr. Hans-Hugo Steinhoff, Paderborn-Wewer; Hans-Dieter Steinmetz, Dresden; Jana Stepanek, Würzburg; Prof. Dr. Eduard Studer, Fribourg; Dr Reinhard Tgahrt, Marbach a.N.; Tom Unwin, Milverton; Dr. Hartmut Vollmer, Paderborn; Alena Wagnerovä, Saarbrücken; Dr. Fritz Wahrenburg, Paderborn-Schloß Neuhaus; Franz-Josef Weber, Siegen; Joern H. Werner, Cheyenne/Wyo.; Ernest Wichnar, Berlin; Marianne Winder, London; Dr. Edith Yapou, Jerusalem; Dr. AleS Zach, Prague.

Academy of Arts, Berlin; Academy of Arts of the GDR, Berlin; Academy of Sciences of the GDR, Berlin; America Memorial Library, Berlin; Berliner Ensemble, Berlin; Felix Bloch Hieritage, Berlin; German State Library, Berlin; Freee University, Berlin; Humboldt University, Berlin; State Archives, Berlin; Paulinenkrankenhaus, Berlin; Senator for Cultural Matters, Berlin; Sender Freies Berlin; State Theatre Stage,. Berlin; Prussian State Library of Cukture, Berlin; Ullstein Photo Services, Berlin; Foreign Office, Bonn; Embassy of the Czechoslovakian Socialist Republic, Bonn; Archiv mesta Brna, Brno; City Library, Dortmund; German Library, Frankfurt a.M.; City and University Library, Frankfurt a.M.; University, Hamburg; The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; The Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem; Germania Judaica, Cologne; German Library, Leipzig; Linz Cellar Theatre, Linz; Germany Literary Archives, Narbach a.N.; National Literary Agency, Milan; Bavarian State Library, Munich; Collegium Carolinum, Munich; Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich; States Archive, Munich; Yale University Library, New Haven/Conn.; Leo Baeck Institute, Paderborn, Arches of the Media Centre, Paderborn; University Library, Paderborn; Archives of Karlovy University, Prague; Archivni spräva, Prague; Embassy of the Republic of Germany, Prague; Pamätnik närodniho pisemnictvi, Prague; Rada zidovskych nabozenskych obci v CSR, Prague; Statni knihovna ÖSR, Prague; Vojensky historicky ustav, Praha; Statni knihovna CSR, Praha; Statni Sidovske muzeum v Praze, Prague; Statni ustredni archive v Praze, Praha; Stadni zidovske museum v Praze, Praha; Princeton University Library, Princeton/N.J. /Saarland Radio, Saarbrücken; Institute for Foreign Relations, Stuttgart , Austrian National Library, Vienna; Austrian State Archives, Vienna; Theatre in Josefstadt, Vienna; University Library, Vienna; Viennese City and State Archives, Vienna; Eidg. Technical College, Zürich; City Archives, Zurich.

I owe a particular debt of thanks to my dissertation tutor, Professor Dr. Hartmut Steinecke of Paderborn-Wewer, who offered support, unabating interest, encouragement and stimulation right from the start, as well as to Professor Dr. Manfred Durzak, Grebin, who was the co-referent during the end phase. My gratitude also goes to the Minister for Science and Research in North Rhine Westfalia and to the Chancellor of the University and Colleges Paderbon for granting a stipendium under the graduate support laws.

Last but by no means least, I thank my wife, Ursula, whose patience and forbearance allowed me to devote myself entirely to this work and who was also responsible for proof-reading. To my chilidren, Fabian, Elisabeth und Johanna, I owe many irretrievable hours.

The monographic text was complete in May 1988; lacking only a few bibliographic details.

I dedicate this work to my parents.

Paderborn-Elsen, October 1988

1 The gradual recollection of a forgotten reception after 1945

For a while I received frequent enquiries about Hermann Ungar, all in search of dissertation material. My response to these requests was that I could not remember Ungar at all. His activities, relating to the Prager Tagblatt (Prague Daily News), made such an insignificant impression on me that I had no recollections at all. 1

