Stefan Heym (1913 – 2001) ranks among the most significant German writers of the 20th century. Raised in a German-Jewish family, by his teens he had already emerged as a writer of poems and newspaper articles critical of social conditions – first in his native Chemnitz and then in Berlin. He had to flee his homeland following the National Socialst seizure of power (1933) – to become Germany‘s youngest literary exile. In the USA he became Editor of an anti-fascist weekly newspaper, and it was here that he wrote his first bestselling novel – Hostages (1942). Novels such as The Crusaders (1948, German as both Kreuzfahrer von heute and Der bittere Lorbeer), The King David Report (1971) and Ahasver (1981) brought him international recognition.
Heym settled in the GDR in 1952. On account of his increasingly critical engagement with the social conditions in that country, he quickly came into conflict with the ruling authorities. As a result of the 11th Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party (late in 1965), works like Lassalle (1969), The Queen against Defoe (1970) and 5 Days in June (1974) could only be published abroad in the first instance. A temporary thaw in the ban on publication of his works came to an end with his signing the protest against the exile of Wolf Biermann, and in 1979 he was expelled from the East German Writers’ Union. Heym nevertheless continued to regard the GDR as his home.
As a supporter of the movement for greater civil rights, Heym became one of the most important commentators on the 1989 ‘peaceful revolution’ in the GDR. After reunification he was elected to the 13th German Parliament (1984) as an independent candidate on the open list of the Party of Democratic Socialism. And as oldest member of the House he opened the first parliamentary session with a speech that won widespead recognition. His last work to be published, The Architects, appeared in 2000; it was a novel which he had written in the mid-sixties.
Stefan Heym died during a visit to Israel, on 16 December 2001.
Extensive information on Stefan Heym’s life and work, as well as secondary material, can be found in the Stefan Heym Collection, which can be reached online at www.stadtbibliothek-chemnitz/heym