Saturday, December 12, 2009

My hero / Franz Marek by Eric Hobsbawn

My hero Franz Marek

Eric Hobsbawm
Saturday 12 December 2009

mong other things, Franz Marek, Austrian communist (1913-79), born Ephraim Feuerlicht to Galician refugees, survived conventional heroism in the French wartime resistance. He headed the resistance organisation for foreigners, doing work among the occupying German forces which a survivor described as "more terrifying than straightforward armed action". He was captured, sentenced to death but saved by the liberation of Paris. His "last words" survive, as recorded on the wall of Fresnes prison on 18 August 1944. But that is not the reason I choose him as my hero.

When I came to know this short, quizzical, laconic, formidably intelligent man who radiated a sort of self-effacing charisma even when hiking in the Vienna woods, he was still a leading member of the party he joined in 1934, though he already belonged to that lost generation of reforming "Eurocommunist" leaders whose last survivors are Gorbachev and the current president of Italy. After the Prague spring of 1968 he was forced out of the party and lost the only paid job he had ever had since the age of 20, that of "professional revolutionary", for which he had given up academic ambition. The Comintern had given him his first new jacket and trousers, for the childhood of education-hungry Galician Jews without money did not run to such luxuries. For the next 12 years he lived on false papers.
He was plainly a natural at this work, rising to running the inland activities of the now illegal Communist party. It gave him joy, filled his life and, he later recognised, blocked out everything else. After Hitler took over Austria in 1938, he was sent to Paris, returning in 1946, full of hope, to a party career in the Vienna of The Third Man. He said "it needed the shock of 1956 to open me up to strong emotions", including, he admitted, love. Still working to change the world, he died of a long-awaited heart attack. All his material possessions could be fitted into two small suitcases. A 20th-century hero? I think so.

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