German Writers Form Group 47 Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Many important German writers joined Group 47 to confront the Nazi past and provide a forum for mutual support and criticism following World War II. The group spawned many of the most important works of German literature over the next twenty years, until its prestige and institutional power proved its undoing.

Summary of Event

At the beginning of September, 1947, a group of fifteen German authors met at the home of Ilse Schneider-Lengyel in Bannwaldsee, near Füssen in the German province of Allgäu. The group provided a forum for the discussion of the serious problems facing German writers in the post-World War II era. Among those present at the meeting in addition to Schneider-Lengyel were Hans Werner Richter, Walter Kolbenhoff Kolbenhoff, Walter , Walter M. Guggenheimer, Friedrich Minssen, Wolfgang Bächler, Nicolaus Sombart, Heinz Friedrich, Heinz Ulrich, and Wolfdietrich Schnurre. They had no awareness at the time that their small group would become the nucleus of one of the greatest literary movements in German history, Gruppe 47 (Group 47), named after the year in which the first meeting took place. Group 47[Group Forty seven] Literary movements;Group 47[Group Forty seven] [kw]German Writers Form Group 47 (Sept., 1947) [kw]Group 47, German Writers Form (Sept., 1947)[Group Forty seven, German Writers Form] [kw]Writers Form Group 47, German (Sept., 1947) Group 47[Group Forty seven] Literary movements;Group 47[Group Forty seven] [g]Europe;Sept., 1947: German Writers Form Group 47[02120] [g]Germany;Sept., 1947: German Writers Form Group 47[02120] [c]Literature;Sept., 1947: German Writers Form Group 47[02120] [c]Organizations and institutions;Sept., 1947: German Writers Form Group 47[02120] Richter, Hans Werner Scheider-Lengyel, Ilse Andersch, Alfred Böll, Heinrich Grass, Günter

The idea for Group 47 originated in the mind of Hans Werner Richter while he was interned as a prisoner of war World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];prisoners of war in the United States. At the beginning of 1945, the United States government began moving prisoners of war with antifascist records to Fort Kearney and Fort Getty on the Atlantic coast, where they attended courses to prepare them as future administrators for the new democracy World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];reconstruction that would be founded in Germany after the Allied Powers—France, Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union—reunited the various occupation zones and phased out military government. Because of his writing experience and journalistic background, Richter was moved to the Atlantic coast and appointed editor in chief of a German newspaper, Der Ruf Ruf, Der (periodical) (the call), by the U.S. camp authorities. With the assistance of Alfred Andersch and Walter Kolbenhoff, Richter’s newspaper became the most liberal and widely distributed German camp newspaper in the United States in 1945 and 1946.

After his release as a prisoner of war, Richter’s request that Der Ruf be printed and distributed in Germany was granted, and the newspaper was published there from August, 1946, until April, 1947. Both the American and the German edition of Der Ruf dealt with topical issues, including German collective guilt for the Nazi past and the future of German government. Publication of the German edition was halted by U.S. military authorities after only sixteen issues, however—perhaps at the prompting of the Soviet Union, which did not fare well on the editorial pages of the paper. Richter had hoped to continue the work of Der Ruf in the form of a satirical periodical, but the military government was no longer willing to grant him a license. In response, Richter organized the meeting of friends and writers at the home of Schneider-Lengyel. The meeting was the first of a series that lasted from 1947 until 1967.

The moral support and mutual understanding offered by Group 47 were invaluable in helping overcome the psychological effects of years of Nazi brutality and oppression. As a forum for free thinkers, Group 47 gave its members the opportunity to express an opinion. In general, however, the group was homogeneous. Its members shared certain beliefs and opinions: They all leaned to the left of center politically, were strongly concerned about the future of German language and literature, and were suspicious of complex writing and complicated grammar.

