Art in Exile - Newcastle University

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Art in Exile - Newcastle University
ART IN EXILE
Kurt Schwitters'
British Years in Context
The years Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) spent
in Britain culminated in the creation of his
Merz Barn wall which is now in the Hatton
Gallery in Newcastle.
The Merz Barn wall at the Hatton Gallery.
The wall is not only an artwork that
originated in exile, it is also very much the
physical product of it. The construction,
created in a barn in the Lake District in the
1940s, is based on Schwitters' specific form
of collage which he termed ‘Merz’, turning
into art every possible material he could
find in his environment. After fleeing from
Germany in the 1930s for political reasons,
Schwitters continued making art wherever
he went and had to leave it behind again to
move or be moved on.
The stations of his exile included Lysaker
in Norway, Edinburgh, the Isle of Man,
London and finally Ambleside in the Lake
District. The legacy he left has inspired
students in Newcastle since the 1960s when
the Merz Barn wall was brought to the
Hatton Gallery. This has been taken up by
the project Schwitters @ Newcastle in 2013, which
engages with Kurt Schwitters in the context
of exile. Students from the School of
Modern Languages (SML) have transcribed
and translated unpublished letters from the
Kurt Schwitters Archive in the Sprengel
Museum, Hannover, Germany, and have
researched the stories behind them, linking
Kurt Schwitters, 1944.
Schwitters' life story with that of other
World War II German refugees who settled
in the UK, Newcastle University's famous
archaeologist Brian Shefton and renowned
Shakespeare scholar Ernst Honigmann.
For Herbert Read, 1944 (© DACS, 2013).
ISLE OF MAN - KURT SCHWITTERS’ INTERNMENT IN DOUGLAS
Hutchinson Camp —
the internment camp
in Douglas on the Isle
of Man
Hutchinson Camp, Douglas, Isle of Man.
Kurt Schwitters had anything
but an easy life. As the political
situation under the Nazis
continued to deteriorate in the
1930s, his work was branded as
Entartete Kunst’ (‘degenerate
art‘) by the Nazis. He moved to
Norway but after Germany
invaded the country in 1940,
Schwitters was forced to flee
further, this time to Britain.
After the outbreak of the war,
German-speaking men in Britain
were considered to be ‘enemy
aliens’ and interned in camps.
Kurt Schwitters was interned
from 17 July 1940 to 21
November 1941 at Hutchinson
Camp in Douglas on the Isle of
Man. By the end of July 1940,
around 1,200 men were interned
there, most of them with a
Jewish background, many of
them also persecuted for
political reasons. The camp
consisted of about forty
boarding houses around
Hutchinson Square in Douglas,
enclosed with barbed wire. The
houses themselves were not illequipped but ‘pretty basic,’
explains Professor Charmian
Brinson of Imperial College,
London, whose research focus
lies in German and Austrian
Exile Studies. ‘For example,
there were blankets but no
sheets, often shared beds,
though sufficient food.’ Being on
the coast of the island,
Hutchinson Camp also provided
a sea view.
Douglas, Isle of Man, today (© Jim Linwood).
The professions brought
together at Hutchinson Camp
allowed a wealth of academic
and creative talent. Scientists,
lawyers, mathematicians, and an
abundance of artists were
among the internees, such as
writer and journalist Friedrich
Burschell, sculptor Ernst MüllerBlensdorf, and pianist Maryan
Rawicz. This led to the
formation of what was called the
‘Camp University’ with classes
taking place in literature, music,
philosophy, and other fields. ‘It
was very difficult to start with
but as time went on and life
became more organised there
was a lot on offer in the way of
lectures, concerts, exhibitions,
organised by the internees
themselves,’ Brinson tells us.
Schwitters produced over 200
works in his internment. After
his release he went on to make
his most famous piece, the Merz
Barn. It invites us to celebrate
him as one of the great artists of
his time; but it also invites us to
reflect on what was a difficult
time for all those interned in
Britain during the Second World
War.
