Table of Contents
Totengedenken für Helen Fehervary (Peter Beicken)
Friend, Mentor, Teacher (Hunter Bivens)
Helen Fehervary, my Doktormutter (Kristy R. Boney)
Remembering Helen Fehervary (Stephen Brockmann)
Helen Fehervary’s World of Words (Robert Cohen)
Für Helen. Was ich dir zum Abschied noch sagen wollte (Sylvia Fischer)
Eine unverwechselbare Stimme. Für Helen Fehervary (Sonja Hilzinger)
For Helen: A Dear Friend for 50 Years (Robert Holub)
In Memoriam Helen Fehervary (Andreas Huyssen)
Remembering a True Intellectual (Janine Ludwig)
Tribute to Helen Fehervary (N. Ann Rider)
My Helen Lives On (Marc Silberman)
Erinnerungen an eine gemeinsame Arbeit mit Helen (Alexander Stillmark)
Mentor and Friend (Amy Kepple Strawser)
A Model Scholar (Curtis Swope)
Half a Lifetime of Memories and Mentorship (Jen William)
Helen Remembered (Christiane Zehl Romero)
Helen, I shall miss you (Jack Zipes)
Nachruf auf Helen Fehervary (Anna-Seghers-Gesellschaft Berlin und Mainz e.V.)
In Memory of Helen Fehervary [English] (Anna-Seghers-Gesellschaft Berlin und Mainz e.V.)
In Memorium Helen Fehervary (Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Ohio State University)
Helen Fehervary – Curriculum Vitae (2023)
Totengedenken für Helen Fehervary
Peter Beicken, Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland-College Park
Liebe Helen! Du gehst mir ab, sehr! Trauer und Schmerz über Dein Ableben sind groß, übergroß. Ich war nicht darauf gefasst. Bis in den März arbeiteten wir noch zusammen, Deine wie immer großartige Betreuung meiner Bearbeitung der Rettung. Dann kam am 13. April die unerwartete Schreckensnachricht. Im März hattest Du mit Marc Silberman noch Pläne geschmiedet, im Sommer eine Fahrt in die Karpaten auf den Spuren Eurer (verschiedenen) Großeltern zu unternehmen und vorher im Mai sollte er Dich auch besuchen kommen. Am Donnerstagmorgen dann das Unvorstellbare, Unwiderrufliche.
Es war, ist noch immer ein Schlag vor den Kopf. Eine Betäubung trotz Hellwachsein, eine Herzleere, eine dumpf sich ausbreitende, freudlose; zugleich Gewahrwerden, dass im vertrauten Dasein etwas Einmaliges, Wichtiges, Unersetzbares abhandengekommen ist. Etwas fehlt entsetzlich. Du bist es, die fehlt. Ohne Abschied, ohne Abschluss. Alle Anspannung und Gefühle kreisen um das Eine: die Trauer um Dich.
Bewegt Trauer die Seele, macht sie auch anderes bewusst: stille Gewissheiten, belebende Aufschwünge und erfülltes Austauschen. So waren wir uns nahe all die Jahre.
Auswirkung der Todesnachricht: der Sturz in die Sprachlosigkeit. Wie an Dich denken bei diesem lähmenden Trauerschmerz, wie Worte finden für das Gedenken, wie lange Freundschaft ausloten und sie festhalten im Innern?
Nachdenken, wie war denn das? Dein Name als Mitherausgeberin von New German Critique war mir früh vertraut, allerdings war mein erstes Exemplar die Nr. 13, Special Feminist Issue, Winter 1978. Ähnlich wie bei Dir war es ein langer, gewundener Weg, der mich zu Anna Seghers führte. 1973 las ich die Entscheidung, jedoch nicht als schauerlichen Tiefpunkt in der Laufbahn der Erzählerin, wie ein Großkritiker behauptete. Eine Bekannte in Berlin (DDR) schickte mir 1976 Die Rettung (1947), was mir wegen der arbeitslosen Bergarbeiter in der Zeit der Krisen und des erstarkenden Nazitums sehr nah ging.
Von der Seghers-Gesellschaft wurde ich nach Mainz eingeladen und trug auf der Tagung 1992 zum Erzählbegehren im Aufstand der Fischer von St. Barbara vor. In Potsdam 1995 fand ich Deinen Vortrag über die Seelenlandschaft der Netty Reiling unnachahmlich. Auf Einladung Deiner Abteilung kam ich 1999 nach Columbus, Ohio, und wir erneuerten unsere Bekanntschaft und wurden schnell Freunde, denn beide teilten wir die starke Bewunderung und Liebe für Seghers. Dann batest Du mich, Deinen Kommentar zum Aufstand auf Korrektur zu lesen (2002 erschien der Band). 2001 war schon Dein Buch zu Anna Seghers, The Mythic Dimension, erschienen, die erste große, wichtige Studie im Amerikanischen. Ich fand sie faszinierend wegen der sehr einleuchtenden Einsichten zu Seghers’ Anlehnung an die Bildenden Künste, Rembrandt vor allem, und Deinem Aufzeigen von Seghers’ innovativer Art der Verwendung des Visuellen. Sehr beeindruckte mich Deine einzigartige Kenntnis zu Seghers und dem Schreibkontext des Aufstands bis hin zum Budapester Sonntagskreis, die klaren Ausführungen mit vielen Erkenntnissen, die die Seghers-Forschung bereicherten.
In der Zwischenzeit warst Du zur Herausgeberin der Werkausgabe berufen worden, gingst an die Arbeit trotz mancher Schwierigkeiten und machtest einen Zeitplan, während Bernd Spies als Mitherausgeber in Mainz die Gelder für zunächst 12 Bände besorgte.
Erfreut nahm ich Dein Angebot an, einen WA-Band zu bearbeiten, und Du verschafftest mir Zugang zu Pierre Radvanyi, den ich 2013 in Paris besuchte. Der Liebenswürdige ließ mich die Manuskripte von “Grubetsch” und “Bischof” für den Band der frühen Erzählungen (1924-1932) auswerten. Zur Figur Grubetsch ergaben sich wichtige Aspekte wie Kindheitstrauma und sexuelle Orientierung, was Seghers in publizierten Text verschleierte. Doch die Gestalt Grubetsch wirkt nach bis in Die Rettung hinein.
Nach dem Erscheinen dieses Bandes war die Werkausgabe im finanziellen Neubedarf. Wir besprachen uns, Freunde in Not, und ich schlug Crowdfunding vor und Du machtest das geschickt und erfolgreich mit dem Erscheinen der beiden Bände Kopflohn (2021) und Gefährten (2022). Zu Ehren meiner aus Wien exilierten Schwiegereltern und nach dem Tod meiner Frau werde ich mit einem Teil des Erbes den Druck der Rettung finanzieren. Dir will ich ihn widmen.
Bleibt mir, Dir Bewunderung zu zollen und Liebes nachzurufen. Immer warst Du Deinen Vorsätzen treu, pflegtest das Künstlerische in Dir, deine Liebe zur Poesie (auch meiner) und “the poetic dimension”, wie Du in der Widmung Deines Buches treffend an mich schriebst. Als Frau, Mensch, Kollegin, große Forscherin und engagierte Zeitgenossin gingst Du auf viele zu, auf viele ein: offen und direkt, beispielhaft Dein Vorwärtssinn, Deine große Gesinnung.
Bei allem Trauerschmerz um Dich, weiß ich mich glücklich, dass wir so lange in Freundschaft zugetan waren. Und ich bin auch glücklich, dass es Dich gab, für die Vielen wie für mich. Uns allen gehst Du schrecklich ab, auch wenn wir Dich lebendig halten werden in unseren Herzen und Köpfen, für lange Zeit. Helen! Leb wohl und sei umarmt!
Friend, Mentor, Teacher
Hunter Bivens, Associate Professor of Literature and German Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz
I had been reading Helen’s work on Heiner Müller and Christa Wolf since I was an undergraduate, but I didn’t meet her until we found ourselves on a panel together on Anna Seghers at the 2011 German Studies Association Conference. I had just begun to seriously work on Seghers at the time, and Helen quickly took me under her wing, both as an interlocutor and as a collaborator, involving me in edited volumes on Seghers, translations of her work, the Anna-Seghers-Gesellschaft, and Aufbau-Verlag’s Seghers Werkausgabe. She was an astute reader and commentator of my book in its draft stages. Beyond that, Helen was one of the central figures to chart a path through German Studies that I had wanted to follow, even as a college student: one that was political, socialist, feminist, and historically grounded. She was a friend, a mentor, and a teacher, and I miss her greatly.
