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Anna Seghers (1900–1983)

Author of The Seventh Cross

125+ Works 2,157 Members 51 Reviews 5 Favorited

About the Author

Anna Seghers was born to a wealthy Jewish family in Mainz. During the twenties she established a modest reputation as a writer committed to social reform. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, Seghers went into exile in France. When France capitulated to the Nazis, she proceeded to Mexico, barely show more escaping the gestapo. In 1942 she published her novel The Seventh Cross, which tells of seven prisoners who attempt to leave a Nazi labor camp and elude the police. It was immediately translated into English and became an international best-seller. In 1947 she settled in East Berlin, where she was greeted as a national heroine. Seghers began to publish even more prolifically, producing novels and stories in the style of socialist realism. In 1966 she was named president of the East German Writers' Union, an office in which she had considerable influence on cultural policy. She resigned, for personal reasons, in 1978. Seghers's prose is notable for its epic scope and psychological insight. Her reputation, like that of Brecht, remains somewhat clouded by unresolved questions of complicity with the Stalinist regime in former East Germany. After the unification of Germany in 1990, archivists uncovered a novel of hers entitled Der gerechte Richter (The Just Judge), which was critical of the state and which she had deliberately withheld from publication. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Photo by Horst Sturm. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv Bild 183-P1202-317)

Works by Anna Seghers

The Seventh Cross (1942) 794 copies
Transit (1944) 650 copies
The Revolt of the Fishermen (1929) 40 copies
The Dead Stay Young (1949) 30 copies
Judasloon (1933) 27 copies
Crossing: A Love Story (1971) 25 copies
Drei Frauen aus Haiti (1980) 24 copies
De kracht van de zwakken (1965) 20 copies
Karibische Geschichten (1970) 20 copies
Die Entscheidung (1973) 14 copies
Die Rettung (1951) 12 copies
Sonderbare Begegnungen (1973) 10 copies
Das Vertrauen (1968) 10 copies
Jude und Judentum im Werke Rembrandts (1981) — Author — 9 copies
Jans muß sterben (2000) 9 copies
Ausgewählte Erzählungen (1969) 8 copies
La Fin (2000) 6 copies
Erzaehlungen (1991) 5 copies
Fünf Erzählungen (1975) — Author — 5 copies
Die Gefährten (1932) 5 copies
Crisanta 4 copies
Das dicht besetzte Leben (2003) 3 copies
Werke (in 10 Bänden), (1977) 3 copies
Erzählungen : 1963-1977 (1977) 3 copies
Geschichten von Frauen (1998) 3 copies
Crisanta - Acht Geschichten über Frauen (1988) — Author — 3 copies
Werkausgabe (2000) 2 copies
Yedinci Şafak (2017) 1 copy
Kamp-feller 1 copy
Die Trennung 1 copy
Die Reisebegegnung (1992) 1 copy
Shledání 1 copy

Associated Works

Surrealist Women : An International Anthology (1998) — Contributor — 96 copies
Frauen in der DDR : 20 Erzählungen (1976) — Author — 18 copies
Voor het einde 33 Duitse verhalen uit de jaren 1900-1933 (1977) — Contributor — 13 copies
Voices East and West: German Short Stories Since 1945 (1984) — Contributor — 11 copies
Meesters der Duitse vertelkunst (1967) — Author — 9 copies

