Comrade Huppert: A Poet in Stalin's World

Comrade Huppert: A Poet in Stalin's World

Comrade Huppert: A Poet in Stalin's World

Comrade Huppert: A Poet in Stalin's World

Synopsis

After discovering the autobiography of the Austrian communist and writer Hugo Huppert (1902-1982), historian George Huppert became absorbed in the life and work of this man, a Jew, perhaps a relative, who was born a few months after George's father and grew up just miles away. Hugo seemed to embody a distinctly central European experience of his time, of people trapped between Hitler and Stalin. Using the unvarnished account found in Hugo's notebooks, George Huppert takes the reader on a tour of the writer's life from his provincial youth to his education and radicalization in Vienna; to Moscow where he meets Mayakovski and where he is imprisoned during Stalin's purges; through the difficult war years and return to Vienna; to his further struggles with the communist party and his blossoming as a writer in the 1950s. Through all the twists and turns of this story, George remains a faithful presence, guiding the way and placing Hugo's remarkable life in context. Comrade Huppert is a story of displacement and exile, the price of party loyalty, and the toll of war and terror on the mind of this emblematic figure.

Excerpt

I never knew Hugo Huppert. I was not aware of his existence until years after his death. By chance, I found his three-volume autobiography on a shelf in the University of Cincinnati Library, which I happened to be visiting. Those books were rare items. Only one of his books was translated into English, and that was his Men of Siberia (1934). Originally published in Moscow that year, the book was made available to Communist sympathizers in New York and London, at a time when there was a good deal of sympathy for the Soviet Union in the West, just one year after Hitler’s seizure of power and before the Moscow Trials revealed the brutal face of Stalin’s world.

I started reading the first of the three autobiographical volumes and I was completely taken with the author’s account of his growing up in Bielitz, on the eve of the First World War. Bielitz was part of the Austrian Empire, a largely German-speaking city surrounded by Polish-speaking villages. I hardly knew anything about Bielitz, but I was born in the city of Teschen, only a few miles away, another German-speaking island in a sea of Polish and Czech villages.

My interest in the author’s account of his family’s experiences might not have carried me much further had I not noted that Hugo was born only a few months after my own father’s birth, in 1902. There were other similarities as well. Both boys left their hometowns to pursue advanced degrees, Hugo in political science, my father in chemistry. I was slightly intrigued—was the previously unknown Hugo Huppert a relative?— and found to my surprise that I could not bring myself to put the memoir . . .

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