Sechs Essays was the first book through which, after the Second World War, Hannah Arendt addressed herself to a German public. “It is not easy for a Jew to publish in Germany today, even if he is a German-speaking Jew,” the book began. Even when Arendt composed the texts gathered here in her mother tongue, they are written from the point of view of exile. They sketch out a “hidden tradition” in which the voices of Heinrich Heine and Franz Kafka, Bernard Lazare and Stefan Zweig are to be heard. They confront readers in postwar Germany with “organized guilt” for those crimes for which, after the war, no one wanted to take responsibility.
The 1948 publication of Sechs Essays is the authorized version by its author. Not until 1976, half a year after Arendt’s death, could the book be republished, expanded with two additional essays: “Aufklärung und Judenfrage” and “Der Zionismus aus heutiger Sicht”. Alongside the original German versions, we also present the English versions of the essays, which had been published in various American magazines between 1943 and 1946. Only from two texts typescripts came down to us: “Zionism Reconsidered” and “Zueignung. An Karl Jaspers”.
The editorial introductions to the texts reconstruct their origins, translations and publication history, and also take a look at their public reception. Of the German versions, only Arendt’s essay on Franz Kafka was substantially reworked for the Sechs Essays, and we have included the earlier version as it was published in the journal Die Wandlung. The other German essays must be considered close variants of the texts in the book.
On both sides of the Atlantic, these texts established Arendt’s fame as an essayist.