Exile and Internationalism: Or How Anna Seghers’s "Das Licht auf dem Galgen" Got to Cuba

2011, 19 min, color
Themes & Genres:


In this filmed interview, Marike Janzen (Univ. of Kansas) discusses the influence of exile on the work of German novelist Anna Seghers—especially on one of her Caribbean stories, 1961’s "Das Licht auf dem Galgen." This story inspired the eponymous 1976 DEFA feature film The Light on the Gallows, by director Helmut Nitzschke, partly shot in Cuba with Cuban actors, as well as Heiner Müller’s play Der Auftrag (1979-80).


German Jewish author Anna Seghers, who was a communist, was forced to leave Germany in 1933 when the Nazis came to power. She emigrated via Switzerland to Paris and, later on to Marseilles, until she finally settled in Mexico City and her years there shaped her worldview. After WWII, she went on to become one of East Germany’s best-known authors. Her narratives set in the global South were both ahead of their time and products of it. The Light on the Gallows distills the French and Caribbean revolutions through the lens of Enlightenment humanism, Marxism and anti-fascism.


Marike Janzen has written extensively on Seghers, as well as the Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier. This interview was conducted by Jennifer Ruth Hosek during during a 2009 conference on The Measure of a Revolution: Cuba 1959-2009 at Queen’s University.


A shorter, 10-minute version of this interview is also available. Both versions are available from our Free Digital Film Archive!

  • 19-minute version
  • 10-minute version


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