Artist Work

Sketch One: Lotte and Hermina

Script-Reading and Screening by Wendelien van Oldenborgh

The following script was conceived as a public moment and insight into the development of my larger film project which will premiere as a contribution to the bauhaus imaginista exhibition at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, March 2019. The live reading in Moscow was performed by four other readers and myself and accompanied by a video with images from the research. During the presentations in the Garage in Moscow the voices of the main characters were read out by Thomas Flierl (Hannes Meyer, Reader One), Julia Jung (Lotte Stam-Beese, Reader Two), Hannah Dawn Henderson (Hermina Huiswoud, Reader Three) and Grant Watson (Langston Hughes, Reader Four). 

The script is compiled from fragments of various texts that I encountered during my research into the voices and ideals of Bauhaus trained architect Lotte Stam-Beese (1903–1988) and writer, editor and fighter for equality Hermina Huiswoud. Although they never met, both women lived in the Soviet Union in the early 1930s and both would subsequently influence public life in the Netherlands in the 1950s. In her role as chief architect for urban planning at the Rotterdam Department for Urban Development and Reconstruction, Stam-Beese had a major influence on Dutch post-WWII housing design. Huiswoud, having edited the magazine The Negro Worker (1928–1937) and traveled the world for the Communist International (Comintern), would later become an active voice for the Caribbean-Dutch community, notably through her close connection with artists from the Harlem Renaissance (poet, social activist, and playwright Langston Hughes among them). Both Stam-Beese and Huiswoud would always approach their respective areas of specialization through the ideals and practices associated with the early years of the Soviet Socialist Republics. And for both women, love and friendship also played a significant role in their lives.

The letters between Lotte Stam-Beese and Hannes Meyer are kept in the Hannes Meyer archives at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles and were generously shared by the architectural historian has recently published her interdisciplinary biography (architecture, history, gender studies) on Stam-Beese, with the title: Want de grond behoort ons allen toe (2018). The style of the letters, which were written entirely without upper case letters and, sometimes, with alternative spelling, have been retained in the German transcripts presented here. Letters by Hermina Huiswoud and Langston Hughes, as well as a number of issues of the magazine The Negro Worker (1928–1937) are kept in the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive at New York University, where they are listed as the “Hermina Dumont Huiswoud Papers.” They were generously shared with me by Mitchell Esajas and Jessica De Abreu of the The Black Archives in Amsterdam. Documents concerning Hermina Huiswoud's participation in the Communist Party during her stay in the Soviet Union are kept in the Russian State Archive for Social and Political History in Moscow and were documented by myself.

Wendelien van Oldenborgh, September 2018

1. HANNES MEYER (from a letter dated 24 December 1928)

from: Hélène Damen & Anne-Mie Devolder (eds): Lotte Stam-Beese, 1903–1988: Dessau, Brno, Charkow, Moskou, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Rotterdam: Uitgeverij Hef, 1993, p. 12.

Reader One:

meine liebe lotte,

ich muss das anstehende schon in roter tinte schreiben, denn die bombe ist nun glücklich heute geplatzt: ausgerechnet als weihnachtsgeschenk hat man natalie unser “verhältnis” bekanntgegeben. ich wusste dass es kommen muss, nur eine woche später, hoffte ich. jetzt bin ich ganz ruhig. Und eigentlich froh. aller druck der letzte monate geht von mir weg. nun gilt es zu handeln. und wir müssen zusammenstehen. du weisst es.


My dear Lotte,

I will have to write you the following in red ink, since the bomb has now happily exploded this evening: as a Christmas present, they have announced our “affair” to Natalie.

I knew it would come. I just hoped it might have been a week later. But now I am very calm and, actually, glad. All the pressure of the last months is leaving me. Now it is time to act. And we have to stand together. You know that.

Reader One:

Lotte, ich habe gar kein unruhe. ich bin ganz still in dir. und unwandelbar in dir. ich habe nur liebe und frieden für dich. und ganz unerschüttert stehe ich bei dir. nur unsere nerven müssen jetzt ruhig bleiben. und unsere kräfte müssen wir für den kampf nutzen. alle unsere kräfte sollen uns beide gehören. und in dir soll nie angst sein um mich, oder um unser geschick, oder um unsere zukunft. Ich bin ganz ruhig an deiner seite, treu, voller verheissung und voller vertrauen. meine liebe Lotte.