Max Brod’s surprising memory lapse became even more contentious with successive quotations in his memoires about the Prague Circle (1966). (He described Ungar’s first work Boys and Murderers as ‘bearing the mark of non-entity, with clumsy and ordinary illustrations of inferiority complexes, etc.’) 2 Presented with little credibility, but highly orchestrated and laden with personal animosity and antipathy with resulting intentional repression, this forms a core example of the lack of justice and knowledge, with which the works of Hermann Ungar, a Moravian Jew who wrote in German, were greeted right up to the present day. There are a few significant exceptions to this, which will be discussed in detail later. Willy Haas, the other highly-acclaimed source of information on Prague literature in the German language dispensed a moral verbal flaying, possibly because Haas never forgave Ungar for calling him a ‘repulsive literate ’ in his diary.3

These two facts are the main causes for the continued ignorance about Ungar amongst the wider public and for the hitherto grotesque misjudgements within the circles of literary science, which surround Franz Kafka and the Prague Circle. In the hugely abundant literature about Kafka, Ungar is encountered mainly in marginal roles, within the works on Prague Literature he all too often only appears on lists, occasionally even totally ignored. In most of the new literary volumes one can search in vain for a mention of Ungar and the same is valid for treatises concerning the literary trends in the period between the wars or relating to the role played by Jews in German literature. The silent or disparaging treatment from contemporaries and – at times – peers Brod and Haas, whose secret influence on the post-war reception of German-language Prague literature may not be overestimated, determined the position early on and rendered the rediscovery of Hermann Ungar very difficult. Whilst Kafka and also to a certain degree Werfel were more or less rightfully elevated to singularly phenomenal positions, other authors such as Ungar, Ludwig Winder or Paul Kornfeld faded into oblivion, overshadowed by the posthumous fame of a few supposed illustrious experts. In addition, Ungar’s works, written mainly in the 1920s, appeared in a period in which only gradual recognition of groups, rather than just single authors such as Brecht or Döblin, was recorded.

The waves of acceptance greeting the Expressionists and ‘Exile’ literature led to a relegation of Ungar’s work. Despite such seemingly external reasons for the continuing obscurity of Ungar and other similar writers, glib, smug journalistic literature critics find it hard to get to grips with writing which fails to conform to contemporary tone and the fashion of the day. 4 This, however, should not hide the fact that the real causes lie much deeper with a repeat of the miserable reception of his Ungar’s work during his lifetime. His novels The Maimed (1922) and The Class (1927) achieved no greater recognition from the contemporary public than during the republishing in 1973 and 1981, although they were actually highly praised by respected fellow-authors and critics. The thematic radicalism of the prose, the depressing feeling of gloom, the intolerant pursuit of extreme suffering – such characteristics can hardly expect wider appeal. It is to be hoped that Hermann Ungar will finally and conclusively rise out of obscurity. The signs are there, they multiply with each attempt to trace the reaction to his work since 1945. We wish to make our contribution. For the general public, however, Rudolf Kayser’s wording of the poet’s obituary in 1929 will remain valid:

Ungar won over very few readers. He made no concessions concerning the modern use of clichés. He created figures from his innermost secret depths, gruesome and turgid. This was unwanted and no-one forgave him. He was a writer. 5

* * *

Without recognition from the public during his lifetime – with the relative exception of two plays, both scandalous in other ways, The Red General (1928) and The Arbour (1929), Ungar’s narrow works fell into obscurity after his death (1929) in the confusion of national socialism and the world war, remaining solely in the memories of a few writers and readers, friends, acquaintances and enemies.

In 1948 when Ernst Wodak wrote his melancholy obituary to Prague of Yesterday and the Day Before, in his new homeland Israel, he included Ungar - besides Kafka, Werfel, Brod, Katz, Kisch, Salus, Baum, Perutz and Weiß – in the circle of ‘famous, yes, even world famous German-Jewish writers, who lived in Prague’, and in a short silhouette pointed out the ‘unique atmosphere’, a ‘symphony of three old cultures – German, Czech and Jewish’, this ‘singular blend’, which all gave rise to ‘important, even exceptional, literary achievements’. 6 And he recalled time spent at the ‘famous Cafe Continental with its special table reserved for regulars’, ‘around which the Prague Literary collected’:

A few of these writers decamped to foreign parts, many, such as Werferl, Katz, Ungar, Weiss, etc to Berlin, some died and so the group around the celebrated table gradually dispersed. 7

Similar anecdotally-tinged memories, most only of biographical interest, are to be found in later writings, describing the former Prague or Berlin times, such as in a paper given in November 1965 by Hans Demetz, previously the Literary Artistic Director at the New German Theatre in Prague, founder of the intimate drama chamber and only fleetingly acquainted with Ungar. This treatise, presented at the Global Friends’ Conference at Liblice Castle, focussed on ‘personal relationships and reminiscences of the German Writers Circle in Prague’.

