To the Editors:
Re “Goering and Culture,” the miniexchange between Richards Cobb and Kline [NYR, October 8], may I be the first pedant on the block to point out that Mr. Kline, supposedly correcting a trivial error in Mr. Cobb’s splendid essay, has got it wrong; and that Mr. Cobb, instead of writing, “I am sure Richard Kline is right…,” should have looked it up. The author of the famous boast—often attributed to Goering or Goebbels—about reaching for the revolver at the mention of culture is Hanns Johst (not Jolst), the Nazis’ leading playwright (not Hitler’s minister, of culture), who became the president of the Reichsschrifttumskammer, the Reich Chamber of Writers.
It occurs in Johst’s most famous play, Schlageter (first performed in April 1933, for Hitler’s birthday), the story of Albert Leo Schlageter (1894-1923), along with Horst Wessel a star of the Nazi martyrology. Schlageter—hailed in Johst’s play as “the first soldier of the Third Reich”—was a demobilized army officer who joined the Party in 1922, and the following year took part in armed resistance to the French forces still occupying the Ruhr, was caught sabotaging a railway line, tried (by a French military court), and executed.
The line belongs to a character in the play named Thiemann (the actor was Viet Harlan, later the lead in Jew Süss): “Wenn ich ‘Kultur’ höre, entsichere ich meinen Browning!”
New York City
Richard Cobb replies:
My thanks to Susan Sontag for useful information.
November 19, 1981