Marcus Forrester (1st year, SML,
Newcastle University)
30 May 1941
Kurt Schwitters writes about his life and art
in the internment camp on the Isle of Man
(Jack Deverson, 2 nd year, SML, Newcastle University)
This letter gives an insight into Schwitters' artistic activity during his internment
on the Isle of Man. The outside of the letter reveals the laborious route the letter
took before it arrived. On its way from the camp, it was first examined by censor
4120 in England who ‘opened’ it, only for it to once more be opened (‘Geöffnet’) by
the ‘Oberkommando der Wehrmacht’, the German military authority, sealing it
again with another paper-strip over it and stamping it first with a red, then with a
black eagle cum swastika before it reached ‘Frau Helma Schwitters, Hannover,
Waldhausenstrasse 5ii, Germany’. His wife Helma was one of the few addressees
to whom Schwitters continued writing in German, a fact which the remark ‘w. i.
German’ signalled to the censor. In the letter Schwitters describes the peaceful
surroundings of Hutchinson Camp and the floor on which he lives alone. His
living space has practically become a painter's studio in which he works on
abstract pictures as well as portraits and landscapes.
Liebste!
P.C. den 30.5.41
Aus irgend einem kühlen Grunde bleibe ich immer noch interniert, während alle
anderen Künstler frei sind. Ich bin sehr froh darüber, denn wer weiss, ob ich sonst
noch lebte. Hier ist es ruhig und schön, und ich kann malen, soviel ich will,
während draussen der Krieg tobt. Du weisst, dass ich früher so schlecht warten
konnte. Ich habe jetzt eine grosse Ruhe. Das habe ich in Hjertö gelernt und vertiefe es
in diesem Kriege. Alles, was ohne eigenes Zutun kommt, ist immer das Beste.
Wenn ich freikomme, halte ich das wieder für das Beste. Aber du glaubst nicht, wie
gute Bilder ich hier im Lager malen konnte. Komme ich nach USA, so ist es mein
Wunsch, wenn nicht, so konnte es garnicht besser kommen. Ich bin für Alles
dankbar. Zur Zeit bewohne ich hier eine ganze Etage allein. Da ist eine richtige
Malerwerkstatt entstanden. Ich male Portrait, abstrakt und Landschaft aus
Norwegen. Ich kenne sie so gut, dass ich es auswendig malen kann. Esther hat viele
Bekannte, die Bilder aus Norwegen gern kaufen. Der Blick nach vorn ist
wundervoll, ich sehe in den Park, ein Meer von Blüten, dann die Stadt, dahinter
Berge und das Meer. Grüss alle, besonders meine Mutter.
Dir innige Küsse, Dein Mann.
Dearest!
P.C. [P Camp, Hutchinson Camp], 30th May 1941
For some unknown reason I am still interned, while all the other artists are free. I am very happy about this, for who knows whether I would
still be alive otherwise. It is peaceful and beautiful here, and I can paint as much as I want whilst the war rages outside. You know that I was
terrible at waiting before. Now, I truly feel peace. I learned to do this in Hjertøya [island in Norway], and I’m becoming even better at it
during this war. Everything that happens of its own accord is always the best. When I am released, I will think that is the best thing as well.
But you wouldn’t believe what good pictures I’ve managed to paint here in the camp. If I get to the USA, then that’s my wish; if not, then it
couldn’t possibly have worked out better. I am thankful for everything. At the moment, I have a whole floor to myself here. That has become a
real painter’s studio. I paint portraits, abstracts and landscapes from Norway. I know them so well that I can paint them from memory.
Esther [first wife of Schwitters’ son] has many acquaintances who like to buy pictures of Norway. The view from the window is wonderful;
I see into the park - a sea of blossom - then the town and behind that, mountains and the sea. Best wishes to all, especially my mother.
With tender kisses to you, Your husband.
Schwitters behind barbed
wire
In his autobiography The Making of an
Englishman (1960), Fred Uhlman, recalls the
‘extraordinary collection of people’ housed
within Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of
Man where he was interned with Kurt
Schwitters. ‘Our pride,’ he writes ‘was our
marvellous collection of more than thirty
university professors and lecturers,’ and
this led Uhlman to describe the camp as
‘one of Europe’s best universities.’ It was a
camp of academics and particularly of
artists. His encounter with these artists
further inspired Uhlman's career change
from being a lawyer to becoming an art
collector and an artist himself. Uhlman's
collection of African art is now owned by
the Hatton Gallery as is Kurt Schwitters'
portrait of Uhlman painted in the camp.