Lotte, I am not worried. I am completely silent in you. And unchangeable in you. I have only love for you. I stand completely unshaken beside you. It is just, our nerves have to stay calm now. And we have to preserve our strength for the struggle. All our powers will belong to both of us. And you should never fear for my fate, or our skills, or for our future. I am very calm beside you, faithful, full of promise and full of trust. My dear Lotte.

Reader One:

nun musst du sinnen, wo du nach dem 31. 12. bleibst. hier in dessau kannst du keinesfalls bleiben. wäherend der ferien sind wir zusammen, aber du kannst anschliessend unmöglich zurück in den unterricht. meine einsicht sagt mir dass dies unmöglich ist denn es ist ein herausforderung an das milieu hier. wir sollen so reif sein, dass wir nicht überflüssig unsere feinde herauslocken. (schon heute empfahl man, “ dass ich nur noch etwas tun könne: demissionieren”.) ich denk nicht daran, es sei dass die lage unhaltbar wird. wir müssen dazu beitragen dass sie es nicht wird, denn im augenblick hängt ja nicht nur meine persönliche laufbahn, sondern mein schicksal innerhalb der existenz des bauhauses am berühmten faden. - wir können in der ferien in müsse überlegen wo du hingehen sollst.


Now you have to consider where you will be after 31 December. In any case, you cannot stay here in Dessau. During the holidays we are together, but you cannot go back to class afterwards. My insight tells me that this is impossible, because it is a challenge to the milieu here. We should be so mature as to not challenge our enemies. (Already today I was advised: there is only one thing to do—resign!) I am not even thinking about it! I will do so only when the situation becomes intolerable (and we have to make sure that it does not), because for the moment not only my personal career but my destiny within the Bauhaus is hanging by that famous thread (...) We can discuss where you should go over the holidays.

2. LOTTE BEESE (from Hanneke Oosterhof: “Lotte Stam-Beese (1903–1988): From 'Entwurfsarchitektin' to Urban-Planning Architect," in: Architektúra & Urbanizmus, Vol. 51, No.1–2, May 2017, pp. 94–105)

Reader Two:

Hannes gave Lotte a job at his architecture firm in Berlin where, together with other Bauhaus Students, she was able to produce drawings for the completion of the trade union training center in Bernau. Yet, she was not happy there, since she missed her previous daily contact and work with Meyer. He tried to find her another job through his network, but the architect and former Bauhaus student Walter Tralau, now office manager at Otto Haesler's architecture firm in the town of Celle (near Hannover), turned him down. The reason can be found in a letter to his Bauhaus friend Konrad Püschel: Tralau did not “like working with women.”

In April 1930, Beese began work as an Entwurfsarchitektin (design architect) at Bohuslav Fuchs's firm in Brno; in the strongest bastion of Czechoslovakian Modernism, for Brno had a particularly large number of striking new Modernist buildings. Newly graduated architects from Vienna and Prague had moved there, including Fuchs, who had previously studied and worked in Prague. In the early 1920s, Czechoslovakian architecture displayed influences from the Amsterdam School, De Stijl and Le Corbusier's Purist architecture.

3. HANNES MEYER (from a hand-written letter, dated 8 May 1930)

Reader One:

Lotte, wie fühlst dich in Brno? und die arbeit? – meine gedanken sind so viel dort, aber oft ziehe ich mich ganz auf mich selbst zurück.


Lotte, how do you feel in Brno? And the work? (...) My thoughts are so much there with you, but often I withdraw myself completely.

4. MARGARET MENGEL (from a letter dated 31 July 1930 and typed on her own Bauhaus letterhead, Dessau)

Reader Two:

liebe lotte

es ist nachts, halb 2. hannes meyer sitzt oben und arbeitet an einem schriftstück, ich helfe zwischendurch tippen. aber diese ruhepause will ich benutzen um dir zu berichten.

hannes bittet sehr um entschuldigung, dass er dir bis heute noch nicht geschrieben hat. es waren – eigentlich seit seiner wiederkehr – aufregende tage. er ist durch die anhaltische regierung zum sofortigen rücktritt gezwungen worden.

man wirft ihm vor, dass er sich parteipolitisch betätigt habe, natürlich kommunistisch, mann wirft ihm seine marxistische lehre vor, und seine einstellung zur kunst, beziehungsweise, dass erdie kunst vom bauhaus vertreiben wolle.


dear Lotte,

It is 1:30 AM. Hannes Meyer is upstairs working on a text. I am helping him with typing in between. But I want to use this break to send you a message.

