Rolf Hochhuth Biography


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

The premiere of Rolf Hochhuth’s first play, The Deputy—also known as The Representative—in Berlin in February, 1963, initiated a protracted debate over the author’s charge that Pope Pius XII had failed to speak out forcefully against the deportation and murder of the Jews of Europe. Massive protests in Basel, Switzerland, required police intervention and the play had to be withdrawn after only seventeen performances. Although The Deputy enjoyed a longer run in Paris, performances there were interrupted by stenchbombs and by members of the audience threatening to assault the actors on stage. The play’s performance in New York in February, 1964, was preceded by negative publicity from a variety of quarters, including religious leaders of several denominations. Demonstrators at the theater included such diverse groups as representatives of the American Legion and the American Nazi Party.

Leaders of the Roman Catholic church in various countries strongly protested the appearance of the play, accusing the author of character assassination and pointing to the pope’s personal efforts to protect Jews wherever he could without incurring reprisals by the Nazis. The Vatican’s first official response to the play came in June, 1963, in a letter from future Pope Paul VI, Giovanni Cardinal Montini of Milan, to a British paper.

Hochhuth’s second play, Soldiers: An Obituary for Geneva received only a lukewarm...

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Rolf Hochhuth Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Rolf Hochhuth was born on April 1, 1931, the offspring of a family that had established ancient roots in Eschwege, a small town in Hesse that was, before reunification of the two postwar German states in 1990, situated in close proximity to the border separating the Federal Republic and the German Democratic Republic. In 1948, Hochhuth—who, because of his youth, had missed military service in World War II—left secondary school to become a bookseller’s apprentice, a vocation in which he could indulge his appetite for reading and writing. The novelist Thomas Mann, whom in 1975 Hochhuth vehemently defended against attempts to minimize Mann’s political commitment during the latter’s exile in the United States, became his favorite author.

From 1950 to 1955, Hochhuth worked as a bookstore employee in several West German cities and audited classes at the universities of Munich and Heidelberg. In 1955, he became an editor for the Bertelsmann book club; he edited the German classics as well as modern writers, among them the nineteenth century humorist Wilhelm Busch, an edition of whose works sold a million copies within a few weeks. In his editing activities, Hochhuth often collaborated with Marianne Heinemann, a friend from Eschwege, whom he married in 1957 and from whom he was divorced in 1972. Hochhuth was married again—to Dana Pavic, a Yugoslavian medical student—in 1975.

In 1959, Hochhuth spent a sabbatical in Rome, where he engaged in archival research at the Vatican. The Deputy, the play that resulted from these studies, was accepted by a publisher in 1961; however, fearing an adverse reaction from the Catholic Church, the publisher reneged on the contract. Another publisher...

(The entire section is 704 words.)

Rolf Hochhuth Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In the post-World War II era no other German dramatist came as close to being the conscience of a people as did Rolf Hochhuth (HAWK-hooth). He was born in 1931 in the province of Hessen, Germany, to Walter and Ilse (Holzapfel) Hochhuth. His father’s shoe factory, which had been in the family for three generations, went bankrupt during the Depression, and his father became an accountant. The family attended the German Evangelical (Lutheran) church, and young Hochhuth studied at the local Realgymnasium. With the outbreak of World War II, his father, who had been an officer in World War I, was recalled to the army but was retired after several months. In 1941 the boy was required to join the Deutsches Jungvolk, a Nazi youth organization.

Hochhuth’s wartime experiences were typical for the German youth of that era. All were required to work wherever possible as part of the war effort. Two experiences in 1943 significantly formed Hochhuth’s later political ideology. The first occurred when his Jungvolk group was ordered to nearby Kassel to help remove the bodies of those killed in an air raid by British bombers. The horror of that experience embittered him against the British in particular and air war in general. Later that year the Jewish wife of a cousin hid with his family for several weeks until she took her own life. This experience prepared him for the full extent of the postwar revelations of Nazi atrocities against the Jews.

The horrors of war, Germany’s loss of the war, and the beginning of the Cold War (Eschwege is only four miles from the political division of Germany) had a profound impact upon the young man. In the postwar era he studied history and philosophy at the universities of Marburg, Heidelberg, and Munich in a personal quest for truth and for absolution for his feelings of guilt for being German. In 1955 he began working for the publishing house of C. Bertelsmann. The success of one of his projects, an edition of the works of the German satirist Wilhelm Busch, allowed him to take a three-month leave of absence. He used the time to research a topic that had concerned him for several years: the silence of the Vatican during the Jewish Holocaust. This ultimately led to his first play, The Representative, in which he defined his understanding of truth.

February 20, 1963, in what was then West Berlin saw the opening of his play, which the audience greeted with stunned silence. Subsequent performances were marked by angry outbursts, usually from Roman Catholics, against the message of the play. Hochhuth’s...

(The entire section is 1055 words.)