Anna Seghers
Anna Seghers (1966)
Anna Seghers (1966)
BornAnna (Netty) Reiling
(1900-11-19)19 November 1900
Mainz, German Empire
Died1 June 1983(1983-06-01) (aged 82)
East Berlin, East Germany[1]
Hungarian (by marriage, 1925)
Notable worksThe Seventh Cross, Transit
(m. 1925)

Anna Seghers (German: [ˈana ˈzeːɡɛʁs] (listen); born Anna Reiling, 19 November 1900 – 1 June 1983), is the pseudonym of a German writer notable for exploring and depicting the moral experience of the Second World War. Born into a Jewish family and married to a Hungarian Communist, Seghers escaped Nazi-controlled territory through wartime France. She was granted a visa and gained ship's passage to Mexico, where she lived in Mexico City (1941–47).

She returned to Europe after the war, living in West Berlin (1947–50), which was occupied by Allied forces. She eventually settled in the German Democratic Republic, where she worked on cultural and peace issues. She received numerous awards and in 1967 was nominated for the Nobel Prize by the GDR. She died and was buried in Berlin.

She is believed to have based her pseudonym, Anna Seghers, on the surname of the Dutch painter and printmaker Hercules Pieterszoon Seghers or Segers (c. 1589 – c. 1638).


Seghers was born Anna Reiling in Mainz in 1900 into a Jewish family. She was called "Netty". Her father, Isidor Reiling, was a dealer in antiques and cultural artefacts.[2] In Cologne and Heidelberg she studied history, the history of art, and Chinese.

In 1925 she married László Radványi, also known as Johann Lorenz Schmidt, a Hungarian Communist and academic, thereby acquiring Hungarian citizenship.[2]

She joined the Communist Party of Germany in 1928, at a time when the Weimar Republic was moribund and soon to be replaced. Her 1932 novel, Die Gefährten was a prophetic warning of the dangers of Nazism, for which she was arrested by the Gestapo. In 1932, she formally left the Jewish community.[3]

Grave of Anna Seghers in Berlin
Grave of Anna Seghers in Berlin

By 1934 she had emigrated, via Zürich, to Paris.[2] After German troops invaded the French Third Republic in 1940, she fled to Marseilles, seeking to leave Europe.

One year later, she was granted an entry visa to Mexico and ship's passage. Settling in Mexico City, she founded the anti-fascist 'Heinrich-Heine-Klub', named after the German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine. She also founded Freies Deutschland (Free Germany), an academic journal.

While still in Paris, in 1939, she had written The Seventh Cross. The novel is set in 1936 and describes the escape of seven prisoners from a concentration camp. It was published in English in the United States in 1942 and quickly adapted for an American movie of the same name. The Seventh Cross was one of the very few depictions of Nazi concentration camps, in either literature or the cinema, during World War II. In 1947 Seghers was awarded the Georg Büchner-Prize for this novel.

Seghers's best-known short story, the title of her collection in The Outing of the Dead Girls (1946), was written in Mexico. It was partially autobiographical, drawn from her reminiscence and reimagining of a pre-World War I class excursion on the Rhine river. She explores the actions of the protagonist's classmates in light of their decisions and ultimate fates during both world wars. In describing them, the German countryside, and her hometown Mainz, which was soon destroyed in the second war, Seghers expresses lost innocence and ponders the senseless injustices of war. She shows there is no escape from such loss, whether or not one sympathized with the NSDAP. Other notable Seghers novels include Sagen von Artemis (1938) and The Ship of the Argonauts (1953), both based on myths.

In 1947, Seghers returned to Germany, settling in West Berlin, an enclave within the Soviet-controlled East Germany. She joined the Socialist Unity Party of Germany in the zone occupied by the Soviets. That year she was also awarded the Georg Büchner Prize for her novel Transit, written in German, and published in English in 1944.

In 1950, she moved to East Berlin, where she co-founded the Academy of the Arts of the GDR, and became a member of the World Peace Council.

Her radio play The Trial of Joan of Arc at Rouen, 1431 was adapted to the stage by Bertolt Brecht. It was written in collaboration with Benno Besson and premiered at the Berliner Ensemble in November 1952, in a production directed by Besson (his first important production with the Ensemble), with Käthe Reichel as Joan.[4]

Honors and awards

In 1951, Seghers received the first National Prize of the GDR and the Stalin Peace Prize. She received an honorary doctorate from the University of Jena in 1959. Seghers was nominated for the 1967 Nobel Prize in Literature by the German Academy of Arts.[5] In 1981, she was made an honorary citizen of her native town Mainz.[6][7] She died in Berlin on 1 June 1983 and is buried there.

Representation in other media

Selected works

Anna Seghers's earlier works are typically attributed to the New Objectivity movement. She also made a number of important contributions to Exilliteratur, including her novels Transit and The Seventh Cross. Her later novels, published in the GDR, are often associated with socialist realism. A number of her novels have been adapted into films in Germany.

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ "Anna Seghers, Novelist, 82; 1942 Work Made into Movie". The New York Times. 2 June 1983.
  2. ^ a b c "Seghers, Anna (eigtl.: Netty Radványi): geb. Reiling * 19.11.1900, † 01.06.1983 Shriftstellerin, Präsidentin des Schriftstellerverbands". Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur: Biographische Datenbanken. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  3. ^ Christiane Zehl Romero. "Anna Seghers". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved 21 July 2017.
  4. ^ Willett and Manheim (1972, xvii).
  5. ^ "Forteckning over forslag till 1967 ars Nobelpris i litteratur" (PDF). Swedish Academy (Svenska akademien). Retrieved 13 January 2018.
  6. ^ Liukkonen, Petri. "Anna Seghers". Books and Writers ( Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 19 May 2007.
  7. ^ "German biography". Archived from the original on 23 June 2007. Retrieved 14 June 2007.
  8. ^ "Seghers - German Literature". Retrieved 28 May 2017.