People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 39

September 26, 2004



Julius Fuchik Remembered

                                                                                                                                           Shailendra Kumar


ON September 8, journalists in various parts of the world remembered Julius Fuchik, the fighter against fascism, the teacher and the journalist crusader who was murdered by the fascists on that day in 1943. He left behind a global legacy --- the famous Report from the Gallows, translated since his death into a big number of languages. Not only this, there are to this day schools of journalism, roads, streets and factories named after him as a man who fought against fascism but also gave journalism an ideological content. It goes to his credit that while in countries like India awards are given in the name of press barons who, in their own words, could “even commit murder” for profit, here was a journalist for whom the world was seen as a call to action. To quote Fuchik himself: “A hero is a person who at a decisive moment gives everything in order to do what should be done in the interest of the society.” It would be more than correct to say that even when his physical space as an editor was confined within prison under the threat of the executioner’s guillotine, Fuchik was able to look far ahead, far beyond the frontiers of his life. Indeed, journalism to him was very passionate and purposeful as well, without illusions of the most modern day scribes of being great newsmakers. It was on the contrary an artistic instrument calling for action. 


September 8, 1943 was the day of a decisive victory over the German fascists in the battle at Kursk. It thus became a day of foreboding of the impending capitulation of fascism. For many, however, it was a day of deep sorrow as on the same day the Nazi executioners dragged Fuchik and beheaded him. Referring to his teachings, he once said that “there is nothing known as a neutral journalist, a journalist who stands above everything.” Of course, those were not the days of market driven journalists, who could become political and ideological turncoats, daily changing sides for money and power. To him, anyone opting for this profession has to exercise it as a vital calling, to make an ideological choice, and learn to seek and recognise the new.


As he puts it: “A good reportage consists of small specific facts, facts that are diverse which are in no case isolated exceptions. Only from them can one create a living and faithful picture of people and events, and image that we call reportage.  Usually there is no lack of such small typical events, but it is necessary to single them out of the grey monotony of everyday materials..... If we want to properly judge a reporter, we must evaluate him not only according to the way he writes, but also the way he sees.” On a visit to the Soviet Union after scrutinising one paper in depth, he gave a motto: “Show me the newspapers of your country then I will tell you what the situation in your country is.”


The fascist occupation of Prague marked the beginning of the most difficult test in his life. In the summer of 1942 he was arrested and brutally tortured. Every trick was tried to break him and to force him to betray. It was finally an informer who leaked out who the Professor Hurak was. Then began the last period of his life when he wrote the greatest report, The Report from the Gallows. Each of its papers bared evidence of not only his horrific experiences but also the methods of torture used by the enemy. One also got flashes about those who betrayed and those who withstood the trials. Another thing he did was to explain why he had embarked on such a difficult struggle and all the hardship. He observed: “We lived for joy and for joy we are dying. Therefore never let sorrows be associated with your names.”


A masterpiece of his mosaic of observations; and right in the train, in moments when denied himself rest and the luxury offered by the rocking sleeper.


The first was about Tamara Tseretieli. “Tamara Tseretieli is one of the most famous Soviet singers,” he explained. “With all her successes, she is now going to provincial Samara” to sing for electric workers. And that was the name Fuchik gave his reportage: Tamara Tseretieli is Going to Samara. He spent a day sitting with her over tea, talking about books and newspapers, about incidents in the theatres where she sang and the civil war, and about gramophone records. Some time in the night when they were nearing Penza, the electric bulb burst in the carriage and yet the conversation continued in the dark. Fuchik learned why the Soviet singer preferred the gipsy life of going from one factory to another, why she raced thousands of kilometres to the east, the north, the west and the south instead of profiting financially from her talent and living comfortably in a big city. Before he reached Orenburg, the reportage about Tamara Tseretieli was already down on paper. For himself, for the editorial office, and for the future, he noted in its introduction: Orenburg December 24, 1934. He mailed the envelope addressed to the newspaper from the mailbox at the station.


Another aspect of Fuchik’s intellectual greatness was his refusal to slot people simply into categories of good and evil. He made a request to his readership: “You, who will survive this time do not forget the good or the bad. Patiently gather evidence about the fallen. One day, today will be the past, there will be talk about a great age and about nameless heroes who created history. I want you to know that there were no nameless heroes. They all had their names, their faces, their longings and their hopes.”


In present times, the onslaught of global capitalism has made press baron Rupert Murdoch a hero. Mafia dons sit in the houses of the people and genocide takes place in a variety of forms as evident in the war on Iraq; yet, embedded journalism is the buzzword. In a country like India, there is an increasing shade of saffron fascism infiltrating in the erstwhile progressive colour of the media. One must not forget that even in our country journalism used to be a crusade for social justice and not just a mish-mash of trivia and smut to which it has reduced itself now. It is in such adverse circumstances that names such as Julius Fuchik have a significant place in the history of progressive and democratic journalism.


Julius Fuchik's death anniversary is still, for many, a day to express human solidarity and determination to defend life against death. It is a moment to defend peace with his famous, historic appeal: “People I love you. Be on your guard” ---- an inspiring legacy for progressive democratic journalism. As he states in the preface to his book: “'I have seen the film of my life a hundred times, in thousands of details. Now I shall attempt to set it down. If the hangman’s noose strangles before I finish, millions remain to write its happy ending.” He says in the end, “We always reckoned with death. We knew that falling into Gestapo hands meant the end. And we acted accordingly, both in our own souls and in relation to others, even after being caught. My own play draws near its end. I can't write that end, for I don't yet know what it will be. This is no longer a play. This is life. In real life there are no spectators: you all participate in life. The curtain rises on the last act. I loved you all, friends. Be on guard!”


It was a call to be on guard against fascism in a variety of forms and guises. It is still visible in many parts of the world including India. (INN)