Erich Fried - the most famous German-speaking poet in the modern world - was one of the first sponsors of the RETURN statement. He was a refugee from his native Austria, from where he fled after the Anschluss in 1938, his father having been beaten and tortured to death by the Gestapo. It was because of his experience of Nazism and anti-Semitism that Erich Fried became a mentor to the anti-Vietnam war movement in West Germany. He was particularly close to Rudi Dutschcke and spoke up for those who, like Ulrike Meinhoff, sought quick solutions to the problems of modern-day German capitalism. During the war he became a broadcaster for the BBC External Services. He remained a committed socialist and a trenchant critic of Stalinism in Eastern Europe.
It was because of his experience of racism and fascism that he was to take up the cudgels against Zionism and in support of the Palestinians, who, like himself, had been driven from their native land to exile. During the controversy over the PERDITION, Jim Allen's play which documented the collaboration of the Zionist movement with Nazism, Erich Fried came out staunchly in defence of the play. In the book of the play he wrote that he wished that he could have written such a play, such was his modesty.
Erich Fried was an is an inspiration to anti-fascists and anti-Zionists everywhere, especially in the growing numbers of young anti-Zionist Jews for whom he was a living link with an earlier generation of socialist Jews.
In the last years of his life, the BBC featured him in their series EXILES, which drew a predictably hostile response from the Zionist Jewish Chronicle, but which was a long overdue tribute to this most courageous of fighters.
Erich Fried's poem 'A Jew to Zionist Fighters, 1988' was included in his last collection 'Unverwundenes - Liebe, Trauer, Widersprüche - Gedichte' (Uninjured - Love, Grief, Contradictions - Poems), published by Verlag Klaus Wagenbach, Berlin, 1988. The translation, by Frank Monahan, was published in RETURN magazine, March 1990, with permission of the publishers and of Katherine Fried.
A Jew to Zionist Fighters, 1988
What do you actually want?
Do you really want to outdo
those who trod you down
a generation ago
into your own blood
and into your own excrement
Do you want to pass on the old torture
to others now
in all its bloody and dirty detail
with all the brutal delight of torturers
as suffered by your fathers?
Do you really want to be the new Gestapo
the new Wehrmacht
the new SA and SS
and turn the Palestinians
into the new Jews?
Well then I too want,
having fifty years ago
myself been tormented for being a Jewboy
by your tormentors,
to be a new Jew with these new Jews
you are making of the Palestinians
And I want to help lead them as a free people
into their own land of Palestine
from whence you have driven them or in which you plague them
you apprentices of the Swastika
you fools and changelings of history
whose Star of David on your flags
turns every quicker
into that damned symbol with its four feet
that you just do not want to see
but whose path you are following today