For the 80th anniversary of the publication of Lion Feuchtwanger’s travel report Moskau 1937, and to accompany publication of Dr. Anne Hartmann’s new book (above), a Freie Universität Berlin symposium and a book launch at Moscow’s Stanislavsky Electrotheatre were held.
To understand Stalin, asks Dr. Hartmann – to what extent was that feasible for Lion Feuchtwanger as a Western commentator visiting him in the Soviet Union in the 1930s? How well did Lion Feuchtwanger understand the Soviet experiment, and what was going through his mind when he was interviewing Stalin on January 8th, 1937?
Dr. Hartmann points out that in Moskau 1937 Feuchtwanger is surprisingly supportive of Stalin and his regime: in exile from the Hitler regime, Lion Feuchtwanger evidently realized that any upcoming war against Germany and the Nazi regime would not be winnable without the Soviet Union. She also draws attention to the contradictions detectable beneath the smooth surface of his travel report, and also reflects on why in later life Feuchtwanger stuck staunchly to his vision of reality under the Soviet system.
Further insight was provided by historian Edgar Feuchtwanger in a recent media interview: “Looking at it from my perhaps rather superficial viewpoint, of course Lion was very wrong indeed about Stalin. But you have to remember that the situation at the time was desperate. That is evident from a document such as Thomas Mann’s Bruder Hitler. It seemed as though the Western powers were not going to put up any resistance. Lion got his understanding of Russian from Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Gogol. His assessment of Stalin was completely erroneous: a man of the people, well read, in extraordinarily jovial mood throughout the long interview. There are probably other factors involved—vanity, and not least Eva Herrmann, with whom he was in an extramarital liaison at the time.”
Edgar Feuchtwanger added: “I can remember in 1937 when I was 13 my aunt Bella came to visit us in Munich from Prague. She had a Czech passport and could travel back and forth freely, which ultimately meant she perished in Theresienstadt. She told us about Lion stopping off to see her in Prague on his way back from the Moscow trip. She said Lion was already aware that there were Potemkin villages and that the golden taps in his hotel often produced no water. Allegedly Lion had said to Stalin: “How much pleasure does it give you that there’s a picture of you on every toilet seat in Russia”, to which Stalin apparently replied “That’s how things work here”. Bella recounted this anecdote in her Bavarian accent and I can still remember it to this day. She was a very amusing person, and I subsequently took a trip with her to Berlin, which was the only time I travelled outside Bavaria as a child. In England during the war, no country was more popular than Russia after 1941. Even here in Hampshire we often had to get out of bed and go to the air raid shelter, but in May 1941 that suddenly stopped, for which we were very grateful to the Russians. It seems to me that Lion was always a man of the Enlightenment and reason, but that somehow came into conflict with his powerful imagination.”
Further analysis in English can be found in ‘Russia’s Mythic Attraction: Lion Feuchtwanger in Moscow, 1937’, in Germano-Slavica 8 (1993); and in ‘ Lion Feuchtwanger and the Culture of Remembrance′, in Against the Eternal Yesterday, (Los Angeles: Figueroa Press/USC Libraries, 2009).
Ludmila Stern’s ‘Moscow 1937: The Interpreter’s Story’ (ASEEES Vol. 21, Nos. 1-2 (2007), 73-95) gives an insider’s view.