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Common Knowledge

Legal name
Reiling, Netty
Other names
Зегерс, Анна
Birthdate
1900-11-19
Date of death
1983-06-01
Burial location
Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof, Berlin, Germany
Gender
female
Nationality
Germany
Birthplace
Mainz, Germany
Place of death
Berlin, Germany
Places of residence
Heidelberg, Germany
Marseille, France
Mexico City, Mexico
Berlin, Germany
Meudon, France
Education
University of Cologne
University of Heidelberg
Occupations
short story writer
novelist
political activist
Relationships
Radvanyi, Jean (grandson)
Organizations
Communist Party of Germany
Awards and honors
Georg Büchner Preis (1947)
Short biography
Anna Seghers, née Reiling, was born to a German Jewish family in Mainz. Her father Isidor Reiling was an antiquarian and art dealer and her mother Hedwig Fuld came from a very wealthy Frankfurt family. She studied subjects as diverse as history, literature, and Chinese at the Universities of Cologne and Heidelberg, earning a doctorate in art history. She became serious about writing during her last year at university and in late 1924 published her first story, "Die Toten auf der Insel Djal" (The Dead on the Island of Djal). In 1925, she married Laszlo Rádványi, also known as Johann Lorenz Schmidt, a Hungarian Jewish Communist and teacher, with whom she had two children, and went to live in Berlin. She joined the German Communist Party in 1928. Her first novel, Die Gefährten, published in 1932, was a warning against the dangers of fascism, which led to her being arrested by the Nazis. By 1934, she had gone into exile via Zurich to Paris. After Germany invaded France during World War II, she fled to Marseilles and a year later to Mexico, where she founded the anti-fascist Heinrich-Heine-Klub, named after the poet, and Freies Deutschland (Free Germany), an academic journal. In 1939, she published The Seventh Cross, for which she received the Büchner-Prize in 1947. It was published in the USA  in 1942 and adapted into a Hillywood film in 1944. The Seventh Cross was one of the very few depictions of Nazi concentration camps, in either literature or the cinema, during World War II. Her best-known story was "The Outing of the Dead Girls" (1946), an autobiographical reminiscence of a pre-World War I school excursion on the Rhine. After the war, she returned to Germany, eventually settling in East Berlin.

Members

Reviews

Seven prisoners have escaped from the Westhofen concentration camp, but only one reaches the saving shore. On his escape route, Georg Heisler meets men and women who have to choose between betrayal and loyalty, selfish renunciation and humanity, denunciation and solidarity.
Despite the oppressive subject matter, the tone of the novel is upbeat.
The seven days of the escape correspond to seven chapters. Simultaneous events are depicted in short, consecutive scenes.
The Christian motif of crucifixion is reversed: redemption lies in the fact that Georg Heisler's cross remains free.
I was partly fascinated by the different human ways of thinking, but sometimes also repelled and even bored after a while. It is certainly an important book that shows a time window of National Socialism, but often a little long-winded.
… (more)
½
 
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Ameise1 | 14 other reviews | Feb 21, 2024 |
Netty Reiling, pen name Anna Seghers, was a German Jew and a communist, both of which made her a target when the National Socialists came to power in 1933. She fled with her Marxist husband and two children to Paris, and then had to flee again in 1940 when the Germans occupied France. She stayed in Mexico City until 1947 when she returned to East Germany. Her experiences as a communist and having to continually flee, one step ahead of the Nazis, lend authenticity to the novel, as does the research she did into conditions within prison camps at the time. Her novel was extremely popular in the US and was made into a movie starring Spencer Tracey in 1944 and an abridged edition was given to US soldiers going to the European theatre, although many of the references to communism were deleted. The main character was seen as a symbol of successful resistance, as well as the book as a whole being a window into the German psyche.

Although divided into seven chapters, taking place over seven days, the novel moves between the main character, George Heisler, and thirty other characters in over 100 episodes. The continual movement between characters and scenes might have been choppy in another author's hands, but instead works well here, creating increasing tension. The novel opens in a prison barracks, with the prisoners wondering if the seventh escapee is still at large. We then immediately switch to descriptions of the countryside outside Mainz as a young man, Franz Marnet, pedals his bike through the early morning fog on his way to work. At the factory, he learns of an escape from the nearby concentration camp of seven prisoners, one of whom he might know. It is only then that George Heisler is introduced, hiding in a ditch outside the camp, heart-pounding and desperate. Although George's desperate attempt to reach safety is the main plotline, the back and forth between him and the other escapees, people he knows, his family, and the guards at the camp creates an almost unbearable tension. As one by one the other escapees are captured and George's situation becomes increasing tenuous, I had to put the book down to break the spell, only to find myself drawn back to it, unable to escape as well.

