German Literature Abroad and Dutch Publisher Allert de Lange

Many authors sought political asylum and a place that would enable them to create in their genre

The catalogue of the German unit of Allert de Lange, 1939

On rising to power in January 1933, the Nazis immediately began implementing their ideas regarding “pure” German culture. Culture, according to the Nazis, including literature, left no room for the creativity of the works of humanists, democrats, Communists, and generally: Jews. Publishing works by Jews was completely prohibited, and beginning in the spring of 1933, supporters of the new regime gathered at many locations and burned all works that were not to their liking. Often, these works were the finest in German literary history.

​Writers suffered from the new situation from two aspects: not only did the Nazi regime pose a direct threat to their freedom and lives, but furthermore, the prohibition against their works obviated any possibility of earning a livelihood within the new political reality. German book stores were forced to destroy the undesired literature and publishers who had published books by Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Stefan Zweig, Else Lasker-Schüler, Joseph Roth and many others – sometimes with great success – were forced to adjust their sales policy to the dictates of the new era. Free and progressive literature suddenly became a rare commodity in German bookstores. The sale, purchase and even reading of such works became dangerous almost overnight.

Works included in the catalogue. Among the authors: Bertolt Brecht, Max Brod, Sigmund Freud

Many authors sought political asylum and a place that would enable them to create in their genre. Many tried to flee to neighboring countries, while others continued on their way to America, Eretz-Israel or other places, if the authorities allowed them to do so. Between 1933 and 1940, the community of exiled authors in the pastoral town of Sanary-sur-Mer in the south of France was perhaps the largest and most interesting group of authors during the fascist regime, including an impressive group of writers in the German language. After finding refuge, the authors sought ways of publishing their books. This was no simple matter: the main country where the German language was spoken was no longer an option, such that at first glance, all that remained was the limited possibility of Austria and Switzerland. Publisher Emil Oprecht operated in Zurich and publishers Herbert Reichner and Bermann-Fischer in Vienna. And yet, already beginning in 1933, a number of new publishers established themselves in Holland, in the city of Amsterdam: Querido and the German unit of well-established publisher Allert de Lange, which was based in Amsterdam.

The two Dutch publishers worked on a relatively large scale until 1940, the year Holland was occupied by the Nazis, and published dozens of titles by German authors who were not prepared to compromise with the Nazis or could no longer publish in their homelands because they were Jewish. The Querido Publishing House had a clear left-wing orientation, while Allert de Lange took care to maintain a more “bourgeois” profile, although during the existence of the German unit, this publisher broadened the circle of authors it published. Allert de Lange’s German unit had two chief editors, both German-born Jews: Walter Landauer (1902-1944) and Hermann Kesten (1900-1996). Until 1933, both had been staff editors with German publisher Gustav Kiepenheuer. Thanks to their tremendous experience, the two managed within a short time to achieve great success in the publication of the German authors. The list of writers is quite impressive: Bertolt Brecht, Max Brod, Joseph Roth, Shalom Asch, Stefan Zweig and Sigmund Freud were surely the most popular among them, and ensured that there would be many readers, though almost all of them were outside of Germany. The growing stream of Jewish refugees from Germany who found temporary asylum in Holland formed a local clientele for books printed in Holland. The list of books published in German by Allert de Lange from 1939 is most impressive and is testimony to the fact that the best of German literature found a suitable site for publication – in Holland, of all places.

The editions of the German unit at Allert de Lange publishers were tastefully designed. For example, the editions of Joseph Roth’s last book, The Legend of the Holy Drinker (Die Legende vom heiligen Trinker) is striking in its simple and elegant design. Paradoxically, the Nazi ideologues also purchased the books of the Dutch publisher, as can be seen in the copy of the book in the National Library’s collection: it bears the stamp and item serial number of the library of the Third Reich Institute for New German History (Reichsinstitut für die Geschichte des neuen Deutschland) in Berlin.

The front page of Roth’s novel, bearing the stamp of the Nazi institution in Berlin
After the German invasion of Holland in May 1940, the publisher’s German unit was closed, as was the parallel company, Querido. The book warehouses were partially destroyed and the staff was forced to flee or be arrested. One of the chief editors, Walter Landauer, was murdered during the Holocaust.
For many years, the German “exilic literature” has been considered the most interesting German literature of the 20th century, and has attracted the attention of many scholars. The books produced during those years and under the special circumstances that prevailed at the time, are testimony to the free and democratic spirit that was crudely cast out of Germany by the Nazis from 1933 to 1945, but which continued to exist and thrive outside of its borders.

These Currency Bills Were Used in the Theresienstadt Ghetto

The alternative currencies set up by the Nazis in ghettos and concentration camps across Europe served to establish a false sense of "normalcy".


