On October 30th, 1947, Bertolt Brecht was questioned by the House Unamerican Activities Committee, which was interested in his associations with American Communist Party members and the radical leanings expressed in his creative work. He smoked a cigar throughout his testimony. The proceedings were recorded and subsequently published, under the supervision of Eric Bentley, by Folkways Records, in 1961. Four excerpts from this recording, slightly edited, are heard in Act III. The last is mixed with a MIDI rendition of the music of the Finale. (The text conforms, for the most part, to the printed transcript made available from the US Government, not to what was actually said, which is sometimes quite different.)
Excerpt 1: (Click to listen)
Mr. Stripling: Mr. Berthold Brecht.
The Chairman: Mr. Brecht, will you stand, please, and raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
Mr. Brecht: I do.
The Chairman. Sit down, please.
Mr. Stripling: Mr. Brecht, will you please state your full name and present address for the record, please? Speak into the microphone.
Mr. Brecht: My name is Berthold Brecht. I am living at 34 West Seventy Third Street, New York. I was born in Augsburg, Germany, February 10, 19 -- 1898.
Excerpt 2: (Click to listen)
Mr. Stripling: Uh, Mr. Brecht are you a member of the communist party or have you ever been a member of the communist party?
Mr. Brecht: Mr. Chairman, I have heard my colleagues when they considered this question as not proper, but I am a guest in this country and do not want to enter into any legal arguments, so I will answer your question as fully as I can. I was not a member or am not a member of any Communist Party.
Excerpt 3: (Click to listen)
Mr. Stripling: "Learn now the simple truth, you for whom the time has come at last; it is not too late.
Learn now the ABC. It is not enough but learn it still.
Fear not, be not downhearted.
You must learn the lesson, you must be ready to take over."
Mr. Brecht: No, excuse me, that is the wrong translation. This is not right. [Laughter.] Just one second, and I will give you the correct text.
Mr. Stripling: That is not a correct translation?
Mr. Brecht: That is not correct, no; that is not the meaning. It is not very beautful, but I am not speaking about that.
Mr. Stripling: What does it mean? I have here The Songs of The People, which was issued by the Communist Party of the United States, published by the Workers' Library Publishers. Page 24 says:
In praise of learning, by Bert Brecht; music by Hanns Eisler.
It says here:
"You must be ready to take over; learn it.
Men on the dole, learn it; men in the prisons learn it; women in the kitchen learn It; men of 65 learn it. You must be ready to take over"- and goes right on through. That is the core of it..- "You must he ready to take over."
Mr. Brecht: Mr. Stripling, maybe his translation.
Mr. Baumgardt: The correct translation would be, "You must take
The Chairman: "You must take the lead"?
Mr. Baumgardt: "The lead." It definitely says, "The lead." It is not "You must take over." The translation is not a literal translation of the German.
Mr. Stripling: Well, Mr. Brecht, as it has been published in these publications of the Communist Party, then, if that is incorrect, what did you mean?
Mr. Brecht: I don't remember nto have -I never got that book myself.
I must not have been in the Country when it was published. I think
it was published as a song, one of the songs Eisler had written the
music to. I did not give any permission to publish it. I don't see --
I think I have never saw the translation.
Mr. Stripling: Do you have the words there before you?
Mr. Brecht: In German yes.
Mr. Stripling: Of the song?
Mr. Brecht: Oh. yes; in the book.
Mr. Stripling: Not in the original.
Mr. Brecht: In the German book.
Mr. Stripling: It goes on:
"You must he ready to take over; you must be ready to take over. Don't hesitate to ask questions stay in there. Don't hesitate to ask questions, comrade --.
Mr. Brecht: Why not let him translate from the German, word for word?
Mr. Baumgardt: I think you are mainly interested in this translation which comes from----
The Chairman: I cannot understand the interpreter any more than I can the witness.
Mr Baumgardt: Mr. Chairman, I apologize. I shall make use of this.
The Chairman: Just speak in that microphone and maybe we can make it out.
Mr. Baumgardt: The last line of all three verses is correctly to be translated:
"You must take over the lead," and not "You must take over'." "You must take the lead," would be the best, most correct, most accurate translation.
Excerpt 4 (Finale): (Click to listen)
The Chairman: Mr. McDowell do you have any questions?
Mr. McDowell: No; no questions.
The Chairman: Mr. Vail?
Mr. Vail: No questions.
The Chairman: Mr. Stripling do you have any questions?
Mr. Stripling: I would like to ask Mr. Brecht whether or not he wrote a poem, a song, rather, entitled "Forward, We've Not Forgotten."
Mr. McDowell: "Forward" what?
Mr. Stripling: "Forward We've Not Forgotten."
Mr. Brecht: I can't think of that. The English title may be the reason.
Mr. Stripling: Would you translate it for him into German?
Mr. Brecht: Oh, now I know; yes..
Mr. Stripling: You are familiar with the words to that?
Mr. Brecht: Yes.
Mr. Stripling: Would the committee like me to read that?
The Chairman: Yes; without objection, go ahead.
(Click here to follow the music with a simplified score)
Mr. Stripling [reading]: "Forward, we've not forgotten
Our strength in the fights we have won!
No matter what may threaten
Forward, not forgotten,
How strong we are as one!
Only these our hands now aching
Built the roads, the walls, the towers.
All the world is of our making.
What of it can we call ours?
Forward, march on to power
Through the city, the land, the world.
Forward, advance the hour!
Just whose city is the city?
Just whose world is the world?
Forward we've not forgotten
Our union in hunger and pain.
No matter what may threaten
Forward, not forgotten,
We have a world to gain.
We shall free the world of shadow
Every shop and every room
Every road and every meadow,
All the world will be our own."
Mr. Stripling: Did you write that Mr. Brecht?
Mr. Brecht: No. I wrote a German poem, but that is very different from this thing. [laughter]
The original of the above is entitled "Solidaritaetslied" or "Solidarity Song." And Brecht is absolutely correct. The translation presented here by Stripling (attributed by Eric Bentley, to "one Henry Jordan") is radically different both from Brecht's original and the translation provided in the standard English language collection of his poetry. To give you some idea of how different, here are two excerpts from the latter (the translator is John Willett): "(Verse:) Peoples of the world together/ Join to serve the common cause!/ So it feeds us all forever/ See to it that it's now yours./ (Refrain:) Forward without forgetting/ Where our strength can be seen now to be!/ When starving or when eating/ Forward not forgetting/ Our solidarity. . . . (Verse:) If we want to make this certain/ We'll need you and your support./ It's yourselves you'll be deserting/ If you rat on your own sort." (Note the meter of the verse, which, as in the German original, echoes Schiller's "Ode to Joy.") This is much closer to the original. But also totally flat and uninteresting, either as poetry or call to action.
I find it wonderfully ironic that the version of this song chosen for such a matter of fact, fumbling recitation by the minion of the House Unamerican Activities Committee is, to my ears at least, far more effective and inspiring than Brecht's original. In my setting, I attempted to reconstitute the power of this text musically, by presenting it with as much sincerity and fervor as I could muster. This was not difficult, because for me it carries an undeniable ring of truth.
My strategy in the Finale is to unleash from this conjunction of hollow rhetoric (Brecht's original), inanity (Stripling's inept reading) and genuinely inspiring, if questionable, call to action (Jordan's translation) the maximum degree of Entfremdung, i.e., "distancing" or "estrangement." In the spirit of Brecht, I want the audience to distance itself from what it has experienced, to think critically, learn, and form its own conclusions.