Uwe Johnson

I Didn’t Want to Leave Any Questions Unasked - Conversations with Escape Helpers

Edited by Burkhart Veigel
Uwe Johnson
Foto: Uwe Johnson
© Michael Bengel

Uwe Johnson was born in Kammin (today: Kamien Pomorski), Poland, in 1934 and died in Sheerness-on-Sea on February 22nd or 23rd 1984. His estate is kept at the Uwe Johnson-archive at the University of Rostock.

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In Concomitants, Johnson's account of his experiences as a writer in both East and West, Uwe Johnson describes the failure of a book he had set out to write in 1963 and in which he wanted to document the work of Fluchthelfer (»escape helpers«), who aided people in fleeing the GDR. For that purpose, he conducted interviews about the Why and How of their work with members of the Girrmann Group (who helped almost 1,000 people leave the GDR after the Berlin Wall had been built). These conversations were recorded on tape, but Johnson eventually abandoned the project. In Concomitants he explains tersely: »Yes – the tapes have been erased.«

But this is where Uwe Johnson was wrong: The five hours of interviews with Detlef Girrmann and Dieter Thieme have survived, because Johnson returned the tapes to them. And now the transcripts of those interviews have been published for the first time. They show in an exemplary way how Johnson, with insane precision, compiles the facts that he transfers into his writings; we can read about what fascinates him about the work of the Fluchthelfer. But beyond that, the actions of those people are described from an internal perspective for the first time. They describe how the group was formed, talk about their intentions, their methods of smuggling people out of the GDR, about their opinions on the GDR and West Germany, about their victories and defeats – guided by the questions of the curious reporter/author.

Other publications

Mutmassungen über Jakob/Speculations About Jakob (1992)

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English world rights (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), France (Gallimard), Korea (Golden Bough), Bulgaria (Agata-A), Croatia (Fraktura), Slovenia (Mladinska knjiga); previously published in the respective language / territory; rights available again: Spanish world rights (Iter), Portugal (Arcadia), Italy (Feltrinelli), Netherlands (Meulenhoff), Japan (Hakusuisha), Poland (Czytelnik), Hungary (Horizont)

Domestic Rights Sales: German Audiobook (DAV)

Jahrestage 1–4/Anniversaries (1983)

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English world rights (New York Review of Books Classics), France (Gallimard), Italy (L'Orma), Netherlands (Van Oorschot), Denmark (Vandkunsten), Macedonia (Ars Lamina)