Helen Fehervary, my Doktormutter
Kristy R. Boney, Professor of German and Chair of Modern Languages and Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Central Missouri
Helen Fehervary was my first graduate professor and she was like lightning. It was a seminar on writers in exile, and she assigned Thomas Mann’s Josef der Ernährer over Thanksgiving break. As a new fellowship graduate student from a small undergraduate program, who had not read anything longer than Tonio Kröger, I hightailed it to the library, checked out the English version, and read German and English non-stop for the next couple of days so that I would be prepared. Since I was on fellowship, I was not a part of the close-knit teaching assistants group, and when we all showed up for class the first day after break, I was the only one who had finished the novel. I did not know that the rest of the class had agreed not to finish the assignment, because, someone told me later: who assigns a 500-page novel over break? Helen did. Helen did not care for norms, but she did care that we knew what we were supposed to learn. Helen was furious at the class. She called us mutineers, but not before she had asked something about the book and I had answered. I singled myself out that day from my peers (and not in a good way). I downplayed myself and pointed out that I needed help in English, but in Helen’s eyes, it did not matter if I used shortcuts; I was willing to read and that was enough. She told me after class that I use my blonde hair as an excuse and I was smarter than that. I worked harder in that class than I had ever done in any class and I knew after that first class that I would follow her anywhere.
Unfortunately, that incident led her to believe that I was capable of reading voraciously, and she would drop titles of tomes in my lap and ask me a few weeks later if I had read them yet. I usually had failed her, so she would respond by telling me to read more. Once, at a very emotionally complicated time in my life, she pulled me aside and told me to sublimate myself into work as Anna Seghers would. And she would sometimes call me on Sunday mornings to see if I was working on my dissertation instead of wasting time. I had 8 hours of day to write – why wasn’t I writing? – she would ask.
She was not the easiest Doktormutter, but she believed in me, and her methods worked. When I once said that I was not sure if I had time to meet her for a chapter review, she interrupted me and said: “Excuse me, dear, but it is I who make time for you.” I may not have understood it all during my self-centered graduate school life a lifetime ago, but she made me a better scholar. The time she invested in me was more than I deserved. We must have smoked an entire pack of American Spirits one afternoon of coffee and cookies on her porch as we went line by line through one of my dissertation chapters. She would bark at me that I did not know history, but then she would chuckle and say that it’s okay, because she did. Helen could weave in and out of historical timelines without checking a single note. I would scribble furiously to keep up with her pace.
I was grateful to contribute her Festschrift and her book project on Seghers. She told me to ignore all the Anna Seghers stuff – we all know that anyway, she said – but focus on the comics. Start there, she said, and don’t forget to know your history! You always forget to add that! I still have scribbles of notes when she would spontaneously erupt with writing advice. She could break apart any narrative and rebuild it better and with such ease, with such ferocity and speed, that one never knew what had happened after a phone call or an office visit. It was her intensity, though, that made her students finish. One professor once gossiped to me that it was akin to a cult the number of students Helen amassed around her, however I knew that she was not collecting, but rather she had a true interest in her students and alums. If her name was on your work, she was going to make sure you knew what you were doing. It was that element and intensity that made us incredibly loyal to her.
During the 2001 Jahrestagung of Anna Seghers’s 100th birthday celebration in Berlin, I was studying at the FU and showed up during Helen’s presentation. I had expected to meet my stern Doktormutter but instead met a very warm and jovial person who kept introducing me to all the Seghers and German studies celebrities – at least for a wide-eyed Ph.D. candidate like myself. She knew everyone and everything, and her charm was immeasurable. She kept checking in at all the steps in my career, even when she did not have to. She was one of the first people I would tell if something changed personally or professionally, even after I had graduated. When I asked her last year if I should become department chair, I thought she would scoff, but she asked me immediately why I would even hesitate. “Of course!” she said, “You have to do it. You have always been more polite than me; I think I may have even gotten along with you, if you were my chair.” Then she laughed.
She had the best chuckle, which would go a little high pitched if you could make her laugh, and her look was the most searing when you provoked her. She was fierce and spicy and epic and a true revolutionary spirit. I was incredibly lucky to be in her orbit for a little while and to have her mentorship. I owe so much of my intellectual world to her. She was an extraordinary person with one of the keenest minds I have known. I looked forward to seeing her at conferences or spending time with her on the phone when we could. I can’t believe she’s gone. But I don’t think I’ll ever stop searching for her. She was timeless.
Remembering Helen Fehervary
Stephen Brockmann, Professor of German, Carnegie Mellon University
Helen Fehervary’s mother, whom I unfortunately never met, lived to be about a hundred years old, and since Helen herself was always so full of energy and life, I had assumed that she, too, would similarly live an epic long life. And yet Helen was also one of the first people who taught me that legendary scholars, even legendary mentors, are also flesh-and-blood human beings. One of my most powerful memories of Helen is from the year 1989/1990, when I had just finished writing my dissertation, and Helen and Carol Poore were working on a celebration of Jost Hermand’s sixtieth birthday in April of 1990. To that end, Helen and Carol put together an informal Festschrift and organized a wonderful celebration in Madison in the spring of 1990. To me, Jost was a towering, almost superhuman figure both in my own life and in American Germanistik more generally. And yet Helen sat me down kindly but firmly and passionately and went over my contribution to the Festschrift in great detail and with tremendous rigor, reminding me that Jost was also a real person and not just a legend. In fact Helen’s detailed but constructive critique of what I had written—which I found simultaneously terrifying and uplifting, since the very fact that she was subjecting my work to this stringent review suggested that she thought it might ultimately prove worthwhile—was one of the most thoughtful, and passionate critiques from which I have ever had the privilege of benefitting. Given that experience, I can only imagine what it must have been like to have Helen as a dissertation advisor.
I had already known about Helen for a number of years by then, and she herself was a bit of a legend. In particular I had devoured Christa Wolf’s Kassandra when it appeared in 1983, and I had also carefully studied Wolf’s Voraussetzungen einer Erzählung: Kassandra, her Frankfurt lectures on writing and aesthetics, in which a chance encounter in Greece between Gerhard and Christa Wolf on the one hand and Helen Fehervary and Sue-Ellen Case on the other plays a major role in influencing Wolf’s thinking about feminism, history, and Greek civilization. I knew that Helen was an expert on Wolf and Anna Seghers, among others; but I was deeply impressed that she not only wrote about such figures but had actually been written about by one of them, and quite prominently at that. Therefore, when I first got to know and love Helen, I had to brush off some of the legendary aura that had, in my mind, already accumulated around her. I later found out that, in spite of my star worship, Helen was not a huge fan of what Christa Wolf had actually written about her. I imagine there was another side to the story, and I wish now that I had had the presence of mind to draw Helen out on that subject more explicitly.
Helen was one of the world’s leading scholars on Anna Seghers, and over the years Seghers has become more and more important for my own work and teaching. Not only was Seghers one of the two heroes of a book I wrote about East German literary culture in the 1940s and 1950s, but I also started teaching two Seghers works fairly regularly: Das siebte Kreuz and “Ausflug der toten Mädchen.” In the spring of 2022 I even had Helen “visit” with one of my classes by Zoom in order to talk about Seghers and Das siebte Kreuz, and I remember that the students found Helen fascinating and lively and also that Helen—who had just moved to New Mexico with her daughter Maria—took issue with my characterization of Seghers as an atheist. Matters were far more complex than that, Helen insisted—and of course she was right. And when my students read Seghers’s beautiful short story about a school excursion a few years before the beginning of World War One, they read it in Helen’s own English-language translation.
As a pioneer in GDR studies, feminist German Studies, Seghers studies, and the study of Brecht and feminism—and as someone who helped introduce Heiner Müller’s work to the United States and was early on an editorial board member of New German Critique—Helen had a profound impact on German Studies. Anyone who wants to work on Brecht and feminism has to reckon with her early work on this subject, and anyone interested in issues of Brecht and collaboration must also take account of her more recent work in this area. And for anyone studying Anna Seghers, Helen is a towering figure; even Seghers’s primary texts, going forward, will need to be cited using the editions that Helen supervised and helped publish as the co-editor of the Werkausgabe.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that one of Helen’s most powerful pieces of writing is her memoir Salvador’s Children (1993), which she published under the pseudonym Lea Marenn. This is a narrative about adopting Helen’s daughter Maria from El Salvador in the 1980s, in the midst of the brutal civil war there, in which the United States played a despicable role. It is a remarkable piece of writing and powerfully moving from both a personal and a political perspective.
Helen had remarkable power and vigor, and she always seemed to be enjoying life, even in the midst of struggle—both political and personal. One of the major lessons she taught was that it is possible to work for, dream of, and aesthetically envision a better world while still having fun and pleasure in this one. I will miss her greatly. As she often used to say to me, venceremos!
Helen Fehervary’s World of Words
Robert Cohen, Adjunct Professor of German, New York University (ret.)
Wanting to hold on to Helen Fehervary’s voice, I reread her emails. Her words brought back her thinking, her wisdom, her wit, and her warmth.
November 15, 2005. On teaching The Aesthetics of Resistance: “I am actually scared about teaching the Weiss novel, I have never done it before, never written about it, and am hardly an expert. What made me decide was simply my anger and grief about everything today in the world. Well, maybe that is as good a reason as any.”
December 10, 2005. Replying to my mention of a strike of teaching assistants at New York University: “Good luck on TA strike, back long ago in Wisconsin I was one of about 15 TAs who pleaded the 5th amendment in court after the court injunction against our strike and later got individually fined $250, which Jost and a couple of other profs paid for.”
