Skip to main content

Johannes and Gertrude Urzidil Collection

 Collection
Identifier: AR 7110 / MF 474

Scope and Content Note

This collection documents the work and life of Johannes and Gertrude Urzidil. It contains extensive correspondence as well as many drafts and clippings of published works by both individuals. In addition, the collection also contains personal information, photographs and objects belonging to the Urzidils.

The majority of items in this collection pertain to Johannes Urzidil. Material focusing on his personal relationships and life will be found in Series I: Personal, which includes family documents and diaries, as well as birthday wishes and obituaries with biographical information. This type of material will also be found among his correspondence in Series II and in Series IV. A great deal of documents are also available on Johannes Urzidil's writing. Series XIV holds index cards with research notes used in his writing, and drafts of his works will be found in Subseries 1, 2, and 3 of Series III: Johannes Urzidil's Writings. Copies of Urzidil's published articles, essays, usually in the form of clippings from newspapers or periodicals will be found throughout the first four subseries of Series III, as well as in Series VI: Clippings about Johannes Urzidil and his Works, Series VIII: Clippings about Franz Kafka, and Series XVIII: Addenda.

Series XII and XIII are comprised mainly of documents belonging to Gertrude Urzidil. Series XIII holds a scrapbook of Gertrude Urzidil's poetry as well as clippings from newspapers of published poems. The previous series contains Gertrude Urzidil's correspondence with friends, colleagues, and institutions. This collection does not contain much information on the family history of the Thiebergers, Gertrude Urzidil's family. Personal documents of Gertrude Urzidil will be found in Subseries 2: Personal Documents of Series I.

Dates

  • 1753-1996

Language of Materials

The collection is in German, Czech, and English.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011

email: lbaeck@lbi.cjh.org

Biographical Note

Johannes Urzidil was born in Prague on February 3, 1896, the youngest son of a railroad official (Eisenbahnbeamter) who was also an inventor. His mother, Elisabeth von Steinitz, was his father’s second wife and died when Johannes Urzidil was 4 years old.

From 1914 through 1919 Urzidil studied German studies, Slavic studies, and art history at the University of Prague. A schoolfriend of his introduced Urzidil to the Café Arco, where he became acquainted with the members of the "Prager Kreis," including Franz Kafka, Franz Werfel, and Max Brod. His studies were interrupted from 1916-1918 when Johannes Urzidil served in the Austro-Hungarian military during World War I. From 1918-1922 he worked as a translator for the German Consulate in Prague, also writing during the same time period for the the Berlin Börsen-Courier and the Wolffsche Telegraphen-Bureau. In 1922 Urzidil was appointed to the position of press attaché for the German Legation in Prague, a position he held until 1933. In 1922 Johannes Urzidil also married his wife, the poet Gertrude Thieberger, daughter of a rabbi and sister to the writer Friedrich Thieberger. In 1924 Franz Kafka died, and Johannes Urzidil spoke at a memorial for him. By 1933 Urzidil had lost his position as press attaché as Nazism rose to power in Germany. He was arrested by the police on suspicion of espionage but was freed, and shortly thereafter registered with the American Consulate in Prague for visas for himself and his wife to go to the United States. After the Gestapo began searching for Johannes Urzidil, they fled Prague using false papers, still awaiting word from the American Consulate. While the Urzidils waited in Italy, Gertrude Urzidil's sister in London placed their names on a list of politically endangered persons, and they were able to receive visas for Britain. The English writer Bryher (Anne Winnifred Ellerman), with whom Johannes Urzidil had exchanged letters, assisted them in affording the voyage to England and a place to stay while residing there. They would remain there until 1941 when the Urzidils emigrated to the United States.

During the time they lived in England Johannes Urzidil became involved with writing articles for expatriate newspapers to support the position of the government of Edvard Beneš, known alternatively as the Czechoslovak National Committee (after December 1939), the Provisional Czechoslovakian Government (after July 1940), and the official Czechoslovak government in exile (after June 18, 1941). In March 1940 Johannes Urzidil met Edvard Beneš and was sent to the United States as an official correspondent for the Czechoslovak expatriate publications Čechoslovak and the Central European Observer.