Hannes asks to excuse him that until today he has not written you yet. In fact, since his return the days have been unsettled: he has been forced to resign immediately by the authorities of Anhalt.

He is being accused of operating with party politics—obviously communist. He has also been accused for his Marxist teachings, and his attitude towards art—or rather, that he wants to expel the art from Bauhaus.

5. LOTTE BEESE (from a handwritten letter to Hannes Meyer, dated 5 August 1930)

Reader Two:

ich weiss nicht, was für pläne du hasst; aber ich glaube, dass jetzt für uns alle sehr unruhige zeiten kommen voll kampf (...) ich möchte eine kleine stunde jetzt bei dir sein und dir in die augen sehen. ich weiss, sie sind hell und klar. liebes, liebes hanneslein, es ist so schön zu wissen, dass hinter uns das wort steht “unmöglich” und vor uns: “weiter, höher”.


I am not sure about your plans, but I believe that for all of us there are troubled times ahead, full of struggle. (...) I would love to be with you now, just for an hour, and look into your eyes. I know they are bright and clear. Dear, dear little Hannes, it is so beautiful to know that behind us is the word “impossible,” and in front of us: “further, higher.”

6. HANNES MEYER (from a letter dated Aug 1930 and written on his own letterhead reading “bauhaus Dessau,” addressed to Lotte in Brno)

Reader One:

meine liebe lottu,

was weiter werden wird, weiss ich schon. klee hat mir reizend geschrieben: “sie gehen östlich, ich westlich.” morgen habe ich vortrag in der “assoziation revolutionärer künstler”: unsere bauhaus arbeit.


My dear Lottuh,

what will happen now, I know. Paul Klee wrote me charmingly: “you will go to the East, I myself to the West.” Tomorrow I will give a lecture at the “association for revolutionary artists”: our Bauhaus work.

7. LOTTE BEESE (from a handwritten letter, dated 18 August 1930 and written from Brno)

Reader Two:

liebes gutes hanneslein,

(...) dein artikel in 'tagebuch' is gut und ich denke dass es ein gesunde abreagieren für dich war voll “fröhlicher (?)” bosheit!


Dear good little Hannes,

(...) your article in 'Tagebuch' is good and I think it was healthy for you to vent, full of cheerful malice!

8. HANNES MEYER (from an undated letter that from its content shows that it was posted some time in August 1930)

Reader One:

liebste lottu,

heute kamm ein telegramm von moskau wonach ludwich schreibt, dass ein arbeitsfeld bereits gefunden ist für mich. ich sei herzlich wilkommen.


Dearest Lottuh,

Today a telegram arrived from Moscow, after which Ludwich writes that a field of work has already been found for me, I am warmly welcome.

9. HERMINE HUISWOUD (from Joyce Moore Turner: Caribbean Crusaders and the Harlem Renaissance, University of Illinois Press, 2005, Chapter 7 (Harlem Goes to Moscow and Paris), p. 186)

Reader Three:

Punishment? Removal? Reward? Reëducation? Reassignment based on credentials to fill a significant post? Hermie did not know what precipitated their long journey to the east or who had made the decision for Otto and her to go to Moscow, but she was delighted and content to be embarking on the novel odyssey. It was exhilarating to be transported suddenly from the “Black· Mecca” to the “Red Mecca,” to view with one's own eyes the vast Kremlin and Red Square, to witness the bold socialist experiment, to experience life among the stalwart Russian people, and most importantly, to share with Otto the place and progress of the Revolution. Despite her conviction that James Ford had helped instigate the removal of Otto from his leadership role in the American Party, she viewed their work in Moscow as a logical next step in the efforts to emancipate people of color around the world.

On November 19, 1930, the American representative to the ECCI notified the Secretariat of the Party that the Political Committee had decided Huiswoud should come to Moscow.

