Love in Exile: An American Writer's Memoir Of Life In Divided Berlin

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Edith Anderson left America for Berlin in 1947 to join her German husband - an exile from the Nazis - who had returned to his homeland to build a new country from Hitler's ruins. Max Schroeder had been a surrealist poet/playwright in his bohemian twenties, but when Edith Anderson met him in New York at the height of World War II, he was a seasoned, forty-three-year-old political activist editing an anti-facist periodical in English and German. Edith, a struggling young writer from the East Bronx, worked first at ...
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Overview

Edith Anderson left America for Berlin in 1947 to join her German husband - an exile from the Nazis - who had returned to his homeland to build a new country from Hitler's ruins. Max Schroeder had been a surrealist poet/playwright in his bohemian twenties, but when Edith Anderson met him in New York at the height of World War II, he was a seasoned, forty-three-year-old political activist editing an anti-facist periodical in English and German. Edith, a struggling young writer from the East Bronx, worked first at the The Daily Worker, and then as one of the first "American railroad girls." Immediately after the war Max returned to Berlin where he was appointed editor-in-chief of the prestigious Aufbau Press. After a long delay in Paris where she spent time with Richard Wright, Edith eventually joined him in Allied-occupied Berlin. Edith finds herself trapped in a traditional hausfrau role, made more isolating because she is a foreigner. And Max struggles to protect his outspoken wife from knowledge of the increasingly frightening political confrontation at the epicenter of the cold war, a confrontation which shatters the lives of many of their friends in the artistic community and his own idealistic hopes for a new Germany. Anderson's recounting of her involvement in circles in Paris and Berlin populated by the likes of Wright, Christina Stead, Bertolt Brecht, Thomas Mann, and composer Hanns Eisler, is rich with unique anecdote and telling insights.
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Editorial Reviews

Adam Shatz
...This book tells of...the shameful secret of privilege in a state that claims to have abolished it....glamour did little to offset the claustrophobia wrought by political repression....Her husband endured harrowing encounters with the authorities....The most affecting sections of Love in Exile recount her search for happiness outside of marriage.
The New York Times Book Review
From The Critics
...[W]ell-crafted telling....clearly dramatizes intricacies of history and Communist theory lost to most modern audiences.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Anderson tells how, as an "East Bronx plebeian," she left America in 1947 to share her German husband's life in Allied-occupied Berlin. When they met during WWII, Max Schroeder was a left-wing German exile and survivor of a concentration camp in Vichy France, editing an anti-Nazi periodical in New York. Anderson, cultural editor of the U.S. Communist Party's Daily Worker for a brief stint, had a conservative Jewish upbringing and joined her nominally Protestant, Communist husband in Germany with some trepidation. Her portrait of a Germany in ruins, eager to forget German war guilt and the massacre of at least 11 million people, is chilling. En route to Berlin, her stopover in Paris provides tantalizing glimpses of exiled novelist Richard Wright, Bertolt Brecht and Simone de Beauvoir. In Germany she and Max--theater critic at night, editor-in-chief of a literary publishing house by day--consorted with a lively circle of writers, painters, intellectuals and activists. In 1950 the couple moved to Soviet-controlled East Berlin. With 20/20 hindsight, Anderson charts her disillusionment with her Marxist faith and records the arrests, disappearances and suicides of associates while, over in West Berlin, "denazified" individuals and families got a boost from the Western occupying powers. Her marriage survived multiple strains--her husband's workaholism and abuse of alcohol, her own homesickness and sexual affair with a married neighbor, juggling her career as a translator and writer with raising a daughter--and she movingly describes Max's battle against cancer, to which he succumbed in 1958. Anderson, who still lives in Berlin, is a wonderfully perceptive observer of people, events and places, making this a memorable Cold War chronicle. Photos. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Anderson, an expatriate American writer, has lived in Berlin since 1947, where she went to join her husband, Max Schroeder, editor of the Aufbau Press. Born in Germany and a member of the anti-Fascist movement in New York, Schroeder returned to Berlin after the war in hopes of being part of the rebuilding of a new, democratic Germany. This is a memoir of Anderson's years with Schroeder, of her friendships with Richard Wright, Christina Stead, and other literary figures of the time, and of her involvement with the Communist party. It is also a picture of a place and time of great interest: Berlin immediately following World War II and East Berlin during the Cold War years. Anderson has written a tender, honest, and often painfully loving memoir. Recommended for academic libraries supporting modern literary studies and public libraries with a demand for literary memoirs.--Denise Johnson, Bradley Univ., Peoria, IL
Adam Shatz
...[T]his book tells of...the shameful secret of privilege in a state that claims to have abolished it....glamour did little to offset the claustrophobia wrought by political repression....[Her husband] endured harrowing encounters with the authorities....The most affecting sections of Love in Exile recount her search for happiness outside of marriage.
The New York Times Book Review
Helen Yglesias
Edith Anderson's losses were many, but they are our gain, set down in an account where they glow with fierce immediacy, as if her her Cold War experiences also impinge on the reader's life -- which indeed, in the larger context, they do.
The Women's Review of Books
Kirkus Reviews
A tedious reminiscence of life in postwar Berlin among the Communist intelligentsia in the former East Germany. The author of two books published in Germany, Anderson has now attempted to tell the story of her married life from 1943 to 1957 with the German Communist writer and editor Max Schroeder. The two met in New York City during the war. She became enamored of his intellect and commitment to the Communist cause, and followed him to war-ravaged Berlin to help rebuild Germany. This is the story of her difficult life trying to be a productive writer, a supportive wife, and a devoted mother, all while living in oppressive, materially deprived East Berlin. The author tells of her struggle to adapt to German and Communist ways, especially the strict social proprieties, the bureaucratic officiousness, and the rigid ideological strictures that frustrate her attempts to build a meaningful life. She irritates the reader with a habit of introducing too many characters who inhabited the social and political circles in which she and Max lived, and she switches too abruptly from scene to scene as well, all in an effort to build a suspenseful story. Perhaps the single most glaring problem is the excessive use of vulgar similes ("he lay tossing in his heresies like an insomniac in sweated sheets") in an attempt to add literary value to this memoir. Her inconsistent judgments of people, especially Max, result in her portraying few sympathetic characters in this dismal story. She is unable to express what was really significant historically about life in East Germany. Anderson frequently quotes from letters she wrote at the time: they are usually of more interest and contain more real life inthem than the other episodes in her narrative. One wishes she had published her letters instead, which would have been more authentic, more visceral, than the obtuse saga that remains. .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781883642679
  • Publisher: Steerforth Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/1999
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 404
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.33 (h) x 1.62 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Toward morning, in a dream, I see my parents. They are visiting me in my home in Berlin. I go over to their bed, a sort of baby crib. Mother is at one end, Dad at the other, but it is so small that they are almost touching. I gather their heads to mine and we hold our cheeks together tenderly.
   There are no rights and no wrongs in this dream of continuity and reconciliation. In it I am as much the parent of my parents as I am their offspring. My grandson's toys lie on the dresser where my daughter's had briefly been kept when she and I had visited Dad after Mother's death.
   Dad asks me a question about my life, and it does not strike me that this is the first time in decades that he has shown concern for me without condemnation. I tell him that my life has been torn right through the middle.


