Hermlin, Stephan


Stephan Hermlin (real name Rudolf Leder) was born to middle-class Jewish parents in Chemnitz, Germany on April 13, 1915, He worked as a printer’s apprentice from 1933 to 1936, when he emigrated to Palestine. He moved to France in 1937, where he was enlisted as a prestataire in the French Army. In 1943, he fled to Switzerland and was interned in various work camps.


After WWII, Hermlin returned to Germany, where he first worked in radio, co-hosting the program “New Books,” in Frankfurt. In 1947, he chose to settle in the Soviet-occupied zone and became a contributor to the daily paper Tägliche Rundschau, the satirical magazine Ulenspiegel, the journal Sinn und Form, and other publications. Hermlin became a member of the German PEN Center and joined the East German Academy of Arts in 1950. He was deeply involved in the cultural and political development of the GDR and travelled internationally as a governmental representative.


The author of essays, poetry, short stories, radio dramas, and film scripts, Hermlin published his first volume of poetry, Zwölf Balladen von den großen Städten (transl. Twelve Ballads of the Big Cities), in Switzerland in 1945. Other volumes followed. His own political convictions and his awareness of the dilemmas created by war found direct expression in short stories, including “Die Zeit der Gemeinsamkeit” (transl. “The Time of Coming Together,” 1949) and “Der Leutnant Yorck von Wartenburg” (transl. “Lieutenant Yorck of Wartenburg,” 1946). In 1979, he published a memoir entitled Abendlicht (transl. Evening Light).


In the 1950s, Hermlin began to write film scripts, including for the full-length documentary on Ludwig van Beethoven directed by Max Jaap. At the end of the 1980s, he returned to film once more to work on a script for a documentary about Nazi policies, Die Lüge und der Tod (1988), at the GDR’s H&S Studio. Several of Hermlin’s literary works were adapted for the screen including: Die Suche nach dem goldenen Vlies (1985, animation film, based on Argonauten); Zeit der Einsamkeit; Die erste Reihe - Bilder aus dem Berliner Widerstand (transl. Lonely Time, 1984, TV); and Der Leutnant Yorck von Wartenburg (1981, TV).


Stephan Hermlin was one of the initiators and participants in the staged reading of Peter Weiss’ oratorio Die Ermittlung (The Investigation)—about the Auschwitz Trials taking place in Frankfurt from 1963 to 1965—in East Berlin on October 19, 1965. Hermlin was critical of the Soviet invasion of Prague in August, 1968, but did not make his opinions public. In contrast, he was much more open in his criticism of the East German government's expulsion of singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann in 1976. Hermlin, in turn, was criticized by colleagues for his inability to differentiate between power and literature, and the exaggerations and falsifications contained in his memoir. Stephan Hermlin died in Berlin on April 6, 1997.


1988 Die Lüge und der Tod (The Lie and Death, TV, doc., co-dir., co-script.)
1959  Ein Künstler des Volkes (An Artist of the People, doc.)
1954 Ludwig van Beethoven (doc.)
1953  Baumeister des Sozialismus Walter Ulbricht (Walter Ulbricht, Builder of Socialism, doc.)
1950 Immer bereit (Always Ready, doc.)
1948-65 Augenzeuge (Eyewitness newsreels)

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