10. HANNES MEYER (from a letter dated 15 October 1930)

Reader One:

15. October 1930

meine liebe lotte

also ich sitze jetzt im zentrum von moskau auf meinem einfachen grossen zimmer und habe gelegenheit über einen schönen platz hinweg (arbatschiplatz) diese wunderbaren stadt ins innere zu gucken. bis jetzt geht alles ausgezeignet.


15 October 1930

My dear Lotte,

So, I'm sitting in the center of Moscow, in my simple but spacious room, and now have the opportunity—with a view over a beautiful square (Arbatskaya Square)—to become acquainted with this wonderful city. So far all is going really well.

11. HERMINE HUISWOUD (from an unpublished PhD thesis by Maria Enckevort Cijntje: The Life and Work of Otto Huiswoud. Professional Revolutionary and Internationalist (1893–1961), 2002, p. 59)

Reader Three:

Comintern Fund 495, Inv. 261, file # 1408. Since May 1931 Hermine’s membership of the CPUSA had been transferred to the CPSU. During her stay in Moscow she was selected to attend the short course at the Lenin School. She was chosen because “ . . . the Party will be able to utilize her for effective work among the Negroes and women.”

12. HERMINE HUISWOUD (from Comintern Fund 495, Inv. 261, file # 1408, p. 27)

Reader Three:

Hermine Huiswoud writes:

I was born in British Guiana, a British colony in South America, on October 8, 1905. My national origin is Negro, and my citizenship is American. My father had several occupations, the chief being miner and timber worker. My mother was a dressmaker by trade, and when my father died when I was about four years old she supported the family by this occupation. Needless to state that the living conditions were pretty precarious, as my mother barely eked out an existence from the meagre wages she received.

13. HANNES MEYER (from a letter dated 19 October 1930)

Reader One:

19 Oktober 1930

ich wil dich bitten doch gleich hierher zu kommen. es sind jetzt alle abmachungen in ordnung. mit ludvich habe ich beraten dass du rascher und leichter herkommen kannst, wann du als frau zu mir kommst und nicht von ausland her dich engagieren lassen musst. Du kannst dann hier nach deinem wunsch arbeiten, denn es wimmelt von arbeit.


19 October 1930

Dear Lotte, I beg you, come here directly: all agreements are now in order. With Ludvich I concluded you can come quicker and easier if you come as my wife, and then you don't have to be engaged in a job from abroad. You can work here according to your desire, there is more than enough work here.

14. HERMINE HUISWOUD (from Turner: Caribbean Crusaders and the Harlem Renaissance, page 187)

Reader Three:

A job was found for Hermie. She was assigned to work with translators in the International Lenin School, using her clerical skills and proficiency in English. For a few months in 1930 she had worked as a stenographer for the Central Control Commission of the Party and considered her new assignment in Moscow a “transfer.”

15. HERMINE HUISWOUD (from Ibid., p. 191)

Reader Three:

Thus within a short time the Huiswouds were settled in Moscow with work assignments, a comfortable apartment, a maid and for Hermie, a new name: Helen Davis.

Hermie worked for two years with translators at the Lenin School. The typical week was one day off, following five days of work. ln 1931 she also worked on her free days with Ivy Low Litvinov—the English wife of Maxim Litvinov, the minister of foreign affairs—translating writings of Marx and Lenin into English from German and Russian texts. Hermie discontinued working on the project when she sensed an English rather than a Russian attitude toward fellow workers of color (...)

Frequently Hermie devoted her free day to a voluntary project, or subbotnik—such as carting stones and dirt in a wheelbarrow for the bed of a new railway line, cleaning the Park of Culture and Rest in preparation for May Day 1931, helping on the construction of Moscow University, carting away dirt excavated for construction of the Moscow subway, weeding vegetable patches, threshing wheat, picking tobacco, or unloading a train-load of potatoes. She has stated that she appreciated all the work she did because it made her conscious of the tremendous tasks entailed in production.

16. LOTTE BEESE (from Oosterhof, in: Architektúra & Urbanizmus, p. 100)

Reader Two:

Although living with Hannes Meyer had not been a success, Lotte Beese was now pregnant by him, and she hoped that the birth of the child would “bridge the gulf” between them.