In November, 1946 a group of mostly left-wing German exiles, among them my husband Max Schroeder, was given a good riddance present by the U.S. State Department. They had requested repatriation and were sent back to the remains of their country on the Marine Flasher, a no longer seaworthy troop-transport vessel that was due to be scrapped. Not too surprisingly it broke down mid-Atlantic, circled about in quiet waters for two days like a celluloid fish in a bathtub, and was then nearly ripped apart by a storm. Canadian papers reported it lost, but no search parties were sent. Eventually its feeble emergency motor got it moving at four knots until it reached Ponta Delgada in the Azores. There the Germans soaked up sun and enjoyed a blessed respite from anxiety and the Flasher's dreadful food until another hulk, the Marine Marlin, picked them up. Nearly a month after they left New York they disembarked in Bremerhaven and their new life among the ruins began.

    Max and I were not living together at the time of his departure. I did not see him off at the pier, it would have been too painful, but we had not relinquished one another. We wrote each other careful letters in which our yearning was barely hinted at.

    His first letter, posted from the Azores to reach me by my birthday, ended: "I am loving you with heart and mind." That was a present, wasn't it, I asked myself. Enclosed in his next letter, from Bremerhaven, were three dollars "for a pint of rum" at Christmas. He had been chary of the porous sop "I love you" long before our troubles began.


I am in good health and spirits [he wrote in March]. Happy? Yes, sometimes, and with reason, but it would be exaggerating to say I was happy. The happiness of feeling needed and appreciated here, of finding I can do things I wanted to do all my life and never had the chance — this is not just superficial happiness, but I know its limits very well. The other more personal sector of happiness is quite empty at the moment, and I am very careful in this regard. I saw Rosl in Hannover, where her husband has an assignment. I was very much attracted by her, but something "deep down," as you say, tells me to stay alone for a while. I think I am not as pathetic as I was when we met, I am sure I am not. I am questioning myself about things of the past and the future.


I too was questioning myself about things of the past and the future. If he was no longer as "pathetic" as when we met, neither was I as blind. Now, in his absence, with memory uninterrupted, I could study him like the bud of a flower and see the petals open slowly one by one. Further illumination came with extraordinary letters from the wilderness of Berlin. The last, longest, and most moving of these, which began simply "Dear Edith," and ended "So long, contained not one calculated word of love. It contained a full-grown man. I longed to be good enough for him.


As to my feelings about my own country, they are crystallizing more and more into a conviction that it is my house and my home which for decades or even centuries was governed by lackeys and parasites to keep me and all the true owners of this good old house in the basement and let us starve. If God or some other obscure divinity gives me the time to live, then like old Fontane I hope to start writing real books at sixty. Now there is still too much to do to cleanse the house of roaches. They are still in the majority.


Max crossed devastated Germany slowly, weighing job offers. In Berlin he accepted the post of editor-in-chief of a literary publishing house, at that time the largest in Germany. The Aufbau Press was an arm of the Kulturbund (The League for the Cultural Revival of Democratic Germany). Its headquarters were in the British Sector, but the actual publishing offices were in the Soviet Sector. It was a period of political puss-in-the-corner and the freedom of sixes and sevens. Max found it invigorating.

    "Is it a good project to come over here?" He raised and answered the question with the dispassionate mien of a professor advising a student on a course of study. "I think it is," he wrote, "and I mean in itself. Not in the way — understandable as it is — that many people long for Paris. Here is a point from which one can acquire perspective. Come and see. I think it is worthwhile."

    He agreed that despite everything our relationship had not ended and he offered me support in Berlin — a room or small apartment of my own, spending money, and a cleaning woman because, as he said, he wanted me to have time to write. I deserved this in return for all he "owed" me: "By this I do not mean so much the material support I got from you, as the treasures of your mind with which you opened worlds to me that I had not seen before or had neglected." But if I preferred a job, he wrote, he was sure he could find me one.

    I wrote back: "I will move heaven and earth. I am determined to come."

    Non-German civilians were not permitted in occupied Berlin. Senator Wagner of New York State arranged a personal interview for me with Ruth Shipley, the head of the Passport Division of the State Department in Washington. She proved to be a benighted fanatic in a housedress. Certainly not, she snarled, "we" would have to "chase the Russians out of Berlin" first. But there was hope; she for one thought this could be accomplished within a year.

    Christina Stead and her husband, William Blake, wrote from Antwerp advising me to lie low for a while, then apply in an ordinary New York passport bureau for a schoolteacher's summer jaunt to Paris (teaching being my nominal profession). Things pronounced impossible in Washington could be managed from Paris, they said; quite different people were running American affairs there. Bill's former wife and daughter would help me find a job — they had contacts. Bill, who knew all about banking though he never had any money, gave me the address of a basement exchange in lower Manhattan where francs could be bought at the most favorable rate.