Johannes and Gertrude Urzidil arrived in New York in February 1941. Although they first lived in Jackson Heights, they eventually moved to Kew Gardens in Queens, New York. Once more the writer Bryher helped them financially as they started their new life in the United States. Johannes Urzidil discovered that the salary he earned writing for the Čechoslovák and the Central European Observer was not enough to support himself and Gertrude; he made leather handicrafts and Gertrude Urzidil looked after children to earn extra income. Following their arrival in New York Johannes Urzidil found himself at odds with the Beneš government's policy on the resettlement of Sudeten Germans when he published articles in 1941 and 1942 critical of resettlement in the publication Aufbau. Finally Urzidil secured a job proofreading for a publishing company after the end of World War II. While working for this company Johannes Urzidil met Heinz Risse, who would become an important friend for him by assisting in securing publication of Die verlorene Geliebte and introducing him to literary magazine publishers and positions with radio stations. By 1951 he was working as a script writer and information specialist for Voice of America, a position Johannes Urzidil kept until 1953 when rising McCarthyism drove him out of the position. He later returned to work for Voice of America in a freelance capacity. By the 1960s Johannes Urzidil often traveled back to Europe to give lectures and talks for various institutions and organizations, usually travelling with Gertrude, although they never returned permanently to Europe. The topics of his lectures concerned such subjects as Franz Kafka and the "Prager Kreis," Goethe, his own works, and the artist Vaclav Hollar, among other topics.

Throughout his life Johannes Urzidil wrote not only articles, essays, and radio scripts but also longer works, poetry and fiction in German. His first poetry was published when he was only 17 years old, under the pseudonym Hans Elmar in a Prague newspaper. Some early writings of his were published in expressionist publications such as Die Friede and Der Mensch. In 1919 Urzidil's first volume of poetry Die Sturz der Verdammten was published. His other volumes of poetry were Die Stimme in 1930 and Die Memnonsäule in 1957. One of his most well-known works, Goethe in Böhmen, was published in 1932. Bohemia was a common topic in most of Johannes Urzidil's writings, including such works of his as Die verlorene Geliebte, which won the Charles Veillon Prize in 1956. The lyrical work Prager Triptychon, and Die Entführung und sieben andere Ereignisse were two other fictional pieces which featured Bohemia. Some of his works deal with life in America, including Das große Hallelujah, Vaterliches aus Prag und Handwerkliches aus New York. Der Trauermantel focused on the life of the writer Adalbert Stifter.

Johannes Urzidil died in Rome on November 2, 1970, where he was to give a lecture for the Austrian Institute. He was buried in Campo Santo Teutonico, the German cemetery there. Gertrude Urzidil died in New York on June 12, 1977, and was buried in the cemetery in the town where she was born, Goltsch-Janikay, Austria (now Golčův Jenikov, Czech Republic).

Chronology

February 3, 1896
Johannes Urzidil born in Prague
July 20, 1898
Gertude Thieberger born in Goltsch-Janikay, Austria
1914-1919
Johannes Urzidil studies at University of Prague
1916-1918
Johannes Urzidil serves in Austro-Hungarian military
1918-1922
Johannes Urzidil works as translator for German Consulate in Prague
1919
Sturz der Verdammten published
1922
Johannes Urzidil marries Gertrude Thieberger
1922-1933
Johannes Urzidil is press attaché at German Legation in Prague
1924
Franz Kafka dies
1930
Die Stimme published
1932
Goethe in Böhmen published
1933
Johannes Urzidil loses position with German Legation
1939
Urzidils flee Prague, going first to Genoa, then England
March 27, 1940
Johannes Urzidil meets Czechoslovakian President in exile Edvard Beneš and becomes official correspondent for Čechoslovak and the Central European Observer
February 11, 1941
Urzidils arrive in New York
1945
Der Trauermantel published
1946
Johannes Urzidil becomes an American citizen
1951
Johannes Urzidil working for Voice of America as a script writer and information specialist
1953
Johannes Urzidil working for Voice of America as a freelance writer
1956
Die verlorene Geliebte published; book wins Charles Veillon Prize
1957
Die Memnonsäule published
1958
Denkwürdigkeiten von Gibracht published