An interesting case is that of Hermann Ungar, born in Boskowitz in Moravia, whom I used to meet almost daily in the cafe of the Blue Star Hotel in Prague, a meeting place which has long since disappeared from the scene. We held lengthy literary conversations in the cafe, during which he never once disclosed that he himself was a writer. Only after his death in 1929 in Prague did I come across some of his work. His debut piece was a volume entitled Boys and Murderers on the subject of sexual awakenings in the young. Even today a sense of horror overcomes me when I think about his Prague novel, The Maimed, with its unrelenting, unsavoury, terrible and frightening portrayal of repulsive activities against a perverse-erotic background. 9

These comments from Hans Demetz - who, in his position as Director of the Brünner German Theatre wanted to produce Ungar’s The Arbour during the 1930/31 season 10 – are symptomatic. Although in Liblice the Czech scholars of German literature and their guests were striving to present an all-encompassing overview of the most important Prague authors of German literature besides Kafka, Demetz’s comments remained the sole reference to Ungar 11 (which was almost certainly not only due to the dominance of Czech speakers, whose interest naturally centred mainly on socialist writers and German-Czech mediators such as Rudolf Fuchs, Egon Erwin Kisch or F.C. Weiskopf). In addition, Demetz’s contribution served to illustrate the levels of incomprehension and misunderstanding, almost fatuity, with which Ungar’s works were greeted. Catchwords such as ‘unsavoury’, ‘repulsive activities’ and ‘perverse-erotic environment’ are nothing more than signals of fearful helplessness in the face of a piece of work which plumbs the depth of extreme situations encountered by humanity whilst unrelentingly breaking all taboos and rejecting puerile classic traditions.

* * *

A similar approach was taken by Ernst Josef Aufricht who, as Director of the Berlin Schiffbauerdamm Theatre, put on the premiere performance of Ungar’s The Arbour on 12 December 1929. However in later decades he denounced this play as being ‘a blend of literature and obscenity.’ 12 The box office success achieved by this ‘blend’ at the Viennese Renaissance Theatre with a production directed by Josef Jarno which premiered on 11 June 1930 some months after the Berlin initial performance, might well have been uppermost in the minds of the literary and dramatic management of the Viennese Little Theatre when they surprisingly included The Arbour in the season’s programme at the beginning of March 1954, thereby – and certainly not within the interests of literary innovation – making Ungar’s work accessible to the general public again

The Arbour: Comedy in three acts by Hermann Ungar

Little Theatre in the Concert Hall, Vienna. Season 1953/5

Director: Trude Pöschl

Producer: Harry Fuß

Stage Manager: Robert Hofer-Ach

Colbert: Karl Schellenberg

Melanie: Augusta Ripper

Amalie: Luzi Neudecker

Modlizki: Bruno Dallansky

Kudernak: Fritz Widhalm-Windegg

Ferdinand: Wolf Neuber

Josefine: Friedl Hofmann

What might have been the start of an early rediscovery apparently turned into a farce. The actor Harry Fuß, who was celebrating his new role as a producer, attempted to recapture the scandalous successes of 1929 and 1930 by placing singular emphasis on the ‘sensuousness of spring awakenings’, and seldom added the warning of a ‘flash of approaching storms’ for a ‘world unwittingly standing on the brink of catastrophe’. 13 He thus reduced Ungar’s angry attacks on the petite bourgeoisie and the human falsehoods in life, the ‘traditional and grotesque society comedies, bloody and soaked in biting irony’,14 down to the level of a voyeuristic chamber play with advertising placards bearing the enticing wording ‘Only for Adults’. A ‘box office hit – nothing more’, repeated the Viennese ‘Union’.15

Critics were, in the main, united in their antipathy. The communist österreichische Volksstimme (Austrian Voice of the People) wrote:

Harry Fuß as producer applied the make-up of eroticism so thickly, that it turned into a risible caricature.