    My parents had a romantic portrait photo of me at eighteen, large-eyed, soft-lipped, in an expensive draped dress which I now realize was a kind of investment, like my college education. I was thirty now and had not yet shown any awareness of what harvest a girl's bloom could reap. Slowly and sadly Dad and Mother were resigning themselves. Dad opened a separate savings account for me. It would not be in my name, he explained, but when real need overtook me, as it obviously must, the money would be at my disposal.

    I sold my piano and asked Dad if I might have the money in the new savings account. "Not for that purpose," he said curtly. He would not go to the country of the Nazis, he said, meaning: How can you? And what do you want with a penniless German Communist who is much too old for you, why do you throw every chance of your youth away?

    Chris and Bill sent me a hundred which I could pay back, they joked, when I was rich. Other friends provided shorter-term loans, Paris addresses, and a trunkful of provisions which would last me and Max a year.

    Into shiny white Tampax tubes I stuffed my contraband francs, thinking myself extremely cunning. Any young female would have struck on this obvious idea, but fortunately my baggage was not opened. This assured me a few weeks of minimum subsistence in a maid's room at the top of a hotel near the rue Haussmann while I got my bearings.

    We may think we have no definite plan. Plans form themselves in a region of the brain which the brain knows nothing of. While I was still agonizing over the decision to leave all that was precious to me for one man, my astute friend Helen Cole asked, "Are you afraid you'll be happy?"

    This startling formulation was like the shot of brandy that settles the stomach. The title of Wendell Willkie's end-of-the-war book, One World, was still in the foreground of people's minds. I could always come back. And the teeter-totter began.

    When the ship actually moved out of New York Harbor with three hoarse, prolonged blasts of farewell and I saw the towers of my past shrink and fade into blank sky, sobs convulsed me and would not subside. Yet again, when I rose from my berth next morning I was unexpectedly transformed, light as man on the moon. The swell of the ocean uplifted me, my spirit flew with the gulls still following our ship. How was that? Had America itself, which I loved to distraction, been the millstone around my neck? Should I not have been worried sick about going to Europe with money for only three weeks, stumbling school French, no German?

    There were answers, but at the moment I did not require them, nor would I have understood them.


Soon after Max left the United States I heard a woman at a party in Greenwich Village ask, "Who did you say her husband was?" and the ardent, artless reply of the hostess, a young dancer named Lily, "Oh, you know, you met him, Max Schroeder — that tall, wonderful man?" So stricken was I by her infatuated tone that all further recollection of the party ceases there, as if an earthquake had rocked the place and all the guests fled into the street.

    Lily hardly knew Max, yet she recognized his transcendence, and a terrible insight wrung me, not a new one but painfully perceived anew: that intimacy is not knowledge of the other but actually works against such knowledge. All I knew of Max was what I saw. I had no more grasp of his origins than Elsa of Lohengrin's. Before the Nazis came to power I had taken little notice of Germany. I was not familiar with the language or the nation's history or (with a very few exceptions) the German literature with which Max was unceasingly involved. It was not ignorance alone; it was a total lack of curiosity. My mind was too preoccupied with my own country to make room for other people's.


At a meeting of the League of American Writers early in 1942 a stranger rose at the other side of the sparsely lighted hall to say a few words. He leaned forward across heads like a long tattered streamer in the wind and spoke haltingly in what seemed to be German, but was English. I realized that this must be one of the rare brave human beings who had resisted Hitler openly, and my heart went out to him. I did not connect him with the shabbily dressed man in an oversized coat, stained felt hat, and gold-rimmed spectacles who used to pass me, always in a hurry, on Horatio Street a year or so later. He was very gaunt and squinted against the sun, which wrinkled the bridge of a mountainous nose and made his glasses slip. He seemed pitiable, so obviously uncared-for.

    His occupation as chief editor of an anti-Nazi periodical, the German American, was better than respectable, for he had persuaded the most illustrious of the exiles to write for it, but his name did not appear on the masthead, and he received no salary. Instead, like countless other Germans on their list of the deserving, he got eighty dollars a month from the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee. No one could live on that.

    I had a humbler but similar job, though it had come to me, as the Germans say, like the infant to the virgin. Hastening down Broadway to my Marxist analyst who charged only five dollars a session because I was unemployed (he too was still young) I bumped into a former college crony named Milton. He hailed me joyously, "You're just the person I need!" He told me he was the cultural editor of the Daily Worker but had just been drafted into the army and must find a replacement by the weekend.

    "Oh, Milton, I would scrub floors for the Daily Worker," I said fervently, "but I have no newspaper experience."

    "I'll break you in."

    "In three days?"

    "Less."

    I didn't even ask what they paid. The question for me was how I could have the gall to pass myself off as a cultural editor, an arbiter of taste, an authority, to readers fed up with the preciosity and rudderlessness of other papers.

    My analyst brushed these scruples aside. He was delighted that I had a real challenge to bite into; life, as Marx said, was a struggle, and I was no more a fraud than anyone else. As to the "right" way to do a thing, there were no blueprints valid for all.

    They paid fifteen dollars a week. That is, they paid me fifteen, which was less than Max's alms. I never did learn what they paid Milton. Alvah Bessie, the successor chosen by the higher-ups, was to get forty-five, the Party's maximum (so one heard), but he changed his mind when summoned by Hollywood.

    The union minimum was twenty-seven. When I found this out a couple of months later, I demanded and got it. I was no longer quite so blue-eyed about scrubbing floors. The cultural page itself was an Augean stable and my Marxist struggle a running battle with managing editor Louis Budenz to prevent his squeezing all the culture off it.

    "This will end up as a fart on the cultural page," a callous colleague in the city room remarked in my presence as she tossed aside a release.

    Mike Gold, author of Jews without Money, provided page seven's one reliable ornament, his column "Change the World." It was insulted by movie ads that staggered up the sides of the page like dislocated staircases, ruining every layout, and by photos of Hollywood bosoms, thighs, and the opulent parted lips of women trying to look as stupid as possible. These were musts, or we would lose the ads. An inept poem by a shnook or a drama review spun off in a hack's spare time at least had some relation to the page's function, but slag from other departments, anything at all that was free and a deadly bore was dumped in the culture corner.