Although Group 47 was not primarily a political group, its members were often involved with political causes and discussed and debated current affairs. This is hardly surprising, given the atmosphere in which Group 47 was formed. The postwar era in Germany was a time of political upheaval and political change, and Group 47 was not immune from variations in the German national political scene. In general, Group 47 was distrustful of political institutions, politicians, and government agencies. There was a fear that youthful vigor and naïveté could be misused, as it had been under the rule of Adolf Hitler. Many of the works by authors involved with Group 47 centered on this theme.

No previous generation had warned the members of Group 47 of the dangers of politics in causing war. The German authors of the 1920’s had spent some time discussing the devastating consequences of World War I, but the question of how to avoid a repetition of the tragedy did not play a major part in most of their works. Erich Maria Remarque’s Im Westen nichts Neues All Quiet on the Western Front (Remarque) (1929; All Quiet on the Western Front, 1929) was a notable exception, but its main focus was to discuss the horrors of war, not how to avoid them. Group 47 examined the political scene rather than the front lines. In this sense, it did much more than the post-World War I literary groups had done to attack the establishment—from common citizens to high-ranking politicians—and to prevent further war in Europe.

In contrast to the literary groups that emerged in the wake of World War I, notably the Spartacus movement (1918-1919), Group 47 was not born out of the fires of war in Germany. The movement came rather from the prisoner-of-war camps of the United States and was transplanted to Germany. Group 47 was the third and most important force pushing German literature forward after World War II. The other two groups, the émigré writers and the writers who had remained behind to resist the Nazis, did little to move the German literary scene toward new horizons. Group 47 provided the impetus for new, groundbreaking literary developments.

One of the most important of these development was a series of early attempts—between 1947 and 1959—by a number of German writers to come to terms with the legacy of the Nazi dictatorship. This German Trümmerliteratur Trümmerliteratur Literary movements;Trümmerliteratur (literature of ruins), which appeared immediately after the end of World War II, sought confrontation with the past as a means of assuring that a Nazi dictatorship would never again occur. Authors such as Günter Grass and Heinrich Böll, later participants in the meetings of Group 47, addressed Germany’s Nazi past in their novels and short stories.

For instance, Grass’s novel Die Blechtrommel Tin Drum, The (Grass) (1959; The Tin Drum, 1961) dealt with the problems of guilt and answerability for the events of the war. By blurring the lines between right and wrong, good and evil, Grass forced his readers to think about the events of the Hitler era. This distortion was at times humorous but was more often serious, showing how difficult it was to answer the questions raised by mass executions, gas chambers, and concentration camps. In a similar way, Böll addressed Germany’s Nazi past in his novel Billard um halbzehn Billiards at Half Past Nine (Böll) (1959; Billiards at Half Past Nine, 1961). Böll focused on a single family and its experiences before and after the war, creating a fictional picture that closely resembled reality. Like Grass, Böll forced his readers to think about the events of the recent past and to ask themselves questions.

Both Grass and Böll returned to older German literary traditions, reviving the techniques of the early twentieth century German literary giant Thomas Mann while initiating new techniques. Böll and Grass were keenly aware that a return to traditional styles of writing was one method of avoiding the distortion of the German language that had taken place under Nazi rule. No matter how much these and other German authors fell back on earlier literary tradition, however, the beauty of their prose was always secondary to their main purpose: the search for truth through their writing.

Significance

Group 47 had an enormous influence upon the topics and themes of all postwar German literature, including that of Grass and Böll. Indeed, the topics that Group 47 discussed became the topics of German literature for the next twenty years. More than half of the German authors who achieved international fame between 1947 and 1967 were advanced by Group 47. Almost every major German author of the postwar period participated in the meetings of Group 47 at one time or another. Famous writers such as Ingeborg Bachmann, Paul Celan, Peter Handke, Siegfried Lenz, Peter Weiss, Erich Kästner, Marie Luise Kaschnitz, Ernst Bloch, Luise Rinser, Walter Jens, and Uwe Johnson all took part in the meetings of Group 47 as readers, critics, or guests. Works by those associated with Group 47 would shape modern German literature to an extent greater than any other literary movement.