Painting however, was not always an
easy task for Schwitters during his
internment. Uhlman sarcastically remarks
that, in order ‘to save black-out material,
somebody had had the ‘brilliant’ idea of
painting every window blue and every
light bulb red, with the result that during
the day it was always as dark as in an
aquarium and during the night the place
looked like a brothel.’ The internees tried to
combat their depressing surroundings by
etching figures, flowers and landscapes into
the blue glass. Schwitters suffered
considerably from the blue and red,
experiencing eye irritations and scotoma as
a result, which rendered him temporarily
unable to see and therefore work.
Depression was also common in
Hutchinson Camp. Schwitters, who wrote
home about the beautiful mountains, rivers,
flowers and weather, did well to conceal his
mental anguish. When writing to family
about his eye condition, he related the
situation pragmatically, listing cause and
effect, being sure to immediately mention
the good in the bad. Generally, his letters
home showed him to be content. Only
occasionally would his letters betray a
pessimistic feeling, such as that life had
become ‘eintönig’ (‘monotonous’), or that
he has come to see everything as
‘gleichgültig’ (‘indifferent’). These thoughts
were quickly followed up by optimism and
sentences such as ‘die Blumen blühen’ (‘the
flowers are blooming’). An exception being
a letter he wrote on Christmas Eve of 1940,
in which he laments that, ‘der grausame
Krieg nimmt mir allen Glauben’ (‘the
gruesome war robs me of my faith’). He
describes the decorations and celebrations,
saying that ‘Ich konnte nicht singen, weil
ich sofort weinen musste’ (‘I could not sing,
because I cried immediately’).
15 August 1941
Kurt Schwitters on the confusion of Dadaism and
politics
(Laura Germaney, Josephine Leung and Gemma Nolan,
2 nd year, SML, Newcastle University)
In this letter to the intelligence officer at Hutchinson Camp, Kurt
Schwitters explains that his dispute with the sculptor Ernst MüllerBlensdorf concerned different interpretations of Dadaism, not politics:
the ‘daddaist danger’ poses no threat to Britain! The stamp of Examiner
412 to which Schwitters refers in the letter can be seen on the earlier
letter Schwitters posted in May. The typed letter with formal address,
long header and British-style formal signature, shows the anxiety
Schwitters felt over the issue which could determine the length of his
stay in the internment camp.
Both Uhlman and Schwitters went on to
earn recognition. Sadly, Schwitters was
destined to never to experience the
popularity of his work. He once said, ‘noone knows who I am now, but in 60 years
they will.’ If only he had known he was
right, it might have helped ease the toll
internment took on him.
Untitled (Portrait of Fred Uhlman), 1940. This portrait of Fred Uhlman was
painted by Schwitters during their internment on the Isle of Man. It is part of
the permanent collection of the Hatton Gallery (© DACS, 2013).
Chrystina Martel (4th year, SML, Newcastle University)
FROM THE LAKE DISTRICT TO NEWCASTLE—
THE STORY OF THE MERZ BARN NOW AND THEN
The Merz Barn in Elterwater
The Merz Barn exterior in Elterwater, 1965 (© Fred Brookes).
In the Langdale valley of Cumbria in the
Lake District lies the site where Kurt
Schwitters created his Merz Barn. It is
the last in a series of Merzbauten (Merz
buildings) which Schwitters started in
Hannover. Throughout his flight from
Germany to Norway and finally Britain,
Schwitters tried to keep up his Merz
work, both in Lysaker and then in
Elterwater in the Lake District.
Since both the Hannover and Lysaker
Merzbauten were destroyed, the only
intact piece of a Merzbau left is the Merz
Barn wall, now permanently in the
Hatton Gallery of Newcastle University.
Schwitters started work on it in summer
1947 (cf. letter 3 July 1947) but only
realised part of the grand plan he had
sketched in the few remaining months
before he died.
After the barn received little attention
in the first decades after Schwitters'
death, the wall with his artwork on was
moved to the Hatton Gallery to preserve
it in Newcastle; recently, the site in
Elterwater with the remaining walls has
finally been recognised as an important
part of the area's cultural heritage.
The remaining building of the Merz Barn in Elterwater today
(© Les Hull).
