Oskar Maria Graf

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Portrait of Oskar Maria Graf (1927) by Georg Schrimpf

Oskar Maria Graf (born July 22, 1894 as Oskar Graf in Berg , † June 28, 1967 in New York City ) was a German- American writer . His novels Der Abgrund (1936) and Anton Sittinger (1937) are among the “most astute literary analyzes of the relationship between the petty bourgeoisie and fascism ”.


Birthplace in Berg (Starnberger See)

Oskar Graf was born on July 22nd, 1894 as the ninth of eleven children of the master baker Max Graf and the farmer's daughter Therese, née Heimrath, in Berg am Starnberger See . From 1900 he attended the village school in Aufkirchen . After his father's death in 1906, Graf worked in the bakery that his eldest brother Max had taken over. He describes the abuse that happened to him there in his autobiography We Are Prisoners (1927). His brother Maurus aroused Graf's interest in literature. The rural environment had no understanding of this tendency. Books had to be secretly obtained and kept in hiding. When Graf's brother Max found out about this, he brutally beat him again. Graf then left home in 1911 to work as a writer in nearby Munich .

In Munich

Graf's beginnings in Munich were marked by disorientation and existential need. The big city overwhelmed the penniless 17-year-old from the province. By chance he came into contact with representatives of the anarchist group "Tat" around Erich Mühsam and Gustav Landauer . Graf dealt with their ideas, took part in leaflet campaigns and became the group's secretary. Against this background, he came into the orbit of the Schwabing bohemian . His financial situation remained extremely tense. Graf held, among other things as a baker, post office helper and lift boy afloat but was also repeatedly unemployed.

In 1912/13 he wandered around Northern Italy , accompanied by the painter Georg Schrimpf , with whom he had a lifelong friendship. At times, both worked in the artist and reformer colony Monte Verità in Ascona and met its founders, the brothers Karl and Gusto grasses . But here too Graf came under pressure due to his ongoing insolvency. He was also disgusted with the lifestyle in the "anarchist colony". He convinced Schrimpf to return to Munich with him.

“We're going back to our swamp, all this natural idiot can be stolen from me! ... This is something for digestive philistines and grass-eaters! ... This is no life! "

- Oskar Maria Graf : We are prisoners

In 1914 Oskar Graf's first poems appeared in the expressionist magazine Die Aktion . On December 1 of the same year Graf was drafted into military service. In 1915 he served with a Bavarian railway troop on the Eastern Front in East Prussia and Lithuania. During this time, a story by him appeared for the first time in the magazine Die Freie Straße . In 1916 Graf was to be tried for refusing to give orders . However, he was admitted to the insane asylum , first in Brandenburg, then in Haar near Munich , and finally, after a ten-day hunger strike, released from military service.

After a complaint by a war painter of the same name , Graf began to publish under the name Oskar Graf-Berg . In 1917, at the suggestion of the artist Jacob Carlo Holzer, he took the middle name Maria. His first volume of poetry, Die Revolutionäre , was also published that year .

On May 26, 1917, he married Karoline Bretting. The following year, their daughter Annemarie (born June 13, 1918, † December 8, 2008), called Annamirl , was born; the Graf couple separated that same year. Graf described his first marriage as "bad from the start". Daughter Annemarie was raised by Graf's mother. At the time, Graf benefited from a scholarship that allowed him to focus on writing.

On January 29, 1918 Graf, Paul Guttfeld and Georg Schrimpf were arrested in the Munich printing works Mannzmann when they tried to order the printing of the "Memorandum of Prince Lichnowsky ". In early 1918 he was also briefly imprisoned for participating in the ammunition workers' strike. In 1919 he was imprisoned again for a few weeks for participating in the revolutionary movements in Munich .

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke campaigned for Graf's release.

“In conclusion, I should like to be allowed to emphasize the importance that I ascribe to his artistic production: I sincerely wish that this serious and talented young writer will be returned to his work quickly and withdrawn from a situation in which him only a completely misunderstanding error can have overturned. "

- Rainer Maria Rilke : Letter to the lawyer who sought Graf's release from the post-revolutionary prison in May 1919

In 1919 Graf began living together with Mirjam Sachs (1890-1959), a cousin of Nelly Sachs .

From 1920 Oskar Maria Graf was involved as a dramaturge at the cooperative workers' theater Die neue Bühne in Senefelderstrasse (at the main station), where a friendship with Bertolt Brecht developed.