June 5, 2010. “I’m pressed with all kinds of end of year stuff – though I cheated this morning and watched the French open, then watched a rerun of last year’s Wimbledon, won of course by the graceful Roger Federer, certainly my favorite of present and past tennis stars” (a gracious acknowledgement of my Swissness).
August 16, 2012. Weighted down by having to care for her 98-year-old mother: “Over this summer I managed to finish my translation of [Anna Seghers’s] ‘Post ins gelobte Land’ – that work has been a steady Zuflucht for me, and in many ways kept me whole and sane. What a sanctuary, the world of words!”
November 11, 2013. “The close friend I told you of earlier meanwhile died, and so did our little cocker spaniel Jennie, who at the age of 15 and a half simply couldn’t bear her weakness and ill health any longer, and we had to take her to the vet.”
December 17, 2016. “A former doctoral student of mine tells me she will be taking part in the Women’s March on Washington shortly after the inauguration. If it weren’t for my back problems, I would be there too. But these will subside, and I expect I’ll be doing similar things in the future.”
April 14, 2019. Helen’s interest in Seghers ranged far and wide. “Maria and I are going to our museum’s special exhibition of Dutch landscape painting this afternoon. This comes very appropriately since I’m just now writing the entry for the Metzler Anna Seghers Handbuch on Seghers’s poetics involving Bildlichkeit, and of course she was strongly influenced by Rembrandt, Hercules Seghers, Ruisdael, Hobbema, van Goyen, also Jozef Israëls at the end of 19th century.”
June 20, 2020. From my email to her on her book Salvador’s Children. A Song for Survival (which she wrote under the pen name Lea Marenn): “This is a powerful book, as difficult to put down, as it is difficult to get through, provoking grief and anger, but also encouraging as a beautiful narrative of a complex, and loving adoption. The shifts from lyrical passages to matter-of-fact descriptions of extreme violence, both shocking and effective, are part of its power.”
June 22, 2020. Two days later Helen’s reply: “I’m so glad you read this book, especially since you met Maria a few years ago. Needless to say, the trauma of a childhood experience such as hers remains throughout one’s life, but ever since Maria quit her library job and now works as an artist at home, she is so much happier and free of the anxiety that plagued her for so long.”
July 25, 2020. About Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “So wise, so brave, so eloquent, a Rosa Luxemburg for our own time.”
June 12, 2021. About Anna Seghers: “At times like these I like to remember that 100 years after Heine’s death there was still controversy about him among the city fathers of Düsseldorf. Seghers is a bit ahead and by 2083 she, like Heine, will be counted among the very greatest German writers from Goethe to the Manns. At least she already has the start of a Werkausgabe, Heine had to wait till after 1945.”
December 31, 2021. Getting ready to move to Albuquerque: “We are very busy with packing and signing official papers. Maria and I just listened to Simon and Garfunkel ‘Hello Darkness My Old Friend’ and some other songs, how beautiful, brought tears to my eyes. So much was brought to light creatively in response to the war in Vietnam!”
July 2, 2022. On her new home in Albuquerque: “But as everywhere in this city, the people are open and friendly. Nowhere do I seem to encounter the kind of bloated Trumpists of which there are so many in Ohio.”
A few weeks before Helen’s death I wrote a review of Seghers’s Die Gefährten (reissued as vol. I/1.2 of Seghers’s collected works). Here is the final paragraph of my review (translated from the German): “What would the greats of literature be without all those who, through their editorial work, preserve and transmit these works. It is a stroke of luck that Helen Fehervary, co-editor of Seghers’s collected works, is also the editor of this volume. The U.S. Germanist is a specialist on the left-wing intellectual scene in Hungary around Lukács and the Sunday Circle. Her annotations on the historical backdrop to the revolutionary events in Hungary and other countries depicted in the novel are conveyed with a sense of proportion and historical integrity. They provide a history lesson that for once is not written by the victors.”
October 12, 2021. After our friend Jost Hermand died, Helen reminded me of a phrase Hans Mayer had used to conclude his essay commemorating Anna Seghers: “Ehre ihrem Andenken”.
Für Helen. Was ich dir zum Abschied noch sagen wollte.
Sylvia Fischer, Ph.D., Berlin
Jede Begegnung mir dir war eindrücklich, intensiv, bleibend.
Du hast mich gefordert, herausgefordert, überfordert, gefördert.
Deine Stärke hat mich stärker gemacht, dein Wissen hat mich wissender gemacht, deine Begegnungen haben auch meine Erfahrungswelt reicher gemacht.
Deine Stimme in meinem Kopf, wie sie Seghers, Wolf, Müller sagt. Unverwechselbar.
Deine Kritik hat mich zuweilen getroffen.
Denn du kanntest mich, erkanntest mich. Du ließest mich mir selbst begegnen. Danke.
All das bleibt immer hier, auch wenn du gegangen bist.
I Remember Helen
Vicki Hill, Madison, April 2023
I met Helen Fehervary when we were graduate students in the German Department at UW-Madison. I have a terrible memory and have forgotten many details about my life, but I do remember that Helen seemed like the incorporation of everything I aspired to be at the time – she was intelligent, she was fun, she was political, she was sophisticated – she was EUROPEAN! Helen may have been from Albany, New York, but she was really from Budapest. I was crazy about her, and we became good friends. After completing my Ph.D., I left Germanistik for a career as librarian at Memorial Library on the UW campus and therefore didn’t read articles and books Helen wrote in the years thereafter. But I believe, as I told her, that her work on the Anna Seghers Gesamtausgabe was the most important thing she had done as a scholar and would live on for many years, long after articles written by literary scholars became dated and forgotten.
Eine unverwechselbare Stimme. Für Helen Fehervary
Dr. Sonja Hilzinger, Berlin, im April 2023
Vor etwa dreißig Jahren bin ich Helen zum ersten Mal begegnet und seitdem in größeren Abständen immer wieder, zuletzt im Sommer vorigen Jahres, als sie per Zoom der Jahrestagung der Seghers-Gesellschaft zugeschaltet war. Die Bücher und Aufsätze amerikanischer Germanist:innen über DDR- und Exil-Literatur, über Autorinnen wie Christa Wolf und Anna Seghers, waren für mich als westdeutsche Literaturwissenschaftlerin in den 1980-Jahren spannende und erkenntnisreiche Lektüren, und manchen dieser Kolleg:innen – wie Christiane Zehl Romero, Alexander Stephan, Gertraud Gutzmann und eben Helen Fehervary – begegnete ich dann persönlich bei den Tagungen der 1991 gegründeten Anna-Seghers-Gesellschaft.
Helens Namen kannte ich aus Christa Wolfs Voraussetzungen einer Erzählung: Kassandra. Während Wolfs Griechenlandreise im Frühjahr 1980 trafen sie sich auf Kreta. “Da wurde mein Name gerufen“, schreibt Wolf, “ich fuhr herum: Helen stand vor mir. Tyche, der Zufall. Helen aus Columbus, Ohio, die mir zuletzt in meiner Berliner Wohnung gegenübersaß, und neben ihr Sue, ihre Freundin aus Los Angeles, Californien.“ Dort suchten Helen und Sue “eine Bestätigung für ihre These, daß auf Kreta die Frauen den Ton angaben und daß dies den Minoern gut bekommen war“. Im Frühsommer 1983 waren Christa und Gerhard Wolf im Rahmen einer Gastdozentur an Helens Universität eingeladen, und in der Dokumentation der Gespräche dort ist Helens charakteristische Haltung, als Literaturwissenschaftlerin mit Texten umzugehen, festgehalten: “Mich interessiert nicht in erster Linie, daß ich deine Erzählungen ‘einwandfrei‘ interpretiere, sondern daß ich mich an diesem Prozeß beteilige, den du durchmachst. Ich finde mich im Prozeß wieder, den du durchmachst, ich arbeite mit, ich versuche mitzudenken. An sich ist das ein Gespräch. Ich will dieses Netzwerk …“ Christa Wolf führt Helens Satz fort: “… um einen weiteren Knoten und eine weitere Masche erweitern. Das ist wirklich eine Art Zusammenarbeit, und das finde ich viel anregender als dieses Beurteiltwerden.“
Ein solches “Gespräch“, ein gemeinsames Weiterdenken von unterschiedlichen Positionen aus mit dem Ziel, ein gemeinsames Projekt voranzubringen, brachte Helen auch ein im Austausch mit Kolleg:innen. Für mich war das seit den 1990er-Jahren außerordentlich produktiv im Zusammenhang mit ihren und meinen Arbeiten über Anna Seghers. Hier verdanke ich Helen wesentliche Erfahrungen und Einsichten, vor allem über die Grundlagen der Autorschaft Anna Seghers’, aber auch über die Einflüsse der bildenden Kunst und der politischen Kontexte auf Seghers’ Erzählungen und deren Ästhetik. Wenn Helen bei den Tagungen der Seghers-Gesellschaft in Mainz, Berlin, Meiningen oder Potsdam sprach, strahlte sie eine ruhige Souveränität aus, war gleichzeitig hochkonzentriert und sehr lebendig in ihrem Deutsch mit dem unverwechselbaren Akzent. Das Foto unten zeigt sie im November 1995 bei der Tagung in Potsdam, wo sie über “Die Seelenlandschaft der Netty Reiling, die Stimmen der Jeanne d’Arc und der Chiliasmus des Kommunarden Lászlo Radványi“ vortrug.
