Egon Erwin Kisch (1885-1948), Czechoslovak writer and journalist

Lotte Jacobi, Egon Erwin Kisch, New York, 1940

As discussed in “Why Did Jacobi Go to the USSR” (a section of this website), the Czechoslovak journalist Egon Erwin Kisch was a key figure for Jacobi’s trip to the USSR. He published books on his travels in the Soviet Union, including in Central Asia; these were key sources for Jacobi’s own trip and the subjects she photographed. As she recorded in her daybook, when Jacobi arrived in Moscow in late August 1932, she immediately connected with Kisch, who had been there for a month after returning from a trip to China. She reported in a 1977 interview that she “partly stayed” with him (Jacobi 6). Kisch introduced her to a number of important people. We can get a sense of these connections through her photographs of Kisch, which show him talking to people on the street and attending conferences, always with his trademark cigarette, and her photographs of other people she would have met through him. She also photographed him when Kisch was in New York in 1940.

Lotte Jacobi, Egon Erwin Kisch Shaking Hands with a Sailor on a Street in Moscow, ca. Fall 1932

Lotte Jacobi, Egon Erwin Kisch (left) and Henri Barbusse, Moscow, ca. September 1932

A peripatetic traveler, Kisch made many connections with people across Europe, the United States, North Africa, Central Asia, China, and Australia, and he wrote extensively about his experiences. Born in Prague, he served in the Austro-Hungarian army in the First World War and moved to Berlin in the fall of 1921. The fact that he was a card-carrying member of the German Communist Party gave him an entrée into communist circles in Moscow and elsewhere in the USSR. An outspoken opponent of Adolf Hitler, Kisch was incarcerated briefly at Spandau Prison the day after the burning of the Reichstag on February 27, 1933, and he was then expelled from Germany. Invited by the French communist writer Henri Barbusse to speak at a conference in Melbourne, Australia, the following year, Kisch was not allowed to disembark when he got there. He jumped ship (breaking his leg in the process), was jailed, and became a cause célèbre in Australia for his protests against fascism. Several years later, Kisch covered the Spanish Civil War in 1937-1938 (along with Ernest Hemingway, Mikhail Kol'tsov, and Ilya Ehrenberg). After living in Mexico City during the Second World War, he returned to Prague with his wife Gisl (Gisela Lyner), his literary assistant whom he married in 1938, for the remaining two years of his life. The vibrant Jewish community in Prague was all but destroyed, but Kisch was welcomed as a hero for his communist writings and outspoken stance against fascism and was given a state funeral.

Lotte Jacobi, Gisl (Gisela Lyner) Kisch, Abdurahim Hojiboyev (Khodzhibaev), and Bikhodzhal Hojiboyeva in Moscow, August 23, 1932

There are striking similarities between the lives of Kisch and Lotte Jacobi, as well as between his literary reportage and her photographs from the USSR, that no doubt cemented their friendship. Both were non-observant Jews who were raised speaking German in a Germanic culture—Jacobi in Poland and Kisch in Czechoslovakia—and who immigrated to Berlin in the early 1920s. Both were forced to leave Germany in the mid-1930s with the rise of Hitler. They were each gregarious and curious. Although Jacobi didn’t share his interest in “crime, especially murder” (Segel 12), their work sympathetically records the facts of their encounters with all kinds of people, from elite intellectuals and leaders to the marginalized people in both Russia and Central Asia. At the same time, Kisch and Jacobi focused on the contrasts between the past and the present on their trips to the USSR.

Moscow, People of Note

People

Contributor: Eleanor Hight

Works Cited:

Jacobi, Lotte. “Something that provokes…like a negative.” Excerpts from the transcript of an interview with Sally Ann Stein and Ute Eskildsen, Deering, NH, July 20-22, 1977. Transcribed by Margit Kleinman, 1990. German translation by Margit Kleinman, “Etwas, das herausfordert . . . wie ein Negativ,” in Ute Eskildsen, Lotte Jacobi, 1896–1990, (Essen: Museum Folkwang, 1990): 6–15. Many thanks to Sally Stein for supplying a copy of the English version.

Kisch, Egon Erwin. Asien gründlich verändert (Changing Asia). Berlin: Erich Reiss Verlag, 1932. English version: Changing Asia. Trans. Rita Reil. New York: Knopf, 1935.

Kisch, Egon Erwin. Zaren, Popen, Bolschewiken (Tsars, Priests, Bolsheviks). Berlin: Erich Reiss Verlag, 1927.

Segel, Harold B. “Introduction,” in Kisch, Egon Erwin, and Harold B. Segel, Egon Erwin Kisch, the Raging Reporter: A Bio-Anthology. Purdue University Press, 1997. Pp. 1-89.