Private Lives, Public Faces: On What’s Revealed by Hannah Arendt’s Archives highlights the use and value of the archive dedicated to the influential Political Theorist Hannah Arendt.
(This article is by Samantha Rose Hill and it appears on the Literary Hub website.)
“Libraries, as Hannah Arendt well knew, can be dangerous places. In 1933 she was arrested by the Gestapo one afternoon leaving the Prussian State Library on her way to meet her mother for lunch. Her friend, Kurt Blumenfeld, had asked her to collect anti-Semitic statements from newspapers, journals, and speeches for the German Zionist Organization. At the time, this was an illegal activity the Nazis called “horror propaganda.
“The collection of materials was to be sent to foreign press offices and world leaders, to show how dire the situation in Germany had grown, and used at the 18th Zionist Congress that summer in Prague. For several weeks, Arendt sat in the library sifting through newspaper articles and statements from all kinds of professional clubs and organizations. And then, one afternoon, as she was leaving, she was arrested. A librarian had reported her unusual reading activity to the Gestapo: What use does an academic have with so many newspapers?
“Arendt was detained for eight days before being released by pure luck, as she would later say, knowing full well what was happening to other people who had been arrested, disappeared in cellars, murdered, and transported to camps. The night of her release, she gathered her friends and drank until the early hours of the morning. As the sun began to rise, she and her mother Martha fled, taking little with them.
“Among her belongings was a folder that contained her birth certificate, her diploma from the University of Heidelberg, a self-portrait titled The Shadows, a copy of Love and Saint Augustine, the manuscript for Rahel Varnhagen, which was to be her habilitation (second book for a teaching position in Germany), marriage documents, and 21 poems she wrote between 1923 and 1926. She held on to these private artifacts of her experience and inner life during nearly eight years of exile in Paris before escaping to the United States, which are now neatly tucked away in Container 79, Folder “Miscellany: Poems and Stories, 1925-1942 and Undated” in the United States Library of Congress in Washington, DC…
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