    Once Louis brought me a screed by some worthy union organizer that forced everything else off the page. "Nobody will look at such an unbroken mass of type," I said. "There's got to be room for subheads, white space, at least a picture!"

    "All right, put in a picture," Louis agreed with his usual phlegm.

    Hoist with my own petard, I ransacked the photo file. We had one steel cut that went with anything, a head of Lenin, but it was rather large. I was just slashing lines to accommodate it when Louis reared his ugly head from behind a linotype machine and said no, every word counted. He dragged the printer, Dave, into a corner, and presently the screech of sawed steel went through my marrow. "He made me cut off Lenin's beard," Dave moaned. Dave was the only comrade in the shop.

    "What? Destroy the cut?"

    "And part of the chin," Dave said.

    My wails mingled with his moans. Steel cuts were expensive, they were like gold, they had to be returned to the file immediately so as not to get lost. We had no other cut of Lenin!

    I unburdened myself to V. J. Jerome in the offices of the National Committee on the ninth floor. Jerome was known unofficially as the cultural commissar of the party. A learned, rabbinical-looking man with moist brown eyes and a weakness for young ladies, he put his soft paw on my arm and in his Polish-tinged English accent jested, "You must see things historically, my dear. The cultural page in itself represents progress. A few years ago our comrades hadn't even heard of culture."


A lady in a pert hat visited me at my apartment on Horatio Street and introduced herself as Janet Stevenson. Wasting no time on chitchat she sat down in my maple rocker and tackled me about the malevolent review of Counterattack which had appeared on page seven. It was an anti-Nazi play with a Soviet hero, so of course she and her husband Phil, the authors, had counted on our support. Instead we had irresponsibly wrecked its chances.

    The byline of our theater critic was Ralph Warner. He saved his real name for paying jobs. It impressed my bosses mightily that a man who made his living on the slicks would deign to bother with us. Fearful of losing a pearl, they instructed each new cultural editor that Warner's copy was taboo — no red-penciling from the likes of us. He never greeted me, just glared out of ringed, baleful eyes, threw his dilations down on my desk like the glove preceding a duel, and stumped back to the rat race. Occasionally I heard him stop in the corridor outside my door to hobnob with someone of status.

    Janet listened to my apologies courteously and pointed out that if something was not done on the spot, Counterattack would close.

    "I'll go myself," I said. "I'll write my own review."

    She gave me a ticket. More cordial now, she told me that the key character in the play, a German miner, was absolutely authentic; she and her husband had sought advice from someone who must know. The denouement required a Wehrmacht soldier taken prisoner on the eastern front to turn against his fellows and save the life of their exhausted Russian captor. Dreaming him up was not good enough, there had to be such a man incognito among the Nazis — but could there be? Max Schroeder did not doubt it. It was he who in the end made flesh and blood of the character and wrote his speeches.

    "You know Max, of course?" No. "But you have seen him, he lives in this house on the floor below?" I hadn't noticed a German. "You'd like him," Janet said. "Why don't you knock at his door?" She also dropped a word to him, but for one reason and another we did not meet while I was on the Daily Worker. Which was not to be much longer.

    Most of the staff came in around eleven. I arrived at eight like a one-man orchestra with a harmonica in my teeth, cymbals strapped to my hands, a ukulele draped around my neck — I was editor, reporter, rewrite man, layout man. After putting the page to bed downstairs I sometimes went back to the city room, whither I had recently been demoted, to knock off one more filler for next day. One night I found myself coughing into eerie silence, and panicked. I didn't want to be caught alone again in an air-raid drill and have to cower on the back stairs wondering whether this time it was for real. I had been in the building sixteen hours that day. By morning I was down with the new viral pneumonia that was filling the army hospitals.

    I went back to the office after six weeks — too soon, tottering, but how could the paper manage without me — and found my desk drawer full of strange property. A voice behind me stopped my feeble rummaging: "Louis wants to see you."

    He fired me on the spot. Not for my review of Counterattack, of course, or the many other instances of insubordination that challenged his indifference to the Party's welfare, but because a colleague on maternity leave had returned, he said, and there wasn't enough money for us both. I was the last hired. As I burst into tears Louis instructed me sternly, "A good Communist doesn't cry!"

    The two or three people in the city room at that early hour looked away as I passed through with red eyes. My pal on the staff, a rewrite man named Singer, came to my apartment that evening with a note from Mike Gold that said, "Don't take it to heart, it happens to all of us."

    For a moment it was balsam. I looked up to Mike Gold as a great writer. He could be a Gorky, I thought, if he didn't continually undermine his talent in the daily grind. Couldn't he make them undo this injustice? Hadn't he told me I edited his columns better than anyone ever before? He received the maximum salary, so they obviously set great store by him. I kept rereading the note, but resignation was all it expressed. Why must it happen to all of us? Was this some immutable law of Party life? What was the matter with Mike Gold?

    He was sick, Singer reminded me. In the lunch bar across University Place he never touched the potato latkes the rest of us devoured so lustily. He was not allowed coffee. Someone said alcohol would kill him. He was not yet fifty and there was already ash in his flaming eyes. His swarthy pugilistic face had a yellowish cast.

    Still. Could a mere physical disorder take the fight out of a fighter? I was not yet equipped to understand how. I hoped never to be so equipped. Were we not to go down — if we had to go down — fighting?

    Maybe he thought this too trifling an issue to waste his substance on. "It happens to all of us" meant that not even he mattered in the perspective of the revolution. His one novel ended with the words:


O Workers' Revolution, you brought hope to me, a lonely, suicidal boy. You are the true Messiah. You will destroy the East Side when you come, and build there a garden for the human spirit.
   O Revolution, that forced me to think, to struggle and to live.
   O great Beginning!


    But if "it" happened to all of us, and we let it, how could the Great Beginning take root?

    A month later an inexperienced young man was hired in my place, but no one was fired on that account.


I landed a war job as a railroad trainman, a position to which American women had not hitherto been admitted, and nothing would have induced me to give it up. I thought it was romantic.