Alice Quinn (1st year, SML, Newcastle University)
Kurt Schwitters in Elterwater with Edith Thomas and Bill Pierce, son of
Harry Pierce, 1947 (Courtesy of Edith Thomas-Wantee Woodmansterne
Publications Ltd., Watford, WD1 8RD).
The Merz Barn wall at
the Hatton Gallery
Part of the Merz Barn wall (photographed by Hannah Sharratt).
The Hatton Gallery has been
home to Kurt Schwitters' Merz
Barn wall since 1965. The wall
has recently found itself in a
temporary new habitat named
‘As Above So Below’ created by
Catrin Huber, lecturer in Fine
Art at Newcastle University. As
soon as you walk into the room
which houses the wall, your
eyes are immediately drawn to
this iconic piece of artwork. The
emptiness and simplicity of the
huge room and its plain redpainted walls in contrast to the
rural and natural detail and
intricacies of the Merz Barn wall
tempt all focus onto this piece of
artwork. The Merz Barn wall is
based on the idea of collage as
Schwitters
used
whatever
objects he could find in his
surroundings. Some of these
included stones, pieces of wood
and sections of a watering can
which give this work abstract
and three dimensional qualities.
The word ‘Merz’ was created
by Schwitters to describe ‘the
combination,
for
artistic
purposes, of all conceivable
materials.’ The Merz Barn wall is
one of the few surviving pieces
of Schwitters' Merzbauten (Merz
buildings) making it a treasured
piece. All of his Merzbauten were
collages created by his bare
hands and basic tools. It is still
possible to see the imprints of
Schwitters' hands on the Merz
Barn wall, as Hazel BarronCooper, Learning Officer at the
Hatton Gallery, pointed out to
students studying the wall.
The Merz Barn wall at the Hatton Gallery surrounded by Catrin
Huber’s installation ‘As Above So Below‘
(photographed by Hannah Sharratt).
After Schwitters' death in
1948, the Merz Barn wall was left
unfinished. In 1965 Harry Pierce,
owner of the barn, signed a
formal deed of gift to Newcastle
University
after
Richard
Hamilton, who was teaching in
the
university's
Fine
Art
Department
at
the
time,
convinced
the
university
authorities to preserve the Merz
Barn.
The Merz Barn wall on its way to the Hatton Gallery
(© Fred Brookes).
Fred Brookes, an art student
at the university back then, was
the
university's
nominated
representative for the move of
the wall and was heavily
involved in its installation and
restoration at the Hatton
Gallery. In a talk on 13 March
this year, which was organised
by Rob Airey, Keeper of Art at
the Hatton Gallery, Brookes
vividly described how the Merz
Barn wall came to Newcastle.
The transportation of the wall
was a huge task given that the
dry-stone wall could not be
dismantled as this structure,
which weighs an estimated 25
tons,
would
have
been
impossible to put back together.
Brookes recalls having to carry
out a detailed survey of the
barn, which was coordinated by
Hamilton, before the wall could
be moved. The Merz Barn wall
arrived in Newcastle on 4
October 1965 but was stored in a
frost proof environment until it
completed the final leg of the
journey to the gallery itself, into
which it was carefully lowered
through a slit cut out of the roof.
After its installation in the
Hatton Gallery, Brookes began
restoring the wall so that it is as
close as possible to a true
representation
of
how
it
appeared in Elterwater.
The Merz Barn wall arrives at Newcastle University
(© Fred Brookes)
Hannah Sharratt (1st year, SML,
Newcastle University)
3 July 1947
Kurt Schwitters discusses the grant from the
Museum of Modern Art, New York, and early
beginnings of the Merz Barn
(Rosie Anderson, Liliana Dalbins and Christopher Envy,
2nd year, SML, Newcastle University)
Kurt Schwitters writes a letter to his son Ernst and his second wife Lola
(‘Eve’), addressed as ‘E+E’, who were living in Lysaker, Norway. He talks
about the grant he has received from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
to rebuild his previous Merzbauten in either Lysaker or Hannover.