In 1927 Graf achieved the literary breakthrough with his autobiographical work Wir sind Gefangene , which made it possible for him to become a freelance writer. In the following years he was able to record further popular successes with the Bavarian Decameron (1928) and the Roman Bolwieser (1931).

In exile

Poster for lecture Grafs over the Reichstag fire trial in Vienna on September 20, 1933

On February 17, 1933, he went on a lecture tour to Vienna , where he became a member of the Association of Socialist Writers . This was the beginning of his initially voluntary exile . When, based on a report in the Berlin Börsen-Courier, Graf gained the impression that his books had not been burned by the Nazis on May 10, 1933 and that reading them was even recommended (in fact, almost all of his works were on the “ black list "On the" cleansing of the public libraries "), he published the article Burn me! On May 12, 1933 in the Wiener Arbeiter-Zeitung .

"Burn me! A protest from Oskar Maria Graf.
[...] After all of my life and after all of my writing, I have the right to demand that my books be handed over to the pure flame of the pyre and not fall into the bloody hands and corrupted brains of the brown murderous gangs!
Burn the works of the German spirit! He himself will be indelible, like your shame!
(All respectable newspapers are requested to reprint this protest. Oskar Maria Graf.) "

A year later, in 1934 - as Graf himself said - his books were subsequently burned in a book burning set up especially for him in the inner courtyard of Munich University. Wilfried F. Schoeller points out, however, that the book burning was announced in a gloss in the Münchner Neues Nachrichten ; whether it actually took place is unproven. Graf's complete works were banned in Germany, he was the March 29, 1934 at the German State Gazette published the second Ausbürgerungsliste the German Reich expatriated . Since then, his works have been considered exile literature .

In February he emigrated to Brno in Czechoslovakia . Then he went to Prague, where, alongside Anna Seghers and Wieland Herzfelde, he was part of the editorial team of the monthly magazine Neue Deutsche Blätter published by Grete Weiskopf . From here he took part in Moscow in 1934 in the 1st Union Congress of Soviet Writers . In the first years of his exile he wrote the important novels Der harte Handel (1935) and Anton Sittinger (1937).

In 1938 he fled with Mirjam Sachs via the Netherlands to the USA , where he settled in New York City in July. Graf lived there in an apartment on Hillside Avenue. In October of the same year he was appointed President of the German-American Writers Association . In 1942, together with Wieland Herzfelde and other emigrated German writers, he founded Aurora-Verlag , New York, which is considered the successor to Malik-Verlag . He also wrote for the German-Jewish newspaper Aufbau .

On October 2, 1944, Oskar Maria Graf and Mirjam Sachs were married in New York City. On this occasion, Graf divorced Karoline Bretting, with whom he had not had any contact since 1917. In 1943 he and his friend George Harry Asher founded a regulars' table for German-speaking emigrants in New York .

Oskar Maria Graf monument in Aufkirchen

In the 1940s, among other things, the novel The Life of My Mother (English 1940, German 1946), which counts as Graf's main work, as well as the pacifist novel Unrest around a peaceful man (1947). Graf provides meticulous representations of the Upper Bavarian province in the first third of the 20th century. He describes the corrosive effects of the First World War and the burgeoning National Socialism .

In December 1957, Oskar Maria Graf received US citizenship . Because of his uncompromising pacifism , the paragraph "About the defense readiness with the weapon in the hand" was deleted from the oath that had to be taken. It was only when he had his naturalization certificate in his hands in January 1958 that he ventured on a trip to Europe again for the first time since the war in June of the same year. Until then, he feared that he would be refused entry to the USA on his return. After his arrival in Munich, he was supposed to give a reading in the Cuvilliés Theater in the Munich Residenz . Since he insisted on appearing there in the short traditional lederhosen, he caused a "medium scandal" in the cultural scene of the Bavarian capital.

Graf's grave in the Bogenhausen cemetery

On November 11, 1959, his wife Mirjam died of cancer; Graf had taken care of her for months before. 1960 it was approved by the Wayne State University of Detroit in recognition of his uncompromising intellectual stance the honorary doctorate awarded. His second trip to Europe followed.

In 1962 he married his third wife, Gisela Blauner (1907–1996) from Leipzig, who was also Jewish and was then a UN employee in New York City.

