Ludwig Renn

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Ludwig Renn
Ludwig Renn.jpg
Ludwig Renn in 1954
Arnold Friedrich Vieth von Golßenau

(1889-04-22)22 April 1889
Dresden, German Empire
Died21 July 1979(1979-07-21) (aged 90)
East Berlin, Germany

Ludwig Renn (born Arnold Friedrich Vieth von Golßenau; 22 April 1889 – 21 July 1979) was a German author. Born a Saxon nobleman, he later became a committed communist and lived in East Berlin. [1]


Youth and the First World War

Ludwig Renn was the assumed name of Arnold Friedrich Vieth von Golßenau who was born into a noble Saxon family whose family seat was in Golßen (Niederlausitz). He adopted the name Ludwig Renn in 1930, after becoming a communist, renouncing his noble title and taking the name of the hero of his first successful novel, Krieg (1928). His mother, Bertha, maiden name Raspe (1867 – 1949) was the daughter of a Moscow apothecary, whilst his father, Carl Johann Vieth von Golßenau (1856 – 1938), was a teacher of mathematics and physics at the Royal Court of Saxony in Dresden. Through him, Ludwig Renn came to know the Crown Prince of Saxony, Prince Friedrich August Georg von Sachsen (1865 – 1932), later King Friedrich August III, who was destined to be the last King of Saxony after the 1918 Revolution. [2]

From 1911 Renn served as an officer in a prestigious Saxon Guards Regiment, where he served under his friend Prince Friedrich August. Between 1914 and 1918 he fought in the First World War as a company commander, and a field battalion commander on the Western Front. His first book, Krieg (War), which appeared in 1928 brought him wide acclaim. After the war he was a captain in the Dresden security police, a paramilitary force set up during the Weimar Republic. [3] In 1920 during the Kapp Putsch, Renn refused to open fire upon striking workers and left the police service shortly afterwards. This is recounted in the novel Nachkrieg (1930) but confirmed as a fact by some sources. [4]

Studies and travels

From 1920 to 1923 Renn studied law, economics, history of art and Russian philology in Göttingen and Munich. In 1923 he worked as an art dealer in Dresden during the time of hyperinflation.

During 1925 and 1926 Renn undertook a journey on foot through Europe and the Near East. In 1927 he undertook further studies in archaeology, art history and Chinese history in Vienna, returning to Germany in the same year to give lectures to workers on the history of China and Russia at the Volkshochschule Zwickau. [2] In Vienna in 1927 he had witnessed dozens of socialist demonstrators being attacked and killed by police and thereafter turned to the left and ultimately communism. [5]

Renn as a Communist writer and soldier in Spain

In 1928, the year in which he published Krieg, Renn became a member of the German Communist Party, a step which the novel Nachkrieg (1930) reflects. [1] In the same year he joined the Roter Frontkämpferbund (‘Alliance of Red Front-Fighters’) and from 1928 to 1932 was secretary of the Alliance of Proletarian-Revolutionary Writers in Berlin (BPRS). Renn was editor of the communist journal, Linkskurve and the communist military police journal, Aufbruch. [2] His work for the BPRS brought him into close contact with, amongst others, Anna Seghers and Johannes R Becher. [6]

Renn's growing commitment to communism saw him travel to the USSR in 1929 and 1930. Renn found himself increasingly under attack from the National Socialists and decided to renounce his noble title in 1930, adopting the name of the protagonist of his novel, Krieg: Ludwig Renn. Between 1931 and 1932 he was a lecturer on the history of warfare and military theory at the Marxist Workers’ School (MASCH) in Berlin. [2] His books Nachkrieg (1930) and Rußlandfahrten (1932) made him the most important German communist writer of the inter-war period. [7]

In 1933, following the burning of the Reichstag, new laws designed to accelerate Adolf Hitler’s rise to power were passed, leading to Renn, Carl von Ossietzky and Ernst Torgler being arrested together in January 1934. Renn was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment, serving 18 months. [5]

Ludwig Renn (right), International Brigade officer, with Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens and Ernest Hemingway (centre). 1937 Bundesarchiv Bild 183-84600-0001, Ivens und Hemingway bei Ludwig Renn, Chef der XI. Internationalen Brigaden.jpg
Ludwig Renn (right), International Brigade officer, with Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens and Ernest Hemingway (centre). 1937

On his release in August 1935, he travelled to Spain where in July 1936 he joined the International Brigades in support of the Spanish Republican cause, becoming Chief of Staff for Lieutenant Colonel Hans Kahle in the XI International Brigade and the 35th Division. [8] [9] He was in Madrid in November 1936 writing training booklets for the military command as the city became increasingly under threat. He was driven out of the city to Cuenca by Claud Cockburn, a British communist journalist, under orders from the government and their Russian advisors. [10] In November 1936 he became leader of the Thälmann Battalion of the XII International Brigade, [11] fighting in the Battle of Guadalajara in March 1937 [12] and then in the Battle of Brunete. [13] In July 1937 he attended the Second International Writers' Congress, the purpose of which was to discuss the attitude of intellectuals to the war, held in Valencia, Barcelona and Madrid and attended by many writers including André Malraux, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen Spender and Pablo Neruda. [14] In August 1937 he was sent on a pro-Republican propaganda tour to the United States. [15] During his service in Spain he spent time with Ernest Hemingway. He wrote an account of his time in his work, Der spanische Krieg (1955), but was unable to name Hemingway, referring to him only as 'an American', because of the ideological condemnation of Hemingway's work in the GDR at the time. [16]