    So did Max. The sight of the DW's cultural editor rushing down Horatio Street in a dark blue uniform with matching cap and silver buttons puzzled and greatly intrigued the editor of the German American. For a time he remained diffident about approaching. Although I wore glasses and looked rather earnest, I seemed to be occupied with a different man every time he passed me on the stairs. Eventually he invited me to dinner at a moment when my face was covered with sweaty grime. I washed it, changed my shirt, and went down the block with him to a Spanish bistro I hadn't even known was there.

    Over paella and red wine he praised my stimulating country, its jazz, its skyscrapers, its poets. His enthusiasm touched me, though I understood very little of the guttural English in which it was expressed. Seen close up, his face rosy with animation, he looked no more than thirty-five. To my mind thirty-five was old, so the news that he was forty-three appalled me. I had never known an interesting and interested man so advanced in years.

    All the same our two apartments soon became a zigzag duplex and Max's English improved rapidly. Upstairs, overlooking the rackety crossing at Hudson Street, was the master bedroom, my one-room kitchenless "studio" with fake, dark-stained rafters and arty latticed casement windows. Downstairs in his indefinable dump at the back was the fireplace stuffed with waste paper — there was no room around it, just space to pass by — and the kitchenette with cot, sink, and two-burner gas stove. The single sliding window faced a flat roof to which we might jump in case of fire, though hardly escape, for all around it were higher inflammable buildings. We each paid twenty-five dollars a month and together possessed two baths.

    Awake in the small hours, Max sometimes lit a cigarette and told me stories of his former life, his various lives, and the great chunks lost from them, the narrow escapes and the times when he was caught, the jails and the concentration camps. He told me of Till, the sweetheart left behind in '33, and of Rosl, the all-but-wife from whom he became separated when they fled through occupied France to Marseilles and the Western Hemisphere. He told me about Ali, an Arab shoeshine boy in Casablanca whom he taught to read and whose face he saw in mine. Worry about close friends in Germany with whom communication was impossible preyed on his mind. There was no way to reassure himself about them, and the western Allies were doing nothing to relieve the Soviet Union and speed the end of the war.

    Rosl was in Mexico. His ship had also been bound there, but when it made a scheduled stop in New York the day after Pearl Harbor, all Germans were taken ashore. They were interned, as it was called, within the city limits — not imprisoned, but subject to surveillance and forbidden to leave town.

    When he took a drag of his storytelling cigarette, the glow lit up promontories and caverns of a countenance from some carved medieval altarpiece or roadside crucifix. The undiscerning considered it ugly — he knew this and it wounded him — but especially in those illuminated seconds of reminiscence the oddly matched, changeful features had an irresistible fascination.

    For twelve of his best years this man existed hand to mouth in virtual anonymity. In me he at least found temporary roots and someone to watch with him as he projected his past on the darkness. By dawn it had sifted apart with the first bluish clouds and I was striding to Penn Station, losing the thread, forgetting the names.

    Max was surprisingly extroverted for a high-strung, poetic man. His own psyche interested him not at all, and neither did other people's, including mine. This fazed me. It is hard to pry Americans away from their psyches.

    He was an excellent, foresighted organizer of life strategies, although he could assume when necessary, as under police questioning, a vague deranged look, like a harmless imbecile. He crossed and re-crossed European borders without papers during the spreading Nazi occupation and escaped from a new concentration camp in Vichy France by simply walking away before the barbed wire was put up. He was practical as a peasant. Though skinny he had the toughness of cartilage.

    The spectacles he wore for astigmatism made his eyes look large and beautiful. The great nose jutting from a tapering face was like a powerful rudder on a frail ship, signaling absolute confidence in his own navigation. Behind the brow were library stacks of encyclopedic knowledge. Modestly he placed it at the disposal of anyone who asked.

    In order to kiss his rounded, innocent, choirboy lips I had to look up, although tall myself. Being fifteen years younger than he, I felt the physical act of looking up as perfectly appropriate. While convinced of the inborn equality of the sexes, I rejoiced in not being equal to Max. For his part he derived particular pleasure from educating my ignorance.

    He was born of an upper-class Hansa family similar to the Buddenbrooks, in 1900. His grandfather had been a banker and senator of Lübeck and his father a well-to-do attorney. On the distaff side he was descended from the Polish Potockis, nobles notorious for their pogroms, but his mother's father had been a decent German apothecary in Pasewalk. This was the only ancestor he was glad to own, though he remembered his father, an excellent pianist, with considerable tenderness.

    A family photograph dated 1920 shows Max as an attenuated youth resting languidly in a white-painted armchair near his somber mother and gallantly smiling sister, also in white chairs, on the lawn of their twenty-room mansion. At their feet lies the old Alsatian, Bella. The mansion is no longer entirely theirs. The mother dressed in black is facing down the camera; it is not her duty to smile. The father had died suddenly the year before during the wild inflation and turnip regimen that followed World War I. Left penniless, the widow began dedicating the long remainder of her life to self-pity. To keep her home she had to rent out its rooms, an unthinkable degradation. Max escaped her scepter soon after the picture was taken. He entreated his sister, to whom he was much attached, to break out of her enslavement as assistant landlady and join him, but she was already as helpless as the half-eaten meal of a tiger.

    In the effervescent bohemia of Munich and Berlin he wrote surrealist poetry, experimental plays, and art reviews that somehow kept body and soul together. The precious photo collection of Lotte Pritzel, a queen of that bohemia, includes one of Max wearing a black velvet smoking jacket and lying on someone's sofa, perhaps hers, in a state of blissful inebriation. In 1932, incomprehensibly to her and Dr. Pagel, her husband, Max joined the Communist Party. They assumed it was a passing mania. Then one day he was gone.


Max had no use for marriage, he said. He spoke sarcastically of what he called the American marriage terror. I thought I knew what he meant. My own recently dissolved marriage had lost its meaning because it was a marriage, to whose legality I had originally objected; but then I allowed myself to be talked over, and at once idiotic obligations to new relatives sprang up in every corner of our still fragile privacy and blighted it.

