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Tauchnitz on Nazi service

The story of the relationships between Tauchnitz and Hitler’s Third Reich is a fascinating one, covered in some detail in Michele Troy’s 2017 book ‘Strange Bird. The Albatross Press and the Third Reich’.   The rise to power of the Nazi party in Germany largely coincided with the collapse of Tauchnitz into the arms of its much more modern rival, Albatross.  From 1934 until the outbreak of war, the two firms were run together under conditions that were extraordinarily challenging.

For almost a century, Tauchnitz had successfully spread both the English language and Anglo-American culture across Europe.  Under Albatross control, and even with a Nazi Government in Germany that was publicly hostile to much of the literature that Tauchnitz and Albatross were publishing, they continued to do so.  Michele Troy’s book shows how the Government’s need for foreign currency earnings often trumped ideological concerns.

Books by Jewish authors such as Louis Golding and G.B. Stern and by banned writers like D.H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley, were printed in Leipzig and exported across Europe throughout the 1930s.  Editorial control of the combined business was based in Paris and the more controversial books appeared in the Albatross series rather than Tauchnitz, but production of both series was carried out in Germany by the Tauchnitz owners, Brandstetter. Yes, there was an element of self-censorship and certain books could not be sold within Germany itself, but still it is surprising what they managed to achieve.

Astonishingly, even after the outbreak of war in 1939, both Albatross and Tauchnitz were able to continue selling English Literature in continental Europe, although the flow of new titles inevitably dried up.   Even after the entry of German troops into Paris in June 1940, and the appointment of a Nazi custodian of the Albatross business, sales continued and the business continued to make a profit.

But the Nazis also had another purpose in mind for Tauchnitz.   What it had previously done for English, they reasoned, it could now do for the German language and culture.

The result was a series of German language novels under the heading of ‘Der Deutsche Tauchnitz’.   Instead of the usual notice saying that copies were ‘ not to be introduced into the British Empire’, these books now say ‘Nur zum Verkauf ausserhalb des Grossdeutschen Reiches’, or ‘only for sale outside the Greater German Empire’.  They were not sold in Germany or the areas annexed into Greater Germany, including Austria, the Sudetenland and Alsace / Lorraine.  But they were for sale in Belgium, Holland, France and other areas where the Nazis wanted to spread a Germanic culture.

Copyright notice fomo volume 111 ‘Notre Dame von den Wogen’

In this context it’s worth remembering that the Tauchnitz editions in English were not launched by the British, or even by a Briton, in order to spread British culture.   They were launched by a German to meet an existing market demand.  Tauchnitz Editions in German though were very definitely launched by the Germans to spread German culture.  Der Deutsche Tauchnitz was not a product launched to meet market demand.  It was a product seeking a market.

That was not easy in wartime Europe.  If there had been a natural market for German novels in France or the Netherlands, Tauchnitz might have been amongst the first to launch one, much earlier.  The market for English language novels in peacetime had depended on British and American travellers in Europe, as well as on the significant number of speakers of English as a second language.  But in wartime there was no demand from tourists and the number of people with German as a second language good enough to read novels, was probably lower than for English.  So even without taking into account the natural resentment that many people would have had towards the occupiers, it’s apparent that the task would not have been easy.

The one natural market they did have was amongst the occupiers themselves. German soldiers in the occupied territories may have bought a relatively high proportion of the books that were sold.  Certainly by one route or another, many of the copies found today are back in Germany. But that was not the point of these books. It was the local populations that were their target.

Physically the books look very like the pre-war Tauchnitz volumes in English. They have the same brightly coloured covers, colour-coded by genre, and they use the same circular symbol with a small crown over a ‘T’ that had been introduced shortly before the war. For the early editions there are dustwrappers in the same design as the book and the dustwrapper flaps have a short description of the book in English, German and French at the front and an explanation of the colour scheme at the back. Later on, these descriptions move to the inside of the covers, and the explanation of the colour scheme is dropped in favour of additional languages.

One small design change is to abandon the uniformity of style for the book titles on the front cover. Instead there is a profusion of different styles of lettering, giving each title some individuality within the constraints of an otherwise standard series design.

There is no price on the books themselves, or on the lists of titles inside, but the price quoted in ‘A strange bird’ is the equivalent of 1.2 Deutschmarks, which compares with a price of 2 DM for the pre-war Tauchnitz Editions in English. Start-up costs had been covered by the German Propaganda Ministry and Foreign Office, so that the books may have been sold more or less on a marginal cost basis. They may also have had quite long print runs to keep costs low, but with disappointing sales that led to a build-up of unsold stocks.

The series launched in April 1941 and had extended to 18 titles by the end of the year. Volume number 1 was ‘Effi Briest’ by Theodor Fontane, a classic German novel from a 19th century author, although not really typical of the rest of the series. Most of the books were by more modern authors and probably rather lighter, although there were a few other classics including Goethe’s ‘Faust’ and Wilhelm Hauff’s fairy tales. There are no dominant authors – in fact other than Goethe with two, no author seems to have more than one title published in the series. Readers were invited though to nominate their own suggestions for the series, using cards inserted in some of the books.

21 titles appeared in 1942, taking the series on to volume 139, although after volume 130 the dustwrappers were dropped, as they had been on paperbacks in Britain a year or two earlier. Wartime conditions were perhaps starting to bite and the quality of paper used began to deteriorate, although these are still relatively lavishly produced books in comparison with British paperbacks from the same era. Another twenty or so new titles were added in 1943 so that by early 1944 the series had reached volume 166.

Volume 164 was advertised in the list of titles as ‘Petja’ by Marissa von der Osten, although I have never seen a copy and I suspect it was never published. From here on, and not surprisingly given the progress of the war, things start to go rather downhill. I have seen no evidence of books numbered 167, 168, 169, 171 or 173 and I have been unable to find a copy of volume 174, which is advertised as Adalbert Stifter’s ‘Erzählungen’. Again it may well have never been published.

That leaves volumes 170, 172, 175 and 176 which certainly do exist, for a total of 69 confirmed volumes over a three year period from 1941 to 1944. On some of the later volumes though, I have seen examples where the phrase forbidding sales within the German Reich has been blacked out, presumably because access to other markets had been lost and copies had been repatriated to Germany towards the end, or after the end of the war.

Volume 176 – probably the last in the series

Overall it seems unlikely that the series was a success in terms of its objective to spread German culture. It was not the only attempt though. Alongside the German language series, Tauchnitz also launched a series of French translations of German novels, including some of the same titles. I’ll come back to that another time.