The Waiting Rooms of History

Anna Seghers was born Anna Reiling in Mainz, Germany in 1900, the only child of a wealthy art dealer.  Anna studied art history and Sinology. She received her Doctorate in 1924 with a dissertation on “Jews and Judaism in the Work of Rembrandt.”

Anna married a Hungarian who introduced her to Communism. She joined the German Communist Party in 1928. In 1932, Anna Seghers published “Die Gefaehrten” (The Fellows) warning of the dangers of Fascism. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Anna was arrested by the Gestapo. Anna fled to Paris with her two children and in 1941 left France for Mexico.

Biographical Note by Liz Heidhues excerpted from  a course “The Zero Hour” taught by Dr. Marion Gerlind.


Transit –  Review by J Hoberman.

Written and directed by Christian Petzold, adapted from the novel by Anna Seghers

New York Review of Books 3.7.2019

The protagonist of Anna Seghers’s novel Transit (1944)—the source for Christian Petzold’s new film of the same name—is a young German who, having escaped from a Nazi concentration camp and then a French work camp, makes his way to occupied Paris. There he is recruited by another former inmate to deliver a letter to an anti-fascist writer named Weidel. The letter is described to him as a desperate plea from Weidel’s estranged wife, Marie, who is stranded in Marseille.

But Weidel, as Seghers’s nameless fugitive discovers, has committed suicide in a Left Bank hotel room. Carrying the dead man’s suitcase, which contains a manuscript that he reads out of boredom, as well as the letter, the fugitive travels to Marseille; once there, “a specter among the visa applicants,” he finds himself, almost unintentionally, taking Weidel’s identity and applying for his exit visa. The consul seems weirdly eager to help someone so distinguished. Waiting for passage to the New World among a disparate horde of desperate souls seeking to escape Europe, the fugitive shadows and is shadowed by Marie, who is frantically searching for her dead husband; thanks to the bureaucratic trail left by the imposter, she believes him to be alive in Marseille. Tipped off that her “husband” is enjoying a pizza in a harbor café, she finds only the fugitive Weidel, and her unrealizable pursuit continues.

Seghers’s existential thriller—recounted in the first person, a tale told by one refugee to another, and written while the author, having successfully gotten out of Marseille, was in exile in Mexico—has been described as Casablanca imagined by Franz Kafka.  Sartre’s No Exit, first performed in 1944, the same year that Transit was published in English and Spanish versions, is another analogue. So too perhaps is Camus’s The Stranger (1942). The underlying absurdity of the fugitive’s condition, as well as Transit’s understated modernism, belies Seghers’s reputation as a Marxist ideologue; most certainly this strain of absurdism helped interest Petzold in the material.

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