Youth without God

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Youth without God is the third novel by the Austro-Hungarian writer Ödön von Horváth . It was published in 1937 and shortly thereafter, in early 1938, was translated into eight other languages.

Table of contents

A teacher is correcting his students' class work. He found out that the student N expresses himself very disrespectfully towards blacks ( called “ negroes ” in the book ). He criticized this, but did not paint it because - according to his reasoning - he could not fault anything that was officially reported in the media in his country. He thinks about a lot during this time, especially about God. He confesses that he lost his faith in World War I and only pretends to believe in front of others. He believes that it is unreasonable to believe in a benevolent God if he simply accepts all the calamities in the world.

On the next school day, when he returned the class work to his students, he expressed his opinion to N that black people were also people. Thereupon the teacher is visited by the father of the student N. The father disapproves of the teacher's testimony and reports the teacher to the director of the school for spreading the “poison of humanity drudgery”. He only advises the teacher to adapt to the external circumstances if he does not want to lose his pension. Then the whole class signs a letter of complaint, with which the students ask for a new teacher. The principal nips the student's request in the bud and instructs the teacher to continue with the class. The teacher, who is afraid of a disciplinary punishment and no longer takes pleasure in his job, goes to a bar in the evening and meets an old teacher colleague called "Julius Caesar" while drunk. He lets him in on his problems, and "Julius Caesar" tries to explain the changes in society to the teacher on the basis of sexuality and the position of women . He speaks of the "Age of Pisces" . He explains that the human soul will soon be as immobile as the face of a fish. The teacher believes more and more in the words of his colleague with each passing day.

During this time, student W dies of pneumonia. As a result, the teacher again doubts God because he does not see why he is not helping this poor man. At the funeral he noticed the cold, stare gaze of his pupil T for the first time. T's eyes remind the teacher of a fish. Since the principal is on the side of the teacher, he is not suspended and has to accompany his students to a camp. This tent camp, which takes place during the Easter holidays, serves as pre-military training, which is commanded by an old sergeant, with the teacher only serving as a supervisor. During this time the boys learn things like shooting and marching. It is compulsory for schools to send their students to such a tent camp every year. Arrived in a small, idyllic village, the teacher has a long conversation with the local pastor. He thinks that God is just because he also punishes, but that God is also the most terrible thing in the world. This sentence encourages the teacher to think because he has not believed in the righteous God for a long time. After a few days in the camp, a camera was stolen. The teacher then checks the guards and notices that Z is receiving a letter from a strange boy. He suspects that Z has contact with a gang of thieves that he had previously observed robbing an old, blind woman.

The determination to read this letter is made in the teacher's mind. However, he does not want to ask Z to do so. The next morning, a student who has to share the tent with Z and N complains about the constant arguments between Z and N. So the teacher learns that Z is keeping a diary, which he keeps in a box with a lock, and he still will curious.

When the boys are not in the camp, he breaks the box with a wire, damaging the lock, and reads Z's diary. In it, he learns that Z has a relationship with the leader (Eva) of the robber gang. In addition, it is written in the diary that everyone who reads his diary will die. When Z comes back from his patrol, because of the broken lock, he immediately notices that the box has been opened and accuses N of reading his diary. A heated argument begins between the two of them. N asks the teacher to believe him that he has not read the diary and to help him. However, the teacher is silent and does not admit that he has read the diary. He is ashamed to reveal his offense in front of the assembled student body. However, he resolves to inform Z of his offense that same night and thus to exonerate N. During the night, however, he again loses courage and postpones the confession until the next morning.

The next day the teacher overslept. When he wakes up, the students have already left. You return in the evening without an N. The teacher has a terrible guess, especially after Z told him that N confessed to reading the diary. The following day two forest workers find N slain in the forest. A homicide squad begins investigating. After a student reports the incident with Z's diary and his death threat against N, Z confesses to having killed N. After looking through the diary, his love affair with the boss of the criminal gang, Eva, becomes known. Eva is also captured shortly afterwards. The murder case comes to court; Z continues to admit to having committed the murder, but he cannot remember any details. Furthermore, his mother assures that he does not have a compass; the person who was found at the scene does not belong to the victim, which indicates that there must have been another person at the scene. Even the judge doesn't want to believe him. It is believed that he wants to cover Eva out of love.

