The German PEN Club in exile 1933-1948

Membership List: Deutscher Pen-Club
Membership list of the German PEN Club in Exile, 18 November 1938
Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933-1945 der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek, Unterlagen des Deutschen PEN-Clubs im Exil („Exil-PEN“): 1933-1940, EB 75/175-787

The German PEN Club in exile 1933-1948

PEN stands for Poets, Essayists, Novelists. This international association of writers was set up in London in 1921. Its main objective was to bring together writers no matter what their origin, religion or nationality to contribute towards international peace efforts. Although PEN was founded under the motto “No politics in the P.E.N. Club”, it became politicised in the course of time so that it could exert pressure on governments in cases of censorship, oppression and persecution.

A German PEN Centre was founded in 1925 with Alfred Kerr as its president. When the Nazis seized power, the German centre was subject to “Gleichschaltung” (being brought into line with Nazi doctrine). Following the 11th International PEN Congress in Ragusa at the end of May 1933, German PEN resigned from the international association. Both Hermon Ould, secretary of international PEN, and playwright Ernst Toller had criticised the stance taken by the German PEN group and denounced the book burnings, as well as the exclusion and persecution of Jewish and politically disagreeable artists.

The dispersed group of German writers living in exile in London made efforts to re-form and from now on the German PEN Club in exile was to represent German literature within the international PEN Club. Heinrich Mann became its president in April 1934, while Rudolf Olden acted as secretary from 1933 to 1940.

German Exile PEN was officially recognised at the 12th International Congress of Writers in the Scottish city of Glasgow in 1934. Being a member of German Exile PEN gave German writers in exile, who were spread across the entire globe, a feeling of solidarity and provided them with a joint forum. Their activities also included rescue operations for writers from Czechoslovakia who were under threat and writers interned because they were seen as hostile foreigners.

After the War, German PEN re-formed in 1947, but was divided into two – with one centre in the Federal Republic of Germany and one in the German Democratic Republic. The East and West sections were brought together in 1998 to form the German Pen Centre. It offers exiled writers an Exile Network and is part of the Writers in Prison Committee. Exile PEN, which was set up in exile with Ernst Toller, Klaus Mann and many others among its members continued to exist abroad after 1945 as PEN-Zentrum deutschsprachiger Autoren im Ausland (PEN Centre of German-language Writers Abroad). Its honorary members include Inge Deutschkrohn, Judith Kerr-Kneale and Paul Nizon, to name but a few. The history of Exile PEN can be reconstructed well today thanks to archive material that author and PEN secretary Gabriele Tergit – acting on behalf of the centre executive of that time – handed over to the German National Library’s Exile Archive in 1975.

Further reading:
Der deutsche PEN-Club im Exil 1933-1948. Eine Ausstellung der Deutschen Bibliothek Frankfurt am Main. Asmus, Sylvia und Brita Eckert (Hg.): Rudolf Olden. Journalist gegen Hitler – Anwalt der Republik. Eine Ausstellung des Deutschen Exilarchivs 1933 - 1945 der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek. Leipzig, Frankfurt am Main, Berlin: Deutsche Nationalbibliothek 2010
Peitsch, Helmut: No Politics?: die Geschichte des deutschen PEN-Zentrums in London 1933 – 2002. Göttingen: V und R Unipress 2006