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PEN Teaching Guides

The PEN Teaching Guides contain materials for the use of instructors to support teaching on human rights, politics, literature, and cultural history. These materials include manuscripts, drafts, clippings, correspondence, official publications, books, posters, video recordings, and additional items from the PEN Digital Collections and related collections held at the Harry Ransom Center.

These guides are designed to allow students to engage not only with evolving conversations surrounding human rights and free speech in the twentieth century, but also with landmark events and broad historical trends, from the rise of fascism in the interwar years, through the intensification of the Cold War, and into the era following the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the late 1980s and 1990s.

For further information on teaching or scheduling classes in the Harry Ransom Center, visit Classroom Experiences.

Teaching Guides Classroom Experiences

Produced with suppport from National Endowment for the Humanities.

These teaching guides were written by Reid Echols and Adrienne Sockwell with help from Jennifer Follen, Sarah Gutberlet, Christopher Mendez, and Chido Muchemwa.

International Human Rights Writers and Free Speech Writers in Exile / Global Refugees Writing the Cold War Writing World War II Digital Collections

Writers in Exile / Global Refugees

This material highlights PEN's engagement with displaced authors, playwrights, scientists, and intellectuals forced to flee their home nations by the tumultuous political events of the twentieth century. PEN's role as a global human rights organization proceeded from the urgent need to respond to the international refugee crisis created by the rise of fascism in Europe. While the organization had begun as an avowedly apolitical association of writers, PEN was forced to assume a more outspoken political stance when faced with new totalitarian governments that opposed its founding liberal principles of intellectual freedom, free speech, and cultural exchange. Through the tireless work of administrators like Storm Jameson, Janet Chance, and Hermon Ould, PEN mobilized itself to assist writers and artists displaced by World War II, providing funds, legal advice, and political advocacy. This work would lay the foundation for PEN's later efforts on behalf of exiled and imprisoned writers in the Soviet Bloc, Africa, China, the Gulf States, and around the globe. These materials from the PEN Records will be of interest to courses exploring twentieth-century European history, international human rights, Jewish and Holocaust studies, NGOs, the rise of Fascism in Germany, modernist art and literature, and intellectual freedom.


Origins: PEN and Refugee Writers

The early 1930s saw a flood of writers, artists, and intellectuals fleeing the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, which began to openly persecute Jewish and LGBTQIA+ writers, along with any outspoken critics of Hitler's regime. Many sought refuge in Britain, or passed through London in attempts to reach Canada or the United States. This flood of refugee writers was a major catalyst for PEN's transformation from an informal supper club into an international political organization, as its leaders struggled to address the many wartime crises facing writers around the globe. These items reflect this origin story, demonstrating the political stance PEN was forced to take in response to Nazi censorship and the early efforts of its leadership to offer support to whole populations of displaced Austrian, German, Czech, and Polish writers.

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Report on the 1933 Dubrovnik PEN Congress by Henry Seidel Canby. 1933.

PEN Records 82.1

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Transcribed speech by Ernst Toller on behalf of exiled German writers. May 1933.

PEN Records 82.1

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Letter from Storm Jameson to Hermon Ould. October 13, 1938.

PEN Records 28.3

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Report to the 17th International PEN Congress, London, by Hermon Ould. 1941.

PEN Records 86.1



Exiles and the Stage

While displacement presents a number of obstacles to any working artist, few are as directly impacted as playwrights, whose work is dependent upon a number of factors—including actors, theatre professionals, and the availability of performance venues. During the war, PEN struggled to provide resources to refugee playwrights, interceding on their behalf with the Lord Chamberlain's censors, finding them sponsors and work as translators of English-language plays, and even sponsoring a small German-language theatre company in London. Students might use these materials to discuss the development of theatre as a particularly political response to the crisis of the war, offering a rare platform for public critiques of totalitarianism, and for gathering scattered exile communities together around a shared cultural event.

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Races, a drama by Ferdinand Bruckner [pseud.] translated from the German for the first time by Ruth Langner. 1934.

PT 2642 A3 R32 1934 HRC-TA

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Letter from Rudolf Spitz and Janet Chance to the Advisory Council on Aliens regarding the Lantern Theatre. Circa 1939.

PEN Records 97.3

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Letter to Storm Jameson from Rudolf Spitz. August 25, 1940.

PEN Records 223.1

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Correspondence between PEN Refugee Writers Fund and J. B. Priestley regarding Richard Duschinsky. 1939.

PEN Records 96.3



Arts in/of Exile

In addition to its efforts to assist exiled writers and artists financially, PEN also aimed to create spaces for them to continue their creative work. These materials highlight several of the ways in which PEN managed to do so: from publishing anthologies and fostering collaborations to sponsoring local theatre groups and advocating for increased paper allowances in wartime. These materials offer students an opportunity to observe the realities shaping artistic production in times of crisis, and to consider the close links between literature and politics in contexts of war and revolution.

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The Pen in Exile: an Anthology of Exiled Writers. Paul Tabori, editor. Published by the International P.E.N. Club Centre for Writers in Exile. 1954.

PN 6019 T3

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Letter from Paul Tabori to Maria Kuncewiczowa. May 26, 1952.

PEN Records 155.4

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Letters from The Viennese Theatre Club to Janet Chance. February 20, 1940; May 4, 1940.