During a pause in negotiations, the teacher hears an inner voice that he recognizes as God and gains the courage to finally tell the truth. On the witness stand he said that he read the diary and watched Z with Eva. The courage of this statement also leads Eve to tell the truth. She testifies that a strange boy with "fish eyes" killed N. With these words the teacher thinks of T and his cold eyes. The latter stares at him all the time, as he did at W.'s funeral, but nobody believes Eva. She is charged with the murder of N. The trial against Eva is to take place in three months, until then Eva will be kept in prison. The teacher is obsessed with the thought that it is not Eva N's murderess, but T. With the help of "Julius Caesar" and some conspiratorial students who have formed a club, T is shadowed and thus learned more about him. T notices this and does not fall into the teacher's trap. The latter has a conversation with him, but T vigorously denies all the facts. T tells the teacher that he has fish eyes and that is why the students named him “fish”. The student from the club corrects this, however: The teacher did not get the nickname fish, but "negro" because of his statements at the time. Only T called the teacher “fish”.

The pastor, with whom the teacher had the conversation in the tent camp, visits him to congratulate him on his courage to tell the truth in court. Since the teacher has lost his job and thus his pension as a result of his behavior, the pastor makes him the offer to accept a teaching position in Africa. The teacher tells the pastor about his suspicions about T. The pastor advises the teacher to immediately inform T's mother of his suspicions. So the teacher seeks out T's mother, but she has no time for him. For this he meets T himself, who becomes nervous because of the presence of the teacher and his intention to talk to his mother about him. After a few days, the teacher is visited by a commissioner in the middle of the night and taken to T's house. There T is found hanging outside the house by a ditch. He left a suicide note that read "Teacher drove me to my death". Since there is no demolition, the teacher suspects a second part. He gives a passionate speech that causes T's mother to collapse. She drops the second part of the slip of paper from her hand. The second part reads: “Because the teacher knows that I killed the N. With the stone - “. The teacher now feels that God has moved into this house because a righteous God also punishes. Thereupon Eva is released from prison and taken in by the pastor. The teacher says goodbye to "Julius Caesar" and the club of helpful students and goes to Africa.

In his mind he drives as "Negro to Negro".


The title of the work Youth Without God expresses the character , thoughtlessness and lovelessness of the youth in the Third Reich . Their indifferent behavior is reinforced by the naming: The students are only named with letters (for example T or N ), so they are just "numbers" without their own individuality . However, this anonymization also shows that it is not a few individuals, but the mass of followers and opportunists that are to be criticized here. Towards the end of the novel, Horváth sets up an equation that gives the title a real meaning - when the first-person narrator realizes: "God is the truth." lost.

He describes the events in chronological order from the point of view of the teacher, who appears here as the first-person narrator . The novel is divided into 44 short chapters, the headings of which can often only be related to the chapter content and deciphered after reading. The plot ( narrated time ) extends over approx. Seven months (spring to autumn) and takes place for the most part in a closed environment : most of the students and the teacher come from the higher-income middle class . This novel is written in a stylized, deliberately simple language, of which the short sentences are characteristic. It contains a large number of internal monologues .

The characters in “Youth without God” are essentially divided into two camps: that of the (old) Christian - humanistic order and that of the (new) National Socialist order.

As the protagonist, the teacher is a representative of the old order. At first glance, his students are opposed to him as unified opponents, namely as representatives of the new order. They stand for the new zeitgeist and state power. They are encouraged in their attitude by the radio, the medium of fascism , and partly by their parents. Exceptions are the “club”, which only appears towards the end and supports the teacher in solving the crime, but also nihilists of the Ts type, of whom Julius Caesar says there are many.

The pastor and Julius Caesar are the teacher's most important interlocutors. Their dialogues convey the theme of the novel and develop the structure further (Julius Caesar the detective, the pastor the religious). The two figures are also representatives of the old order. Together with the teacher they form a front against society and are therefore outsiders .

