Johannes R. Becher

Johannes R. Becher

Johannes Robert Becher (b May 22 1891 in Munich; d October 11 1958 in Berlin) was a German politician and poet.

Johannes R. Becher was the son of Judge Heinrich Becher. In 1910 he tried to commit suicide with a friend; but only Becher survived. From 1911 he studied medicine and philosophy in Munich and Jena. He left his studies and became an expressionist writer, his first works appearing in 1913. An injury from his suicide attempt made him unfit for military service. He was also engaged in many communist organisations, joining the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany in 1917, then went over to the Spartacist League in 1918 from which emerged the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). In 1920 he left the KPD, disappointed with the failure of the German Revolution and embraced religion. However he again joined the KPD in 1923 and very actively worked within the party. His art entered an expressionist peiod, from which he would later dissociate himself. He was part of "die Kugel", an artistic group based in Magdeburg. During this time he published in the magazines "Verfall und Triumph", "Die Aktion" and "Die neue Kunst".

In 1925 his anti-war novel "(CHCI=CH)3As (Levisite) oder Der einzig gerechte Krieg" saw him indicted for "literarischen Hochverrats" or "literary high treason". It was only in 1928 that this law was finally amended. In that same year he became a founding member of the KPD-aligned Bund proletarisch-revolutionärer Schriftsteller (Federation of Proletarian-Revolutionary Writers) becoming its first chairman and co-editor of its magazine "Die Linkskurve". From 1932 he was publisher of the newspaper "Die Rote Fahre". In the same year he began to serve as a candidate of the KPD in the Reichstag elections.

After the Reichstag fire he was placed on the Nazi black list, but he was able to escape from a large raid in the Berlin artist colony near Breitenbachplatz in Wilmersdorf.

By March 15 1933 he, with the support of the secretary of theBundes proletarisch-revolutionärer Schriftsteller, traveled Willy Harzheim home, after staying at Brünn from there he moved over to Prague after some weeks, then to Zurich, Paris and finally in 1935 to the USSR. In Moscow he became editor-in-chief of the German emigre magazine "Internationale Literatur-Deutsche Blätter" and a member of the Central Committee of the KPD.

Soon he was caught in the midst of the Great Purge. In 1935 he was already accused of links with Leon Trotsky. He also took part, “informing” on other writers' alleged political misdemeanours. From 1936 he was forbidden to leave the USSR. In 1941 he was resettled to Tashkent, where he tried several times to commit suicide. In 1943 he became one of the founders of the Soviet sponsored National Committee for a Free Germany. During the exile he befriended the philosopher and literature theoretician Georg Lukács. They intensively studied 18th and 19th century literature, and he turned away from modernism to Socialist Realism.

After the Second World War he returned to Germany and lived in the Soviet zone of occupation. There he would hold different cultural-political positions. He took part in the establishment of the Cultural Association of the DDR, structure the Aufbau-Verlag publishing house and the literature magazine "Sinn und Form". In 1946 he joined the Party Executive Committee and the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party. After the establishment of the GDR on 7 October 1949 he became a member of the Volkskammer. In 1949 he wrote the lyrics to Hanns Eisler's melody Auferstanden aus ruinen, which became the national anthem of the GDR. In the same year he took part in the establishment of the Akademie der Künste, becoming its president from 1953 to 1956, succeeding Arnold Zweig. In January 1953 he received the international Stalin Prize (later remamed the Lenin Peace Prize) in Moscow.

In Leipzig in 1955, the Institut für Literatur Johannes R. Becher was founded and named in Becher's honor. The Institute's purpose was to train socialist writers. Institute graduates include Erich Loest, Volker Braun, Sarah Kirsch and Rainer Kirsch.

From 1954 to 1958 he was a Minister of culture of the GDR. During the Khrushchev Thaw he was sharply criticized by the party leadership, and was politically demoted in 1957. For health reasons he had to give up all offices and functions in September 1958. He died on 11 October 1958 in the East Berlin government hospital of cancer. He was buried at the Dorotheenstädt cemetery in the Berlin center. The burial place belongs to the honour graves of Berlin. Becher lived in Majakowskiring 34 street, Pankow, East Berlin.

External links

* [http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/modlanggerman/3/ Johannes R. Becher 1891–1958] Published in "Encyclopedia of German Literature" (2000)


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