A bill (formally, a "receipt") from the Theresienstadt Ghetto, representing 100 Czechoslovakian crowns, the National Library of Israel collections.

When the Nazis came to power in Germany in January 1933, they began persecuting all opponents of the new regime, with the Jews of Germany automatically included in that category. Within just a few weeks of the National-Socialist political victory, thousands were arrested: social-democrats, communists, other members of the opposition, and Jews. These people were imprisoned in jails and concentration camps that had been established at an earlier stage. Among the first camps were Dachau, Ravensbrück, Buchenwald and Oranienburg-Sachsenhausen. At the Oranienburg-Sachsenhausen Camp, located near Berlin, the Nazis for the first time minted currency for use within the camp – bills that had no value beyond its fences. This arrangement was replicated in a few other concentration camps and ghettos, first in Germany, and subsequently in other occupied European countries.

Bills ("receipts") from the Theresienstadt Ghetto: The two upper bills show signs of use. From the National Library collections.
Bills (“receipts”) from the Theresienstadt Ghetto: The two upper bills show signs of use. From the National Library collections.

There were several reasons behind the production of these special bills – in most cases at a low denomination. First, all camp prisoners – and later, all ghetto residents – were forced to convert their money and some of their property into the currency of the camp or ghetto where they found themselves imprisoned. In this manner, the Nazis could immediately place their hands on the personal property of prisoners and use it for their own purposes. Secondly, owners of the currency were unable to purchase anything with local currency outside the borders of the camps or ghettos. This was important in the interest of preventing escape: The moment prisoners succeeded in fleeing the camps, they had no means of acquiring food or clothes, posing significant obstacles to escape plans. In addition, the conversion of ordinary currency into alternate bills gave the prisoners a sense of being disconnected and marginalized from the general society. Moreover: the bills for the various camps were not uniform. Each camp had different modes of payment and there were also camps where bills or other alternate means of payment were never issued. It is no secret that the Nazis well knew how to use psychological means of this type to humiliate their victims.

Bills of a high nominal value. These show no signs of use. In this image we see the back side of the bills, featuring an illustration of Moses with the tablets of the covenant. Tellingly, "Thou shalt not kill" and the other ethical commandments are hidden from view.
Bills of a high nominal value. These show no signs of use. In this image we see the back side of the bills, featuring an illustration of Moses with the tablets of the covenant. Tellingly, “Thou shalt not kill” and the other ethical commandments are hidden from view.

Some camps invested in the design of the currency and even printed double-sided bills. Examples include Oranienburg-Sachsenhausen, Westerbork (in Holland) but also the Lodz Ghetto (which also minted coins) and Theresienstadt (Terezin). Naturally, in the ghettos, all of the prisoners were Jews, and ironically, this was reflected in the bills. The bills from the Lodz Ghetto depicted a Star of David. The same symbol appears on bills printed for use in the Theresienstadt Ghetto in Czechoslovakia (most of which was occupied by the Nazis prior to the outbreak of WWII). The denomination of the bills was not the German mark, but rather Czechoslovakian crowns (koruna). The Nazis issued and printed bills, formally called “receipts” (Quittungen), which were attributed different values: one, two five, ten, twenty and even one hundred crowns. It is known that these bills were printed in relatively large quantities – sometimes even millions of copies – but there are many “receipts” that show no signs of use whatsoever, mainly those with a high nominal value.

Apparently, large quantities of these bills never entered into circulation. In any case, the local bills of high denominations had no real use, since in the ghetto, there were no high-value goods available that prisoners could purchase. These bills feature an illustration of Moses holding the ten commandments. Tellingly, the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is hidden from view – a subtle, and likely intentional effort on the part of a Jewish artist to express a measure of protest at what was taking place across Europe.

Dr. Yoel Finkelman, curator of the National Library's Judaica Collection, reviews bills from the Theresienstadt Ghetto donated to the Library by Mrs. Ruth Brass in memory of her late father, Lionel Schalit.
Dr. Yoel Finkelman, curator of the National Library’s Judaica Collection, reviews bills from the Theresienstadt Ghetto donated to the Library by Mrs. Ruth Brass in memory of her late father, Lionel Schalit.

There was even an active bank in Theresienstadt which was responsible for the bills, and these bore the signature of the local “Jewish committee”. It seems that the bank, the bills and the “wages” received by many prisoners during imprisonment in the ghetto had an additional role: they gave the impression of “normalcy,” of an orderly and routine everyday life that the Nazis indeed tried to present to the official representatives of the Red Cross who visited Theresienstadt. A number of these bills from the Theresienstadt Ghetto are preserved today in the Archives Department of the National Library of Israel. The Library recently expanded its collection with an additional six bills in excellent condition. The currency was donated by Ruth Brass in honor of her father, the late Lionel Schalit, a prominent Zionist and community activist and a leader in the European Maccabi Movement.

