Günther Grass and the Gruppe 47 gets remembered

In April of 1966 the German Gruppe 47 visits Princeton University, New Jersey with approximately 60 participants for a literary conference. Among them are many famous German writers and critics.  Some photographs of my mother help capture this event.

Two days ago I received the message that Günther Grass has passed away at the age of 87.  He is probably one of the most well known post war German authors. Somehow I remembered that he had visited my home town of Princeton, N.J. in April of 1966 and that my mom Ulli Steltzer had taken some pictures of him and the Gruppe 47 that he was with.  A little bit of research in my moms archives and I found the photographs she had made.  Some more research of the visit of the Gruppe 47 in Princeton led to some very interesting information about the Princeton visit of this literary group.

Günther Grass at Princeton University with Gruppe 47.  Photo: Ulli Steltzer

Günther Grass at Princeton University with Gruppe 47. Photo: Ulli Steltzer

In the files of Princeton University it is interesting to note, that the then chair of the German Department Victor Lange was seriously considering “uninviting” the Gruppe 47 to attend the literary conference and was discussing this topic with the President of Princeton University Robert F. Goheen.  He was afraid that the Gruppe 47 would use the conference as a platform for a declaration against the war in Vietnam.

Actually the “rules” of the group did not allow them to make such dedicating statements for all of its members.  The Gruppe 47, which was founded in 1947 and therefore got its name, was a heterogeneous and liberal literary circle which based its coherency on the basis of political and literary compromise.  Its founder and self-designated and accepted administrative leader Hans-Werner Richter went to great lengths to make sure that inner group criticism would only be on the immediate pieces of literature and not about fundamental issues (Grundsatzkritik).

Peter Weiss, Member of the Gruppe 47 in Princeton, NJ. April 1966, Photo: Ulli Steltzer

One of the more progressive members of the Group 47 Peter Weiss gave an interview to the New York Times, in which he stated:
“I am not for the war in Vietnam … this is the thing that brought me and the other writers here. We want to show our sympathies with those who are fighting for another America, to contact groups fighting for a new America.”
(See Spiegel from May 2, 1966)


He was later criticized by Hans-Werner Richter in private and then made an apologizing statement in front of the entire Group.  This apologetic statement can be heard in its original presentation (German) together with all the other recordings of the Gruppe 47 in Princeton in 1966 on the recording files of the German Department of Princeton University


Peter Weiss (l.), Karl Heinz Richter (r.), Photo: Ulli Steltzer

Peter Weiss (l.), Karl Heinz Richter (r.), Photo: Ulli Steltzer


Wikipedia writes on the Gruppe 47:
“The Gruppe 47 quickly gained popularity, no doubt on the basis of the well-known members, and was soon a part of the literary establishment in Germany. The onset of the decline began just before the student protests in 1968. There were grave differences of political opinion in the group. The public meetings were discontinued from October 1967, and in 1977 the group was officially disbanded.”

Perhaps one could say that the Vietnam War did play a definite role is the demise of the Gruppe 47.  The incidents in Princeton in April of 1966 show that contradictions were quite massive but were kept under a lid.  Karl Heinz Richters attempts to invite a group of East German authors to this event including Wolf Biermann unfortunately failed through the tensions of the cold war.  The Americans would not issue Visas and the East Germans would not let them out of the country.  The following information will help to inform those who are more interested in the specifics of the American visit of these German authors.  The article in “Der Spiegel” from the 2nd of May, 1966 gives a vivid view of journey of this group through the eyes of the well versed German journalist Erich Kuby.


Summary and Vocal recordings of Gruppe 47 in Princeton 1966

Der Spiegel, May 2, 1966, Erich Kuby, “Ach ja, da ließt ja einer”

Princeton University, Selected Materials and Bibliography of Gruppe 47 in Princeton

Written by Michael Steltzer
in Vancouver, BCd
April 13, 2014


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