Dec 2000 Journal

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Hindsight and warning

Karl Otten, DIE REISE NACH DEUTSCHLAND, (ed )Richard Dove, Peter Lang AG, Berne, 2000.

Karl Otten, who was born in the Rhineland in 1889, spent twenty-two years in exile in Britain from 1936, dying in Locarno in 1963, is one of that highly talented generation of Expressionist writers whose artistic achievements were swept from public consciousness by twelve years of Nazi rule. In the 1950s he distinguished himself with two anthologies, Ahnung und Aufbruch (Expressionist prose) and Schrei und Bekenntnis (Expressionist drama). Professor Dove is to be congratulated for rescuing this previously unpublished anti-Nazi novel from oblivion. It depicts the experiences of a young Englishman, James Taylor, during a stay with the Eilershoven family in Cologne in 1938, and is designed to warn British readers about the warlike nature of Hitler’s regime. Though this was more than timely in 1938, during the policy of appeasement, the outbreak of war the following year caused events to run ahead of the novel, and Otten’s publishers lost interest.

Through the eyes of Otten’s rather naïve and impressionable visitor to Germany, the reader is confronted with the systematic militarisation of German society and the indoctrination of the younger generation of Germans with the brutality and immorality of Nazism. The humane and civilised values of the older generation, as represented by Professor Eilershoven, are treated with contempt by his daughter Sybil, intoxicated with her pseudo-revolutionary ‘new ideals’. Inevitably, James and Sybil fall in love, simultaneously discovering the ugly truth about the Nazi regime: James is himself imprisoned, though later released. He returns to England convinced that evil is rampant in Germany and must soon be unleashed on an unsuspecting Europe. In an introductory chapter, added in 1941, he is shot down as an RAF pilot during a raid on Cologne; he dies fighting what he knows must be fought.

The value of the novel for the modern reader is to some extent historical, evidence of the attempts by the refugees from Hitler to impress the truth about Germany on the reluctant British. Die Reise nach Deutschland is a journey into the past which should itself not be allowed to relapse into neglect.
Dr Anthony Grenville

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