Manche Bereiche der Seghers-Forschung waren Helen durch Neigung, Interessen und Kenntnisse zugänglicher als anderen Kolleg:innen, und sie wandte sich ihnen mit Leidenschaft zu. Als gebürtiger Ungarin waren ihr die ungarischen Wurzeln von Seghers’ Ehemann nahe, sie forschte zu dessen politischer Sozialisation im Sonntagskreis, die sich später in Berlin und während der Exiljahre auf ein linksinternationalistisches Spektrum hin erweiterte. Radvanyi, ein universell gebildeter Gelehrter und zugleich ein begnadeter Lehrer, blieb sein Leben lang Marxist. Er war der erste Leser der Seghers’schen Erzählungen, sie vertraute ihm und folgte oftmals seinem Rat. Geprägt durch ihren Doktorvater Jost Hermand, der Literatur- und Kunstwissenschaft, Kultur- und Sozialgeschichte in ihren Wechselbeziehungen produktiv machte und stets zusammendachte, ist es naheliegend, dass auch Helen solcherart Verbindungen suchte und fand, die ihre Arbeiten auf originelle Art und Weise auszeichneten, neue Perspektiven einbrachten und einen Denkraum entstehen ließen, in dem sich Erkenntnisse ganz eigener Art entfalten konnten. Ihr ging es um das Erschließen von Kontexten, um gemeinsame Denkrichtungen, um ein Weiterarbeiten an einem gemeinsamen Projekt, das sie durch neue Impulse bereicherte. Ihr Stil ist klar und geradlinig, anschaulich, dabei gänzlich uneitel. Mit ihr zu diskutieren, wie ich es mehrfach erlebte im Abstand von jeweils einigen Jahren, war fordernd und anspruchsvoll, weil sie ihrem Gegenüber ebenso viel abverlangte, wie sie ihm zutraute, und so bereitwillig sie andere an ihren Gedanken teilhaben ließ, so neugierig und interessiert war sie an den Überlegungen der anderen. Wenn ich manche ihrer Texte lese, habe ich noch ihre Stimme, ihren Tonfall im Ohr, ihr Deutsch ist unverwechselbar. An den Widmungen, die sie für mich in ihre Bücher schrieb, sah ich, dass sie mich besser kannte, als ich annehmen konnte aufgrund unserer wenigen persönlichen Begegnungen.
Ihr Buch über die “mythische Dimension“ bei Seghers fasziniert mich bis heute unter ihren Seghers-Arbeiten am meisten, weil es so wunderbar zeigt, wie Seghers, die promovierte Kunsthistorikerin, was sie aufgenommen hatte aus der niederländischen Malerei, aber auch der Skulpturen der Gotik in Deutschland und Frankreich, der Landschaften mit Licht und Schatten, der Physiognomien und Gesten von Figuren und der Ikonografie der Legenden von Heiligen und Märtyrern – wie Seghers dies alles im Erzählen verwandelte und Geschichten schrieb, die uns heute noch verzaubern. Gerade auch in diesem Buch Helens wirken die durch Jost Hermand und über diesen durch den Kunsthistoriker Richard Hamann vermittelten kunst- und literaturgeschichtlichen Wechselbeziehungen weiter. In ihren Seghers-Arbeiten untersucht Helen immer auch Seghers’ Beziehungen zu ihren Gefährten auf ihre Substanz hin und stellt das Prägende heraus, das Seghers als Erzählerin und Essayistin aufgenommen und sich anverwandelt hat – zu Laszlo Radványi, Georg Lukács, Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Philipp Schaeffer und andere. Und Helen sucht auch danach, wo und wie diese Einflüsse von jüngeren Autor:innen wie Christa Wolf und Heiner Müller aufgegriffen und jeweils weiterverfolgt werden.
Helen hat die Seghers-Werkausgabe – ein in vieler Hinsicht schwieriges und langwieriges Unterfangen – mitbetreut und zwei Bände bearbeitet (Aufstand der Fischer von St. Barbara und Die Gefährten), sie hat die Festschrift zum 60. Geburtstag von Alexander Stephan mitorganisiert und herausgegeben – zwei Jahre später starb er unerwartet – und vor Kurzem gemeinsam mit Christiane Zehl Romero und Amy Kepple Strawser einen Band mit Essays amerikanischer Kolleg:innen zu Seghers (Anna Seghers – The Challenge of History) ediert, der auch Übersetzungen von ihr enthält u. a. von “Ausflug der toten Mädchen“, der wohl schönsten Seghers-Erzählung.
Bei der Seghers-Tagung im November 2017 traf ich Helen das letzte Mal persönlich. Wie auch bei unseren Begegnungen vorher war es einfach ein fortgesetztes Gespräch, dessen Vertrautheit die Unterbrechung nichts anhaben konnte. Sie war froh, emeritiert zu sein, und Freiräume zu haben für Dinge, die sie gerne angehen wollte. Sie hatte Lust auf Neues.
Letztes Jahr im Juni erinnerte sie uns daran, Alexander Stephan und seinen Einsatz für Seghers nicht zu vergessen. Jetzt ist es an uns, dazu beizutragen, dass Helen und ihre Arbeit nicht vergessen werden, dass ihre unverwechselbare Stimme weiterhin Gehör findet.
For Helen: A Dear Friend for 50 Years
Robert Holub, Ohio Eminent Scholar and Professor of German, Ohio State University
When I arrived in Madison in 1973 to begin my graduate studies, Helen was already someone to be reckoned with. She was known as the best and most dynamic student in an excellent cohort in the German Department, and her reputation led to considerable admiration from her peers and perhaps, at times, a bit of envy. I didn’t get to know Helen very well in the year we overlapped at Wisconsin. She was completing her dissertation on “Hölderlin and the Left”; I was adjusting to the rigors of graduate student life and occupied mostly with coursework. But Helen retained her ties to Madison even after she started life as an Assistant Professor at Ohio State in 1974. Her work with New German Critique, which she co-edited for many years and whose editorial board was initially located in Madison and Milwaukee, and her connections with Wisconsin faculty and students made her a presence even in her physical absence.
I admired Helen from afar, knowing that she was one of the best and most prominent students of my own dissertation advisor, Jost Hermand. In a way, since we shared the same Doktorvater, Helen and I were brother and sister, and although the distance from Berkeley, where I started my academic career, to Columbus was 2000 miles, we were siblings without the rivalry that often comes from that relationship. When Helen came to Berkeley as a visitor in the spring of 1978, we got to know each other better, more personally, and that bond continued to be strong for the next thirty years, even though there was a geographic distance between us.
After my various administrative adventures, I was fortunate enough to be invited to join the faculty at Ohio State in 2012. I know that Helen was a vocal advocate for my appointment, and I will be forever grateful for her support. Now in the same department, we grew closer. I got to know more about her research and teaching, and about difficulties she encountered in her position and in life. I think I was able to give her the support she needed in navigating some thorny situations, and I was happy to repay her in kind. When I became chair of the department in 2014 – and again Helen was a staunch advocate – I was thrilled to have Helen on my side.
I was surprised, however, when Helen told me, barely a year later, that she was going to retire. She had been such a dynamic and admired classroom presence, she seemed to thrive so much in her contact with students, that I initially judged that her stepping away from student interactions would be detrimental to her, as well as to the department. What I didn’t understand was that Helen had devoted so much time and energy to teaching that she was unable to focus on the many scholarly projects she wanted to accomplish. The years after her retirement were an extremely productive period for her scholarship. She continued to have a lively and creative mind, and now had the time to realize a potential she had neglected in previous decades.
Helen and I kept in contact. We met regularly at a local French restaurant to have coffee. Our discussions at these meetings ranged from reports on mutual friends from Madison to tales from the department at OSU, from accounts of our scholarly activities to reviews of her health challenges and mine. We set aside an hour for our meetings, but rarely spent less than two hours together in intense conversation.
When Helen told me she was moving to New Mexico, I was shocked. But she was, as always, optimistic about the move and ready for new experiences. That’s what I loved about Helen, her enthusiasm and positivity about her own projects and decisions, and about her friends’. It was difficult for me to imagine her passing so suddenly and unexpectedly, and I, like others, feel her death as a huge absence. Without Helen there is less of a positive spirit in a world that desperately needs it.