17. HANNES MEYER (from a letter dated 6 July 1931)

Reader One:

lotte, ich möchte dir ganz gern sehen, aber wenn do ganz mutter bist. ich beneide dich um die ruhige landschaft die mir so stark in der erinnerung liegt. aber vielleicht weil sie so sorglos war. jetzt sage ich dir und meinem kinde liebe grüsse. hannes


Lotte, I would love to see you, but only when you have fully become a mother. I envy you for the calm landscape, which is a strong memory, but probably because it was all so carefree for me. I send sweet greetings to you and my child. Hannes

18. LOTTE BEESE (from Oosterhof, in: Architektúra & Urbanizmus, p. 100)

Reader Two:

On 31 July, Lotte Beese gave birth to a son named Johann Peter (known for short as Peter). Although Fuchs had granted her three months’ maternity leave, correspondence with a lawyer reveals that he refused to pay the necessary allowance. Beese took him to court, and appears to have won the case. This did not improve relations between them, and she could no longer return to her job at his firm. Indeed, as an unmarried mother, she was no longer able to find any kind of work inBrno, especially at a time of deepening economic crisis. Now unemployed, she had more time to take part in Brno’s left-wing political and cultural life. She was a member of the Czechoslovakian communist party KSČ (Komunistická strana Československa) and the previously noted cultural organizsation Levá Fronta. She attended Levá Fronta meetings, where avant-garde films such as (those of) her former teacher Moholy-Nagy’s Marseille—Vieux Port and A Lightplay: Black White Grey were shown; and she went to discussion evenings on modern literature, and lectures by left-wing writers and thinkers on such political and historical topics as the communist system in Russia, pacifism, Karl Marx’s political theory and fascism in Italy.

19. HERMINE HUISWOUD (from Turner: Caribbean Crusaders and the Harlem Renaissance, p. 200)

Reader Three:

Life in the Party was always serious but there were occasional lighter moments. For the Huiswouds, work in the USSR was interspersed with cultural events. Huiswoud was able to obtain plush first-tier center box seats reserved for Soviet government officials and special guests at the Bolshoi Theater that had been reserved for the tsar. They visited Leningrad as tourists. In February 1932, Hermie traveled to Germany to renew her passport. While they traveled in Europe Huiswoud traveled with a Dutch passport, but Hermie used her American passport.

That summer, they rented a room in a dacha available to employees of the Profintern in the Silver Forest above the banks of the Moscow River, where they went on free days. Many friends visited them to enjoy the beach and picnics in the meadow. It was there that they met Maria Ulianova, the surviving sister of Lenin, who gave them “special attention when she learned that Otto had spoken to her brother, Lenin, on his sickbed shortly before his death. Hermie described her as (...)

“(...) a charming, soft-spoken, tiny elderly lady who lived in a little cottage. The wooden building was decorated with fretwork in typical Russian design. To complete the Russian picture, there was a cherry tree and two birch trees, like sentinels overlooking the pallisades that dropped down to the river. Our hostess offered us cake made from the cherries (...) I felt as if we were in a scene of one of Checkov's plays.”

20. LOTTE BEESE (from Oosterhof, in: Architektúra & Urbanizmus, p. 101)

Reader Two:

As a member of the KSČ, Lotte Beese helped to organize “proletarian evenings” and campaigns, even though by this date the city council had already banned KSČ assemblies, demonstrations and public meetings. On 30 October 1931, to mark the fourteenth anniversary of the USSR, the party organized a pro-Russian demonstration followed by a public meeting at the Workers’ House in a district of Brno called Tuřany. Beese gave a speech at the meeting, and was reported to the police.

21. HANNES MEYER (from a letter dated 29 November 1931)

Reader One:

liebe lotte,

margret sagt mir dass du schon zweimal ihr geschrieben hast um herzukommen. aus deinem letzten briefe habe ich ausserdem ersehen, dass du dich in brünn als “politische” betätigst und dabei mit der polizei in konflikte kommst, sodass du mit deiner ausweisung aus der tschechoslovakei rechnest. - offen gesagt fand ich dein verhalten in der betreffenden versammlung nicht richtig.


Dear Lotte,

Margret tells me that you wrote her twice already to come over here. From the last letter I also understand you have acted as a political figure in Brno and have come into conflict with the police, so that you can be assured of being evicted from Czechoslovakia. To be honest, I found your behavior at the meeting in question incorrect.

