I recently became interested in the German relationship with the book and movie Gone With the Wind after reading a PRI article about the curious popularity of U.S. Civil War battle reenactment in Germany. Apparently German re-enactors tend to prefer fighting on the side of the Confederacy, and their identification with the South is ascribed in large part to the role of Gone With the Wind in German popular culture.
Margaret Mitchell’s book was a major bestseller in German translation in the late 1930s. It’s not hard to see how Southern fortitude amidst the smoldering ruins and the melancholy of defeated men and the failures of Reconstruction might have resonated with 1930s German readers’ memories of the aftermath of the First World War. The book’s popularity in Germany was also helped by the high quality and swift publication of novelist Martin Beheim-Schwarzbach’s 1937 translation, Vom Winde verweht. (Sidenote: Beheim-Schwarzbach was to emigrate in 1939 to London, where he spent the war years writing German-language war propaganda for the British government). As for post-1945 German audiences’ love of the movie Gone With the Wind and interest in the U.S. Civil War, the PRI article remarks:
“…the fantasy of war is not often indulged in Germany. After World War II, any talk of military glory became socially taboo here… So for those at the reenactment, it is appealing that the U.S. Civil War took place in another country, in another time. It is safer, even romantic. “
Hearing about my interest in the German relationship with Gone With the Wind, a friend kindly loaned me her copy of the book, which she bought years ago at a second-hand book store in Berlin. It’s a 1939 edition published in London, and the title page has two stamps, pictured above. The lower, larger stamp seems to read “Zlag VIII geprüft”. Neither of us has been able to figure out what exactly “Zlag” stands for – google turns up nothing for “Zlag VIII” – but we think it’s an abbreviation for some sort of World War II camp. Was the book part of a care package sent to British prisoners of war, with the stamp indicating that a Nazi official had inspected it for contraband? The British Red Cross did send books to POWs during the war. Or is the stamp from some post-war authority?
Gone With the Wind had a complex status in Nazi Germany: the movie was Hitler’s favorite of 1940, according to American historian John Haag, but was banned for the German public once the U.S. entered the war in 1941. High-ranking Nazi officials continued to hold secret screenings, Haag writes in Georgia Historical Quarterly:
“Brought into Germany via diplomatic pouch from neutral Portugal, now-illicit American films were eagerly viewed in ultra-select Berlin and Vienna circles, becoming at least as desirable a form of contraband as a new issue of Vogue magazine. In Vienna, the clandestine showing of ‘Gone With the Wind’ was a major social occasion to which Gauleiter Baldur von Schirach invited Vienna’s leading actors and actresses.”
The book was never banned, as so many copies of it were already on German shelves by 1941 that a ban was regarded as unfeasible, so Nazi literary critics instead focused on highlighting the aspects of it that they found ideologically palatable – i.e. the racist social hierarchy of the Old South. This history makes me curious about the journey to Berlin of a 1939 British edition of Gone With the Wind, and what the stamps on the book mean. Reader, do you have any leads? Can anyone decipher these stamps?