Bertold Brecht

Much was written a few months ago about German writer GŁnter Grass's recent revelations that, at 17, he was recruited into a Nazi Panzer (tank) unit of the elite and murderous Waffen SS near the end of World War II. Grass revealed this upon publication of his new book Peeling Onions. He has been attacked by many, including right-wingers like Poland’s Lech Walesa and the National Review magazine, for being hypocritical.

Grass should have disclosed his SS Waffen past before, particularly since he’s been a consistent critic of Nazi Germany. For example, he denounced Reagan and German Chancellor Kohl for paying homage in 1985 to the SS soldiers buried in the Bitburg cemetery.

But contrary to Grass, a liberal social-democrat, another famous German writer was being remembered at this time, in Germany and many other areas. It is the 50th anniversary of the death of Eugen Bertold Brecht. He died on August 14, 1956 in then East Berlin. He revolutionized theater in the 20th century, because of which he had to flee Germany, where the Nazis burned his books. Brecht lived in many other cities, finally winding up in Hollywood, which he again fled after the war to escape the House Un-American Committee’s red-baiting witch-hunt. His works were also banned in Adenauer’s post-war, pro-U.S. West Germany.

Brecht was a prolific writer, poet and playwright. He saw theater as a reflection of social life, but presented it in a beautiful and dialectical way, inspiring the viewer and reader to want to change society for the better. The special nature of his theater was in his a view of the world he fused poetry and dramatic style in perfect unity.

He was also a director, and made sure the music of his works were blended accordingly. And he did all that while working with a collective in his Berliner Ensemble. He did not appeal to the feeling of the audience but to its reason, since the public not only had to live the scene but analyze it. He emphasized audience discussion after each play.

His work can be summarized as: (1) Society should change; (2) human nature can be modified and depends on a historically-determined social class; (3) conflicts are presented as social struggles; (4) his characters are full of contradictions, and change qualitatively and quantitatively; (5) turning dialectical observation into a pleasure, overcoming the ways of the old classic theater; and (6) uniting poetry and realism.

As Brecht said: "My rules are only applicable by persons with free judgment, with a spirit of contradiction and social fantasy and in contact with the progressive sections of the public, which means that they themselves have to be progressive and thinkers.…If the actor/actress doesn’t want to be a parrot…he/she has to take in the knowledge of the time about human coexistence fighting in the class struggle."

Brecht was convinced that Marxism was the science of today and said that without studying, any realism was myopic.