    Even then I wanted babies, but Norman said no, he was a professional revolutionary and so should I be. Now in my late twenties, I had to fight down tears when I saw other people's. Mine, if I ever got any, must be protected and have a garden to play in.

    So I listened to Max's views with sympathetic reserve. He was not a possibility for me; he would be going back to Germany in any case. Once, however, when he spoke dreamily of the garden he meant to have after the war, I felt a pang.

    He proposed from a telephone booth instead of waiting to get home. He thought it would amuse me, and it did, but it also upset me. Max was still a stranger to whom I had few clues. Germany was unthinkable. And what was to become of Rosl?

    It appeared that a woman from the refugee committee had recently gone to Mexico, met Rosl among others, and brought Max a verbal message from her. Having written to him repeatedly for three years and heard nothing, with a heavy heart she stopped believing. She married.

    One day Max found out where their letters had gone. Entering the FBI office for his regular grilling he saw them in her writing and his scattered over the desk of the inquisitor. The bureau's assumption that such an outrage would make the victim lose his head and betray his political connections was disappointed. Max's eyes floated unseeing as soap bubbles over the cruel display. Neither he nor the agent referred to it. For the rest Max knew nothing, as usual.

    "But I'm not in love with you," I said at some point before dawn.

    "You will be," said Max. He spoke as if stating a simple truth written across the sky. It affected me powerfully.

    Our relationship was in a category so different from any previous ones that I knew no name for it. I thought of my last "great love" for the unattainable Waldo, who wrote me from a battleship in the Pacific, "Shall I make a terrible confession to you? I despise all women." And this complacent boast which he was pleased to call a confession made me ache with pitying tenderness for him, as if he had shown me a wound. It became my wound and it was still festering.

    Max did not speak of what festered in him except indirectly, as a storyteller in the night. He could not help mounting each tale, whether about himself or others, within a perspective he conveyed only by a faraway look and a tone of artistic gratification. He would gesture widely, indicating some backdrop as a painter's brush sweeps the long line of a horizon behind figures-to-be. "That was a story," he would say at the end, savoring its literary potential like the first sip of a vintage cognac, until I protested indignantly, "Those are not 'stories'! They happened! People suffered! And you smile.... "

    Long afterward I found the following undated memorandum in his jagged handwriting:


In this war I lost everything I ever had of love and friendship, I lost the fruits of invaluable experience, all I had written and a few negligible worldly goods as well.
   In France I lost a child that came into being one night when a certain decision deprived me of my freedom. The previous evening a friendly prison official let me go on the understanding that I report at the Colombe Stadium by noon the next day. I would not have done it, but R. told me that our friends [euphemism for the German Party in exile] had decided we should all obey the ruling of the French government.
   Not until early spring did I hear what that night in autumn had wrought. R. had to see everything through by herself, the hope and the renunciation. Our rotten papers counted for too little in France to let us marry, so she could not visit me in camp. By illegal contrivances we met for one more night in a village near the camp.
   R. lost more than I did. She wanted the child more. We reveled in that one day's stolen freedom as if it were a lifetime's. Devout as the faithful looking to kingdom-come we talked of what had been and what would be. How should I console her loss? On the way back across freshly plowed fields I stumbled and fell, blinded by headlights from the road where I dared not be seen. For a while I took care not to rise. Our primitive ancestors evolved the strength to walk upright, but we have reverted to the status of worms eating dirt and throttling the life we beget.
   Over a year passed and we each put many miles behind us before we met again.
   I was waiting in a village near Marseilles for passage to Mexico. R.'s visa could not be issued in my name and she had to wait for another ship. The law of the underground railroad forbade me to wait. So I lost R. too.


    The zigzag duplex was exchanged for a long narrow apartment at the top of a five-story walkup on West Twentieth Street. As before, each of us paid twenty-five dollars, but now we had a bright bed-sitter with a tall mirror between the windows and a view of green lawns around the theological seminary. That room was the observation car, so to speak, just emerged from a tunnel and waiting for the go-ahead while the five little cars behind it, each with just one window, were stuck forever between a dim shaft and a hall that weirdly ended nowhere. Once the hall had reached the kitchen its job was done: kitchen opened into dining room and dining room into bed-sitter. The hall groped forward in darkness, breeding nightmares.

    Though cramped and roach-ridden, the kitchen was not to be despised. It became the scene of great and unexpected culinary triumphs. Max turned out to be a cook by divine right, adept at combining ingeniously whatever was at hand. He needed no recipes and never repeated a dish, nor would he disclose how he made it. It was his only arrogance. "Be glad you are getting it," he would say, and I was. Being on twenty-four-hour call like a soldier, I was as likely to arrive home before dawn as any other time, but an exquisite meal always awaited me.

    It might be delayed for a few minutes if Max was having an editorial meeting in the dining room with Gerhart Eisler and Albert Norden. Although rather gloomy, being on the shaft, it was the only room with a table big enough to spread manuscripts over.

    Norden was a distant man with no words to spare for an American mistress, but round little Eisler was irresistibly jolly and cordial. I had no idea what special significance, if any, these men might have in their own country, but neither did I know Max's. I took everything at face value.

    "Do you go to the dentist?" Gerhart Eisler asked me out of a clear sky. When I hesitated, he admonished me that a Communist should have regular checkups to make sure he was in fighting form. He was smiling, but not joking.

    I was touched. Why should he care about my teeth? I went to the dentist. Gradually I came to understand that Gerhart was Max's superior in an invisible hierarchy of the German Party. He had a perky little red headed wife with a lisp who worked somewhere, I believe, as a secretary. What Norden did all day I never knew; for that matter, where did Gerhart hang out? I myself was always in such a rush that I had no time to be curious.

    A friend of Max I saw more of was Alfred Kantorowicz, called Kanto, a sort of intellectual without portfolio. He dispensed a seignorial charm, invented amusing anecdotes out of whole cloth, and had many of the American literati eating out of his hand. A journalist and critic of sorts, he had survived the war in Spain with an aplomb now enhanced by discreetly hung spangles of self-advertisement. He monitored Nazi broadcasts for CBS, a dull job in an airless cubbyhole, but he made it sound more prestigious than what other exiles did. There was an air of ease about him, as if he had a prosperous relative in the offing; his suits were good and sat well; he laughed through his nose with an agreeable and rarefied haw-haw.