Das Glück der Gegenwart: Goethes Amerikabild published
1959
Das grosse Hallelujah published
1960
Prager Triptychon published
1962
Das Elefantenblatt published
1964
Entführung und sieben andere Ereignisse published
1965
Da Geht Kafka published
1966
Die erbeuteten Frauen published
1968
Bist du es, Ronald? published
1969
Väterliches aus Prag und Handwerkliches aus New York published
November 2, 1970
Johannes Urzidil dies
1971
Morgen fahr' ich heim published

Die letzte Tombola published
June 12, 1977
Gertrude Urzidil dies
Some information for biographical note from:

Serke, Jürgen. Böhmische Dörfer: Wanderungen durch eine verlassene literarische Landschaft. Vienna: Paul Zsolnay Verlag, 1987.

Extent

18 Linear Feet

Overview

This collection focuses on the work and lives of author Johannes and poet Gertrude Urzidil. It contains drafts of published works, correspondence, clippings, personal documents, financial and legal documents, objects, photographs, and audio cassette tapes.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged in seventeen series:
  1. Series I: Personal, undated, 1753-1977
  2. Subseries 1: Family History, undated, 1753-1969
  3. Subseries 2: Personal Documents, 1832-1953
  4. Subseries 3: Johannes Urzidil's Diaries and Address Books, 1957-1977
  5. Subseries 4: Birthdays and Anniversaries, 1946-1966
  6. Subseries 5: Honors and Prizes, 1957, 1964-1968
  7. Subseries 6: Obituaries, 1970-1971
  8. Series II: Correspondence, 1830-1899, 1915-1975
  9. Subseries 1: General, 1830-1899, 1915-1975
  10. Subseries 2: Christmas Correspondence, 1942-1970
  11. Subseries 3: Publishers and Magazine Editors, 1942-1970
  12. Subseries 4: Literary Correspondence, 1941-1970
  13. Subseries 5: Johannes Urzidil's Lectures in Europe and America, 1946-1968
  14. Series III: Johannes Urzidil's Writings, undated, 1911-1972
  15. Subseries 1: Literary Works, undated, 1911-1913, 1928-1970
  16. Subseries 2: General Non-Fiction, undated, 1933-1970
  17. Subseries 3: Political Articles, 1941-1945
  18. Subseries 4: Clippings of Johannes Urzidil's Works, 1918-1972
  19. Subseries 5: Radio Programs by Johannes Urzidil on America, 1951-1967
  20. Series IV: Biographical Typescripts or Manuscripts Concerning Johannes Urzidil, undated, 1970
  21. Series V: Bibliographical Material for Johannes Urzidil's Writings, undated, 1916-1995
  22. Series VI: Clippings about Johannes Urzidil and his Works, 1939-1977
  23. Series VII: Clippings about American Authors of the 19th and 20th Century, 1932-1970
  24. Series VIII: Clippings about Franz Kafka, 1945-1968
  25. Series IX: Recordings, 1961-1969
  26. Series X: Manuscripts and Typescripts by Other Authors, 1974-1976
  27. Series XI: Various, undated, 1925, 1930-1977
  28. Series XII: Gertrude Urzidil's Correspondence, 1942-1951, 1970-1977
  29. Series XIII: Gertrude Urzidil's Literary Works, undated, 1930-1977, 1992-1993
  30. Series XIV: Catalogue Cards, undated
  31. Series XV: Financial and Legal Records, 1944-1972
  32. Series XVI: Objects, undated
  33. Series XVII: Photos, undated
  34. Series XVIII: Addenda, 1900-1976