Exile and return to Germany

After the defeat of the Spanish Republicans, Renn escaped to France [17] and then travelled into exile to Mexico, where he remained from 1939 to 1947 and served as president of the Free Germany movement (Freies Deutschland). [2] During this time he promoted the use of the internationalist language Esperanto and the Ludwig Renn Archive at the Academy of the Arts, Berlin, holds several of his translations into Esperanto from foreign languages. [18]

In 1947 he returned to Germany, settling once more in Dresden, which was at the time in the Soviet Occupation Zone and from 1949 part of the GDR. Here he was director of the Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut and held a chair in anthropology at the Dresden Technical University from 1947 to 1951. [1]

From 1952 Renn lived in East Berlin, where he was a freelance writer and a member of the German Academy of the Arts. He also worked as a Spanish–German translator. [2]


Renn was one of the founders of proletarian‒revolutionary literature in Germany. His most important achievement lay in his novels, which were largely autobiographical in nature, and served to document the turbulent times in which he lived. [2]

The novel Krieg was an international success. Here, Renn was amongst the first to depict the harsh reality of life on the Western Front for the ordinary soldier. Although the protagonist was a simple soldier and Renn in fact an officer, much of the novel reflects autobiographical concerns. Its sequel, Nachkrieg (1930) shows the same character living in a postwar period of intense political conflict and growing in socialist conviction. [2]

Renn wrote directly about his own life in the work Adel im Untergang (Mexico 1947, Berlin 1947), as well as other works in the following decades. His final work, published posthumously in 1980, was an autobiography (Anstöße in meinem Leben). As well as novels, travel writing and memoirs, Renn also wrote imaginative works for children and young people. [2]

Private life

Ludwig Renn's grave in Berlin Tombstone Ludwig Renn.jpg
Ludwig Renn's grave in Berlin

On his return from exile in Mexico in 1947 Renn settled at first in Dresden with his partner Max Hunger (1901 – 1973). In 1949 they were joined by Hans Pierschel (1922 – 1994) and the three men then moved in 1952 to Berlin-Kaulsdorf where they lived together for the rest of their lives. They were buried together in the same grave in the central Friedrichsfelde Cemetery.


Works in English



Albrecht, Kai-Britt, Renn, Ludwig, in Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB), Vol. 21. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot (2003) pp. 426–428. ISBN   3-428-11202-4 (Digital version)

Böttcher, Kurt, et al., Eds., Lexikon deutschsprachiger Schriftsteller: 20. Jahrhundert. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag (1993), pp. 598–600. ISBN   3-487-09611-0

Garland, Henry and Mary, Eds., Oxford Companion to German Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1986), pp. 740–741. ISBN   0-19-866139-8

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  1. 1 2 3 Oxford Companion to German Literature, ed. Henry and Mary Garland. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1986) ISBN   0-19-866139-8 pp. 740-741
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Lexikon deutschsprachiger Schriftsteller: 20. Jahrhundert, Ed. Kurt Böttcher et al., Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag (1993). ISBN   3-487-09611-0 pp. 598-600
  3. Biographie, Deutsche. "Renn, Ludwig - Deutsche Biographie". Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  4. Biographie, Deutsche. "Renn, Ludwig - Deutsche Biographie". (in German). Retrieved 2017-02-13.
  5. 1 2 Tremlett, Giles (2020). The International Brigades. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 58–61. ISBN   978-1-4088-5398-6.
  6. "Ludwig Renn (1889-1979) | Sächsische Biografie". Archived from the original on 13 January 2013.
  7. Birgit Schmidt: Wenn die Partei das Volk entdeckt. Anna Seghers, Bodo Uhse, Ludwig Renn u. a. Ein kritischer Beitrag zur Volksfrontideologie und ihrer Literatur. Münster: Unrast 2002, ISBN   3-89771-412-4
  8. Carlos Engel, Historia de las Brigadas Mixtas del E. P. de la República, 1999, p. 301
  9. Clifford, Alexander (2020). Fighting for Spain. Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. p. 75. ISBN   978-1-52677-438-5.
  10. Tremlett (2020), p.83
  11. Thomas, Hugh (2012). The Spanish Civil War (50th Anniversary ed.). London: Penguin Books. p. 468. ISBN   978-0-141-01161-5.
  12. Thomas (2012) p.583
  13. Tremlett (2020) p.365
  14. Thomas (2012) p.678
  15. Tremlett (2020) p.387
  16. Ludwig Renn: Der spansiche Krieg (1956), p.250
  17. Thomas (2012) p.855
  18. "easydb.archive". Retrieved 2017-02-14.