Remembering Stefan Heym

Picture by Marcel Antonisse/Anefo via Wikimedia Commons

Twenty years ago, on December 16, 2001, the renowned Jewish-German author Stefan Heym died while visiting Israel. Heym is regarded as one of the most important 20th century German authors and is particularly significant to Cambridge University Library as it holds the Stefan Heym Archive, acquired from the author in December 1992. The archive is extensive and includes manuscripts, correspondence, first editions, newspaper cuttings, audio cassettes and video tapes. The acquisition of the archive was marked with an exhibition held at the Library in 1994.

In his life Stefan Heym witnessed some of the key events of the 20th century. Born in 1913, he grew up in Chemnitz, Saxony, and had to flee from Nazi Germany in 1933, emigrating via Prague to the United States. Here he studied at Chicago University and worked as newspaper editor in New York. In 1942 he had his first literary success with the bestseller Hostages. During World War 2 he joined the US Army and became a sergeant in the Psychological Warfare Division and participated in the Normandy invasion. After the war he returned to the USA but settled in East Berlin at the beginning of the 1950s. Here he pursued his long and distinguished literary career but came to be increasingly in conflict with the East German authorities as he criticised the repressive aspects of East German society. From 1976 for over a decade his major works could only be published in the West. In 1988 his memoirs entitled Nachruf were published.

Stefan Heym participated prominently in the events of the Wende during 1989. After German reunification in 1991 he became critical of what he saw as the unjust aspects of German unification, leading to him standing as a candidate for the 13th German Parliament in 1994, to which he was elected. As oldest member he opened the first parliamentary session with a speech which won widespread recognition. In 2000 his last major literary work was published, the novel Die Architekten, written originally in the 1960s.

It seems, that since Stefan Heym’s death interest in his life and work has been diminishing. However, in 2009 the International Stefan Heym Society was founded in Chemnitz with the aim of preserving and promoting his memory and his literary achievement. The society has organised many events including two international conferences. The 2nd conference was held in 2013 to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth. The proceedings of this conference were published in 2016 under the title Der Jahrhundertzeuge.

I am pleased to report that two research projects relating to Stefan Heym have started recently or are about to start, both involving Cambridge University Library. These should stimulate interest in his life and work.

The first project, “Stefan Heym: Ahasver”, is based at the TU Chemnitz and funded by DFG, the German Research Foundation. The aim of the project is to produce a digital and critical edition with commentary of the novel Ahasver. This edition will be made available via Open Access. This project is a collaboration between the Professorship for Modern German and Comparative Literature, TU Chemnitz, the Trier Center for Digital Humanities, Universität Trier, and Cambridge University Library.

The second project, “Stefan Heym in his own words”, is an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award currently open for applications. This doctoral project will have a particular focus on the audio-visual material in the Stefan Heym Archive. This consists of 465 audio and 146 video tapes plus 6 reels of 8mm film and is the only part of the archive without full catalogue metadata. These untapped materials include recordings of readings, discussions, TV appearances, interviews, and speeches at demonstrations, assembled and often recorded by Heym himself. The student would record metadata for these materials enabling researchers to identify them for the first time. The aim of the doctoral award is to provide a springboard for continuing work on digitising and providing access to, and preserving, the Heym AV material.  I very much hope an appropriate candidate for this award can be found and look forward to working with the candidate on the project.

Christian Staufenbiel

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