Last week I watched Theater of War with my current Year 12 drama students. This excellent documentary of the 2006 production of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children in New York’s Central Park was intended among other things to give my students a different perspective of the great theatre practitioner. Here they could see rare photographs of the original Berlin production of Mother Courage with Brecht’s wife Helene Weigel in the title role, as a contrast watch Meryl Streep do the same in this documentary, hear from Brecht collaborators about his nature, determination, work ethic etc … all things a drama student won’t find on Wikipedia.
Along the road to success Brecht found himself unwelcome in many countries. When Hitler came to power in 1933 civil liberties were quashed, so Brecht and his family moved to Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and France, before settling in Denmark. As war became imminent, Brecht moved on again to Sweden, then Finland, finally travelling to the United States in 1941.
In America, Brecht wrote some of his best plays, but soon found himself in hot water once more for his Marxist principles and Communist sympathies, evident in many of his works. By 1947, Brecht was summoned to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, where according to reports from those who knew him well, Brecht put on his finest ‘performance’. He left for Europe the following day. By maintaining his artistic (and political) integrity, Brecht became a transient without a true home.
For we went, changing our country more often than our shoes (Bertolt Brecht)
It strikes me a modern parallel is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, whose nomadic lifestyle coupled with similar problems as Brecht in being unwelcome in various countries, has meant that the Wikileaks’ mastermind must have literally lived out of a suitcase for several years.
Having been raised in Australia, Assange moved to Kenya, Tanzania, France, Germany, Iceland, Sweden and England. Under threat of prosecution, WikiLeaks Internet servers were also on the run, being booted by Amazon, then a French Internet service provider, settling in a disused underground nuclear bunker in Stockholm.
The Swedish government denied Assange residency, the Swiss government was warned against granting him political asylum, Interpol released an arrest warrant, the British government briefly jailed him, then the Swedish government issued an arrest warrant, American politicians spoke publicly to charge him under the Espionage Act and finally the Ecuadorian Embassy in London granted Assange political asylum in August 2012 … and I thought Bertolt Brecht had a rough trot there for a while!
Communist in America or cyber-terrorist in Europe, whatever the case Bertolt Brecht and Julian Assange became men of no fixed addresses. They were also men of principle (Assange still is), but maintaining their convictions and integrity clearly came at a price.