Reader One:

wenn du es ernst meinst mit deiner einstellung als parteimitglied, dann müsstest du die jetzige zeit der erzwungene musse in ersten linie zu deiner ausbildung als kommunistin verwenden, müsstest studieren, einfach und immer wieder dein wissen verbessern, einfachste gesellschaftliche arbeit verrichten (die dich nicht in konflikte mit der polizei zu bringen braucht) und alles tun, um überhaupt die elemenarsten dinge zu erwerben, die zum besitze des partei buches gehören. sonst wirst du unweigerlich ein roter dilletant werden.


When you are serious about your party membership, then, in the first place, you would have to use the current time of forced musing for your education as a good communist—you would have to study and, simply put, improve your knowledge by performing basic social work (which doesn't need to bring you in conflict with the police,) as well as doing whatever you can to establish in yourself the basic attributes of being a party member. Otherwise you will inevitably become a red dilettante.

22. LOTTE BEESE (from a letter to Hannes Meyer, dated 4 December 1931)

Reader Two:

‘(...) es ist selbstverständlich, dass ich mir bewusst bin dass ich mir jetzt eine gründliche marxistische basis schaffen muss. und ich mache mir auch täglich 1-2 stunden dafür frei. (...)

ich bin anderseits der meinung, dass es jetzt schon nicht mehr ziel ist nur theorie zu betreiben, sondern dass es heute auf jede praktische hilfeleistung ankommt. dass aber heute jegliche aktive arbeit diesselbe gefahr bedeutet ist ebenso klar. (...) im übrigen was heisst vorsicht, wenn es heute beispielsweise genügt für die politische verdächtigung, das man bei einem linksgerichteten vortrag anwesend ist.


‘(...) It goes without saying that I am aware that I now have to create a thorough Marxist basis. And I do spend one to two hours a day on that. (...)

On the other hand, I think that it is no longer enough to work on theory but that today everything depends on practical assistance. It is equally clear, however, that active work today is dangerous. (...) you can be as careful as you want. (...) By the way, what do you mean by caution if today, for example, it suffices to merely be present at a left-leaning lecture to arouse political suspicion?

Reader Two:

der verdacht gegen mich besteht nicht als “ausländische kommunistin”, sondern als bezahlter spion. (...) bei allen verhören – drei bisher – und nachstellungen ist immer wieder die frage: wovon leben sie? sie brauchen viel geld? warum leben sie nicht in moskou bei ihrem mann?’

was werde ich tun, ich weiss es nicht. wenn ich einen plan hätte, so wäre es dieser: arbeiten wollen in einem sozialistischem system. das ist hier unmöglich. In deutschland scheinbar auch für die nächste zukunft – also russland? eines ist sicher: dass mich heute in einem kleinbürgerlichen milieu nichts mehr halt, auch nicht der peter. so habe ich innerlich so gut wie allem den kampf angesagt.


The suspicion against me is not that I am a “foreign communist” but a paid spy. (...). In all the interrogations I have undergone—three so far—they always ask the same questions: from what do you live? you need a lot of money? why do not you live in Moscow with your husband?

What will I do, I don't know. If I had a plan it would be this: to work in a socialist system. That is impossible here. In Germany apparently also in the near future (...) so Russia? One thing is sure: today nothing holds me any longer in a petty-bourgeois milieu, not even Peter. Inwardly I have already said goodbye to everything.

23. HERMINE HUISWOUD (from Turner: Caribbean Crusaders and the Harlem Renaissance, p. 200)

from: Joyce Moore Turner: Caribbean Crusaders and the Harlem Renaissance, University of Illinois Press 2005.

Reader Three:

In the summer of 1932 the scene was enlivened by the arrival of twenty-two African Americans who had been recruited to act in a movie, Black and White, to be produced by the Meschrabpom Film Corporation in Moscow. The group had been recruited by the Co-operating Committee for Production of a Soviet Film on Negro Life, an interracial and international committee chaired by W.A. Domingo.

Langston Hughes, invited to join the group as a scriptwriter, and two recruits with stage experience were the only professionals prepared to work on such a project. The others who had enlisted were not established actors.

