Godela Weiss-Sussex, Professor of Modern German Literature at the ILCS, discovered the manuscript when she was handed a bag of unsorted papers at a conference on the author. Entitled Die daheim blieben [Those who Stayed at Home], the novel offers a poignant portrayal of a Jewish family in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi regime, 1933 to 1935.
Hermann, a powerful voice in German literature prior to World War II, wrote the novel while in exile in Holland in 1939. After being ordered to move to the ghetto in Amsterdam by Nazi officers, Hermann’s daughter, who had recently had a baby, smuggled out many of Hermann’s papers (including the manuscript) in a pram. Most of these were then donated to the Leo Baeck Institute in London, but somehow Those who Stayed at Home slipped through the net.
‘The book is remarkably similar in structure to Tom Stoppard's recent play Leopoldstadt’, says Weiss-Sussex. ‘It follows the same underlying idea: a large Jewish family gathering in Act I; then, in the following acts: the dwindling family; and always, at every stage a stock-taking, telling the history of German-speaking Jewry through the focus on one family’.
Among the papers handed to Professor Weiss-Sussex at the conference were letters, notes, and two closely typed manuscripts covered in additions and corrections in the author’s distinctive handwriting. To her amazement, she realised they were the first two parts of a novel Hermann had mentioned in letters to family and friends before being murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943. The novel had been planned as a four-part series of 'momentary glimpses' focusing on March 1933 (Hitler’s rise to power), September 1935 (Nuremberg race laws), September 1938 (exiles in Florence reacting to Mussolini’s race laws) and 9 November 1938 (the Reichskristallnacht pogroms).
Hermann had urged his daughters to find a publisher for the two first parts of the novel, as he desperately wanted the memory of those Jewish Germans who ‘stayed at home’ kept alive. However, no publisher wanted to touch this material in the war years, and so the texts were forgotten. Hermann’s wish has finally been fulfilled: Weiss-Sussex has carefully edited the manuscripts of the two first parts and prepared them for publication with a substantial afterword. Published by Wallstein in Göttingen, Germany, she now hopes that the novel will be translated into English and reach a new audience of readers keen to know more about life in pre-war Germany – and the works of Georg Hermann.
Hailed as a 'timely reminder' of events in the 1930s and 1940s, the Berlin daily Tagespiegel commented: 'Dass Hermanns letztes Werk jetzt erscheinen konnte, bietet Anlass zur Freude. Traurig sind lediglich die Umstände, die ihn so aktuell machen.' (13 November 2023). A detailed review by Manfred Orlick in the November 2023 issue of literaturkritik.de is available online.