Group 47 strengthened the German literary community and brought together writers of different backgrounds and varying experience. The older writers acted as mentors to the younger writers, helping both young and old achieve their full potential. The comments made by Group 47 members about works at their meetings often helped authors work out details before manuscripts were sent to publishers.

In 1949, two years after the founding of Group 47, the Federal Republic of Germany (colloquially known as West Germany) was established. Almost immediately, works by the group’s members were recognized as an important part of the new nation’s culture. Despite its original antiestablishment crusade, Group 47 was slowly becoming a part of the establishment. Authors who participated in Group 47 usually had little trouble getting their works published, and many new writers saw participation in Group 47 as a way to gain recognition in the literary community.

By 1959, Group 47 was firmly ensconced as the German literary establishment. Written works by members of Group 47 during this period were numerous, and some of them masterpieces of German poetry and prose, yet the decline of Group 47 was already beginning. Its institutional status began to alienate some of its members, even as others with less literary talent embraced the group as a way to ensure undeserved success. As the German economy recovered, more money was available in German society, and many of that society’s members—including Group 47 writers—evinced a desire for as much money as they could get.

The founders of Group 47 had always feared the dangers of large political organizations. However, student protests at the last meeting of the group in Pulvermühle, Germany, made them painfully aware that they were now considered just such an organization. Only when student protesters disrupted the meeting with chants and shouts did those associated with Group 47 realize the magnitude of the problems that had developed in their association. The student protests revealed to the core of Group 47 the extent to which its power had become an obstacle to its goals, and the group collapsed as a result.

Despite its eventual downfall, Group 47 maintained its position as the driving force in German writing for nearly twenty years and claimed some of the greatest German writers of the twentieth century as participants. As a result of the accomplishments of its members and the strong influence that it maintained over writing in Germany, Group 47 reserved a secure place for itself in literary history. Group 47[Group Forty seven] Literary movements;Group 47[Group Forty seven]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bangerter, Lowell A. German Writing Since 1945: A Critical Survey. New York: Continuum, 1988. A comprehensive survey of the authors, works, literary movements, and directions of German writing in the postwar era. A good general reference book. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bettex, Albert. “Modern Literature (1885 to the Present).” In German Literature: A Critical Survey, edited by Bruno Boesch. Translated by Ronald Taylor. London: Methuen, 1971. Covers the main trends and movements in German literature from before World War I to the 1970’s. Emphasis is given to exile writing during the Third Reich and the skepticism that developed among German writers following World War II. Includes a general bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Demetz, Peter. Postwar German Literature: A Critical Introduction. New York: Western, 1970. Deals with the profound social and intellectual transformations in German literature since 1945. Portraits of the authors, poets, and playwrights who have shaped German postwar literature make up the body of the work. Includes suggestions for further reading and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Parkes, Stuart, and John J. White, eds. The Gruppe 47 Fifty Years On: A Re-appraisal of Its Literary and Political Significance. Atlanta, Ga.: Rodopi, 1999. Collection of papers presented at a symposium held by the Goethe Institute assessing the legacy of Group 47. Bibliographic references.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Reed, Donna K. The Novel and the Nazi Past. New York: Peter Lang, 1985. A nicely organized, interdisciplinary account of post-World War II German literature and its handling of twelve years of Nazi dictatorship. Focuses on the works of Günter Grass, Heinrich Böll, and Alfred Andersch. Includes footnotes, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Robertson, John George, et al. A History of German Literature. 6th ed. Elmsford, N.Y.: London House & Maxwell, 1970. A general history of German literature from its beginnings to the present. The sections on National Socialism and the postwar era in Germany are useful. Includes chronological table, endnotes, bibliography, and index.

Stein Is Killed by the Nazis

Jaspers Examines Germany’s Collective Responsibility for War Crimes

Rise of the New Novel

Wiesel’s Night Recalls the Holocaust

Grass Publishes The Tin Drum

Arendt Speculates on the Banality of Evil

Hochhuth Stages a Critique of Pope Pius XII’s Silence During the Holocaust

Handke’s Kaspar Dramatizes Language Theory

Categories: History Content