In 1964 he made his third trip to Europe with readings in West and East Berlin, among others. Numerous honors followed, among other things he was named a "corresponding member of the Academy of the Arts of the GDR " and was awarded the honorary gift and gold medal of the city of Munich "in recognition of his important literary work".

In 1965 Graf traveled to Europe for the last time (Germany, Austria, Switzerland). In 1966 his autobiography Laughter from Outside was published. From my life 1918 to 1933 .

Oskar Maria Graf died in June 1967 at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. One year after his death, his urn was transferred to Munich and buried in the Alten Bogenhausen cemetery (grave wall left no. 42).

The Oskar-Maria-Graf-Gymnasium in Neufahrn near Freising , the Oskar-Maria-Graf-Ring in Munich and the Oskar-Maria-Graf-Straße in Nuremberg are named after him.

Graf as a writer

Oskar Maria Graf's desk, exhibited in Monacensia

Graf described himself as a provincial writer and sometimes a peasant poet . Flirting with his Bavarian-rural origins was an essential part of his external image. Seifert sees this as an "often parodic self-characteristic", in which Graf's "double tendency" shows "to orientate oneself with Baierisch-rural topics to the public's taste and at the same time to make fun of it."

Count Lev Tolstoy , whom he admired for his rural lifestyle and radical social criticism, was named as the greatest influence .

With the exception of drama , his extensive oeuvre spans an extraordinary number of literary genres. It is hardly possible to assign Graf to a certain literary trend. In 1917 he made his debut as an expressionist poet. He wrote essayistic portraits about artist friends, political appeals for the Red Flag , calendar stories, autobiographical stories and fictional short prose, "the spectrum of which ranges from Indian stories to proletarian stories, satires of rural life, village stories, fairy tales [and] erotic peasant stories [...]." His work is characterized by a high degree of content and ideological heterogeneity and was published by 16 publishers of various orientations during Graf's lifetime. These included the Catholic Herder Verlag , the Borromeo Book Community , the trade union book guild Gutenberg , the communist Malik publishing house and a Viennese erotic publishing house.

At the beginning of the 1930s, the National Socialists tried to capture Graf as a “peasant-vital› renowned author ‹of the literature of the Third Reich”. Due to his "outward appearance and behavior [...] as a vital muscle man and Bavarian nature boy" he seemed suitable for such a position. Its political orientation was not yet clearly recognizable at this point. Graf had only just made his literary breakthrough with We Are Prisoners . As in his other important novels, he addresses political and social events in the Weimar Republic , but these are not explicitly discussed . What is depicted should speak for itself (→  realism ). So Graf occasionally met with criticism in the “proletarian revolutionary” circles close to him.

He said:

“Well - it's absolutely true […], I was a beautiful revolutionary hero, and while others were fighting, I drank champagne and went to whores. However, nowhere in my book [We Are Prisoners] did I claim that I was a revolutionary militant. I was an indecisive, easily bullied, headless bohemian guy, that's all. A completely indisputable, bourgeois phenomenon. And as such, I have presented myself to the best of my knowledge and belief. Among other things, because it was important to me to use my example to show the type very truthfully and ruthlessly that the German Revolution once hoped for, and that most comrades still fall for today. "

- Oskar Maria Graf : left turn

Graf maintained contacts with many important writers of the 20th century, including Bertolt Brecht, Lion Feuchtwanger , Rainer Maria Rilke , Ernst Toller and Karl Wolfskehl .

He describes an encounter with Thomas Mann in Munich as a defining event for his literary career :

"The brief conversation there meant more to me and encouraged me more than any later recognition, and sometimes it almost seems to me as if it had become decisive for me."

- Oskar Maria Graf : Laughter from outside. From my life 1918-1933 .


“His world may be limited to Bavarian-Austrian folklore. His means may be none other than those of the folk teller, who reports at the pub table 'how it actually was'. His literary ambitions may have remained within the limits of the portrayal of reality, which today is often all too thoughtlessly said that it does not exist. In the end it must be shown that all of these things that were held up against him as his 'shortcomings' are his merits. "

- Jean Améry : a German realist . Epilogue to The Years Counted

“He does it impossible and provokes laughter and head shaking; but he wins our hearts in the process. "

- Thomas Mann : About We Are Prisoners

"Its intense, heightened reality reaches the extreme scenes of the novel more than once, I found myself in the - no longer frequent - art of the masters."