The situation of German communists, labor organizers, and others in the years 1933 to the start of the war was a time period about which I was not well versed. I knew that many were sent to prisons such as Dachau, but the conditions and treatment of communists both by the SA and by everyday Germans was complex. Families sometimes contained both SS members and communists. Former party members might still be loyal, but silent, or they may have succumbed to societal pressure and economics. Communities might come together to help a neighbor on the run, or might isolate an entire family. Segher's novel sheds light on these complexities while at the same time being very straightforward and realistic. Although parts of it read like an adrenaline-driven escape novel, on another level it's a testament to the ties that bind people even when faced with unbearable consequences. And although some people will break under pressure, others find the strength to resist, even unto death.
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½
1 vote
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labfs39 | 14 other reviews | Jan 10, 2024 |
I loved this book set in 1940 Marseille, France as refugees attempt to flee Europe to the safety of other countries. The book is narrated by a young German man (we never learn his real name) who has escaped prison camps in Germany, by swimming across the Rhine, and France. While in Paris, he is asked by a friend to deliver a letter to a man named Weidel. He discovers that Weidel has committed suicide and discovers an unfinished manuscript and some letters to Weidel's wife. He makes his way to Marseille to find this wife and when there appropriates the name and papers of Weidel. Once in Marseille, he joins the absurd lifestyle of those waiting for their multiple papers and permissions to allow them to travel abroad, dealing with unhelpful, incompetent people and systems that rarely allow things to move along smoothly. The young man enjoys his life in Marseille and the people he meets and doesn't actually want to leave, though he's only allowed to stay if he's trying to leave. He ends up unintentionally finding Weidel's wife and his experiences entwine with hers.

There is obviously a lot of action going on here, but actually the book is just as much about the boredom, inanity, and just waiting of life in Marseille. There is much time spent in cafes, eating pizza and drinking wine, and talking about the transit visa process. People share little about their actual selves but make connections through their shared, even if not talked about, experiences. I loved the tone of this book, the absurdity of the situations, and the subtle insights into this aspect of the war experience.

Anna Seghers herself lived an interesting life. She was a German Jewish Communist who left Germany in the 1930s for France. During the war she left France through Marseille for Mexico, later returning to live in East Germany. She obviously drew on her experiences in Marseille to craft this book as she wrote it upon arriving in Mexico. I would highly recommend this book and will be keeping it to reread sometime in the future.
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½
 
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japaul22 | 17 other reviews | Jan 6, 2024 |
Between the history of how and when this book was written and the execution of the novel, this ended up being a fascinating and enjoyable read. [[Anna Seghers]] was a German Jewish woman with communist beliefs born in 1900. She fled Germany in in the 1930s to France and, when France no longer felt safe, left for Mexico. It was in Mexico in 1942 that this book was published.

In [The Seventh Cross], seven prisoners escape from one of Hitler's concentration camps. They split up immediately and most are quickly captured, but the action follows George Heisler. He somehow manages to avoid the Gestapo, even though he has no real plan and makes several mistakes. George is not particularly a hero. He is just a man who wants to be free. During the week following his escape, while he is trying to get to a safe space, we see an enormous cross section of German life. There are people unaffected by and uninterested in the political change. There are people benefitting from the new system and turning a blind eye. There are people who are scared of Hitler's policies but go with the flow because they don't know what else to do. There are people working against the new system but in extreme hiding with their beliefs. And because this is all believed in extreme secrecy, George doesn't know who to trust and those he turns to don't know who to trust either.

I thought it was brilliant that the novel isn't about what you think it would be about. From the description, I was expecting more about the escape from the concentration camp. I was expecting to hear a lot about the beliefs of the men who escaped and why they were in the camp in the first place. By not addressing this, Seghers makes clear that there wasn't much rhyme or reason to who ended up targeted by the Gestapo. George was politically against Hitler, but he was young and it's doubtful to me that he was doing anything particularly effective. And once George escapes, it wasn't a high-octane thriller.

I really enjoyed this. [[Anna Seghers]] is a great writer. This book was published at a time when it made a great impact on readers around the world and began to clue people in to what had happened in Germany. This book was a great mix of a novel that was enjoyable to read and opens up some insight into a troubling era.
… (more)
½
2 vote
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japaul22 | 14 other reviews | Jan 6, 2024 |

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Rating
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Reviews
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ISBNs
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