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The Arendt/Heidegger Affair

In response to:

Dangerous Liaison from the January 11, 1996 issue

To the Editors:

With admiration I read Alan Ryan’s review of Elzbieta Ettinger’s Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger in the January 11, 1996 issue of The New York Review of Books. After answering an inquiry by a French professor about the circumstances surrounding the publication of Ms. Ettinger’s book, I thought your readers may be interested as well in my reply to him:

Dear Professor Brudny-de Launay,

Thank you for your letter of December 19, 1995 inquiring about the reason Elzbieta Ettinger received permission from the Hannah Arendt Literary Trust to use the Arendt/Heidegger correspondence. The answer is very simple: she asked for it.

In June 1976 I fulfilled Hannah Arendt’s wishes, as also expressly indicated in her last will, and personally took the Arendt/Heidegger correspondence to Germany to be preserved in the Schiller National-museum Deutsches Literaturarchiv in Marbach. As executors of Hannah Arendt’s will Mary McCarthy and I stipulated that access to the correspondence should be withheld for five years. The executor of the Heidegger estate, Dr. Hermann Heidegger, seems to have set the time limit at forty years after his father’s death in February 1976.

In 1989 Ms. Ettinger first approached Mary McCarthy as the literary executor and after Mary’s death me as successor literary executor for permission to use all correspondences in her planned biography of Hannah Arendt. I had made a copy of the Arendt/Heidegger correspondence in 1976, and in 1990/91 I wrote to Dr. Heidegger to discuss permission to use these letters for serious research. At that time he declined to lift the secretion of the correspondence as long as his mother was alive (she died in 1992). But after I informed him that I thought it was time to give permission to serious scholars to quote from the Arendt/Heidegger correspondence, he was willing to make exceptions for selected quotations from his father’s letters, but that complete publication was to be delayed until the edition of Heidegger’s collected works had arrived at Part IV. When Ms. Ettinger told me she wanted to publish the chapter on the Arendt/Heidegger relationship independently of her not yet completed biography, I was disappointed, anticipating the outcry that would follow and actually did.

Fortunately, the story has a good ending. A friend of mine in Germany succeeded in persuading Dr. Hermann Heidegger to give permission for publication of the complete correspondence, and we now have a contract for this book with the publishing house of Vittorio Klostermann in Frankfurt.

Lotte Kohler
Trustee
Hannah Arendt Bluecher Literary Trust
New York City

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