In Memoriam Helen Fehervary
Andreas Huyssen, Villard Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
My memories of Helen as a key figure in the early years of New German Critique are strong and intense. Strong not in detailed stories I might have to share, but in lasting gratitude for the ways she shaped the life of the journal. As the journal was founded in the spirit of collective endeavors characteristic of the early 1970s, there were reading and study groups both in Milwaukee and Madison consisting of faculty and students. But given strong personalities, divergent leftist politics, and structural inequalities, the attempt to create a horizontal collective with equally shared decision-making soon faced a rocky road centered on gender issues and the unavoidable gap between the young professoriate (the editors) and the grad students on the masthead. From the beginning, Helen’s voice stood out at the editorial meetings held at David Bathrick’s farm in Avoca, Wisconsin, an hour and a half’s drive west of Madison, or in Jack Zipes’s backyard in Milwaukee, gatherings that forged long-term friendships and shaped the intellectual profile of the journal. She played a lead role in conceptualizing the first ever special journal issue on GDR culture and politics (#2) in the United States, published in 1974, shortly after the GDR together with the FRG had become members of the United Nations. At the time, Helen was still working on her dissertation about the reception of Friedrich Hölderlin, mentored by Jost Hermand, who had discouraged her from writing about East German playwright Heiner Müller. She prevailed nevertheless and became, together with Bathrick, the leading force on the journal, introducing the East German playwright to an American audience. First she translated a major article on Müller’s “optimistic tragedies” by Wolfgang Schivelbusch in #2, then two major plays by Müller, Mauser (#8, in cooperation with Marc Silberman and at the time still unpublished in German) and Cement (free-standing supplement to #16 and translated with Sue-Ellen Case and Marc Silberman), and she wrote a seminal essay comparing and contrasting Brecht’s and Müller’s plays, entitled “Enlightenment or Entanglement: History and Aesthetics in Brecht and Müller” (also in #8). Her critical work on Müller demonstrated that close reading, the still dominant approach to literature in American Germanistik at the time, could be integrated with contextualized historical and political analysis, a sine qua non for anybody working on the literature from socialist states. Having myself been trained in the method of Werkimmanenz or intrinsic close reading, Helen’s essay provided a model for me on how to expand my reading practice, incorporating context as an inevitable part of any text and reading literary texts as an integral part of larger cultural and political history.
By #11 (Spring 1977), Helen had become one of the editors of the journal and she remained as editor on the masthead till the Winter 1992 issue, even though her active participation had already waned after the mid-1980s when the Wisconsin cluster of editors had been dislodged to the East Coast. In 1978, she was instrumental in editing NGC’s Special Feminist Issue (#13) together with Renny Harrigan and Nancy Vedder-Shults. She secured and introduced the translation of Christa Wolf’s Self-Experiment. The issue was autonomously produced by its feminist editors, and the editorial introduction illustrates how the act of separation from the male editors was an unavoidable, necessary move to bring feminist voices to the pages of the journal. Her work on Christa Wolf and other writers from the GDR that she hosted as guests at OSU was followed in a special issue on women writers and critics (#27) with a brilliant essay on “Christa Wolf’s Prose: A Landscape of Masks.” Her later work at OSU remained focused on the GDR as she became a main editor of Anna Seghers’s collected works.
I will never forget Helen’s happiness, excitement, and anxiety when she adopted Maria, a Salvadoran orphan, and our discussions about parenting and the difficulties and joys she encountered as an adoptive mother. But then we lost touch for many years. Contact was renewed about twenty years ago when she participated in a special NGC issue honoring David Bathrick (#95), contributing a wonderful essay on the young Lukács, Thomas Mann, and Anna Seghers, and again just a few years ago when she contacted me about the re-discovered transcript of an interview we had conducted but never published with Heiner Müller during his visit to Wisconsin in 1975. She (and Marc Silberman) edited it, and it will now be published as a perhaps last testament to those exciting and heady days in Wisconsin, which I remember with fondness and deep sadness about Helen’s unexpected death.
Remembering a True Intellectual
Janine Ludwig, Ph.D., Universität Bremen, Academic Director of the Durden Dickinson Bremen Program
I first met Helen about 15 years ago in Berlin at a conference where she spontaneously invited me to a dinner at Alexander Stillmark’s. Before we knew it, we were engaged in a heated “German” discussion about Anna Seghers and Walter Janka, which was great. What a fierce and knowledgeable woman, sharp as a tack, yet with a heart full of gold! Since then, we met only once or twice per year, but she was one of those people whom you don’t need to see often to always feel close to and start talking with, as if you’d last seen each other yesterday. We talked a lot, most often about our mutual area of expertise, Heiner Müller’s works. She had written the very first academic article on him, as a student of Jost Hermand, who had taught the first seminar on him in the US in 1969. Later, she met Müller personally in Berlin and wrote many further pieces on him over the decades, including recently for a planned publication I am co-editing. She became a member of the International Heiner Müller Society, which gave us further opportunities to meet. We also continued to discuss Anna Seghers, and I wrote an article for a book of hers. Aside from that, we spoke about everything all at once: She knew so much, a true intellectual. And we laughed a lot while doing it. She had this wonderfully sharp, open laughter. I never expected her to go so quickly and unexpectedly. I guess I thought people like her would live forever. They should.
Carol Poore, Professor Emerita of German Studies, Brown University
I met Helen Fehervary exactly 50 years ago, in January 1973, when I came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, intending to stay for one semester under the auspices of a Big Ten universities graduate exchange program. I had just finished my M.A. in German literature at Indiana University and had been warned by some professors there to stay away from Madison, where “everything was political.” Upon arriving, I was immediately swept up in the intellectual ferment that was characteristic of the German Department at that time: the world-renowned faculty, the historical approach to culture, the interest in the GDR, the beginnings of the journal New German Critique, the awakening of the women’s movement, the first teaching assistants’ union in the country (TAA), and the exciting exchange of ideas with other graduate students.
Helen was seven years older than I (30 versus 23), which makes a difference at that age. She had already been married and divorced; she had published her pathbreaking article on Heiner Müller; and she was writing her dissertation on Hölderlin and the Left. But we got to know each other in Jost Hermand’s courses, and she was friendly to me from the beginning, as I started to think more and more about not going back to Indiana and transferring to Wisconsin. One evening Helen invited me over for dinner at her apartment on the shores of Lake Monona, and we talked and talked – I don’t remember specifically the topics, but certainly about literature, the student movement, politics, the TAA (Helen had been one of the German graduate students fined for participating in the 1970 strike). Finally, we noticed a strange light in the sky that we first took to be a fire, but then we realized that we had talked all night and the sun was coming up. That was the moment when I decided to stay in Madison, wanting to be in a place where such things could happen. It was the best decision I ever made in my life.
I kept in touch with Helen over the past 50 years, and I could tell a lot more stories about her. But I think this anecdote captures the generosity and intensity that were so characteristic of her, both in her personal life and in her intellectual endeavors.
Tribute to Helen Fehervary
N. Ann Rider, Professor of German and Women’s Studies, Indiana State University, Terre Haute
I came to Ohio State University to study East German literature with Helen Fehervary. I’d written a master’s thesis that included Günter Kunert, Anna Seghers, and Christa Wolf. She read it and exclaimed, “Did you read Anna Seghers? I mean, did you really READ Anna Seghers?” From Helen I learned to read literature in an entirely new way. Not just with a historical background and attention to genre and style, but with a theoretical and critical framework that was new to me. I had missed Christa Wolf’s visit to OSU, but in my time there benefited from the steady stream of intellectuals Helen invited who challenged the provincial Ohio town (university or not, it was still provincial then) and its wide-eyed students.
Many will be writing about her scholarly mentorship and collaboration, and I owe her a debt I could never repay for her support, encouragement, and outright shoves. However, I learned as much from Helen about the gender politics of the academy, the long-overdue need for reforms and change, and my obligation to do more. I watched as she interjected herself in departmental meetings – thoughtful, determined, provocative—using questions as challenges, as gauntlets; not the female requests for validation I had been acculturated to. While eyes rolled – yes, they rolled – she persisted, refusing to yield the floor until it was clear that the issue deserved to be addressed, that we all had an obligation to reflect and act. Students had a voice in faculty committees at that time, and through interacting with her (and others) on the administrative matters of running a department, I learned the ways in which privilege and sexism had shaped the institutions I sought to join. I saw my own experiences as a student in a new light as I watched accomplished and deserving women in the department navigate slights, hurdles, outright obstacles, and shift not only the narrative, but the structures as well.
I recall long phone conversations in which I bemoaned the overwhelming sexism common at the small regional university I joined. “Did you think the work was done?” she laughed at me. I did. In later years she was calling me, asking my advice as an administrator about how to negotiate continued hurdles to her own path to professorship. Her beautiful, haunting work, Salvador’s Children (written under the nom de plume Lea Marenn), was judged to be a personal creative effort – its regional honors notwithstanding – not the scholarly work required for academic promotion. The work was creative, not scholarly; it was too personal, not academic; it was off-topic (the war in El Salvador), not German literature; it was none of the things Helen’s academic work was known for, and none of the things the academy wanted to acknowledge as scholarship. And yet its influences were clear: Seghers, Wolf, Hölderlin.
Salvador’s Children broke the damn in production that rose when Helen became a mother, and she returned to her scholarship, turning back to the Anna Seghers whose star shone over the Salvador book. Promotion came swiftly following the publication of Anna Seghers: The Mythic Dimension. Despite her own challenges, she never stopped mentoring. Of the students whose work she mentored as dissertation advisor, 70% were women, many of whom are having significant influence on German literary studies, to be sure, but also on the academic institutions we work within. The latter legacy may go unseen by most, but not by those who know their debt. Thank you, Helen.