    Since Max had chosen me, Kantor assumed my social equality with himself and was aghast when he heard me describe the latest round in a fight for women's seniority rights on the railroad. I was out of breath from running up the stairs and plunged into my "I sez he sez" style of narrative without regard to a guest's presence. "How can you lower yourself to the level of such people?" he remonstrated.

    Max laughed. He was addicted to this daily serial from a native in the thick of things. I was his ringside seat at the American scene.

    "Funny sort of Communist, your pal Kanto," I remarked afterward, but Max only made a considering, noncommittal sound.

    The best man at our wedding, if one can speak of a best man at a two-dollar ceremony in the Municipal Building, was a human whirligig with the nom de guerre of Alexan. Technically he was just one of the two required witnesses and may have been picked because his time was flexible. His constantly pumping energy and a beautiful, hospitable wife predestined him to a central role among those exiled German and Austrian intellectuals who meant to return home after the war. They were by no means all Communists; nor was he. The loosely organized group called itself The Tribune.

    It was Alexan's mercantile family (if I understood correctly) that staked him to the bilingual bookshop he owned, also named The Tribune, at Forty-second Street and Sixth Avenue in the subway mezzanine. It was a dingy, rumbling location, but central and a magnet for all sorts of casual booklovers. Even if they bought nothing they might pick up the latest pink or green mimeographed bulletin of news about Nazi-banned art and artists and Tribune-sponsored cultural events. The homely, enthusiastically sputtering little Alexan wrote or compiled those bulletins on his own. If the business broke even, it was probably thanks to his wife Masha who could not leave the store to attend a wedding, who at thirty-eight spared a half hour for labor pains and gave birth to her one child with the ease of a cow dropping a calf, and whose parties for the Tribune crowd included, in the course of time, just about every distinguished representative of the exile scene on the East Coast. Her kindness and stunning legs and Alexan's bubbling optimism were momentary antidotes to depressing news; their comfortable living room provided a forum for people who not only liked to hear themselves talk but also seemed to have something to say.

    "Seemed," only because my impressions were no more dependable than those of a TV viewer when the sound is turned off. I saw, rather than heard, Hermann Budzislawsky, who worked for columnist Dorothy Thompson as an adviser-amanuensis, holding people spellbound while his wife vehemently smoked a pipe. I saw, and loved, the actor Alexander Granach, though I no longer know how many words of German or pidgin English we exchanged. Perhaps none. He was a distinctly mucho but not macho hombre, he had the frame of a wrestler and the tenderness of a mother. Two weeks later he broke my heart by dying of a burst appendix, unattended, in his hotel room.

    The marriage ceremony, at which Alexan signed a name we had not heard before, was pragmatism pure and simple. It was undertaken only to ease my admission to Germany. Distant and unreal as that prospect still appeared, Max had learned from the Rosl disaster that one could not be too farsighted.

    All the same we celebrated the occasion with an all-day-and-half-the-night party attended by a continuously flowing mob of Max's friends, my friends, assorted acquaintances, the FBI for all I know, and some total strangers, one after midnight in a sari with a red dot on her forehead and eyes ashine like moonlight in the pool of Agra.

    I chiefly remember from that party the prodigious beer marathon of Oskar Maria Graf, the Bavarian novelist who never learned English. Twice I ran down to the corner with George, the young son of publisher Wieland Herzfelde, to buy another case and lug it up our five flights. All that happened to Oskar Maria was that English began coming out of his mouth. "You are great lyric," he kept telling my poet friend Deborah, following her about with a large, generous smile. Not that he could read her poetry, but she was so beautiful. She had shy animal eyes and straight black hair that would not hold a part and swung like heavy silk against one tender, transparent, faintly flushed cheek.

    And I remember Gerhart Eisler coming up close to me and saying in a low voice with frightening sharpness though with his never-failing smile, "You want to go to Germany? You're crazy." The persistence of that smile stemmed, I think, from a balanced view of things, a skilled weighing of events which always allowed the possibility of a good outcome. In this case, however, it was clear that he did not anticipate a good outcome, and I resented his elbow in my private life.

    Hans Meyer was not at our wedding party because he was almost always in Washington. Of the many thousands of Hans Meyers, Mayers, Myers, and Maiers who helped populate the Germanic and German-Jewish world, Max's Hans was the only one related to Albert Einstein. Einstein was his uncle. This would have carved out a privileged niche for Hans in America even if he had not been a uniquely charming, witty, and knowledgeable mart. A stutter which he bore with the utmost nonchalance compounded his attraction, for it made him seem vulnerable and more in need of love.

    Incredibly, to me, his wife became frigid in their marriage and went to stay with relatives on a farm in New Jersey. He led a bachelor's life in their comfortable Greenwich Village flat. It had a large fireplace that really drew and made conversation leap and crackle along with the flames. I took little part in it. Even when the two men spoke English I failed to catch many of their laughing, learned allusions. Being under thirty I got away with naiveté by being an ornament, a fact I only half understood and got little satisfaction from. I was chagrined to discover the insularity of an American education. When Hans laughed caressingly at one of my mistakes I felt mortified.

    He was the only friend of Max with whom I felt an affinity. After Max returned to Germany it was in him I confided. Hans was a chameleon who could assume American coloration as readily as any, so that when alone with him I felt comfortable and understood. This happened just once, when he asked me to dinner at Billy the Oysterman's.

    "It isn't easy to be married to you, my dear girl," he pointed out.

    "How would you know!"

    "It's written all over you. You're a p-p-pest."

    He could say that without giving the slightest offense, as if it was a kind of compliment. I laughed with delight and the gratitude one feels on hearing certain truths. I had long realized I must be a pest and tried to mend my ways, if I had only known which ones.

    "Max is the most remarkable man I ever met," Hans said.

    We went to his apartment and drank some excellent cognac before the fire. He said it was the same kind he and Max stole from a bistro in Paris once when they were broke.