We have examples of all the various nominal values; some of them show signs of wear, but most seem completely new. These bills serve to document one of the chilling realities of the Holocaust – the efforts invested in hiding the evils of the Nazi regime behind a façade of order and reason. These bills are symbols of an imaginary “normalcy” that never existed, during a period of persecution and eradication.


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Else Lasker-Schüler’s Drawing: “The Banished Poet”

Since 1974, Lasker-Schüler's artistic estate has been preserved at the National Library of Israel

“The Queen of Expressionism”: That is how Else Lasker-Schüler is known to this day. Her place in this artistic stream, which reached its peak some 100 years ago, has remained uncontested and unique, both since she was a woman (almost the only woman among the prominent representatives of this style) and because she was a poet, playwright and painter all in one. The multi-disciplinary nature of Lasker-Schüler’s work characterizes her as an outstanding representative of Expressionism, since the boundaries of her various genres of expression (writing, theater and drawing) within this stream were quite blurred. Among her outstanding works were love poems, some of which were translated into Hebrew by Yehudah Amichai, Natan Zach and others.

Photo of Else Lasker-Schuler as a young woman in Berlin

Else Lasker-Schüler was born in 1869 in the city of Elberfeld, Germany, today a neighborhood of the city of Wuppertal, to a family of Jewish bankers. She was trained in painting in Berlin, and from the early 20th century, began publishing poems, and later, also plays, only a few of which were staged during her lifetime. Despite this, Else Lasker-Schüler is considered to this day one of the most important poets in the history of German literature in the 20th century. In 1932, she was even awarded the most prestigious literary prize in Germany at the time, the Kleist Prize.

With the rise of the Nazis to power in 1933, the poet was forced to leave Germany. Until 1939, she lived in Switzerland, but she visited Eretz Israel in 1934 and 1936. During her third visit, the outbreak of World War II caught her by surprise, and at the same time, the Swiss authorities forbade her return to Switzerland. In Eretz Israel, Lasker-Schüler settled in Jerusalem, where she continued writing in German. One of the last works she wrote is a play entitled, “I and I” (Ichundich), in which she describes the fall of the Nazi regime. And yet, her death in January 1945 prevented her from carrying on with her work and witnessing the turning point in European history.

Since 1974, Lasker-Schüler’s artistic estate has been preserved at the National Library of Israel. The poet’s personal archive contains manuscripts of her works, drawings and correspondence with her contemporaries, including S.Y. Agnon, Samuel Hugo Bergmann, Gottfried Benn, Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Max Reinhardt, Salman Schocken and Akiba Ernst Simon.

Among the artist’s drawings is a chalk drawing mounted on a piece of cardboard (142X225 mm), entitled “Die verscheuchte Dichterin” (“The Banished Poet”).

Drawing by Lasker-Schüler: “The Banished Poet”

The picture – combining poetry and drawing – might be seen as a synopsis of Else Lasker-Schüler’s fate: On the drawing’s cardboard base, the poet wrote out an excerpt of a poem she had published in her first poetry collection of 1902: “If I knew of a stream as deep as my life, I would flow with its waters.”

In addition, Lasker-Schüler scribbled the words “Drawn in 1935 in the hospital due to my injuries caused by the Nazis.” And yet, on the drawing itself, she wrote “in 1942” and by way of summary, also “1935-1942.” At the center of the drawing one can make out two human forms; a woman is sitting, her gaze case downwards, arms linked with another figure that is standing next to her. The woman in the drawing is apparently Lasker-Schüler herself, and indeed, the contours of the woman’s profile recall her other self-portraits. The second figure, apparently a man in Oriental dress including a head covering, is soothing the woman, whose body language powerfully suggests weariness and mourning.

Art experts believe that the drawing was created at least partially in the mid-1930s, but it is likely that Lasker-Schüler added details and the caption only later, apparently some time before 1942. In this work, the artist demonstrates all of her drawing ability: the composition conveys Lasker-Schüler’s desperate mood using simple lines and a refined technique. The five chalk colors and the basic tone of the paper were sufficient for the artist to draw one of her last works, characterized by a richness of artistic expression.

