Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version

September 2000


Published in Encyclopedia of German Literature, ed. Matthias Konzett (Chicago and London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2000), v. 1, pp. 74– 76. Copyright © 2000 Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers; division of Taylor & Francis Publishing. Used by permission.


Throughout much of the 20th century, the name of Johannes R. Becher elicited strong reactions: he was a gifted Expressionist poet or a dangerous but largely incoherent pacifist; he was a tool of Moscow willing to betray the Weimar Republic or an example of an artist who transcended his class and served the proletariat; he was a degenerate enemy of the Third Reich or a hero of the Volkfront; his was a strong voice for the survival of German culture in the dark years or the timid voice of a survivor of Stalin's blood purges; he was a heroic pioneer for cultural renewal in the fledgling German socialist state or a vain, grasping functionary who betrayed his friends to retain his own tenuous position. Any of these views can be found in writings about Becher, both during and after his lifetime, and there is doubtless a kernel of truth in most of them.