- Heinrich Mann : About unrest about a peacemaker

"There is one in our time who completely avoids manners and darkness and stimulates thought with natural simplicity and grace."

- Albert Einstein : Birthday letter to Oskar Maria Graf

Works (selection)

  • The Revolutionaries (1918), [Poems], ("Das neuste Gedicht", Volume 4), Dresdner Verlag from 1917, Dresden
  • Amen and the beginning (1919), [poems], Heinrich FS Bachmair, Munich
  • Early days (1922), youth experiences, Malik Verlag, Berlin
  • Ua-pua! (1921), Indian seals. With 30 chalk drawings by Georg Schrimpf , Franz Ludwig Habbel Verlag, Regensburg
  • Maria Uhden (1921), ("Young Art" collection), Klinkhardt & Biermann, Leipzig
  • For friendly remembrance (1922), eight stories ("Below and above", Volume 1), Malik Verlag, Berlin, new edition Allitera Verlag , Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-86906-004-0
  • Bayrisches Lesebücherl (1924), Weißblaue Kulturbilder, Verlag Gunther Langes, Munich, new edition Allitera Verlag, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-86906-005-7
  • Die Traumdeuter (1924), from an old Bavarian family chronicle, ("The Beehive"), Herder Verlagbuchhandlung, Freiburg im Breisgau
  • The Visitation (1925), novel, Verlag der Buchgemeinde, Bonn
  • The Flechting Chronicle. A village novel (1925), Drei-Masken-Verlag, Munich, new edition Allitera Verlag, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-86906-006-4
  • Finsternis (1926), Six Village Stories, Drei-Masken-Verlag, Munich, new edition Allitera Verlag, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-86906-008-8
  • Wonderful people (1927), Cheerful Chronicle of a Workers Stage, J. Engelhorns Nachf., Stuttgart, new edition Allitera Verlag, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-86906-009-5
  • We are prisoners (1927), a confession from this decade, Drei-Masken-Verlag, Munich, new edition ISBN 3-423-01612-4
  • In the corner of life (1927), short stories. Book guild Gutenberg, Berlin, new edition Allitera Verlag, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-86906-013-2
  • Licht und Schatten (1927), A collection of contemporary fairy tales ("Youth Books of the New Society", Volume 8), Verlag der Neue Gesellschaft, Berlin
  • The Bavarian Decameron (1928), stories, Verlag für Kulturforschung, Vienna, new edition ISBN 3-548-60345-9 ; Filmed in 1970 as The little bell under the four-poster bed by Hans Heinrich
  • Calendar stories (1929), Drei-Masken-Verlag, Munich, new edition ISBN 3-423-11434-7
  • The proletarian fate (1929)
  • A story without end [1930] in: New German narrators, vol. 1 (Max Brod et al.), Paul Franke publishing house, Berlin
  • Bolwieser (1931), novel; Drei-Masken-Verlag, Munich, new edition 1964 under the title The marriage of Mr. Bolwieser ISBN 3-442-72253-5
  • Provincial writer's notebook (1932) Experiences, intimacies, opinions, Zinnen Verlag, Basel, new edition Allitera Verlag, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-86906-010-1
  • One against all (1932), Roman, Universitas, Berlin, new edition Allitera Verlag, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-86906-597-7
  • Village bandits. Experiences from my school and apprenticeship years (1932), Drei Masken Verlag, Berlin, new edition Allitera Verlag, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-86906-011-8
    • Second edition edited and compiled by the author. Mostly shameful. Of youngsters and people who can't stand them . Feder Verlag, Munich 1980.
    • As a dtv paperback: mostly disgraceful. Experiences from my school and apprenticeship years , Munich 1985, ISBN 3-423-10435-X .
  • 3 baker stories by Oskar Maria Graf plus 150 recipes for the pretzel bakery , (undated reprint from the Diamalt company yearbooks )
  • Der harte Handel (1935), Roman Querido Verlag, Amsterdam, new edition Allitera Verlag, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-86906-012-5
  • The Abyss (1936) A Zeitroman, Malik Verlag, London, (revised version "The Counted Years" 1976)
  • Anton Sittinger (1937), novel. Malik Verlag, London (self-published new edition, New York 1941)
  • Der Quasterl (1945), short stories, Aurora Verlag, New York
  • The life of my mother , 1940 English, 1946 German ISBN 3-423-10044-3 , limited preview in the Google book search.
  • Unrest for a Peaceful (1947), novel, Aurora-Verlag, New York, new edition ISBN 3-471-77264-2
  • Mitmenschen (1948) Stories
  • The Conquest of the World (1949), novel; New edition 1959 under the title The heirs of downfall , ISBN 3-423-11880-6
  • People from my youth in the village , (1953), stories
  • The perpetual calendar (1954), poems
  • The Flight into the Mediocre (1959), novel
  • On some days. Speeches, thoughts and contemplations of time (1961), ISBN 3-7632-3566-3
  • The big farmer's mirror (1962), short stories
  • Mostly Shameful (1962), Jugenderinnerungen, ISBN 3-423-10435-X
  • Old Fashioned Poems by a Dozen People (1962)
  • Sudden horror (published 1962)
  • He called himself Banscho (1964), Roman
  • Outside laughter. From my life 1918–1933 (1966), new edition Allitera Verlag, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-86906-007-1
  • Journey to Soviet Russia 1934 (1974, published from the estate; also known as Journey to the Soviet Union 1934 )
  • Sometimes we have to be murderers ... Collected poems. Berlin, Matthes & Seitz , 2007, ISBN 978-3-88221-893-0 .