My Helen Lives On
Marc Silberman, Emeritus Professor of German, University of Wisconsin-Madison
My relationship with Helen Fehervary cannot be separated from Heiner Müller! I first encountered Helen in fall 1974 when I was a graduate student at Indiana University. Several other grads and I drove for about 5 hours north to Madison for the annual Wisconsin Workshop. “Red Madison” had the reputation of a progressive German Department, and we wanted to meet Jost Hermand, whose path-breaking Synthetisches Interpretieren we had read with great enthusiasm in a graduate seminar. At the Workshop Hermand introduced me to Helen Fehervary, and we discovered that we were both Heiner Müller “fans,” deciding on the spot that we would translate some of his plays into English so that he would become known in the USA. That was the beginning of a long and intermittent rapport we developed over almost five decades. Especially in the second half of the 1970s we worked together rather intensively: a visit in August 1975, together with Helen’s mentor Jost Hermand, in Müller’s East Berlin apartment to discuss our translation of Mauser; once again in November 1975 when Müller was the guest of honor at the 7th Wisconsin Workshop, followed by our participation in a collaborative interview with Müller; preparation of published translations of four of Müller’s plays; panel presentations on Müller at the convention of the Modern Language Association (MLA); and the staging of Müller’s Cement in our translation at the Berkeley Rep in 1979, with Müller in the audience. All of these activities and the planning around them revealed to me a gifted translator (whose sensitivity to the English language was better than mine, as is often the case with bi- and tri-lingually raised individuals), a meticulous editor, and an adventurous and passionate, even high-strung colleague.
During the 1980s we drifted apart: Helen’s health issues, the adoption of her daughter Maria, the challenges of being a single mother, and my own shift into cinema studies led us in different directions, although we continued to cross paths occasionally at professional conferences and to communicate when theaters sought permission to use our Müller translations for productions. Then, in 1989, I joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Helen used every excuse to return to Madison, where she had spent such formative years between 1969 and 1974. So Hermand and I invited her to participate in several of the annual Wisconsin Workshops, and I began to organize parties for grad alumni of the Madison German Department at the annual MLA conventions and – beginning in 2010 – also at the annual conferences of the German Studies Association (GSA). Our encounters became more regular, and gradually Helen’s work on various exiled German writers and my interest in cultural developments during the Third Reich led to new collaborations on MLA and GSA panels and at the symposia of the International Brecht Society, of which Helen was a devoted member since it was founded in 1971.
Helen retired in 2015 and I one year later, which meant both of us had – if not more time – at least more control over what we did with our time. And now Heiner Müller came back to haunt us! In January 2016 she and I organized a panel on “Müller in America” on the occasion of the MLA Convention taking place in Austin, Texas, where he had been writer-in-residence in 1975-76. This led to a collaborative article that we co-authored with Hermand, and UT-Austin Emerita Professor Janet Swaffar, who had been in Austin during Müller’s residency: “Heiner Müllers frühe Amerikaufenthalte” (Berlin: Verbrecher Verlag, 2018). The focused concentration on those early years in both of our careers led to a number of discoveries: I learned that Helen had a keen memory (better than mine), that she was a “pack rat” who kept everything (letters, carbon copies – yes, we used them back in the 1970s still – at the bottom of file drawers and between book pages), and that she was a sleuth too. In fact, I was scheduled to visit her and Maria in Albuquerque for a week in early May, and we were planning to complete two projects: the unpublished, collaborative interview with Müller after the 1975 Wisconsin Workshop in Madison and an expanded, English-language version of the co-authored article, now with an added, lengthy chronology of Müller’s encounters and travels in the USA between 1975 and 1979. I will finalize both of those projects, but needless to say, I will miss Helen’s voice and her spontaneous laughter, not to speak of her other talents, when doing the work.
In summer 1994 Helen and I both presented talks at the German Studies Symposium in Sydney, Australia (the topic being Heiner Müller), and afterwards we flew to Auckland, New Zealand, and spent several days exploring the northern island. The relaxing pace of travel was a good opportunity for story-telling, and Helen had lots of stories to tell: about the struggles of being born during the war, of moving with her mother from Vienna to Bavaria, of learning German, coming to the USA as a refugee and trying to fit in, of marriage and divorce, of landing in the Midwest (Madison) from New England, of breaking into the “old boys’ networks” in the academy. It seems like a dream to me now that since last summer we had been planning another a car trip – this time through the Carpathians, in northern Hungary and in northeast Rumania. Helen wanted to seek out the buildings designed by her grandfather, a well-known architect in Hungary, and I would follow the footsteps of my grandmother, who grew up in Bacau and Iasi, strongholds of Jewish settlement, before she emigrated to America in 1910. I think of all the conversations that we will not be sharing.
Müller often invoked “ein Dialog mit den Toten” as the only way to move forward. We’ll keep talking, Helen.
Erinnerungen an eine gemeinsame Arbeit mit Helen: “Aus dem Lesebuch für Städtebewohner“ an der OSU 2006
Alexander Stillmark, Berlin
Das Ziel war, für die Studentinnen und Studenten die Erkundung eines Brecht-Textes mit spielerisch -theatralischen Mitteln, und das Ergebnis in einer Aufführung zu zeigen: In welchem Maße ist Brechts Text von 1926 relevant für junge Leute heute? Welche Realität bilden die Gedichte ab, und in welcher Beziehung stehen sie zu ihrer persönlichen Wirklichkeit?
Der spielerische, gestische Umgang mit dem Textmaterial öffnet den Weg für ihre eigenen subjektiven Erfahrungen und macht auf sinnliche Weise ihre Beziehung konkret. Nicht angestrebt ist eine allgemeine Interpretation unter wissenschaftlichen Aspekten. Das Spiel mit den Brecht-Texten bleibt als ein subjektiver Vorgang von non-professionals deutlich erkennbar, es mobilisiert ihre eigene kreative Phantasie. Furcht und falscher Respekt vor den „großen Worten des Dichters“ wird abgebaut, indem sie die Texte mit Spaß als räumliche und körperlich-konkrete Gebilde begreifen lernen.
Die Verwandlung in bestimmte soziale Figuren bzw. Rollen war nicht angestrebt. Dagegen wurde es eine deutliche Montage aus Einzelelementen: Gesten, choreographierte Bewegungen und Gänge, klare Textsprache in Deutsch und Englisch, Musik und Hintergrundprojektionen.
Helen legte in einer Vorlesung über „Brecht in den Zwanzigern“ die literaturwissenschaftliche Basis, und Andy Spencer versorgte uns mit Materialien und sicherte die Produktion. Mit Sue Harshe hatten wir eine großartige Komponistin und Musikerin, die bei allen Proben aktiv mitspielte, und so entstand aus dem Probenprozess „maßgeschneidert“ die Komposition, die die Spielerinnen und Spieler (6 weiblich, 1 männlich) tragend unterstützte. Zu den Proben kam noch ein Bewegungstraining. Das alles musste in den laufenden Lehrbetrieb integriert werden und forderte großen Einsatz. Aufgeführt wurde unsere Arbeit am 24.- 26.5. 2006 im Roy Bowen Theater.
Langsam wachsend bildete sich die Spielgruppe heraus, je mehr es gelang ihre eigenen Gesten und Bewegungen zu den Gedichten zu finden. Jede Probe wurde zu einer Entdeckungsreise für uns. Aus der Vielzahl sei eine Episode berichtet:
Die Kälte der Texte befremdete; mit dem Beginn Nr. 1 „Trenne dich von deinen Kameraden auf dem Bahnhof“, dem Vorgang der Trennung und dem Gang als Namenloser in die fremde Großstadt, hatten sie keine Schwierigkeiten.
Probennotiz: Impro-plan, 1 Verben
Trenne dich / Gehe in die Stadt / Suche / Öffne oh öffne nicht / Verwisch die Spuren! / Gehe vorbei / Erkenne nicht / Zeige nicht / Verwisch die Spuren! / Iß was da ist / Spare nicht / Gehe hinein / Setz dich aber bleibe nicht sitzen / Nicht vergessen / Verwisch die Spuren! / Sorge dass nichts geschrieben steht und verrät / Verwisch die Spuren!
Auch Nr. 2 über das fünfte Rad – „und nicht schlecht ist die Welt, sondern voll“ – schien bekannt zu sein, Mobbing war als tägliche Erfahrung durchaus vertraut.
