Mr. Liepmann’s column appears regularly on Sunday.
Shortly after Hitler came to power in Germany and the miserable victims of the Nazi regime fled to the neighboring countries, a committee was established in France which was sponsored by prominent men of public life. Those men gave their names, and in some their money also to this committee. In the first weeks of the Hitler government, the number of applicants was not very great. But after April 1, 1933, the day of the boycott of the Jews, hundreds and thousands of troubled and bewildered, of homeless and suddenly pauperized people arrived in Paris.
The headquarters of the committee have been, for the past year, in a huge, ugly house in a remote section of Paris. The emigrants would march through the big city of Paris. Early in the morning they would leave their miserable quarters, in order to be the first at the headquarters. And yet, they were never the first. It was strange, it was almost like a law of nature: there were always other people there before them, even more miserable and even more hungry than they.
The committee had a great deal of apparatus with many employees and with an incredibly poor organization. Hundreds of exhausted persons stood in line in the huge, barren halls. Hoursâ€”daysâ€”passed.
This committee has done much good during the last year, but it has also provoked much antagonism. Rascals who knew how to profit even from the sufferings of their fellow men were there among homeless just as there were people almost dying of starvation and exhaustion who were able to push themselves forward.
Our time is propitious for mediocre talents, but real talents do not fare well. For those poets who do not want to and know nothing but to take pictures of our world life makes it easy. No poet can invent more fantastic, more grotesque and more adventurous things than life itself. What a chance for mediocre photographers!
A patient can be cured only when a physician has diagnosed the case; just so our world can be improved only, when it is portrayed and, consequently, understood. Therefore the poet must no longer invent and he must not allow himself to be “overwhelmed” by visions of new ideas. He must portray the existing world in order that it may be conquered.
Hard times for poets!
And so, I, too, want to report an episode which thousands know has happened. I want to describe it in order to expound its grotesque horror.
The committee had succeeded after long and difficult effort in giving a number of emigrants the chance to go to Brazil. For Germany’s neighboring countries suffer under the whip of unemployment, and therefore the governments urged the committees to send as many emigrants as possible away overseas. The emigrants, too, for the most part, did not want to go on living on relief. They wished to work, to build up a new existence; they wanted to live and regain self-esteem.
So the committee obtained immigration visas to Brazil for a number of emigrants.
But an immigrant to Brazil must either show possession of 3,000 French francs, or he must travel first class. Three thousand francs are a lot of money; too much money indeed!
It is not easy to understand the feelings of an emigrant. Most of them had been well-to-do people in Germany. They themselves, their parents and their grandparents had had comfortable homes, they had attended good schools, they had enjoyed possession of fine libraries, they used to go to the mountains in summer or the seashore.
As emigrants, however, they livedâ€”hundreds of themâ€”in barracks, or in the dirty backrooms of obscure hotels. But they were silent.
There was misery in the barracks, discomfort and much bitterness. The emigrants saw their clothing become tattered and torn, and their children grew slimmer and slimmer.
The #inter passed, some died, some of them managed to keep alive.
And now they traveled first class to Brazil. The luxury of first class on Atlantic steamers is well known. The men and women blinked into a shining and resplendent world that long ago had vanished in the tears of their lonely nights.
The emigrants traveled to Brazil first class.
The emigrants sat in luxurious cabins, they rested on soft beds, they had steam-heat against the chill and electric fans against the heat. Everything would have been wonderful, a dream, a fairy tale of the paradise, if …
Yes, there remained one difficulty. First class passengers take their meals in the first class dining room. In the barracks they had starved or eaten portions boiled in huge kettles. Now obsequious waiter, silver covers, shining tablespreads, splendid dishes were in store for them.â€”
But first class passengers, naturally, come to their meals in full dress.
Mon dieu, who of these outworn and desperate people was still aware of what a tuxedo or tail-coat looks like? They had fled senseless and with broken limbs, and what clothing they had been able to save, had long since been pawned in the shops of Paris.
Well, said the steamship company, without full dress it won’t do.
So the committee bought evening clothes for all Jewish refugees.
The emigrants went to Brazil in first class and in tuxedos or tailcoats. The tuxedo is their only clothing. And since coffee is so cheap in Brazil that it must be dumped into the ocean, the curious spectacle may be seen today or tomorrow: German college professors, merchants and musicians in formal wear, will dump Brazilian coffee into the sea, in order that it may become dearer in price.
Could a poet invent that?
Mr. Liepmann’s column appears regularly on Sunday.