German Autumn (Tysk höst)

German Autumn (Tysk Höst, 1947). Translation by Robin Fulton Macpherson. Foreword by Mark Kurlansky. University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

Considered a classic by many, German Autumn is a collection of articles that Dagerman wrote on an assignment to war-ravaged Germany in the fall of 1946. Unlike many journalists who wrote their reports from the comfort of the Press hotel, Dagerman interviewed ordinary men and women who scraped by in the ruins of war. Dagerman was not there to judge these individuals but to describe what he saw and heard while traveling the county. He had the advantage of speaking the language – having married into a family of German refugees who fled to Sweden in 1940. Rather than blaming all Germans for the atrocities committed, as was the international inclination, Dagerman presented a reality that was more complex – one where starving people craved food more than free elections, where former leaders found their way into new democratic institutions in spite of a denazification process, and where people at the bottom of the barrel (Dagerman's main subjects) desperately searched for ways to survive and recover.

"A French journalist of high repute begged me with the best of intentions and for the sake of objectivity to read German newspapers instead of looking at German dwellings or sniffing in German cooking-pots. Is it not something of this attitude which colors a large part of world opinion and which made Victor Gollancz, the Jewish publisher from London, feel, after his journey to Germany in this same autumn, that 'the values of the West are in danger' – values consisting of respect for the individual even when the individual has forfeited our sympathy and compassion, that is, the capacity to react in the face of suffering whether that suffering may be deserved or undeserved."

—Stig Dagerman, German Autumn

About German Autumn

Book cover of Tysk höst. Tysk Höst, Norstedts, 2010. Introduction by Nobel Laureate Elfriede Jelinek.

"German Autumn is one of the best collections ever written about the aftermath of war. It is on par with John Reed's classic articles from the Soviet Union as well as with Edgar Snow's articles about the great political revolution in China. Stig Dagerman depicts the tragic realities of post–World War II Germany with astonishing clarity and artistic skillfulness. He provides the reader with a profound insight, which ultimately is the story of every war. To anyone interested in understanding what great journalism means, German Autumn is indispensable. It should be compulsory reading for all young people who might consider becoming a journalist, and it is as alive as it was when first published in 1947. Read it."

Henning Mankell, Cover of English edition, 2011

"German Autumn is a very important book and it is a very good thing that an English language version is becoming available for Americans. We need this book."

Mark Kurlansky, Foreword to English edition, 2011

"If we did not have such scribes-describers as Dagerman we might not even know that a world of essence exists, because we would not understand it…"

Elfriede Jelinek, Introduction to Swedish edition, 2010

"Why does a subject like 'the suffering of the guilty' so little occupy German cultural memory? The quasi-natural reflex, engendered by feelings of shame and a wish to defy the victors, was to keep quiet and look the other way. Stig Dagerman … writes from Hamburg that on a train at normal speed it took him a quarter of an hour to travel through the lunar landscape between Hasselbrook and Landwehr, and in all that vast wilderness, perhaps the most horrifying expanse of ruins in the whole of Europe, he did not see a single living soul. The train, writes Dagerman, was crammed full, like all trains in Germany, but no one looked out of the windows, and he was identified as a foreigner himself because he looked out." Read more

W.G. Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction, 2004

"Dagerman describes all of it with a ferocious lucidity that does not admit hyperbole or sentimentality. He is concerned to tell the truth, to show the world as it is, because only then can a clear idea be formed of what ought to happen next."

—Aaron Thier, Review in The New Republic, 2012

Film

DVD still of 1946 Automne Allemand.

In 2008, French artist/filmmaker Michael Gaumnitz released his documentary 1946 Automne Allemand made for French/German TV Channel ARTE. The film (80 min) artfully uses archival footage to illustrate Dagerman's text. It's available in French, German, Swedish and English from This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Editions and Translations

  • Swedish: Tysk Höst. 1947 and 1954 (Norstedts), 1967 (PAN), 1981 (Norstedts), 1990 (PAN), 2010 (Norstedts)
  • English: German Autumn. 1988 (Quartet Books), 2011 (University of Minnesota Press)
  • Dutch: Duitse herfst. 1987 (Meulenhoff)
  • Estonian: Saksamaa sügis. 1998 (Perioodika)
  • French: Automne allemand. 1980 (Actes Sud)
  • German: Deutscher Herbst. 1979 (Barudio & Hess), 1981 (Hohenheim Vorlag), 1987 (Suhrkamp)
  • Italian: Autunno Tedesco. 1987, 2007 (Turin)
  • Norwegian: Tysk Høst. 1947 (Tanum), 2009 (Aksel Akselson)
  • Portuguese: Outono alemaõ. 1991 (Antigona)
  • Spanish: Otoño alemán. 2001 (Octaedra)