24. LANGSTON HUGHES (from his autobiographical work I Wonder as I Wander, published in 1956 by Rinehart & Co. These fragments are from the 1993 edition by Hill and Wang, p. 73)

Reader Four:

In Moscow we were quartered in the Grand Hotel, a block from the Kremlin, in the heart of the capital. It had enormous rooms with huge pre-czarist beds, heavy drapes at the windows and deep rugs on the floors. It had a big dark dining room with plenty to eat in the way of ground meats and cabbage, caviar, and sometimes fowl, but not much variety. Most of the guests at the Grand seemed to be upper-echelon Russians—industrial plant managers and political personages—with whom we never became acquainted.

25. LANGSTON HUGHES (from: I Wonder as I Wander, p. 76)

Reader Four:

The script of the film we were to make consisted of an enormous number of pages when I first saw it—entirely in Russian! Just like my contract, it had to be translated. This took two or three weeks. Meanwhile, all of us “Negro-worker-comrades,” as Muscovites called us, were almost nightly guests of one or another of the great theaters, the Moscow Art Theatre, the Vakhtangov, the Meyerhold, the Kamerny, or the Opera, where we saw wonderful performances and met there distinguished actors. There was sight-seeing by day, or nude bathing in the Park of Rest and Culture on the banks of the Moscow River. Finally, after weeks of shows, parties and pleasure, I received an English version of the scenario and retired to my room in the Grand Hotel to read it.

At first I was astonished at what I read. Then I laughed until I cried. And I wasn't crying really because the script was in places so mistaken and so funny. I was crying because the writer meant well, but knew so little about his subject and the result was a pathetic hodgepodge of good intentions and faulty facts.

26. HERMINE HUISWOUD (from Turner: Caribbean Crusaders and the Harlem Renaissance, p. 203)

Reader Three:

As the key was turning in the door, I heard a gusty boyish laughter which proved to have come from Langston. He was still chuckling gleefully as they entered—my husband, he and Loren Miller. He flung himself full length on his back on the divan after greetings were exchanged, with a contented sigh (...) They had just come from the Kremlin where the group had been received by Stalin. (...)

We had taken a summer place in the Silver Forest. (...) Many a day, during the month of July, some of the group would come out to visit, swim and later romp in the forest. Almost on every occasion Langston would be among them. I remember one day, while sitting on the beach, a group of children surrounded us and posed the usual children's questions (...) Langston was amazed to learn that that little boy, that distance away knew all about the Scottsboro Boys (...) Other children joined in the conversation and they told us they had sent a petition from their school pleading for the Scottsboro Boys’ release (...)

During those months of his stay in Moscow, he kept busy writing. Now and again, he would show me a short story manuscript which resulted in “The Ways of White Folks.”

27. LANGSTON HUGHES (from: I Wonder as I Wander, p. 84)

Reader Four:

“(...) I'm like a cat with nine lives, honey,” Emma said. “I always land on my feet—been doing it all my life wherever I am. These Bolsheviks ain't gonna kill me.”

At the enormous Scottsboro benefits, indoor or out, Emma would be introduced to a cheering audience as “our own beloved Negro comrade, Emma, who before she came to the Soviet motherland, knew the stinging lash of race hatred in her native America.” Emma must have been in her early teens when she joined up with a show to leave Dixie. But she could denounce race prejudice in no uncertain terms, in long sentences, in fluent Russian, without taking a breath. At the end of her speech, she would hail the worker, of the world, the Soviet Union, and Stalin, in traditional form, eyes blazing in her dark face, and walk off the platform to bravos. Had she been in a play, she would have taken half a dozen bows after each speech.

“They ought to turn them colored boys loose,” she would say, for Emma was truly moved at the plight of the youngsters in Kilby Prison. Her Scottsboro speeches came from the heart.

28. LANGSTON HUGHES (from: I Wonder as I Wander, p. 85)

Exterior view of the club-cafeteria, Kharkov Tractor Plant (KhTZ) Settlement, Kharkov, Soviet Union (now in Ukraine), Credit: Canadian Centre for Architecture. 

Reader Four:

It was Emma who first told us that summer that there was a famine in the Ukraine where, she said, the peasants had refused to harvest the grain. Living in the Grand Hotel and eating well, or accepting Emma's black-market hospitality, I never would have known there was hunger a few hundred miles South of Moscow. But Emma said, “Why down in Kharkov, people's so hungry they are slicing hams of each other's butts and eating them. That's no lie! A Russian I know just come from there, he told me folks is turned into cannibals.”

