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New Left Review 15, May-June 2002


Darko Suvin on Peter Jehle, Werner Krauss und die Romanistik im NS-Staat. Germany’s most radical Romance scholar, who wrote on Corneille while awaiting execution in Nazi Berlin, and his contribution to a secular understanding of literature.

DARKO SUVIN

AUERBACH’S ASSISTANT

In November 1942 Werner Krauss, serving as a specialist for Spanish in a Wehrmacht translation unit in Berlin, was arrested as a member of the so-called ‘Red Orchestra’, the Schulze–Boysen resistance group—despite its name, not predominantly Communist—and condemned to death. From 1931 to 1940 he had been first an instructor and then Dozent at Erich Auerbach’s Romance Seminar at Marburg University. His courtroom strategy, in which he was helped by other members of the group, was to play the unworldly professor who had participated in anti-Nazi leafleting, without understanding its scope, out of love for a woman in the ‘Orchestra’. His friends and family organized a large dossier of letters from academic colleagues—including Karl Vossler, Ernst Robert Curtius and Hans Gadamer—and from psychiatrists, testifying that he was mentally unbalanced, while Marburg University officially asked the Ministry of Education for clemency. Krauss had the luck to be a bona fide ‘Aryan’ of good family who had served in the Army in 1918–19, and to be judged by a military and not an SS court. In 1944 his death sentence was commuted to imprisonment, which he escaped at the end of the War. While waiting to know his fate, he managed to write a study about the Baroque poet Baltasar Gracián, an early expert on survival, and a Kafkaesque novel about a bureaucratic world—PLN, or ‘postal code’.

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