Eventually it was agreed that Schwitters would build a completely new
Merz building with the grant, the Merz Barn. This letter shows that
Schwitters first intended to continue working on the Merzbau in Lysaker
while stating that the Hannover Merzbau was irreparable. Schwitters
mentions early beginnings of the Merz Barn but says that he had to
interrupt working on it due to lack of funds. As in many other letters to his
son, Schwitters signs this letter with the Norwegian term for grandfather,
‘Bestefar’, thus also including his grandson Bengt in the greetings.
1.
Ambleside. 3.7.47
Dear E+E!
Today I got an official letter of the (mus of M’ART) [Museum of Modern Art] stating
that I get $1000 for resuming work on the second Merzbau. From Miss [Margaret] Miller I
know, that I get 2 times after that again 1000$. But I must show work. I dont
immediately need photos. But I would very much like to start in September.
Now dont get akwcqued [awkward?]. I got a letter of Mr. Kraus, whom you know, and
who sends you greetings, how to get the necessary papers from England and Norway.
Dont do anyything [!] in this respect. Only [page] 2 in case there should come
difficulties, I would write for help. I thought to come with Wantee [Edith Thomas] for my
help. If it comes as I think we would come in the beginn [!] of September til the beginn [!]
of January.
But under no circumstances we will disturb you or your peace. We dont want any room
in the flat, because it is not big enough for all of us. We will if possible, live in the
Merzbau or take any room somewhere, perhaps in a Hotel. We come there for working. If
possible, [page] 3 could you lend us for one bed the necessary things? You slept also once
with Esther [Ernst Schwitters’ first wife] in the Merzbau. All I hope, Tante [Ernst
Schwitters’ landlady Bertha Jensen] can lend us again the big Paraffin stove, on that we
could boil our tins in the Merzbau. And from time to time we go out eating. I know, how
difficult it is to manage to us all in your home. Perhaps we find a furnished 2 rooms in Lysaker. Perhaps Tante gives us a room? against
payment. Anyhow we will not disturb.
You know how quick I find a possibility to live there. But I would like that you could fix with Tante a con- [page] 4 tract for 10 – 30
years, that I can start. I think, that I am ready with my work in 3 or 6 Months time. But I would like, that it can stand than [!] some
years. Perhaps in that time the Museum would buy it or I have time enough to replace it at another place.
Please, Ernst, send me your answer quick because I start writing and writing for the papers. If you think of any difficulties, write me too
quickly. The Hannover Merzbau is unrepairable, bat [but] I had to build a new one in Ambleside. But for that purpose the money would
not reach I had to leave it asafely[!].
[page] 5 Please write quickly! I send you all my love.
Bestefar
28 September 1947
Kurt Schwitters writes to his son and daughter in
law about his work on the Merz Barn
(Julia Niemann, 2nd year, SML, Newcastle University)
Kurt Schwitters writes to Ernst and Lola (‘Eve’) about working on the Merz
Barn, expressing his satisfaction with the results so far. He reassures Ernst
and Lola about his own well-being stressing that he is well looked after
despite the absence of his companion Edith Thomas, who he calls
‘Wantee’. He mentions the article about him by Herbert Read that has
helped him to get portrait commissions, and jokes about the political
system in Britain.
Ambleside. 28.9.47
Dear E + E
I dont know, where you are. May be on holidays, may be back again,
much work and little money. Please take the Money of Mr. [Hjalmar]
Gabrielson for your use, you seem to need it. And I am all right, I work,
portrait and Merzbarn. My Merzbarn gets much nicer than the Merzbau I
and II. I learned a lot at them.
Wantee had to go to London for 10 days. Her Sister is very ill. But she is
a bit better since. I hope, she is back tuesday. I miss her, and am looking
forward, but myself was to [too] weak to travel. Miss Goldsmith [Hilde
Goldschmidt], Mr [Harry] Pierce, Bicki [Harry Bickerstaff] and Mr.
[George Ainslie] Johnston look after me.
Please write, how you are. I am a lot sorry [?] [page] 2 The articte [article]
about Kurt Schwitters is very good and understanding. And brought me a
portrait commission. Keep it with the filed letters please. How is Bengt?
What do you think of the konservatifs [!]? I think, Churchill didnot do so
many mistakes as Athlee [!], and it was a nicer life than [!]. Mr. Pierce will
introduce me in a conservatif party, so that I get portrait commissions.