29. LOTTE BEESE (from Oosterhof, in: Architektúra & Urbanizmus, p. 101)

Reader Two:

Now Meyer had made clear he had no interest in seeing her and “their” child in Moscow, Beese needed an alternative. With the rise of National Socialism in Germany, returning there was hardly an option. She had heard of “purges” at the Bauhaus in which fifteen politically active students had been expelled by the police, and the foreigners among them deported from Germany. Working and living in the USSR seemed a better idea. In April 1932, probably with help from Karel Teige and Jaromír Krejcar, she set off for the Ukrainian city of Kharkov to work as an architect. She left her son Peter with Krejcar and his then wife, the journalist Milena Jesenská. At first she wanted to make sure the situation in Kharkov would allow her to live there with Peter.

30. HANNES MEYER (from a letter to Lotte dated 13 May 1932)

Reader One:

dass du es punkto arbeit in charkow gut getroffen hast, freut mich sehr. Ich wünsche dir, dass diese gute arbeits-stimmung anhält. du wirst dich ja überzeugen, dass seit einem jahr die dinge wesentlich geändert haben für die ausländer.

Wann gedenkst du peter zu holen?


I am very pleased that you have had such luck with regards to working in Kharkov. I wish you that this good working atmosphere continues. you will see for yourself that since a year ago, things have significantly changed for foreigners.

when do you intend to pick up Peter?

31. HERMINE HUISWOUD (from Turner: Caribbean Crusaders and the Harlem Renaissance, p. 203)

Reader Three:

While (touring) Central Asia, the group visited African American agronomists working on a two-year contract in the Tashkent area.

Langston Hughes left the group in Ashkhabad to explore on his own for five months.

32. LANGSTON HUGHES (from: I Wonder as I Wander, p. 143)

Reader Four:

Shortly after I reached Tashkent, Arthur Koestler left for Moscow. I never saw him again until he had become world famous.

When I left Koestler's hotel, the next one I tried took me in, but all they had was one large and very expensive room filled with heavy furniture, including a canopied bed from the days of the Czar. I registered and went to bed. My bones ached. The cold, the hard benches of the train, the previous night passed on the dirt floor of the caravanserai, no decent food, all caused me to feel sick, very sick, inside and out.

Her name I have forgotten, but I remember that since she did not like to be called tovarish (no comrade, she) we always called her grasdani, citizen. I arranged to give her a certain sum of money every week for chickens, plus a modest salary agreed upon. To her I turned over my convalescence. Grasdani took excellent care of me. She even made pancakes for breakfast – thin Russian blintzes with sour cream.

She was a kind, sad, wisp of an old lady—a remnant of the upper classes—who had been living in that same hotel since the days of the Czar. The Soviets let her stay, permitting her a small apartment where she had her own cooking facilities. She had been a woman of means once. Now—well, she said, it would be a pleasure to nurse me and help me back to health, a mere courtesy that any Russian would pay a stranger ill in a foreign land. But, regretfully, as things were, she would have to accept the payment I offered her. The sum I suggested she cut by half. Too much, she said. So, for what seemed to me woefully little remuneration, she prepared my meals, nursed me back to health, and talked to me by the hour in a flow of Russian, which I began to understand more and more.

The burden of her conversation was that she had grave doubts concerning a regime that permitted wild and unwashed nomads, just out of the desert, to live in a hotel such as this one where once barons, diplomats, colonels, majors and rich merchants from Moscow used to stay. Now the rooms were all cluttered up with Tajik commissars, Tartars, young Kazak Communists, Russian mechanics sent to teach the natives how to service tractors, and former camel drivers from yurts in the desert, now delegated to the Regional Soviets to make laws.

The old lady snorted and gave vent to her favorite verbal illustration of the general hopelessness of all this. “They don't even know,” she said, “how to use the toilet. They throw tin cans in it, these tovarishi, then pull the chain!” She looked at me lying in bed and added her final coup. “Ever since the Soviets came to power, the plumbing has been out of order.”

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This is a translation of one of the letters Jorn send to Bill. → more

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