13. Contact with Stefan Heym: February, 1976

The next report, dated March 12, 1976, is labelled “Information” and signed by Lieutenant Colonel Müller. Main Department XX/OG [Operative Group] appears in the upper left corner. The topic is my attempt to arrange a meeting with Stefan Heym, East Germany’s most famous writer.

From a reliable unofficial source, it was learned that the American Germanist

Dr. Richard ZIPSER
current residence: Vienna, Hörlgasse 11/6

made contact by letter with Stefan HEYM in the beginning of February 1976.  ZIPSER told HEYM that he is currently preparing teaching materials on GDR literature for universities in the USA and, beyond that, seeking to obtain GDR writers for lectures at universities of the USA.

In addition, ZIPSER disclosed that he would again be staying in the capital city of the GDR, from 3/28 until 4/9/1976, and would like to use this opportunity to meet with HEYM. By means of operative surveillance measures that were initiated, it was determined that HEYM responded to ZIPSER promptly on 2/5/1976, indicating that he would be pleased to greet ZIPSER at his home in the beginning of April 1976.

From HEYM’s letter it is obvious that he is ready to answer ZIPSER’s questions and thereby support his undertaking.

Reading this report, I learn for the first time that I actually had been carrying out my project with the official approval of the Writers’ Union in coordination with the Central Committee of the SED Party, a body that had enormous powers.

Regarding Richard ZIPSER: It is known that Richard ZIPSER was already staying in the GDR and conducting interviews with various GDR writers in October 1975, with the official approval of the GDR Writers’ Union, in consultation with the Central Committee of the SED. . . . He tape recorded some of these interviews, even though he had not been granted permission to work with sound recording equipment.

The IM further reported that in the beginning of February HEYM received a letter from a Dr. Richard ZIPSER, from Vienna, Hörlgasse 11/6. In this letter ZIPSER reports that he is presently engaged in preparing teaching materials on GDR literature for universities in the USA. Furthermore, ZIPSER is trying to obtain GDR writers for lectures on GDR literature at universities of the USA. In this connection he mentions that writers Christa and Gerhard WOLF and Ulrich PLENZDORF had expressed special interest in such lectures. In addition, ZIPSER told HEYM that he would be in the capital city of the GDR from 3/28 until 4/9/1976 and would like to use this opportunity to meet with HEYM.

IMV “Frieda” [Heym’s housekeeper]

The final two pages of the report contain a photograph of the typewritten letter that Heym sent me on February 5, 1976, inviting me to visit him in early April. There is also a photograph of the envelope addressed to me in Vienna, with three postage stamps and Heym’s return address on it. Due to an illness, I was unable to visit Heym in April 1976, but did meet with him at his villa in Berlin-Grünau in June of that year.

Heym, an internationally prominent German-Jewish writer, was at that time living under open Stasi surveillance. A secret police vehicle occupied by at least two officers was always parked on the street in front of his house, so he would know they were monitoring the coming and going of all persons to his residence, also to discourage people from visiting him. Inside the house, his informant housekeeper was able to overhear and report on his conversations with visitors, photograph documents that might be of interest to the Stasi, and keep a watchful eye on her employer whose telephone was most certainly bugged. The fact that he was constantly being observed must have bothered Heym, but he seemed to consider it a badge of honor, a tangible sign of his success as a SED regime critic and human rights advocate.

Heym had led a most unusual and eventful life. Born in Chemnitz in 1913, he fled the Nazis in 1933, moving first to Prague, and from there emigrating to the US in 1935. He completed his education at the University of Chicago, where he received a Master’s degree, and then for two years was editor-in-chief of the German-language weekly, Deutsches Volksecho (German People’s Echo). From 1939 to 1942, Heym worked as a printing salesman in New York City while trying to establish himself as a freelance author, writing in English. His first novel, Hostages (1942), was a bestseller, and his novel The Crusaders (1948) climbed to sixth place on The New York Times list of best sellers. He became a US citizen and served in the US Army during World War II. For his meritorious service as Technical Sergeant in 1944 and 1945, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal. In 1952, he wrote a letter to President Eisenhower, protesting the Korean War and the fascistic policies of the American government. Heym claimed to have sent the Bronze Star and his US Army commission to Eisenhower, but he remained a US citizen. He moved back to Prague with his wife and requested asylum in communist East Germany, where he hoped to find the personal rights that he said were lacking in the US. In 1953, the GDR government restored his former German citizenship, enabling him and his wife to move to Berlin, where he had been a student in the early 1930s.

SED Party officials would soon come to regret their decision to repatriate Heym, as he would demonstrate time and again to their chagrin that he was a rebellious, fearless dissident, a thorn in the side of the government. His first major conflict with the GDR authorities occurred in 1956 when his novel about the June 17, 1953 mass uprising of workers in East Berlin, 5 Tage im Juni (5 Days in June), was rejected for publication in the GDR. The novel was published in West Germany and in English translation, but the fact that it was banned in East Germany underscored how dangerous Heym’s fictional recounting of history was in the minds of GDR leaders.

Heym began publishing his books in the West, both in German and in English, and these publications earned him large sums of hard currency that GDR officials were eager to share in accordance with a formula the state had established. Heym resisted, and in 1969 he was convicted of violating the GDR’s currency exchange regulations after publishing his novel Lassalle in West Germany. In 1979 he was again convicted of breaching the GDR’s currency exchange regulations, this time in connection with the publication of his novel Collin in West Germany. This violation ultimately resulted in his expulsion from the GDR Writers’ Union and a major confrontation involving several other writers that will be discussed later on.

Heym had written many of his works in English and welcomed the opportunity to converse with me in that language when we met. He told me proudly that he subscribed to The New York Times and read it every day. Unlike other East German writers, Heym as a US citizen was able to leave the GDR and take trips abroad, such as his two-month visit to the US in 1978. He was pleased when I invited him to visit and give a talk at Oberlin College as part of his lecture tour. He came to Oberlin for two days and on November 17, 1978, he gave a memorable hour-long lecture to a huge audience on the inherent conflict between writers (he called them “practitioners of literature”) and cultural policymakers in the GDR.


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