Microfilm

This collection is available on forty-two reels of microfilm.
  1. Reels 1 and 2: 1/1 - 1/13
  2. Reel 4: 1/14 - 1/16
  3. Reel 3: 1/17 - 1/20
  4. Reel 8: 1/21 - 1/24
  5. Reel 5: 2/1 - 2/3
  6. Reel 6: 2/4 - 2/12
  7. Reel 7: 2/13 - 3/3
  8. Reel 9: 3/4 - 3/11
  9. Reel 10: 3/12 - 3/52
  10. Reel 11: 3/53 - 4/14
  11. Reel 12: 4/15 - 4/30
  12. Reel 13: 4/31 - 4/48
  13. Reel 14: 4/49 - 4/62
  14. Reel 15: 5/1 - 5/19
  15. Reel 16: 5/20 - 6/3
  16. Reel 17: 6/4 - 6/10
  17. Reel 18: 6/11 - 6/18
  18. Reel 19: 6/19 - 6/23
  19. Reel 20: 6/24 - 7/6
  20. Reel 21: 7/7 - 8/1
  21. Reel 22: 8/2 - 8/17
  22. Reel 23: 8/18 - 8/31
  23. Reel 23B: 8/32 - 9/6
  24. Reel 24: 9/7 - 9/20
  25. Reel 25: 9/21 - 9/25
  26. Reel 26: 9/26 - 10/10
  27. Reel 27: 10/11
  28. Reel 28: 10/12 - 11/2
  29. Reel 29: 11/3 - 11/23
  30. Reel 30: 11/24 - 11/35
  31. Reel 31: 11/36 - 12/8
  32. Reel 32: 12/9 - 12/26
  33. Reel 33: 12/27 - 12/38
  34. Reel 34: 12/39 - 13/12
  35. Reels 35 and 36: 13/13 - 13/26
  36. Reel 37: 13/27 - 14/3
  37. Reel 38: 14/4 - 15/3
  38. Reel 39: 15/4 - 15/17
  39. Reel 40: 15/18 - 16/21
  40. Reel 41: 16/22 - 16/39
  41. Reel 42: 16/40 - Addenda

Separated Material

A memoir by Gertrude Thieberger Urzidil was moved to the memoir collection: "1898-1977: Memoirs on the Prague Circle; Interview" (Oral History Research Office, Columbia University) (ME 473); it is also available on microfilm (MM 78).

Some manuscripts by Johannes Urzidil have been removed from the collection and are now located in the LBI's Manuscript and Memoir Collection (indicated below by MS). These are also available on microfilm (indicated below by MSF).

<emph render="bold">Manuscript Collection</emph>

  1. Von der grossen Finsternis zu New York (MS 357; MSF 26)
  2. Bist du es Ronald? (MS 363; MSF 26)
  3. Der Stahlpalast (MS 367; MSF 26)
  4. "Die Herzogin von Aleanara" (MS 368; MSF 26)
  5. "Gestalten" (MS 369; MSF 26)
  6. " Die Rippe der Grossmutter" (MS 370; MSF 27)
  7. " Das Haus Colonna" (MS 371; MSF 27)
  8. "Central Park" (MS 372; MSF 27)
  9. "Die Aktualitaet Walt Whitmans" (MS 373; MSF 27)
  10. "Transozeanische Spiegelungen" (MS 374; MSF 27)
  11. "Weltreise in Concord" (MS 375; MSF 27)
  12. "Henry David Thoreau" (MS 376; MSF 27)
  13. "Pigeon Feed" (MS 377; MSF 27)
  14. "La continuita della produzione letteraria da Praga a New York" (MS 380; MSF 27)
  15. "Das 'Prager Tryptychon' und seine Erzaehlstruktur" (MS 389; MSF 29)

Processing Information

The description of the collection and the biographical note were revised by Dianne Ritchey Oummia in August 2004.
Title
Guide to the Papers of Johannes and Gertrude Urzidil 1753-1996 (bulk 1945-1970) AR 7110 / MF 474
Status
In Progress
Author
Processed by LBI Staff
Date
© August 2004
Language of description
Undetermined
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2012-06-07 : encoding of linking to digital objects from finding aid was changed from <extref> to <dao> through dao_conv.xsl
  • January 2006.: Entities removed from EAD finding aid.
  • March 2006.: Added access ponts.
  • 2012 June 7 :: Added links in container list portion of finding aid

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States