Rolf Hochhuth Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Rolf Hochhuth is foremost a dramatist. That he achieved world renown with his first drama, The Deputy—a play that condemns Pope Pius XII for tolerating the extermination of the Jews in Nazi death camps during World War II by not speaking out publicly—tends to overshadow Hochhuth’s admittedly more modest accomplishments in the fields of poetry, fiction, and the essay.

The moral fervor that is evident in The Deputy and in subsequent plays also infuses his collection of essays Krieg und Klassenkrieg (1971; war and class war). In these essays, Hochhuth drew attention to phenomena that were supposedly no longer existent in the West German welfare state: poverty, lack of housing, job-related accidents, and a high incidence of disease among certain segments of the population. Not surprisingly, politicians and other establishment figures reacted harshly. Despite the employment of Marxist vocabulary in his first major essay collection, Hochhuth is not advocating the radical and sudden upheaval of society in the hope of achieving the ideal state. Rather, he points out the ills of society in copiously documented writings that too often elicit invective instead of factual analysis.

In Tell ’38 (1979; English translation, 1984), his acceptance speech on being awarded the Basel Art Prize in 1976, Hochhuth returned to the Nazi past that he had first explored in The Deputy. In a similar vein, the writer...

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Rolf Hochhuth Achievements

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

When on February 20, 1963, The Deputy premiered in West Berlin, neither the play’s famed director, Erwin Piscator, nor its then completely unknown author could have anticipated the full extent of the violent, international controversy in which it soon became engulfed. In fact, the critic Eric Bentley claimed in The Storm over “The Deputy” (1964) that the uproar was “almost the largest storm ever raised by a play in the whole history of the drama.”

In this five-act play, Rolf Hochhuth contrasts the fictitious protagonist Riccardo, a young and idealistic Italian Jesuit priest, with Pope Pius XII. After Riccardo has learned in Berlin that the extermination of European Jews is taking place in Auschwitz on a grand scale, he becomes convinced that only an unequivocal appeal by the pope to the Nazi leaders can halt the mass slaughter. When Riccardo confronts the pope and begs him to exercise his moral authority, the latter places political considerations above humanitarian and Christian values. Riccardo then takes it on himself to set an example; he joins the Roman Jews, who have been arrested virtually under the pope’s nose, on their transport to Auschwitz, where he dies a martyr’s death.

Underlying Hochhuth’s condemnation of the pope’s failure to act is a concept of history that endows the individual with a high degree of autonomy and the ability to influence historical processes. The dramaturgy that pits Riccardo against the pope is...

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Rolf Hochhuth Bibliography

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Bentley, Eric, ed. The Storm over “The Deputy.” New York: Grove, 1964. A useful compilation of reviews of the play, editorials, and comments by literary critics and philosophers. Bibliography.

Bosmajian, Hamida. Metaphors of Evil: Contemporary German Literature and the Shadow of Nazism. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1979. The volume includes a valid comparison of The Deputy and Peter Weiss’s Die Ermittlung (pr., pb. 1965; The Investigation, 1966) in terms of coming to grips with Nazism.

Durzak, Manfred. “American Mythologies: Rolf Hochhuth’s Plays Guerillas, Tod eines Jägers, and Judith.” In Amerika! New Images in German Literature, edited by Heinz D. Osterle. New York: Peter Lang, 1989. A cogent discussion of Hochhuth’s three “American” plays that sees them as projections of Hochhuth’s ambivalent attitude toward the United States.

Rennison, Lucinda. “‘Was von Bismarck übrigblieb …’ Rolf Hochhuth and the German Question.” In The New Germany: Literature and Society After Unification, edited by Osman Durrani, Colin Good, and Kevin Hilliard. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995. A detailed examination of Hochhuth’s position with regard to Germany from his emergence as a writer in the 1960’s to the postunification period.

Sanchez, Jose M. “The Search for the Historical Pius.” America 186, no. 5 (February 18, 2002): 8-11. An examination of the controversy surrounding the role of the Catholic Church, particularly Pope Pius XII, during the Holocaust. Mentions The Deputy as one of the earliest sources of the debate.

Schmidt, Dolores B., and Earl R. Schmidt, eds. The Deputy Reader: Studies in Moral Responsibility. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1965. This useful compilation of essays, not all of which address The Deputy, seeks to establish the historical, literary and critical perspectives from which the play may be viewed.

Taëni, Rainer. Rolf Hochhuth. Translated by R. W. Last. London: Wolff, 1977. A succinct survey of Hochhuth’s life, work, and politics that focuses especially on the plays, including Tod eines Jägers.

Ward, Margaret E. Rolf Hochhuth. Boston: Twayne, 1977. A sound, general survey of Hochhuth’s works, including Tod eines Jägers.