- chronological -


Film adaptations


Radio play adaptations

Web links

Commons : Oskar Maria Graf  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files


From Graf

About Graf

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Inge Stephan: Literature in the Weimar Republic . In: German literary history. From the beginning to the present. Sixth, improved and enlarged edition. Verlag JB Metzler, Stuttgart 2001, p. 420 .
  2. ^ Oskar Maria Graf on ticinarte.ch .
  3. Rainer Maria Rilke on OMG. In: oskarmariagraf.de .
  4. SZ May 19, 2020, History of the Theater: Place of Poets and Guides, accessed July 16, 2020
  5. Burn me! A protest from Oskar Maria Graf. In:  Arbeiter-Zeitung , May 12, 1933, p. 1 (online at ANNO ).Template: ANNO / Maintenance / aze
  6. Munich Latest News . No. 151 , June 2, 1933.
  7. ^ Wilfried F. Schoeller : Oskar Maria Graf. Odyssey of a loner. Book guild Gutenberg, Frankfurt am Main 1994, ISBN 3-7632-4383-6 , p. 261 .
  8. Michael Hepp (Ed.): The expatriation of German citizens 1933-45 according to the lists published in the Reichsanzeiger . tape 1 : Lists in chronological order . De Gruyter Saur, Munich / New York / London / Paris 1985, ISBN 978-3-11-095062-5 , pp. 4 (reprinted 2010).
  9. a b audio file: A Bavarian in New York - Oskar Maria Graf as a US citizen. In: Bayern 2 , Bayerisches Feuilleton , June 24, 2017, 53:31 min.
  10. ↑ The life data of Gisela Graf at ancientfaces.com .
  11. On Gisela Blauner, married Graf, see meeting with Gisela Graf , in: Thomas Hartwig , Achim Roscher (ed.): The promised city: German-Jewish emigrants in New York. Das Arsenal , Berlin 1986, ISBN 3-921810-66-3 , pp. 50-61, table of contents.
  12. ^ Monacensia literary archive and library: Authors: Oskar Maria Graf. In: Literaturportal Bayern . Retrieved February 22, 2018 .
  13. ^ Gravestone of Oskar Maria Graf
  14. ^ Walter Seifert: Oskar Maria Graf and his novel 'Anton Sittinger' . In: Albrecht Weber (Hrsg.): Handbuch der Literatur in Bayern. From the early Middle Ages to the present. Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg 1987, p. 517 f .
  15. ^ Günter Häntzschel: Oskar Maria Graf - a ›folk writer‹? In: Heinz Ludwig Arnold (Hrsg.): Text + criticism . Special tape. edition text + kritik, Munich 1986, p. 17 .
  16. ^ Jean Améry : A German Realist . In: Oskar Maria Graf: The counted years . With an afterword by Jean Améry. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1980, p. 467 .
  17. Hans Dollinger : Afterword . In: Oskar Maria Graf: Unrest about a peacemaker . Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1983, p. 405 f .
  18. Marko Martin: A local poet in New York. In: Deutschlandfunk Kultur , January 4, 2008, review of Sometimes it comes that ...
  19. ^ Anton Sittinger in the Internet Movie Database (English).