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Egon Kisch

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Egon Erwin Kisch 29 April 1885, Prague – 31 March 1948, Prague was an Austrian and Czechoslovak writer and journalist, who wrote in German He styled himself Der Rasende Reporter The frenzied reporter for his countless travels to the far corners of the globe and his equally numerous articles produced in a relatively short time Hetzjagd durch die Zeit, 1925, Kisch was noted for his development of literary reportage and his opposition to Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime


  • 1 Biography
    • 11 Communist
    • 12 Exile
    • 13 Reichstag Fire counter-trial and exclusion from Britain
    • 14 Attempted exclusion from Australia
    • 15 Spain, France, the United States and Mexico
    • 16 Legacy
  • 2 Selected bibliography
  • 3 References
  • 4 External links


Kisch was born into a wealthy, German-speaking Sephardic Jewish family in Prague, at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and began his journalistic career as a reporter for Bohemia, a Prague German-language newspaper, in 1906 His early work is characterised by an interest in crime and the lives of the poor of Prague, taking Jan Neruda, Émile Zola and Charles Dickens's Sketches by Boz as his models His most notable story of this period was his uncovering of the spy scandal involving Alfred Redl

At the outbreak of World War I, Kisch was called up for military service and became a corporal in the Austrian army He fought on the front line in Serbia and the Carpathians and his wartime experiences were later recorded in Schreib das auf, Kisch! Write That Down, Kisch! 1929 He was briefly imprisoned in 1916 for publishing reports from the front that criticised the Austrian military's conduct of the war, but nonetheless later served in the army's press quarters along with fellow writers Franz Werfel and Robert Musil


The war radicalised Kisch He deserted in October 1918 as the war came to an end and played a leading role in the abortive left-wing revolution in Vienna in November of that year Werfel's novel Barbara oder die Frömmigkeit 1929 portrays the events of this period and Kisch was the inspiration for one of the novel's characters Although the revolution failed, in 1919, Kisch became a member of the Austrian Communist Party and remained a Communist for the rest of his life

Between 1921 and 1930 Kisch, though a citizen of Czechoslovakia, lived primarily in Berlin, where his work found a new and appreciative audience In books of collected journalism such as Der rasende Reporter The Raging Reporter 1924, he cultivated the image of a witty, gritty, daring reporter always on the move, a cigarette clamped doggedly between his lips His work and his public persona found an echo in the artistic movement of Neue Sachlichkeit, a major strand in the culture of the Weimar Republic

Willi Münzenberg set up a multitude of Communist Front organizations sending Egon Kisch to promote Comintern propaganda throughout the world

From 1925 onwards Kisch was a speaker and operative of the communist international and a senior figure in the publishing empire of the West European branch of the Comintern run by communist propagandist Willi Münzenberg In 1928 Kisch was one of the founders of the Association of Proletarian-Revolutionary Authors

Through the late twenties and early thirties, Kisch wrote a series of books chronicling his journeys to the Russian SFSR, the USA, Soviet Central Asia and China These later works are more strongly informed by Kisch's communist politics Whereas in his earlier collections of reportage he had explicitly stated that a reporter should remain impartial, Kisch came to feel that it was necessary for a writer to engage politically with what he was reporting on


On 28 February 1933, the day after the Reichstag fire, Kisch was one of many prominent opponents of Nazism to be arrested He was briefly imprisoned in Spandau as prisoner 1067 in cell 33, but as a Czechoslovak citizen, was expelled from Germany His works were banned and burnt in Germany, but he continued to write for the Czech and émigré German press, bearing witness to the horrors of the Nazi takeover

In the years between the Machtergreifung and the outbreak of World War II, Kisch continued to travel widely to report and to speak publicly in the anti-fascist cause

Reichstag Fire counter-trial and exclusion from Britainedit

Following the Reichstag Fire Trial organised by the Nazi government to lay the blame for the fire on Communist opponents, a counter-trial was organized in 1933 in London by a group of lawyers, democrats and other anti-Nazi groups under the aegis of German Communist émigrés Kisch was to be a witness at the counter trial but was refused leave to land in the United Kingdom because of his "known subversive activities"