Anyhow a commission of the Tories is better than bills and taxes of the
Labour. Before they charge me, they shall procure the right.
With all my love.
Bestefar and Daddy
LIFE STORIES OF WORLD WAR II GERMAN REFUGEES –
NEWCASTLE UNIVERSITY’S BRIAN SHEFTON AND ERNST
HONIGMANN
Schwitters' Merz Barn is not the only cultural legacy left in Newcastle by a German who was
persecuted by the Nazi regime in the 1930s. It is also home to collages made by friends of his
such as photographer and artist Ella Bergmann-Michel and the 70 piece collection of African
sculpture built up by Fred Uhlman. While Kurt Schwitters and Fred Uhlman came as adults
to the UK during the era of National Socialism, this part of ‘Art in Exile’ looks at two
academics who came as boys from Germany and went on to make a significant contribution
to Newcastle University.
Brian Shefton and the
wonders of the past
Brian Shefton.
Brian Shefton, scholar and professor
of Greek Art and Archaeology, built
up a collection of nearly 1,000
Greek and Etruscan artefacts at the
Great North Museum: Hancock.
How did he do this? I spoke to
Andrew Parkin, Keeper of
Archaeology for the museum, to
find out more…
Born to Jewish parents in
Cologne, Germany, Shefton and
his family migrated to Britain in
1933 to escape Nazi oppression.
His name was originally Bruno
Benjamin Scheftelowitz but he
was advised to anglicise it on
joining the British Army during
the war. After the war he
graduated from Oriel College,
Oxford in 1947 and went from
strength to strength, becoming a
lecturer in 1955 and then
Professor of Greek Art and
Archaeology at Newcastle
University in 1979.
But what makes him really
stand out is this weird and
wonderful array of pottery,
figures and sculptures, some of
which date as far back as 800
BC. Parkin picks out a peculiar
hammered bronze griffin, which
would have been part of a
cauldron, as one of Shefton's
favourite objects: ‘He was very
proud of it as these hammered
ones are quite rare, because the
technique of hammering bronze
was quickly superseded by
casting.’ Another of Shefton's
favourites was the top half of a
rhodium-bronze wine jug,
which has a very distinctive
handle consisting of three tubes.
‘He wrote several really long
articles about it and was keen on
finding all the examples he
could,’ recalls Parkin.
Acquiring the collection - the
size of which is surpassed only
The Shefton Collection of Greek Art and Archaeology at the Hancock
(photographed by Katie Hampson).
by Oxford and Cambridge in
terms of university collections was by no means easy. Shefton
bought objects mainly through
the arts market and relied on
grants to fund his work,
beginning with the initial £25 in
1956 which bought him three
Greek pots. Parkin explains to
me that, when Shefton arrived in
Newcastle in the 1950s, it wasn't
frowned upon for archaeologists
to have connections with the arts
market. By the 1970s, however,
perceptions had completely
changed, which posed
challenges for Shefton.
Fortunately that didn't stop
him. ‘He was very good at
securing funds and getting
people to give stuff. But he
certainly wasn't very good at
sticking to rules!’ comments
Parkin with a smile. He
enthusiastically recounts how
Shefton acquired an object from
an arts fair in Zurich, placed it in
someone's office at Newcastle
University, and then said three
months later: ‘Oh, by the way,
can we buy this object for the
Museum?’
The collection's original home
was the Shefton Museum in the
Department of Classics, in the
Armstrong Building at
Newcastle University. Then it
was moved to the renovated
Great North Museum: Hancock,
with the help of Parkin. ‘I think
what he really wanted was to
establish Newcastle as a centre
for the study of Greek art and
archaeology,’ enthuses Parkin.
Newcastle is incredibly lucky
to have access to this diverse
collection. The vast array of
artefacts sparks the imagination
of curious visitors to the
museum, and it is also an
invaluable resource for students
and staff at the University.
Likewise, the Robinson Library
houses an extensive collection of
books on Greek, Etruscan and
Roman archaeology that Shefton
built up over the years. These
two collections are what he
considered to be his greatest
achievements.
One of Shefton‘s favourite objects
(photographed by Katie Hampson).
Brian Shefton:
11 August 1919 - 25 January 2012
You can listen to his description of
some of his rare finds on recordings
from his 90th birthday in 2009 – go to
the SML Newcastle youtube channel
and search for 'Brian Shefton'.