PEN Records 98.1



From Advice to Advocacy: PEN and the U.K. Government

While PEN's Refugee Writers Fund began as a humble effort to aid writers fleeing Nazi Germany, after the official declaration of war it became caught up in the massive bureaucratic effort to distinguish between refugees and so-called "enemy aliens" living in the U.K. Often, this work involved locating sponsors to vouch for refugee writers' character, citing evidence of anti-fascist activism in their home countries, and guaranteeing financial support for writers unable to find legal employment. These items highlight not only PEN's efforts, but also the extreme precariousness facing writers from enemy nations during the war: many were interned, arrested, and even held in camps alongside the very Nazi supporters from whom they had originally fled. Students approaching these materials might ask what they reveal about the tensions between national and individual identity, and how even relatively progressive governments justify suspending the rights of foreign nationals—even those in utmost sympathy with their new place of residence—in times of war or conflict. Students might also notice that an unusually high number of interned Austrian and German refugees were of Jewish descent (and therefore highly unlikely to be Nazi sympathizers): a fact rarely acknowledged or taken into account in the proceedings at the time.

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Letters from PEN Refugee Writers Fund to the Tribunal Dealing with Enemy Aliens. 1939.

PEN Records 97.5

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Letters from Cecil Könekamp to Storm Jameson regarding Fritz Rudolf Könekamp. December 15, 1940.

PEN Records 94.5

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Letters from Kurt Hiller to Janet Chance. September 21, 1939; October 1, 1939.

PEN Records 94.1

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Letters from T. S. Eliot to Hermon Ould and to the editor of The London Times. December 24, 1941.

PEN Records 15.2



Refugee Networks

With the flood of refugees fleeing the expansion of Nazi Germany, PEN was overwhelmed with requests from authors, playwrights, artists, and other writers for support and sponsorship. As the UK Government implemented increasingly strict requirements for foreign visas, many prominent writers found themselves advocating for friends and colleagues attempting to flee mainland Europe. These materials demonstrate the many ways in which PEN, along with writers and thinkers like Virginia Woolf, Stefan Zweig, and Albert Einstein, wielded literary influence to advocate for refugees. They also invite questions from students regarding the limitations and privilege of this approach: what happens, for example, to refugees without famous acquaintances or a well-known body of work? For that matter, what happens to refugees without a literary background, or professional status who might alert organizations like PEN to their plight?

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Letters from Stefan Zweig to PEN Refugee Writers Fund and Hermon Ould regarding Alfred Wolfenstein. 1938.

PEN Records 76.6

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Letter from Virginia Woolf to Storm Jameson. January 22, 1939.

PEN Records 97.3

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Letter from Albert Einstein to Professor Gilbert Murray. February 15, 1939.

PEN Records 93.5

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Letter from Henry Harben to Albert Einstein regarding Frau Mallachow and Cordelia Gundolf. January 28, 1939.

PEN Records 93.5

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Letter from Edmund Blunden to Storm Jameson on behalf of Fritz Rudolf Könekamp. December 11, 1940.

PEN Records 94.5



From Exile to Internment

Many writers fled Austria and Germany during the Nazi Party's rise to power in the 1930s and settled in Britain, where they continued their work and criticism of Hitler's government. After the invasion of Poland, however, these writers were subject to internment as citizens of a hostile foreign power. These letters are from a group of writers, totalling nearly 2,000 Austrian, German, and Czech men, sent to internment camps in Australia after the outbreak of war. Over 10,000 internees were shipped abroad, most to Canada but many, including Vogel and a number of refugee writers, to the Australian camps. Clippings in the collection describe a scandal in which many of the internees on board the Dunera had their belongings stolen by U.K. military servicemen. In many cases, former refugee writers found themselves on these ships and even in camps with the Nazis and Italian fascists from whom they had originally fled. After an eight-week journey aboard ship, internment in the Australian bush, and complete separation from spouses and families left back in England, these writers appealed to PEN and every other available source for advocacy and help reaching their relatives back in England.

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Letter from Alexander Vogel to Janet Chance, PEN Refugee Writer Fund, with copy of typed statement addressed to P.E.N. Club New York. September 19, 1940.

PEN Records 95.2

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Letter from Walter Schultz to Janet Chance. October 4, 1940.

PEN Records 95.2

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Letter from Justin Steinfeld to Hermon Ould. November 12, 1940.

PEN Records 223.1



Exile and Everyday Life

The effects of displacement on individual lives are often hard to trace, with organizational records tending to focus on official documents, correspondence, and legal proceedings. Yet within the extensive correspondence between PEN and the exiled writers it sought to help, there are a number of personal accounts that offer a glimpse of everyday life in exile. These items illustrate the impact of displacement on family life, leisure, and the creative work that writers still sought to achieve even under highly constrictive circumstances. Students working with these materials might be invited to consider the human impact of political displacement: what aspects of daily life, work, and relationships are disrupted in refugees' lives? What effect does this disruption have, not only on writers' literary output, but also on their politics and their ability to be heard or even to continue writing?

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"Ambros Family Circular" by Liba Ambrosova. December 1940.

PEN Records 92.1

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Letter from PEN Refugee Writers Fund to Warner Bros. February 9, 1940.

PEN Records 98.2

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Copy of typescript letter from Albin Stuebs to Czech Refugee Trust Fund. December 7, 1940.

PEN Records 95.2

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Literary and Social Events schedule for the London PEN Writers in Exile Centre. 1954–1955.

PEN Records 155.4


We have attempted to minimize harm or adverse impact by selecting primary sources that we believe will not place people at risk. Please notify us at reference@hrc.utexas.edu if you believe we need to remove any materials from this digital collection.

Takedown Notice: This material is made available for education and research purposes. The Harry Ransom Center does not own the rights for these items; it cannot grant or deny permission to use this material. Copyright law protects unpublished as well as published materials. Rights holders for these materials may be listed in the WATCH file. It is your responsibility to determine the rights status and secure whatever permission may be needed for the use of any item. Due to the nature of archival collections, rights information may be incomplete or out of date. We welcome updates or corrections. Upon request, we'll remove material from public view while we address a rights issue.