Johannes Urzidil

Today in Mailbox we unveil the identity of November's mystery man and announce the name of this month's winner. Listeners quoted: Jayanta Chakrabarty, S. J. Agboola, Charles Konecny, Ian Morrison, Stephen Wara, Roger Tidy, Colin Law, David Eldridge, Hans Verner Lollike.

Another month has gone by and it’s my duty to reveal the identity of our November mystery man. We are going to do so as always by quoting from your answers:

Jayanta Chakrabarty from India writes:

“After completing his education in Prague in art history and Slavic languages, his literary experience began as a correspondent and editor of the monthly Der Mensch and as an adviser in the press service of the German embassy in Prague… Considered as one of the last members of the legendary Prague Circle he grew up to be one of the major figures of contemporary Austrian literature being greatly influenced by Expressionism.”

S. J. Agboola from Nigeria had this to say:

“He was privileged to live up to 74 years of age. His first loves were: German, art history and Slavic languages before he finally settled for journalism and writing. Even, as a writer, he was still dexterous and prolific. He wrote poetry, prose and short stories. He had some prestigious prizes to his credit. Indeed, he was a literary giant.”

Charles Konecny from the United States wrote:

“As a respected writer, Urzidil seemed to promote both Czech and German culture. Plus he was a member of the Franz Kafka ‘cafe round table’ and was on personal terms with Masaryk and Beneš. Then Hitler got in the way of all this. Hard pressed, he emigrated to America, where he continued to be a prolific writer. Much of his writing is a little over my head, but one cannot help admire his insight, talent, and contributions to the writing arts.”

This answer came from Ian Morrison from China:

“A friend of Franz Kafka, he moved to the United States in 1941, where he obtained citizenship in 1946. His work ‘Der Trauermantel’, which was published in 1945, deals with the childhood of the writer Adalbert Stifter. Thank you for your monthly quiz. Only one listener may be lucky enough to win the prize, but I believe that all listeners who participate are better off by gaining knowledge about prominent Czech personalities.”

Stephen Wara from Cameroon writes:

“Urzidil, not so well known as his close associate and fellow writer, Franz Kafka, never-the-less, as one who very successfully combined the four big roles of writer, poet, historian and journalist to his lone self, he enjoys enough respect and a strong following. Evident from the publicity relating to his 40th death anniversary this November.”

A long answer came from Roger Tidy from the United Kingdom:

Johannes Urzidil
“From 1922 to 1933, he earned a living at the German embassy in Prague, first as a translator and later as a member of its press department. This employment came to an end in 1933 when the Nazis came to power. Later, when Czechoslovakia was invaded, he had to flee the country to escape being arrested by the Gestapo. Urzidil's safe-haven was Britain, where he worked for the Czechoslovak government-in-exile as a journalist, eventually being sent to the United States as a correspondent for a number of exiled publications supporting the Czechoslovak cause. Soon after his arrival there he fell out with the Beneš government over its policy of repatriation of German nationals. As he was anti-communist as well as anti-Nazi, he decided not to return to Czechoslovakia after the war. Instead, in 1946, he acquired US citizenship and, in the early Cold War years, he worked as a scriptwriter for the Voice of America.”

Colin Law from New Zealand wrote also about Urzidil’s later life in his comprehensive answer:

“In April 1951 Johann became a script writer for the Voice of America, but in 1953 he was dismissed in the Joseph McCarthy ‘cleansing the US of communists’ hysteria. Johann continued to travel throughout Europe lecturing and writing. In Germany in 1956, Langen-Müller Verlag, Munich, published his book of short stories Die Verlorene Geliebte.

“During his European tour in 1970 Johann went to Hamburg, Bremen, Cologne and Vienna. In late October he reached Rome, but there on November 2nd he died suddenly of a stroke. He was buried on the left side of the cemetery of Campo Santo Teutonico adjacent to the Vatican City.”

David Eldridge from the United Kingdom started on a poetic note:

“Perhaps during cloudy nights at the Kleť astronomical Observatory on the summit of Mount Kleť, České Budějovice, astronomers Jana Tichá and Miloš Tichý found time to reflect on their earthly surroundings by reading some of the poetry and prose of Johannes Urzidil, November's mystery person. Urzidil wrote about Bohemian heritage and the fate of people living and working in the Šumava (Boehmerwald) forests... Maybe, after reading the works of his, the astronomers chose to honour him by naming a minor planet they discovered on 30 October 1999 ‘Urzidil’.”

And finally Hans Verner Lollike from Denmark:

“Thank you for helping me out! In ‘Current Affairs’ November 25th you broadcast a story in honour of the 40th anniversary of the death of Johannes Urzidil. He is this month’s mystery person. The Prager Literaturhaus organized a session on this occasion to mark a new book: HinterNational – Johannes Urzidil.”

And let me just add that you can go back to the story on our website

Thank you very much indeed for your well-researched answers and this month a Radio Prague parcel is on its way to China to Ian Morrison. My congratulations! All that remains today is to announce a new quiz question.

In December we would like to know the name of the Prague-born Austrian author and mathematician, who lived in Austria and Palestine and died in 1957 in the Austrian spa-town of Bad Ischl.

Your answers need to reach us by the end of the month at [email protected] or Radio Prague, 12099 Prague. Next week we’ll be back to quote from your e-mails. Until then, happy listening.