Katie Hampson (1st year, SML,
Newcastle University),
with thanks to Andrew Parkin.
Ernst Honigmann - a man of many friends
Ernst Anselm Joachim Honigmann was a famous
Shakespeare scholar and Joseph Cowen Professor of English
Literature at Newcastle University. He was born in Germany
and came with his family to Britain in 1935. He lived in
Newcastle until his death in July 2011.
Ernst Honigmann.
To be torn out of the world you live in is a very dramatic
experience. For Ernst Honigmann, this was especially true, as
his family fled from Germany in 1935 because of the threat
from the Nazi regime. Ernst was born in 1927 in Breslau what
was then Silesia (now Wroclaw in Poland). He was the son of a
zoologist, who was the director of the Breslau Zoo. There, Ernst
grew up in an intellectual as well as very unusual environment.
His father, for example, was interested in the intelligence of
animals and thus Ernst spent one year of his early childhood
sharing a cot with a chimpanzee called Moritz. In Togetherness.
Episodes from the life of a refugee (2006), Honigmann even
dedicates one of the short autobiographical episodes which
make up the book to ‘Clever Moritz’, with whom he had an
almost brotherly relationship.
Since his father was Jewish, the family fled to Britain and
eventually settled in Glasgow. He was only 7 years old when
the family arrived in Britain. He needed to learn a new
language and found himself in a culture which was very
different from where he grew up. The situation became even
more difficult when his father died in 1943. His mother found
herself alone in Glasgow with Ernst and his two brothers. In
Togetherness Honigmann writes down his father's advice: ‘Go
where the best minds are.’ Ernst took these words to heart.
From 1944 to 1948, he went to Glasgow University and went on
to become a university lecturer. In 1970, only two years after he
became a Reader in English at Newcastle, Honigmann was
appointed to the Joseph Cowen Chair of English Literature at
Newcastle University. ‘I was fascinated by the way he worked,’
recalls John Batchelor, a close friend of Honigmann and his
successor to the Joseph Cowen Chair. ‘He liked to work deeply
in archives. Even on family holidays he would continue to
work.’ His scholarly study was not only his job, but also his
passion.
If there was one thing Honigmann sought after losing so
much of what constituted his life as a child, it was togetherness,
the title he chose for his autobiography. There he writes: ‘(…)
the war broke out, my father died, the family split up, one
could not foresee the future and togetherness became, for me, a
mysterious obsession.’ And togetherness is exactly what he
achieved throughout his life as he was a close friend to so many
people. Some of them showed their admiration and deep
friendship
when
they
surprised
him
with
a
‘Festschrift’ (Shakespearean Continuities, 1997) written for him as
a present for his 70th birthday. After being hospitalized, having
suffered a stroke in 2011, Honigmann was still be able to create
a feeling of deep togetherness. Batchelor recalls: ‘All his old
friends came. Very, very old men. They would sit at each side
of the bed and talk to him. Then they talked to me. Then they
talked to each other.’
Ernst Honigmann:
29 November 1927 – 18 July 2011
Thilo Zerbini (intern at SML, Newcastle University),
with thanks to John Batchelor.
would like to thank all students of the School of Modern Languages who
participated in the Kurt Schwitters translation and journalism workshops and contributed to
‘Art in Exile’:
[email protected]
Marnie Allen, Rosie Anderson, Liliana Dalbins, Jack Deverson, Christopher Envy, Marcus
Forrester, Laura Germaney, Rachel Guntrip, Lucinda Hall, Katie Hampson, Adam Lambert,
Josephine Leung, Cara Malarkey, Chrystina Martel, Rebecca Mayhew, Aaron Myers,
Julia Niemann, Gemma Nolan, Alice Quinn, Rhiannon Robertson, Ian Robson,
Anastasia Rydaeva, Hannah Sharratt, Rachel Stanfield and Thilo Zerbini.
An invaluable help was the expertise of Dr Helen Ferstenberg, Jenny Lemke, Dr Simone
Schroth and Dr Gabriele Wright as well as Rob Airey and Hazel Barron-Cooper.
[email protected] was initiated by Prof Henrike Lähnemann and curated by Aletta Rochau.