Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht, 1898 - 1956

portrait of Bertolt Brecht
1948 photo, Deutsches Bundesarchiv
Bertolt Brecht signature

Born: 10 February 1898, Augsburg, Bavaria, German Empire
Died: 14 August 1956, East Berlin, German Democratic Republic

Despite occasional allusion to a peasant upbringing, Brecht grew up in a middle-class family. At school he met Caspar Neher, who designed sets of Brecht's dramas from 1923 to 1949. When the First World War started Brecht saw his classmates "swallowed by the army" and sought the loophole of signing up for medical classes at Munich University. He was drafted but was posted to a medical unit at Augsburg, far from any action. He wrote his first play the same year, 1918, and returned to Munich to study. He regularly wrote drama criticism and continued to write, then took a position as a dramaturge at Deutsches Theater at Berlin. He assembled a writing collective that was extremely productive in the last years of the Weimar Republic, one of their productions was The Threepenny Opera featuring Brecht's lyrics set to music by Kurt Weill, including the song The Ballad of Mac the Knife later popularized by Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin. With the rise of Hitler, Brecht left Germany for Denmark in 1933, to Sweden in 1939, the Nazis advanced and Brecht fled to Finland to wait for a visa for the US in 1941. He was active on Broadway during the war, and wrote one Hollywood script, but found himself blacklisted during the Red Scare and was called to appear before the HUAC in 1947. He testified, but left for Switzerland the next day. Upset at the number of former Nazis in positions of authority in West Germany, and having been a life-long Marxist although not a Communist Party member, he accepted an invitation to return to Berlin. He directed plays and coached younger directors and dramaturges but did very little writing. He died of a heart attack and is now buried immediately in front of the home he shared with Helene Weigel, his wife of 26 years and companion of at least six years more than that.

Biography from Wikipedia and Theatre Database

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