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, German Autumn, is a collection of journalistic essays that Stig Dagerman wrote on assignment to post-war Germany in the fall of 1946 – the year of Nuremburg Trials, de-nazification and democratic elections. What were on the minds of ordinary Germans this fall? Dagerman was trusted to deliver a unique report: his voice was young and fresh, anti-fascist and anti-communist, and he was fluent in German. He had relatives on the ground having married into a family of German political refugees (the mother and sister of his father-in-law had survived Ravensbrück). Dagerman crisscrossed the British and American zones seeking out a wide range of German civilian voices from survivors of the left, old democrats and refugees, to Nazified civilians, many employed by the Allies, and lost youth. He describes life among the ruins in the cities and the relatively unscathed countryside. He attends political rallies and de-nazification courts. His becomes a unique document about Germany at this specific point in time, written in a literary essay style that will inspire journalists for years to come. And Dagerman, describing the desperate life in German bombed-out cities, poses a harrowing question about our own values: Of the cruelties of the past practiced by Germans in and out of Germany there can only be one opinion, since of cruelty in general, of whatever kind and whoever practices it, there can be only one opinion. But it is another matter to ask if it is now right, if it is not indeed a cruelty, to regard the sufferings of the Germans as justified …

"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


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 email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Mark Kurlansky, November 2014
Stig Dagerman's German Autumn by Lo Dagerman. powerpoint (50 min) UMD at College Park . UMass Amherst, MA.

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)
  • Czech: Německý podzim. 2013 (Mot komiks s.r.o.)
  • Danish: Efterår I Tyskland. 2012 (People'sPress)
  • 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)