The scenes are studded with caricatures, with exaggerated jokes about eroticism, which, as sense and objective were missing, led only to feelings of emptiness. 16

The Weltpresse (World Press), which prior to the premiere wrote of a ‘frivolous storyline’17 summarised:

This play is not suitable for mature country ladies, who would justifiably consider it indecent. Despite this, the ladies would enjoy it as much as the audience enjoyed the premiere.18

The critic for the Abend (Evening) rose to the assumption that ‘the storyline with its alleged ‘‘deeper meaning’’ was only an excuse to use words, which otherwise would be deemed unacceptable for use on the stage.’ 19

Perhaps a little helplessly, without any knowledge of the production in 1930, Ungar, the ‘Austrian dramatist, whose true, great talent was not damaged in any way by the lack of recognition here,’ was compared to Ödön von Horväth, a comparison drawn to Tales from the Vienna Woods:

If the grotesque in Horvath’s work sometimes became a Dance of Death, the dance in and around the Colbert family in The Arbour actually was more of a ring dance in the Schnitzler meaning... 20

Others bore witness to a ‘coarse version of Sternheim, drastically entwined in sex… with a real void becoming visible behind the comic frontage’ and accused the author of failing to see ‘what was missing from the society he conjured up, i.e, the inner ties which for thousands of years had been provided by religion’.21

One critic stooped low enough to use play on words, a double meaning in which the comedy was described as being ‘the most ‘non-Ungar’ to ‘half-baked’ (gar being ‘cooked’) at the point in the final scene where all the events came ‘thick and fast’. This same critic also wrote that ‘the spiced-up humour of the author in a drastic albeit entertaining way burnt and eroded peepholes in the facade of narrow-minded indifference instead of tearing it down which was the intention both today and 25 years ago when the play was written.’ 22

The name of Hermann Ungar meant nothing to the people and, no matter how great the artistic performances were, this monotonous production will do nothing to increase his fame. And so the literary journalists once again wallowed in superficiality or in feigned indignation. The first chance was wasted, the dynamics were lost, more so as the comedy was mistakenly understood by the Viennese to be a Moravian ethnic farce.

Some 23 years later The Arbour was once again performed on stage in an open-air theatre in Berlin. Ungar’s works, however, appeared on the theatre boards some years before this. In 1966 the Prague actor and former friend of Ungar, Ernst Deutsch, read from the ‘once very daring satire entitled Tulip23 as part of his programme in Berlin and Duesseldorf called My Prague Friends which included text from Anton Kuh, Willy Haas, Max Brod, Jaroslav Hasek, Egon Erwin Kisch or Kafka.

* * *

The real post-war awareness of Ungar began in 1963 when Heinz Schöffler in his afterword to the anthology Ego and Eros ranked the Moravian equal to Al­fred Lemm, Robert Müller and Bohuslav Kokoschka as one of the ‘most forgotten of the forgotten’ and stated his fear that the inclusion in this collection of expressionism Master Tales could be condemned as a ‘whim of the publisher’, 24 Karl Otten: a not unrealistic fear. The ‘expert’ Richard Brinkmann declared himself ‘not really familiar’ with their names in 1980 and he contemplated their obscurity:

Whether it was really only a coincidence and whether it would have been regarded as a catastrophe if no-one had ever read their stories again? With all due respect? And all duties to historic preservation? One dares to cast doubt.25

After worthy and innovative collections such as Premonitions and Awakening, Scream and Confession, The Empty House or Expressionism Grotesque, Karl Otten’s last anthology of forgotten Expressionistic or Jewish literature Ego and Eros was finally put together and completed but without the publisher’s comments. After decades of silence, Ungar’s prose finally made a re-appearance in the form of the novel Colberts Journey written in 1922 (the source text of The Arbour) as well as in the surrealistic sketch entitled The Explanation written in 1929. 26 The classification of these as expressionist prose seems somewhat arbitrary but based perhaps on thematic grounds, the definition as expressionist ‘masterly tale’ certainly appears inappropriate - Schöffler describes the relative terms of defining and classifying, speaks of the contradiction between ‘masterly’ and the ‘evolving, explosive, eruptive’ of expressionist programmatic, 27 and classifies Ungar, in whom he also discovers ‘threads of Storm and Stress’, somewhere between neo-romantic/symbolism and expressionism. Despite such misnomers, the two texts from Ungar were successfully slotted into the content, which included prose from other Prague literary figures: (Oskar Baum: The Beloved; Franz Kafka: In the Penal Colony; Paul Adler: Elohim; Ernst Weiß: Nahar) - complying thoroughly with Otten’s real categories as per the title.