The headmaster, the sergeant and the teacher's parents are on the side of fascism, but they are benevolent towards the teacher, in contrast to N's father, who as an older man is a fanatical National Socialist.

The teacher actually has no relationship with Eva.

The socio-critical structure does not develop in a single development like the other two, but only appears partial and subtle. The new zeitgeist and its influence on the teacher (“I leave the sentence like this, because what someone says on the radio, no teacher is allowed to cross out in the exercise book” (p. 13)) and the students (“You don't give a damn about people! They want to be machines, screws, wheels, pistons, belts - but they would be ammunition even more than machines: bombs, shrapnel, grenades. ”(P. 24) are more likely to be described in subordinate clauses.

In conversation with the village pastor, the role of the church in the state is presented (“And the church, sir, is unfortunately not given the power to determine how a state should be governed. But it is your duty, always on the side of the state to stand […] ”(p. 49)).

Another part of the socially critical structure is the societal criticism , which can be found, among other things, in the description of the social structure of young people (“If you are fighting, then one against one!” (P. 16)), the family relationships (from N (p. 17 ); from Z (p. 94); indirectly from Eva (p. 41 f)) and the women (like Eva (see above)) and the girls of the other school class ("Loud misled daughters of Eva!" (p. 40) ) becomes clear.

The teacher represents the junction of these structures. First he observes the action and later becomes the acting figure of the detective structure of the novel. He reflects on results and his observations, which leads him back to God and into the religious structure. Just as he finds his way back from a passive observer role to an active role, he finds his way back into faith.

The events are described in "I" form, with the teacher as the experiencing person. However, it is divided into two parts, the experiencing and the reflecting ego, the protagonists of the above-described level of action and reflection, so to speak.

In the first half of the novel, the action is described as something in the past, while the reflection is presently taking place. Therefore the passages of the action level are in the past tense , those of the reflection level in the present tense . In the further course, however, Horváth primarily uses the present tense, which illustrates the visualization of what is happening and the merging of the narrative structures.

Horváth is strongly oriented towards colloquial language . He uses a lot of weak expressive words like superfluous modal and auxiliary verbs , pale adjectives and filler words like stop , now and now . This gives the statements both indeterminacy and generality.

The syntax is often incomplete, which highlights the teacher's thinking at the reflective level. This is supported by one-word sentences and ellipses .

Horváth uses expressions that include the respective environment. This includes symbols of the war in the training camp ("We are all in the field. But where is the front ?" (P. 35)), the religion during the entire action ("Not only Eve, Adam also has to answer" (p . 70)) and the judiciary during the investigation ("I will pardon Z. And the girl too. I will not allow myself to be convicted innocently!" (P. 71)).

Note : The page numbers refer to the edition: Jugend ohne Gott Suhrkamp, ​​1970, ISBN 3-518-36517-7 .

The Age of Pisces

The term “The Age of Pisces” is a fitting formulation by the former classical philologist Julius Caesar for the era of the National Socialist regime. The children are raised to be indifferent fellow travelers who adopt propagandistic formulations from the radio without thinking independently . They experience what is happening around them without emotion and cold, but never swim out of the protective swarm, as they only allow themselves to be guided from outside and only a few deal with themselves or the current social situation or think about it.

The teacher

The 34-year-old teacher is an opportunist at the beginning of the novel . While he is an enemy of the regime, he is unable to take a clear position. As a teacher, he is forced to teach his students what is prescribed for him. Providing passive resistance , however, he swims in the stream of National Socialism in order to secure his pension.

In the course of the action he moves away from his role as a passive viewer more and more. He finds his faith in God and finally distances himself completely from the mass of regimented Nazis when he tells the truth in court and admits the box Zs broken and have put so ominous events in motion. With this statement he stands up for the law and prevents further injustice from happening.

As a result of his actions, he is indeed suspended and thus an outsider in a lower middle class - and philistine -Gesellschaft, but finds its own identity and truth, thereby acting cheerful. He only finds out the latter when he meets again with the pastor and he tells him.

