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The Human Touch

It was sad enough to know that the great Gerhart Hauptmann could not, or would not, lift his voice against that long series of Nazi persecutions and spitefulnesses which justified H. G. Wells in his brilliant summary of the Nazi movement as “a lout’s revolution against civilization.” So long as the greatest literary figure Aryan Germany had produced and once one of its most courageous voices said nothing, it was charitable to assume that the old man, the ex-Titan, could not risk his security, or peace of mind, by a gesture of courage. Young men are always asking old soldiers to come out and fight again and old soldiers, remembering all the battles they have fought and won, hesitate to slough off their easy way of life and put on armor and run another risk. Besides, there is a good deal of the actor, the self-exhibitionist, in an ex-Titan like Gerhart Hauptmann and he might have spoken out against the banishment of the reissues, the publishers and the critics, many of them non-Aryans, to whom his plays and his novels have owed so much. He might have spoken out against the book-burnings which consumed, only symbolically, the works of better men than he is today. He might have, perhaps, but the actor who speaks out does not care to speak out in a vacuum, does not make the gesture except in anticipation of applause and tumultuous agreement. But where in Germany could the Hauptmann of the eighteen-nineties have found such an audience, in 1933? In concentration camps, or scattered among the refugees in the border nations, or silent and fearful within Germany, but with more reason for silence and fear than has the ex-Titan. The fact is that in late years Gerhart Hauptmann has been playing the part of a tin Goethe, the navel-contemplating center of a cult every word of whose speech was to be treasured up, and I do not think that at his age, spoiled old darling that he is, he could adjust himself to the new position of speaking out words of the kind that it would be troublesome or traitorous for disciples remaining in Germany to take down. Now his old friends, thinking charitably of his age and how flabby his tissues have become through good living and his mind warped by the worshipful salaaming of his disciples, might have forgiven him for silence.

Indeed, one might even, in the return of a happy time, have forgotten that once he failed in courage. But one cannot forget that Gerhart Hauptmann—the Gerhart Hauptmann—has dimmed his rebellious glory by joining in the Hitler salute. To uplift the arm and say “Heil Hitler” is not necessarily a motion that is engraved forever, but Hauptmann, the Hauptmann, has composed a prologue for a celebration in honor of Horst Wessel, the “poet” of the Nazis who wrote the foul verses to which a Jew-hating nation now marches. Did you have to do it, Herr Hauptmann?

Once upon a time you were strong and lovers of liberty the world over gloried in your strength and helped carry the good news of your life and work to the four corners of the earth. Max Reinhardt, the Jew, lavished upon your work his knowledge and sense of the theatre. Alfred Kerr, the German Jew, and Ludwig Lewisohn, the American Jew, worked mightily to spread knowledge and understanding of your work. B. W. Huebsch, the American-Jewish publisher, risked a great deal to bring out translations of your works, and Jews have been among the most whole-hearted admirers of your work. Lovers of liberty gloried in your strength when your play of the bloody forties, “The Weavers”, was produced and it was heartening to know that the Kaiser had the lease of his box in the Deutsches Theatre cancelled because of the revolutionary nature of your plays. It was even good to know that that dotard of Doorn had once forbidden the award to you of an important prize for literature because of the rebel nature of your plays, but that did not prevent you from winning the Nobel prize. And it was good to know that your Festival Play, which was produced in Breslau in 1913, earned the Crown Prince’s displeasure because it was a play of peace.

Once upon a time you sounded the rebel horn in literature; your novels and your plays were variations on the theme of the right of the individual to life and happiness. Your lovely “Sunken Bell” was the sounding of such a theme, and so was your idyllic novel, “The Heretic of Soana.” Do you recall how much talk there was of you as the future President of the German Republic, and you had to silence that talk because, as I recall, you said you had no gift for politics? But none the less, although you did not become the President of the German Republic, the Germans looked toward you with respect and admiration as a leader and an inspiration. German Labor paid you its obeisance. But when appeals were directed at you from Austria and Czechoslovakia to speak up, as one whose voice and will were still strong, you forgot all about the position you had made for yourself in the hearts of the German people and you forgot also what you had said about the gift of the German people for democracy. If you, in your Silesian castle, fear to speak out, how shall the poor German in his hovel draw courage? Must you yourself prove that the gift of the German people is neither for courage nor democracy? Or are you biding your time?

You are a big man, Gerhart Hauptmann, but you are big enough for prosperity and adulation, not for adversity and the fear of criticism. Once upon a time—do you remember?—you wrote a play (I forget the name) largely to pass the lie to a critic who had accused you of being limited in your scope, or lacking the historical sense. But now, when men and women are saying, “Ah, Hauptmann has lost his old courage”, you dare not do or say that which would disprove their lack of faith in you. The Nazis will use you, but they cannot honor you. They have renamed for a Fehme murderer that street in Breslau which once bore your own once-esteemed name. No act of your’s now can erase the sense of contempt with which the Nazis may use your name and your verses. The Nazis know enough to despise those who make a coward’s peace with them. You have written a prologue to a celebration honoring Horst Wessel. There is still time and opportunity to write a better epilogue.

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