Bei Nr. 3 „…Du darfst nicht gewesen sein. (So sprechen wir mit unseren Vätern)“, also bei der Aufkündigung des Generationenvertrags, kam eine Nichtakzeptanz auf, eine innere Abwehr gegen diese offene, kalte Gnadenlosigkeit, mit der sie nichts zu tun hätten. Ich berichtete ihnen von einer Episode bei einem workshop mit sudanesischen Schauspielern, mit denen ich in Stuttgart an Szenen aus Brechts Sezuan gearbeitet hatte. Eines Tages kam es zu einer sehr emotionalen Diskussion: sie hatten erfahren, dass es in Deutschland üblich ist, Eltern in Altenheimen getrennt von der Familie wohnen zu lassen. Das empörte sie: „Ich kann doch die Mutter, die mir das Leben gegeben hat, nicht in fremde Hände geben!“ Das war der clash of cultures, der Bruch des heiligen Generationenvertrages, die Zerstörung der Familie usw. Und ich schlussfolgerte an die Gruppe gerichtet, dass sie, ihre Eltern bei sich aufnehmen und versorgen würden. Da entstand eine Pause – sie begriffen, dass sie in diese Kultur der Kälte zutiefst verstrickt waren, dass diese Kälte ein Teil unserer Kultur ist. Aber, sagten sie, sie könnten das nicht mit der gleichen Direktheit wie die anderen Texte sprechen. Das widerstrebe ihnen.
In unserer Spiellösung hocken sie abgewendet im Profil, jeder hinter seinem Koffer und wenden sich nur zum Sprechen der aufgeteilten Strophen an das Publikum. Der Koffer, unser einziges Spielrequisit, das Zeichen des ortlos-nomadischen, bewegten Menschen und dahinter, gedeckt und doch schutzlos der Einzelne. Die kalten Worte kommen klar, ohne Bedauern und ohne Aggression, es wird nichts zurückgenommen. Sie sind gefangen in ihrer Situation. Und das war keine angenommene Attitüde. Das war ehrlich. Plötzlich hatte sich uns eine tiefe Dimension aufgetan: die durch die Globalisierung aufgesprengte, atomisierte Familie. „Trenne dich“ und „Verwisch die Spuren!“. Nach dieser Erfahrung sprachen sie anders.
Mit Dank an Helen, die mit ihrer unermüdlichen Energie auch diese bereichernde Arbeit möglich machte. Ihr Lachen und die langen nächtlichen Gespräche im gastlichen Haus in Ohio und in Berlin fehlen.
Mentor and Friend
Dr. Amy Kepple Strawser, Columbus State Community College
Helen Fehervary had a defining influence on my formation as a student and scholar of German literature. She became my dissertation advisor because she was approachable and interesting, full of creative ideas for exploring the subject at hand. In 1991, I became the second person to be granted a Ph.D. with her at the helm, following in the footsteps of my colleague Luke Springman.
Her seminar on German women writers and feminist theory was groundbreaking in the early 1980s. We read everything from Simone de Beauvoir and Silvia Bovenschen to Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray for a theoretical foundation, then focused on Christa Wolf and Ingeborg Bachmann for the primary works. It was phenomenal at that time. These were the nascent concerns of the day, and we were all enthralled. She made no bones that a feminist approach was new to her, but no one noticed. It remains the best course I ever took.
I worked with her as an editorial assistant on New German Critique, for which I proofread, copyedited, and translated essays by Sigrid Weigel, Burkhardt Lindner, and others. Helen knew a host of writers, scholars, and artists, something I admired greatly and some of whom I met while renting her basement apartment. I balked whenever she tried to analyze me, but that living arrangement was truly Freudian. I resided beneath her Victorian Village home, she the professorial ego and superego to my graduate student id.
Helen was half a generation older than I, placing her squarely between my parents’ generation and mine. She was East Coast American, raised and schooled, with the Midwestern years of study in Madison pivotal for her scholarship and career. I was a Midwesterner by birth and schooling, at home in Ohio for nearly all my life, while she never felt fully at home here in Columbus. We were close throughout the 1980s, then remained in touch in the years to follow.
In the more recent past, we collaborated on translations of Anna Seghers’s stories throughout the 2010s, an experience which could be both fruitful and frustrating. We might sit for hours debating a turn of phrase on her screened-in front porch. We revised, and revised, and revised again. I always left later than I’d planned, calling the family to let them know I was on my way home, finally. We eventually had three of the stories, including the famous “Ausflug…,” published in a special issue of American Imago (2017), thanks to editor Lou Rose.
Soon thereafter, I became co-editor with her and Christiane Zehl Romero for a volume of essays on, alongside several translations of, Seghers’s life and work. Helen relied on me as the tech guru since I was younger – she of course (along with Christiane) was the expert on Seghers. We accomplished this major task, which was published in the German Monitor series shortly before the pandemic began (2020).
Helen was a stellar mentor to me, but she was also a friend. Sometimes we may have felt and acted more like family with each other than friends – that was an unusual type of relationship for me. We were close, but with very different sensibilities. Working with her was never boring. Our disagreements and arguments may have been aggravating at times, yet our collaborations were always productive and rewarding.
I regret that we won’t get a chance to collaborate again. Helen made a lasting imprint on me, and I am sure that many of her other friends, advisees, and colleagues can say the same. She was inimitable and kind. Most of all, she loved people. She got along with all sorts of folks, but knew whom she respected and whom she did not. Many people feared her. Still, I don’t think that her prickly reputation served her ill in the German Department at OSU or in the profession at large. Smart as a whip and unable to be outdone, she was also generous to a fault and, above all, she believed in me. She supported me like no one else and remained a faithful companion and a champion of me and my endeavors.
A Model Scholar
Curtis Swope, Professor of German, Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas
Well before I came to know her personally, Helen Fehervary was an absolute titan of German Studies for me. I vividly remember reading her scholarship for the first time. I was a graduate student weighing different possible dissertation topics and – in spite of some friendly and well-meant advice against it – was considering GDR literature. My training up to that point – the third semester of my PhD program – had rested almost entirely on primary literature: I had read numerous GDR novels and plays, but was not yet familiar with the scholarship. To start remedying this, I went to the library stacks and pulled off The Cambridge History of German Literature, edited by Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly, and cracked the book open to Helen Fehervary’s entry, “The Literature of the German Democratic Republic.” I knew after one paragraph not only that I wanted to work on the GDR but that I wanted to be able to think and write in the way this scholar I was reading could think and write. Ever since then, Helen has been the model for me; her clarity, her insight, and her humane yet urgent engagement with the most important questions of the twentieth century are qualities I aspire to and remain astonished by as I read and reread her work. Over the past seven years or so, as Helen became one of my main mentors and as I came to know her personally, I see the extent to which such qualities are anything but – and simply cannot be – abstract ideals or imitable gestures. For Helen, they formed one crucial part of an unyielding effort – central to her life – to move the world forward by bringing to light the intertwined social, political, and aesthetic problems posed by the life and work of Anna Seghers and of other key socialist intellectuals. Before I came to know Helen, I thought I understood what it meant to be invested in the stakes of humanistic inquiry. I soon learned I did not. Conversations with her – whether about László Radványi’s sociological research, the applicability of Isaac Deutscher’s concepts to Seghers’s work, or editing scholarly editions – felt like strategy meetings, bracing and vital. Each bit of information newly discovered, each fresh interpretation had a force to be mobilized for better understanding human beings and their social and political predicaments. Helen herself was a force. Utterly unique, utterly irreplaceable, she will be dearly missed.
Half a Lifetime of Memories and Mentorship
Jen William, Professor of German and Head, School of Languages and Cultures, Purdue University
At the time of Helen’s death, I had known her for about half of my life. Half a lifetime of being edified by her extensive historical and cultural knowledge, of being entertained by her wit and buoyed by her laughter, and of being challenged by her sometimes sharp but always well-meaning critiques. Half a lifetime ago, I was beginning the Ph.D. program in German Literature at Ohio State University with little idea of what was to come. I had recently returned from an exciting exchange year in Rostock and planned to work on the GDR as the focal point for my graduate studies. I was thrilled to be working with Helen, whose lovely Hungarian surname I had no idea how to pronounce when I arrived in the program, since I had only read some of her published articles but never met her nor heard the name Fehervary pronounced out loud. I had read a good number of East German literary works already during my year studying in Rostock, but by Anna Seghers, I only knew the page-turner Das Siebte Kreuz. Under Helen’s guidance as my Ph.D. advisor, I was in for a great ride that would take me on a journey through thousands of pages of Seghers’s prose, along with many others of Helen’s favorites – among them Bertolt Brecht, Uwe Johnson, Heiner Müller, Brigitte Reimann, and of course, Christa Wolf.
In that Fall of 1996, during my first semester at OSU, Helen encouraged a group of new graduate students to take a road trip to Madison for the 28th Wisconsin Workshop titled “Contentious Memories: Looking Back at the GDR.” I was starstruck seeing Helen’s Doktorvater Jost Hermand and others whose influential work I had been starting to read, but whom I had not yet met. On one of the evenings, Helen invited her graduate students to eat a Greek food feast with the workshop participants and, in typical Helen fashion, she assured us that OSU’s Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures would happily pick up the tab for us. It was a small, inclusive gesture that meant a lot to us who were just starting out in the field.