The publisher did not consider ‘masterly tales’ when he put together this collection, even though plenty of prose literature penned by masters is evident in the collection. It was meant to become a ‘brilliant book’, ‘up to the elbows in blood and up to the thighs in women’, a new orientation of our youth revolution’ (as Otten wrote to Edschmid), ‘in which the introspective-revolutionary thinking and the extrovert erotic principals are given equal weighting in world order under Freud’s influence’, or, as Otten wrote to Pinthus ‘egocentricity and erotic altruism’. 29

Ego and Eros, the influence of psychoanalysis and a thematic extremism are truly ingredients not only of Colbert’s Journey and The Explanation, but also of the majority of Ungar’s other works (perhaps most obvious in The Maimed). But by the inclusion in his anthology, Otten (who made the acquaintance of Ungar during the mid-20s in Berlin30) had drawn up the first guidelines of literary-scientific awareness. In his afterword Schöffler focussed solely on Colbert’s Journey and underlined, as had Thomas Mann in 1930 as a foreword to his posthumous volume of the same name – and which Ellen Otten picked up in her ‘bio-bibliographic notes’,31 particularly the figure of the social revolutionary Modlizki with his sarcastic social criticisms.

Sarcasm, this underhand guileless tone, in which social criticism is presented, has created the unforgettable figure of the servant Modlizki - a creation which should find its place in the awareness of modern prose literature. 32

* * *

An anthology of an altogether different type was undertaken in 1965 by the Austrian theatre and art critic Ruediger Engerth. Entitled In the Shadow of Hradschin. Kafka and his Circle, he put together a collection of lyrics and prose (in part as excerpts) from those authors he regarded as having a biographic connection to the ‘central figure’ of Kafka:

All writers here met him or, through their connection with one or another of his closer friends, impacted to a greater or lesser degree on his life. 33

In chronological order according to year of birth, the chain of writers from the Prague Cafe Arco Generation 34 extends from Victor Hadwiger and Camill Hoffmann(both 1878) to Karl Brand (1895) and Johannes Urzidil (1896), each being introduced with a short biographical sketch. The famous names were not only of prime importance to Engerth (Brod and Werfel are also included), the rehabilitation of the forgotten writers was the uppermost objective:

Names such as Viktor Hadwiger, Paul Adler and Hermann Ungar have gradually sunk into oblivion today. The whole objective of the selection is to lift these interesting authors from unfair obscurity, to place them into an ethnic-related grouping, which many of them actually attempted to escape. 35

The cause for ‘their not always being accorded a fitting position in German literary history’ is perceived by Engerth to be found in their impact ‘within the various centres of German cultural areas’, where they were often ‘regarded as particles and foreign bodies blown in by the wind’ 36 - a thought, which is not globally correct (many authors fled for precisely this reason into a metropolis such as Berlin or Vienna – with a more dense cultural scene - where they felt that literary success would be more easily obtained than in provincial German Prague). In the case of Ungar this was fairly true, as after 1918 he lived as a convinced Czech national and thus during his Berlin period managed to avoid the literary circles which called themselves German-Nationals.

Engerth used the final pages of the early novel Story of a Murder from Ungar’s first book Boys and Murderers (1920) as a sample text, 37 with the omission of one sexually ‘offensive’ passage, which would not bear negatively on the reader, as no-one would understand the meaning of this excerpt outside the context of the story. Engerth’s intention appears to have been to keep the readers’ interest by including the most extreme, forceful passages. The selection was perhaps motivated by Thomas Mann’s review of Boys and Murderers (easily accessible in the Collective Works – we have to admit at this stage that Mann’s Ungar Essays belong to the most influential texts as many today will only recognise Ungar’s name from these). But he particularly praised the end of the story, he spoke of ‘true daemonic genius’ and of a ‘vision which left an abiding impression on me’.38

In his biographic sketch of Ungar, Engerth expressly refers to Guido K. Brand, with frequent quotes (including The Introduction) from the literary stories of 1933, 39 unfortunately also rather carelessly, for he not only compounds Brand’s own errors by stating Ungar was ‘born in Prague’ (and sending him straight to the Prague Humanistic Grammar School), but also by making an incorrect reference to a Brand quotation on A Man and a Maid (‘it is a typical puberty story...’) as being from Story of a Murder. 40 So is it a great surprise then that the publication dates are incorrect? Or that in The Introduction Engerth gives the age of the writer as 36 at death, but then in the brief biography states that he died at the age of 37? But there was no malice meant here. Engerth’s errors reflect in part the general lack of information at the beginning of the 60s, which could only be rectified by a laborious and tedious path to the far-flung sources. The achievement of having presented Ungar’s prose a second time after Otten, remains undiminished, despite the unfortunate choice of text – the insertion into the Prague context was and remains both necessary and meaningful.

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