The importance of belief

God plays a very important role in this novel. Still, Youth Without God is not necessarily a religious book. God stands here for the truth and for the conscience of the individual. The youth are called godless because they grow up without a sense of justice and without the courage to understand the truth. The given morals and values ​​are just empty phrases of a petty bourgeoisie who are concerned about their own well-being.

Even the teacher lost his faith in God during the First World War - despite strict parents of faith. The horrors he experienced have made him an opportunistic follower who puts his own well-being at the center of his efforts. With that he has lost access to his inner voice and thus access to God. The teacher's image of God changes in the novel: If that occurs at the beginning as purely empty clichés, then God is described as terrifying in the further course: When he visits the pastor at home, he tells him that he is God for "the most terrible thing in the world" hold When the news of N's death reached the teacher, he commented on it with the statement that God had come, he had already expected him. Here God stands for the truth becoming known.

Shortly before the trial, when the teacher wants to buy cigarettes, he meets an old couple in the shop and hears God's voice there. This gives him the strength to tell the truth in the process and thus to follow his conscience. One could also interpret this in such a way that his sense of responsibility towards Z and Eva causes his conscience to stir ever louder: He hears the voice of his conscience and decides to stand up for both of them. Last but not least, his confession to the truth is also a rebellion against the zeitgeist of lies, which has so far also determined his life.

However, the murderer is not identified because, although Eve also testifies truthfully, she is not believed. In her testimony, she claims that she tried to kill N, but that someone else took the stone away from her, ran away with it and then later murdered him from behind, and that she does not know the perpetrator. The judge does not trust her because as a "runaway" she did not behave in accordance with the rules. Because of this, he doesn't need evidence to convict her. Only later does the real perpetrator "T" commit suicide, either because of his guilt feelings or because he has never really experienced love or other feelings from his parents, and therefore now cannot deal with such strong feelings and only sees the way out in suicide.

God and truth contrast with the new zeitgeist and lies. In the course of the book, the teacher finds his way to God and truth from a point of view between God and the new zeitgeist. In the end, the teacher no longer acts only to secure his existence, but to allow truth and justice to prevail. With that he finally acts in harmony with his own conscience, he has found God.

Chronological order

Youth without God is Horváth's third novel after Thirty-Six Hours of 1929 and The Eternal Philistine from 1930. The book criticizes the situation after Hitler came to power (in National Socialist terminology : "seizure of power") . On the one hand, there is the teacher, an opportunist who, for fear of losing a living, does not stand up for his or her moral values; on the other side are the children who, like their parents, internalize the Nazi propaganda , give up independent thinking and allow themselves to be dominated by the dictatorship .

Youth without God is based on Horváth's drama fragment Der Lenz is here! Spring awakening in our time , which probably originated in 1934. This is about the conflict between a youth gang from the rural and rural milieu and an urban school class. The leitmotifs in the fragment can also be found in the novel: a military - authoritarian state, socially critical elements and love. In 1935 Horváth began to rework the material into the novel. After changing the concept several times, he wrote the novel down in a few weeks in 1937. Since Horváth himself lived in the Third Reich for a short time, but was then forced to emigrate , the work represents contemporary social criticism.

The motif of the book in particular is characteristic of Horváth's work. The criticism of fascism and the petty bourgeoisie is clearer than ever, and the religious theme is not only strongly pronounced in the title.


At the request of the Gestapo , the work was added to the “ List of harmful and undesirable literature ” in 1938 .

Hermann Hesse wrote to Alfred Kubin in 1938 : “I recommend a little book, a story Jugend ohne Gott by Horváth. It is great and cuts right through the moral state of the world today. "

Film adaptations

Immediately before his accidental death on June 1, 1938, Ödön von Horváth negotiated in Paris with the director Robert Siodmak about the filming of his novel; after the author's death, Siodmak dropped the project.


The British composer Paul Graham Brown wrote a musical of the same name based on the novel .



Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Chrigulu: Youth without God (film version 1991, director: Michael Knof). June 26, 2016. Retrieved December 2, 2017 .
  2. Ödön von Horváth: Youth without God , Suhrkamp, ​​Mainz, 1970, ISBN 3-518-36517-7 , introduction (page 2)
  3. Youth without God on the website of the Hessian State Theater Wiesbaden