Suppressed Literature

In 2001, more than a decade after the reunification of the two Germanys, two former GDR writers—Joachim Walther and Ines Geipel—began working on a government-financed project that involved collecting unpublished literary texts that had been suppressed in the dictatorial East German state that was created after World War II. Between 2001 and 2005, they were able to uncover texts that 100 or so GDR writers had been unable to publish in communistic East Germany. Using both conventional and unconventional research methods, combined with sophisticated detective work, they located unpublished literature written by some writers who had disappeared and by some who had previously not been known to exist. In many instances, the secret police (Stasi) had arrested dissident authors, confiscated their writings and kept that material on file to use as evidence against them in trials. Writers who were deemed to be hostile to the ruling SED Party and its actions were often made to disappear, along with the unpublished texts they had written which were retained in their or in another individual’s Stasi-file. In connection with this mammoth undertaking, Geipel and Walther established an Archive of Suppressed Literature in the GDR (Archiv unterdrückter Literatur in der DDR). The archive houses the collection of unpublished works of literature by GDR authors, many of whom are no longer living, a total of 70,000 manuscript pages.

Walther and Geipel’s work on suppressed GDR literature, which some scholars have called “the third German literature,” was far from finished in 2005. They began publishing some of the texts from the archive in a book series entitled The Concealed Library (Die Verschwiegene Bibliothek); ten volumes, each one devoted to a single author, appeared in the Edition Book Guild between 2005 and 2009. The material in the archive led them to undertake yet another project, the publication of a co-edited book entitled The Locked Storage: History of Suppressed Literature in East Germany 1945-1989 (Die Gesperrte Ablage: Unterdrückte Literaturgeschichte in Ostdeutschland 1945-1989. Düsseldorf: Lilienfeld Press, 2015). The last section of this book is an appendix (311-408); it contains valuable information on 85 of the authors whose writings are housed in the archive. For each of these writers, who are presented in alphabetical order, there is a short biography, a listing of works available in the archive’s holdings, and a list of selected publications; for some there is also an interview, which the editors conducted while collecting materials for the archive. In a brief introduction to the appendix, Walther explains that the founders of the archive were not merely interested in gathering the unpublished evidence of a counterworld and storing it in the archive. For them it was more about giving a voice to these authors who had been pushed aside and the literature that had been suppressed, in addition to making both known to the public as authentic evidence of the SED’s cruel dictatorship (310).

As I write this piece in the COVID-19 summer of 2020, a time when all lives matter and no lives matter, I remind myself that thirty years have passed since the world witnessed the reunification of Germany. During that time span, several of the authors represented in the Archive of Suppressed Literature in the GDR were able to establish themselves as mainstream writers in unified Germany. Among the best known within this group are: Siegmar Faust, Jürgen Fuchs, Uwe Grüning, Wolfgang Hinkeldey, Jürgen Hultenreich, Freya Klier, Lutz Rathenow, Andreas Reimann, Gabriele Stötzer-Kachold, Lothar Trolle, Gerhard Zschorsch.

In conclusion, let me mention that Joachim Walther died on May 19th of this year. The next day Ines Geipel published an article in the online Berlin Newspaper (Berliner-Zeitung) announcing his death and paying tribute to him. Her article is entitled “The Person in Charge—upon the Death of Joachim Walther” (“Der Zuständige—zum Tod von Joachim Walther”). Geipel spent the first thirty years of her life in the GDR, where as a young woman she suffered brutal physical abuse at the hands of the Stasi. Her collaboration with Walther on a number of projects spanned a fifteen-year period (2001-2015). For discovering, uncovering, and preserving “the third German literature” and illuminating a dark chapter in German history, we who believe in freedom for all people and free speech owe Joachim Walther and Ines Geipel a debt of gratitude.