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...
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