    "The thing is," I said, "relationships never end. We keep negotiating with our memories and with dreams. Someone you've lost for whatever reason keeps coming back, always in a new guise, growing older with you."

    Hans said it was like listening to a symphony on the radio and being interrupted when the telephone rang; and afterward you tried to imagine the possibility that would never be realized, and you couldn't.

    That wasn't what I meant. "My point is that relationships simply do not end. Do not end. Separations don't separate people They may perform some other useful function.... A flower may grow out of a stone," I added, and he looked at me without understanding; how could he understand when I didn't myself.

    At the end of the evening he said, "Let me know what you de-de-decide about M-M-Max." There was a look of hard-edged complicity in his eye. The hard edge told me: "I am honorable. I'm not sure about you."

    I did not let him know. When we spoke again it was in Berlin under embarrassing, ambiguous, and disquieting circumstances.


Max's messy study on Twentieth Street was the pigeonhole opposite the apartment door. Late one night when I unlocked it I saw him in there folded like a collapsed shed over a gallon jug of California red wine. It was about three-quarters empty. Most of his half-rotted upper teeth, the result of malnutrition during two wars, had been removed that afternoon. The money was raised by Gerhart.

    Because of a conservative Jewish upbringing I had never before seen the effects of drunkenness on a person close to me. Max shockingly resembled an ancient Bowery derelict crouched in a doorway. The hurting mouth was caved in, the head hung unconscious of its appearance. Peering half-blinded over the top of his glasses he nevertheless registered my horror, was offended by it, and waved me to a chair with elaborate politeness. I sat down gingerly.

    "You are not really sitting," he pointed out with remarkable clarity. "You are not here."

    I moved back until I felt the hard slats against my vertebrae.

    "Would you like some wine?"

    "Not now, thanks."

    He studied me as if at last the scales had fallen from his eyes. "You are very ambitious," he said.

    The accusation gave me a fright. "How?" I asked.

    A pause ensued. It lengthened.

    "You want to tell me —" I ventured.

    "Don't rush me," he said.

    I waited, wooden with weariness. He was too Spartan to utter a moan, so my own discomfort was more obvious to me than his. The maximum free time granted by the crew dispatcher was ten hours, but usually a trainman without a regular run got only eight. I had no regular run then.

    Max seemed to lose track of my presence. He rambled incoherently about literature, blinked and squinted at dissolving images in his mind. When the shaft wall outside his window became visible, I struggled to my feet and left the room. For a long time I lay in bed too exhausted and resentful to fall asleep.

    After I met Rosl I knew how she would have reacted. She would have knelt at his side and put her arms around him. She would have cajoled and supported him to bed. If he told her she was ambitious she would have asked with infinite humility, "I?"


There were times when squalor spread about us like damp creeping up plaster walls. Roaches multiplied behind the jars on our kitchen shelves. Mice kept me awake by scrabbling in the uncovered garbage can (it was covers that made garbage smell, Max insisted) until, though it made his heart ache, he poured water on the poor things and drowned them to protect my sleep. We drove out bedbugs with bug powder, but the neighbor's bug powder drove them back. Max found two little nail kegs in the gutter and stood them next to armchairs as coffee-table substitutes. I curtained off the corridor's dead end to make a walk-in closet we forgot to walk into, and everything in it became impregnated with dust and rotted. As a birthday surprise Max painted the dining-room floor migraine green. "It looked better on the label," he apologized.

    When I undressed I turned aside so he shouldn't see the holes in my winter underwear, but he protested tenderly, almost on the verge of tears, "Don't hide — I love them!" How, I wondered, could a man be touched by holey underwear?


Every one of us
Who with torn shoes walks through the crowd
Bears witness to the shame which now defiles our land,


    Stephen Spender translated from Brecht (Über die Bezeichnung Emigranten), whose poetry I could not yet read; and that may have been the explanation. To the exile in cast-off clothes I was the apposite partner, the Raggedy Ann of a Claire Bloom to my plucky German Chaplin.

    Mother defied Dad by visiting us and looked about the apartment with her large romantic eyes. There was, after all, a precedent for my unsuitable relationship with Max. Hadn't Jo, in Little Women, after failing to get the boy next door, ended up most happily with an oldish German professor? Still, when Max was out of the room she said, standing on that frightful floor, "You were two poor, lonely creatures, that's what it was."


Max had rescued his father's gold watch through every vicissitude, but as it didn't go I took it to a watchmaker. I never had the six dollars to recover it, or rather, when I had six dollars I forgot and took Max to a jam session with Eddie Condon at the Village Gate, or we went to the Vanguard where Leadbelly still struck fierce thunder out of his twelve-string guitar and his old wife sat nearby and kept an eye on him. Max never mentioned the watch. The guilt of losing it stabs me to this day.

    Shiftlessness is the recreation of the poor. "Come to the Mardi Gras," wrote Jack and Gina, and I cleaned out what I had left in the bank. Of course Max wasn't allowed to leave town, which made it more fun. Two could ride free on my railroad pass as far as Washington and half-fare return from there to New Orleans, so we could afford a Pullman berth and a bottle of Southern Comfort to swig as we gazed at the passing scenery. Stepping out of Jack and Gina's patio we joined the drunken populace, I a gypsy in satin rags, Max rakish in one of my earrings. Jack carried a jug of martinis from which we all sipped as we strolled in the summery February sun. Naughty Catholic Gina stopped a priest and kissed him on the mouth, and I saw with a pang that Max was enchanted by her.

    Once by the fitful light of his cigarette he told me of a luxury brothel in Paris to which a well-heeled friend had treated him. The girl assigned to him was a marvel, she "danced love." Anxious to learn, I asked how this was done, but he must have sensed that he had said enough. His memories, even only reveries, of incomparable women, made me feel like a hulking hobbledehoy. At such moments I acted like one. In my confusion I bought an unbecoming dress, I walked clumsily.

    All the more, I insisted within myself, did it behoove me to "understand" or at least make room. Jealousy was ignoble and I was proud to think I was overcoming it. I didn't know what real jealousy was. What babes in the woods we both were!

(Continues…)

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