Attempted exclusion from Australiaedit

Main article: Attempted exclusion of Egon Kisch from Australia Egon Kisch on board the Strathaird bound for Australia; November 1934 On 17 February 1935 the Czech Journalist Egon Kisch addressed 18,000 in the Sydney's Domain

Kisch's visit to Australia as a delegate to an anti-fascist conference in 1934 was later chronicled in his book Landung in Australien Australian Landfall 1937 The right-wing Australian government refused Kisch entry from the ship Strathaird at Fremantle and Melbourne because of his previous exclusion from the UK Kisch then took matters into his own hands He jumped five metres from the deck of his ship onto the quayside at Melbourne, breaking his leg in the process He was bundled back on board but this dramatic action mobilised the Australian left in support of Kisch When the Strathaird docked in Sydney, proceedings were taken against the Captain on the grounds that he was illegally detaining Kisch Justice H V Evatt ordered that Kisch be released Under the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, visitors could be refused entry if they failed a dictation test in any European language This law was used to enforce the White Australia policy by ensuring that potential Asian immigrants were given an impossibly hard test As soon as Kisch was released, he was re-arrested and was one of the very few Europeans to be given the test; he passed the test in various languages but finally failed when he was tested in Scottish Gaelic The officer who tested him had grown up in northern Scotland but did not have a particularly good grasp of Scottish Gaelic himself In the High Court case of R v Wilson; ex parte Kisch, the court found that Scottish Gaelic was not within the fair meaning of the Act, and overturned Kisch's convictions for being an illegal immigrant

On 17 February 1935, Kisch addressed a crowd of 18,000 in the Sydney Domain warning of the dangers of Hitler's Nazi regime, of another war and of concentration camps

Spain, France, the United States and Mexicoedit

In 1937 and 1938, Kisch was in Spain, where left-wingers from across the world had been drawn by the Spanish Civil War He travelled across the country, speaking in the Republican cause, and his reports from the front line were widely published

Following the Munich Agreement of 1938 and the subsequent Nazi occupation of Bohemia six months later, Kisch was unable to return to the country of his birth Once war broke out, Paris, which he had made his main home since 1933, also became too dangerous for an outspoken Jewish communist whose native land no longer existed In late 1939, Kisch and his wife Gisela sailed for New York where, once again, he was initially denied entry He eventually landed at Ellis Island on 28 December, but as he only had a transit visa moved on to Mexico in October 1940

He remained in Mexico for the next five years, one of a circle of European communist refugees, notable among them Anna Seghers and Ludwig Renn, and the German-Czech writer Lenka Reinerová He continued to write, producing a book on Mexico and a memoir, Marktplatz der Sensationen Sensation Fair 1941 In this period of exile, Kisch's work regularly returned to the themes of his Prague home and his Jewish roots and in March 1946 after troubles in securing a Czechoslovak visa he was able to return to his birthplace Immediately after the return he started to travel around the country and work as a journalist again


Kisch and his birth house portrayed on a stamp issued by the GDR to celebrate the centenary of his birth

Kisch died two years after his return to Prague, shortly after the Communist party seized complete power Kisch is buried in the Vinohrady Cemetery, Prague, Czech Republic

After his death, Kisch's life and work were held up as exemplary in the GDR The attitude to both in West Germany was more complicated due to his communism Nonetheless, when Stern magazine founded a prestigious award for German journalism in 1977, it was named the Egon Erwin Kisch Prize in his honour

Kisch's work as a writer and communist journalist inspired Australian left wing intellectuals and writers such as Katharine Susannah Prichard, E J Brady, Vance and Nettie Palmer and Louis Esson This group formed the nucleus of what later became the Writers League, drawing on the example of Egon Kisch’s own journalistic dedication to reportage

