The History of Dialogue (3): Brecht vs. the HUAC

Bertolt Brecht appeared before the HUAC on October 30, 1947. Brecht’s testimony consisted of wry jokes and evasions. He played dumb and frequently blamed sloppy translation for the committee’s ‘misunderstanding’ of his work and his politics. Nonetheless, Brecht was praised by HUAC chair Rep. John Parnell Thomas (R-NJ) for his cooperativeness. Brecht flew to Zurich the day after the hearing.

Partial transcripts with audio recordings can be found online at WikiSource andhere. A brief video can be found on YouTube:

Norwegian musician Stonxyblot Proxy made a charming song using excerpts from the transcript. I imagine a full transcript of the proceeding is available in a national archive—I’ve been unable to find a book that has the whole thing.

The most famous section of the hearing is the following, in which HUAC Chief Investigator Robert E. Stripling reads a song from Brecht’s infamous lehrstückeDie Maßnahme:

Rep. John Parnell Thomas (R – NJ) [Chairman, House Un-American Activities Committee]: Mr. Stripling do you have any questions?

Robert E. Stripling [Chief Investigator, House Un-American Activities Committee ]: I would like to ask Mr. Brecht whether or not he wrote a poem, a song, rather, entitled “Forward, We’ve Not Forgotten.”

Rep. John McDowell, (R – PA): “Forward” what?

Mr. Stripling: “Forward We’ve Not Forgotten.”

Bertolt Brecht: I can’t think of that. The English title may be the reason.

Mr. Stripling: Would you translate it for him into German?

Mr. Brecht: Oh, now I know, yes…

Mr. Stripling: You are familiar with the words to that?

Mr. Brecht: Yes.

Mr. Stripling: Would the committee like me to read that?

Rep. Thomas: Yes; without objection, go ahead.

Mr. Stripling: “Forward, we’ve not forgotten

Our strength in the fights we have won!

No matter what may threaten,

Forward, not forgotten,

How strong we are as one!

Only these our hands now aching

Built the roads, the walls, the towers.

All the world is of our making.

What of it can we call ours?

Forward, march on to power

Through the city, the land, the world.

Forward, advance the hour!

Just whose city is the city?

Just whose world is the world?

Forward we’ve not forgotten

Our union in hunger and pain.

No matter what may threaten

Forward, not forgotten,

We have a world to gain.

We shall free the world of shadow

Every shop and every room

Every road and every meadow,

All the world will be our own.”

Did you write that Mr. Brecht?

Mr. Brecht: No. I wrote a German poem, but that is very different from this thing.

Mr. Stripling: That’s all the questions I have Mr. Chairman.