Divided Germany, relations with Israel and the reunification of Germany

The partitioning of Germany into occupied areas was, in effect, the beginning of the political division of the state which endured until 1989. Each of the Allied powers advanced its interests in the area under its control

Berlin Wall

As a result of World War II, not only were many countries in Europe and elsewhere in the world destroyed and their residents murdered by the German Army, but in response to the activities of the Wehrmacht, the SS and other units in occupied countries, dozens of cities in Germany itself were bombed, entire neighborhoods destroyed, and large numbers of civilians killed. The winds of war sowed destruction.

For the first time since the days of Napoleon, Germany became an occupied country. Its territory was divided into four occupied areas, with the British in the Northwest, the Soviets in the East, the Americans in the Southwest, and the French in the West. With the military surrender, the German government ceased to function. Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler and later, also Goering, committed suicide. The remaining Nazi leaders were arrested or changed their identities and tried to flee. Very quickly, many Germans from the ranks of Nazi rule became “victims” who ostensibly knew nothing about the deeds of the German soldiers in the occupied countries, and certainly nothing regarding the murder of European Jewry in the Holocaust. Taking responsibility was not a high priority. Most German civilians were occupied with obtaining food and essential products, and rebuilding what had been destroyed as a result of the extensive bombing throughout the war. Holocaust survivors and freed concentration camp prisoners tried finding a new direction in life. Tens of thousands of Jews, a large portion of them refugees from the East, took refuge in displaced persons camps established in the western occupied areas. Millions of German refugees who had been deported from areas in East Germany tried to find housing and employment, and were not always kindly accepted by local residents.

The partitioning of Germany into occupied areas was, in effect, the beginning of the political division of the state which endured until 1989. Each of the Allied powers advanced its interests in the area under its control. Very quickly, it became clear that Josef Stalin in Moscow had different ideas and intentions than the leaders of Britain, France and the United States. The conflict of interest grew worse over the years, and as a result, in 1949, two German countries were established: The Federal Republic in the West, and the Democratic Republic in the East. The so-called “Democratic Republic” turned out to be democratic in name only, never fully implementing the rules of democracy. The leadership of the Soviet Union ensured the founding of a socialist community country in the East, after expanding Poland hundreds of kilometers to the West, such that Germany lost vast swaths of its territory. The Allied powers subsidized the territories under their control, and supported the development of a democratic government in the western part of Germany. As a result, beginning in the 1950s, the West German economy recovered and began once again to flourish. Large portions of East Germany’s industry were dismantled by the Russians and transferred to the Soviet Union as reparations, such that from the outset there was no economic parity between the two Germanys. Later, the rules of communist economics also failed to advance East Germany’s development.

The political partition was also reflected in the approach of the two countries towards the State of Israel. Until 1989, the year when East Germany ceased to exist, it did not recognize the State of Israel. West Germany, in contrast, began negotiations with Jewish representatives and the State of Israel regarding reparations for Holocaust victims, a concept that was unacceptable to portions of both the Israeli and German populations, though for different reasons. In Israel, many people opposed any kind of contact with Germany, and were not prepared to receive money as compensation for genocide. In contrast, Nazi supporters (who remained in Germany after 1945) were opposed to giving “gifts” to the Jews. Despite the difficulties, the Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany was signed in 1952 in Luxemburg. Following the agreement, additional steps were taken in the economic realm, and in 1960, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion met with West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in New York.

Reparations Agreement

The 1960s saw many changes and developments. In 1961, the partitioning of Germany became more pronounced due to the construction of the Berlin Wall between East and West Berlin, as well as the construction of a border fence between East and West Germany. In both Israel and Germany, notable members of the Nazi leadership were tried and convicted. The Eichmann Trial in Israel and the Auschwitz Trial in West Germany were both followed very closely by the media and international community. In 1965, the governments of Israel and West Germany finalized the decision to initiate diplomatic relations. Later, additional informal steps were taken to bring the countries closer, including translation of German literary works into Hebrew, and vice versa. In the 1970s, West German society was rocked by terror attacks perpetrated by groups on the radical left. These terrorist groups collaborated with Palestinian political and terror organizations. The terror attack against Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, as well as the hijacking of airplanes (the Air France jet that was the focus of Operation Entebbe was hijacked by both Palestinian and German terrorists) were a manifestation of this state of affairs. During these years, young German volunteers also began coming to Israel to volunteer on kibbutzim, in order to get to know Israel and its residents.

In the 1980s, the two Germanys grew closer to one another, and the Communist government in the East was weakened both economically and ideologically. In the autumn of 1989, flight of citizens to the West and mass demonstrations led to the collapse of the Communist government, and ultimately to the fall of the Berlin Wall, which took place on November 9. Alongside this historical development, similar changes occurred in almost all of the Communist bloc countries, completely changing the face of Europe. A year later, the two countries were united into today’s Federal Republic of Germany.