Kisch has appeared as a character in novels by Australian authors Without naming him, his visit to Australia, the leap from the ship and the court case challenging the validity of the language test are mentioned in Kylie Tennant's Ride on Stranger 1943 He is a minor character in Frank Hardy's Power Without Glory 1950, which was filmed for television in 1976, and plays a central, if fictionalised, role in Nicholas Hasluck's Our Man K 1999 He appears in Sulari Gentill's detective novel Paving the New Road 2012 along with other real persons such as Nancy Wake and Unity Mitford

Tomb of Egon Erwin Kisch in the Vinohrady Cemetery in Prague

Selected bibliographyedit

English titles are given where the work has been translated into English All dates refer to earliest publication

  • Aus Prager Gassen und Nächten 1912 – An early collection of reports from Prague's underworld
  • Der Mädchenhirt 1914 – Kisch's only novel, again set in the Prague underworld
  • Der Fall des Generalstabschefs Redl 1924
  • Der rasende Reporter 1924
  • Hetzjagd durch die Zeit 1925
  • Elliptical Treadmill 1925 - Berlin Six-Day Race
  • Zaren, Popen, Bolschewiken 1926 – On the Soviet Union
  • Schreib das auf, Kisch! 1929
  • Paradies Amerika 1929 – On the United States
  • Asien gründlich verändert Changing Asia 1932 – On Soviet Central Asia
  • China Geheim Secret China 1933 – On China
  • Geschichten aus sieben Ghettos Tales from Seven Ghettos 1934 – A collection with a Jewish theme
  • Landung in Australien Australian Landfall 1937
  • Soldaten am Meeresstrand 1938 – Reports from the Spanish Civil War
  • Die drei Kühe The Three Cows 1939 – Report from the Spanish Civil War
  • Marktplatz der Sensationen Sensation Fair 1941 – memoir up to 1914
  • Entdeckungen in Mexiko 1945


  • Blackshield, Tony; Williams, George 2010 Australian Constitutional Law and Theory 5 ed Annandale NSW: Federation P pp 915–916 ISBN 978-1-86287-773-3 
  • Cochrane, Peter 2008 The big Jump: Egon Kisch in Australia Commonwealth History Project: The National Centre for History Education 
  • Hofmann, Fritz; Poláček, Josef 1985 Servus, Kisch! Erinnerungen, Rezensionen, Anekdoten Berlin and Weimar: Aufbau-Verlag  OL21262934M
  • Howells, A F 1983 Against the Stream: the Memories of a Philosophical Anarchist, 1927-1939 Melbourne: Hyland House  ISBN 0-908090-48-X
  • Meacham, Steve 8 February 2005 "One jump ahead of a ban on freedom" Sydney Morning Herald, 8 February  Retrieved 3 June 2011
  • Rasmussen, Carolyn 2006 Kisch, Egon Erwin 1885-1948 Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition: Australian National University 
  • Schlenstedt, Dieter 1985 Egon Erwin Kisch: Leben und Werk Berlin: Volkseigenen Verlag Volk und Wissen  OL5807557M
  • Schwartz, Larry 8 November 2004 "The first boat person" The Age Melbourne, 8 November  Retrieved 3 June 2011
  • Segel, Howard B 1997 Egon Erwin Kisch, the Raging Reporter: a Bio-Anthology West Lafayette, Ind: Purdue UP ISBN 978-1-55753-100-1 
  • Slater, Ken 1979 "Egon Kisch: a Biographical Outline" Labour History Australian Society for the Study of Labour History 36: 94–103 doi:102307/27508355 
  • Spector, Scott 2006 Kisch, Egon Erwin YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research 
  • Zogbaum, Heidi 2004 Kisch in Australia: the Untold Story Melbourne: Scribe Publications ISBN 978-1-920769-35-2 

External linksedit

  • Kisch memoir of first 30 years in Prague
  • Detailed biography in report of an exhibition on Kirsch in Vienna, 2006 in German
  • Nicholas Hasluck on writing about Kisch
  • "Kisch's Case" in the High Court of Australia:
    • R v Carter; Ex parte Kisch 16 November 1934, Evatt J
    • R v Wilson 19 December 1934, Full Court

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