When we returned home from the Wisconsin Workshop, I had a conversation with Helen in which I revealed some of my deeper insecurities – along the lines of, “It feels like I will never know as much about the GDR as all the experts who were at the Wisconsin Workshop … can I really succeed in this field?” Looking back together occasionally on this moment for years to come, Helen always recalled it as the time I “almost dropped out of the Ph.D. program.” I wasn’t thinking of quitting but perhaps of taking a different direction with my research specialization, maybe in favor of something that had not been explored as thoroughly already. Helen insisted that I would find my niche, and I had the strong sense that, while it might not always be especially easy working with her, she would always believe in my abilities and would help me gain the confidence I needed to succeed. That hunch proved to be true, and over the years I witnessed how Helen was fiercely loyal to, and proud of, all of her advisees with whatever paths we ended up taking.
In the half a lifetime that I knew Helen, she introduced me to Christa Wolf and even got me invited to dinner with the legendary writer at the Brecht-Keller while I was still a graduate student, on an exchange year in Berlin in 1998–1999. In that same year, she connected me with Ruth Radvanyi, Anna Seghers’s daughter, whom I interviewed in her apartment and who so generously invited me to her birthday celebration Am Weißensee. Helen was connected with so many amazing figures from the German literary world, and she was always eager to share those connections with her graduate students. Spending time with the Seghers scholars in Berlin and elsewhere gave me an even greater appreciation of how much Helen and her scholarship were cherished internationally, and it made me extremely proud to be her advisee.
Beyond the advisor and advisee relationship, Helen and I were also collaborators, both during my Ph.D. years and after I graduated. I worked as Mitarbeiterin with her on the Seghers critical edition volumes of Aufbau der Fischer von St. Barbara and Die Gefährten, on which we labored for over 20 years, starting while I was still a student. I have fond memories of collaborating with her for hours on end as we compared typescript versions looking out for discrepancies, and then proofing our final version. I wouldn’t trade a moment of that time we spent together reading aloud the powerful words of one of the greatest, and most underrated German writers of all time, Anna Seghers.
Helen still had so much to do, and I still had so much to ask her. Shortly before she died, I had been intending to run some ideas by her about a possible contribution to the Heiner Müller Yearbook. We were making plans this year to raise funds for the remaining volumes of the Seghers Werkausgabe, but she wanted to postpone our planning until after the summer trip to Eastern Europe with Marc Silberman, which she had excitedly told me about during what would be our final phone conversation at the beginning of March. She had invited me to come visit her and Maria in their new Albuquerque home anytime, and I had every intention of doing so, but the time ran out too soon. Half a lifetime after we met, it’s clear that Helen left her indelible mark on me and my scholarship, and for that I am forever grateful.
Christiane Zehl Romero, Professor Emerita of German, International Literary and Cultural Studies, and Rhetoric, Tufts University
Whenever Helen called, often out of the blue but always with a purpose, I loved to hear her unique voice. I still have it in my ear. Conversations with her were never short but invariably both substantive and fun. I had known of her work for many years before we actually met and began working together. Invariably our main subject was Anna Seghers, but from her we veered off in many directions, professional and private. She invited me once to give a talk at Ohio State University and last year just to visit in Albuquerque, where she and Maria had settled in well. I was looking forward to that and never expected the sudden bad news, although I knew that she had cancer. However, she was so full of life, energy, and plans that I thought she would continue for many more years. Perhaps she did as well.
It was her energy I cherished most – in addition to her kindness to others, especially younger colleagues whom she kept discovering and supporting. To me this was the hallmark of a great teacher. She was on the lookout for talent and ready to recognize it and further it. Of course, there is also her superb intelligence. In speaking to Helen and in listening to her interventions and contributions at conferences, I was always struck by her point of view, which was different and thought-provoking, even if I sometimes did not know where she was coming from and where she was going. Eventually what she said made striking sense and was most incisive.
We collaborated on an edition of English-language essays on Anna Seghers where I admired her critical eye and attention to editorial detail, a skill which she honed on working as co-editor of the Anna-Seghers-Werkausgabe, where she was left the “last woman standing” and fighting valiantly to keep this important project going. The publisher, Aufbau, would only proceed when outside funding for each volume was secured, a task which became ever more daunting. The edition was Helen’s last big undertaking, and I worry what will happen now. Her enthusiasm and expertise are truly irreplaceable. Personally, I will miss the wonderful human being Helen Fehervary, my fellow Austro-Hungarian, was and will remember her sadly.
Helen, I shall miss you
Jack Zipes, Emeritus Professor of German, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
When I arrived at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, in 1972, I began looking for friends to found the journal New German Critique. Some time in 1973 – I can’t remember exactly when – I met Helen in Madison, and I recognized her amazing talents as well as her sincerity and devotion to ground-breaking scholarship dealing with German literature and culture. She was ahead of her times and soon became an editor of New German Critique. However, our friendship went beyond the work for NGC. After I resigned from the journal, we corresponded by phone and internet and met at Modern Language Association conferences. We didn’t discuss just academic business but personal problems up to the present. There was nothing we wouldn’t do for each other. Just this year, as I was putting together a volume of Jewish tales, Helen flooded me with advice and suggestions about Anna Seghers. Helen did more than I expected to help me. She always did more than expected.
I shall miss you, Helen.
Nachruf auf Helen Fehervary (1942–2023)
Anna-Seghers-Gesellschaft Berlin und Mainz e.V.
Die amerikanische Germanistin Prof. em. Helen Fehervary, langjähriges Mitglied der Anna-Seghers-Gesellschaft, ist am 13. April in Albuquerque, New Mexico, gestorben. Ihr unerwarteter und plötzlicher Tod hinterlässt eine kaum zu schließende Lücke. Unser Mitgefühl gilt vor allem ihrer Tochter Maria.
Helen Fehervary hat – nicht nur in den USA – viel für Anna Seghers und ihr Werk getan, man kann das kaum ermessen. Den Studierenden vieler Jahrgänge an der Ohio State University hat sie, die gebürtige Ungarin, mit großem Engagement einen grenzüberschreitenden und toleranten Zugang zu Autorinnen und Autoren des antifaschistischen Exils, wie Bertolt Brecht, Anna Seghers und Walter Benjamin, vermittelt.
Wir alle in der Gesellschaft sind ihr zu großem Dank verpflichtet. Wie oft hat sie Vorträge bei unseren Konferenzen gehalten und dabei immer neue und originelle Zugänge zum Werk von Anna Seghers gefunden. Neben der Studie »Anna Seghers: The Mythic Dimension« ist sicher die Herausgabe des Sammel-Bandes »Challenge of History« ihr Vermächtnis.
Verdient gemacht hat sie sich in besonderem Maße durch die Herausgabe einer neuen Werkausgabe von Anna Seghers, die im Aufbau Verlag verlegt wird. Von den geplanten 24 Bänden sind mittlerweile 14 Bände erschienen. Als Bandbearbeiterin hat sie 2002 »Aufstand der Fischer von St. Barbara« auf den Weg gebracht. Den jüngst erschienenen Band »Die Gefährten« hat sie ebenfalls selbst betreut und mit einem klugen und instruktiven Kommentar versehen.
Wir sind alle besonders traurig darüber, dass der Plan eines gemeinsamen Lebens, das sie nach ihrer Emeritierung mit ihrer Tochter Maria in ihrem neuen Haus in Albuquerque (New Mexico) führen wollte, so grausam zerstört wurde.
Wir werden Helen und ihre Freundlichkeit, Hilfsbereitschaft, Offenheit und Expertise in allen Fragen der Literatur (und besonders in Bezug auf Anna Seghers) sehr vermissen.
Der Vorstand der Anna-Seghers-Gesellschaft
Berlin und Mainz, 16. April 2023
In Memory of Helen Fehervary
Anna-Seghers-Gesellschaft Berlin und Mainz e.V.
The American Germanist Prof. em. Helen Fehervary, longtime member of the Anna Seghers Society, died on April 13th in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her unexpected and sudden death leaves a void that can hardly be filled. Our sympathy goes above all to her daughter Maria.
Helen Fehervary has done a lot for Anna Seghers and her work, not only in the USA. It is hard to measure her impact. Born in Hungary, for many years she mentored students at the Ohio State University, engaging them through her strong commitment to a cross-border and tolerant approach toward authors trapped in anti-fascist exile, such as Bertolt Brecht, Anna Seghers and Walter Benjamin.
All of us in the Society owe her a great debt of gratitude. How often did she give lectures at our conferences, always bringing new and original approaches to the work of Anna Seghers. In addition to her study Anna Seghers: The Mythic Dimension, her edited anthology Challenge of History certainly belongs to her lasting legacy.
Helen deserves special recognition for her efforts in publishing the new critical edition of Anna Seghers’s works, appearing in Aufbau Verlag. Of the planned 24 volumes, 14 have now been published. As one of the editors she initiated in 2002 the volume Aufstand der Fishermen from St. Barbara. The most recently published volume in the edition, Die Gefährten, also appeared under her purview and for which she provided a knowledgeable and instructive commentary.
We are all particularly sad that her plan after retiring for a life together with her daughter Maria in their new home in Albuquerque (New Mexico) was so cruelly upended.
We will very much miss Helen and her kindness, helpfulness, openness, and expertise in all literary questions (and especially in relation to Anna Seghers).